Australia, where people pick sharks out of pools

Australia might have a lot of sharks, but we try not to mess with them.

Not so for Melissa Hatheier from Sydney, Australia, who picked up a one-metre shark from a rock pool and placed it back into the ocean.

The video was posted to the Cronulla Real Estate Facebook page on Tuesday, which is a kind of a weird way to promote houses, but you know what, this is Australia after all.

“Our in house Shark Wrangler Melissa Hatheier wrestling a shark out of Oak Park Rock Pool yesterday morning! Nice work Mel,” reads the Facebook caption.

“I was just trying to catch a little shark,” Hatheier told the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader. “If it had big teeth I wouldn’t have done it.”

Hatheier told the newspaper the shark was grabbed by the neck to ensure it wouldn’t bite her, and that it was fortunately not too heavy. She then threw the shark into the ocean, watching it swim away.

Pretty wild.

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Watch Startup Battlefield Africa live right here

Here we are in Nairobi, Kenya. For the first time, TechCrunch is hosting a conference in Africa. We have an amazing lineup of speakers who all share a ton of knowledge and expertise about technology in Kenya and Africa in general. But the real star of the show is going to be the Startup Battlefield.

15 startups are going to compete to win the Startup Battlefield competition and earn best of show. There will three different sessions on Productivity and Utility, Gaming and Entertainment, and Social Good. This is going to be a great opportunity to discover the best and brightest early-stage entrepreneurs in Africa.

Here’s how you can watch the show:

Samsung’s new sensor will bring ‘portrait mode’ to cheaper phones

If you’re a fan of the blurred background “portrait mode” shots taken on phones like the Apple iPhone or Samsung Note 8, get ready for way more smartphones to be capable of this in the near future.

And the good news is, a lot of them are likely to be a lot more affordable than Apple and Samsung’s pricey flagships.

On Wednesday, Samsung, which also supplies phone parts to other makers, announced a new 12 megapixel image sensor chip that comes with a dual pixel design.

Those split pixels are key to generating that depth photo effect — and with a single lens, instead of the two lenses we see with the iPhone Plus versions and Note 8.

The new chip, under Samsung’s broader Isocell line, is called the Fast 2L9. Its dual pixels are able to offer the slightest shift in perspective when a shot is taken. In a split second, the phone uses the difference between the two shots, in order to figure out what’s to be kept sharp in the foreground, and what to blur in the background.

The new 2L9 sensor.

The new 2L9 sensor.

Image: samsung

We’ve already seen this technology in action with Google’s latest Pixel 2 smartphone, which uses a dual pixel sensor. Right now, the main competition achieves the bokeh effect with two lenses — one wide angle and one telephoto.

Samsung said its latest chips were designed in response to “market demand for sleeker smartphones with advanced features.” 

Squeezing the dual pixel capability into a 1.28μm sensor means we’ll see more phone makers be able to shave down cost and size needed for a second lens, to offer portrait mode on midrange to higher-end hardware.

Guess we can expect to see way more of those depth effect food photos on Instagram. a2d2 4a0e%2fthumb%2f00001

Most Australians don’t care about being on a mass facial recognition database

A large chunk of Australians couldn't give a toss about a facial recognition database.
A large chunk of Australians couldn’t give a toss about a facial recognition database.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Last week, the Australian government unveiled its plan for driver’s license photos to be included on a national facial recognition database.

While there’s concern from experts about the erosion of people’s privacy and civil liberties, polling by research company Roy Morgan shows that most Australians don’t seem to care.

Only 32.5 percent of the 1,486 people surveyed via text message were concerned about mass facial recognition technology, leaving a majority (67.5 percent) unperturbed by the measure.

For Tim Singleton Norton, chair of Digital Rights Watch, these results don’t come as a surprise. 

“I think there’s a very low public understanding of what the issues are and the ramifications are,” he said. 

“The other thing is it’s indicative of how the government’s been selling it. The narrative and rhetoric we hear is all about protecting citizenry, about national security, about the viable need for invasions of privacy for a greater good … that’s a narrative people want to hear, because it’s comforting.”

Most of the Australians who say they’re not worried about a facial recognition database said they had nothing to hide. They placed a higher priority over security than privacy, and it follows the government’s line on the issue that the technology is required for national security.

“I’m a law abiding citizen with nothing to hide so why worry?”

“Terrorists need to be caught by any means,” reads one comment. “I’m a law abiding citizen with nothing to hide so why worry?” reads another.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who are concerned by the prospect of a facial recognition database are more likely to be younger. 45 percent of people aged 18 to 24 say they’re worried about the technology, compared to 19 percent of people aged 65 and over.

Must be all that Black Mirror you’ve been watching, kids.

Image: Roy morgan research

Australia’s facial recognition database has been up since last year, but only had access to images from visas and passports. 

The introduction of drivers license photos in the “Face Verification Service,” is designed to allow agencies to match a picture of a person of interest “seamlessly in real time,” according to Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

For Singleton Norton, the biggest concern is these systems could be susceptible to false positives and racial profiling, as has been raised in the U.S. with the FBI. 

There’s also the issue of data security, especially considering the number of breaches inflicted on government agencies, such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

So yes, why worry, hey? b27c 897c%2fthumb%2f00001

Twitter says it may “refine” its policies after reversing position on Blackburn campaign ad

For the second time in less than three weeks, Twitter has said it will look at its policies following controversy over tweets by a politician. On Tuesday, Twitter reversed a decision it made the day before to block a campaign video from Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican representative from Tennessee, for breaking its ad policies. In a media statement, a Twitter spokesperson said “While we initially determined that a small portion of the video used potentially inflammatory language, after reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues.”

Last month, Twitter promised an update to its “public-facing rules” after explaining that it allowed a tweet by President Donald Trump about North Korea, which critics believed violated the platform’s user policies, to stay up because of its “newsworthiness.”

According to a report by Buzzfeed News, Twitter sent an email to the Blackburn campaign explaining it would allow the video ad if it removed a line mentioning the sale of “baby body parts,” which refer to allegations by anti-abortion against Planned Parenthood which have been discredited by multiple state investigations.

In the email, which was obtained by Buzzfeed, Twitter told the campaign that “The line in this video specific to ‘stopped the sale of baby body parts’ has been deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction. If this is omitted from the video it will be permitted to serve.”

Ironically (but not surprisingly), Twitter’s initial decision to ban the ad gave it more publicity, with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeting that “Twitter continues campaign against GOP.”

Blackburn also used the ban as an opportunity to attack Twitter, Silicon Valley and the “liberal elite” on Twitter.

While critics across the political spectrum have long accused Twitter of applying its policies in an arbitrary way, the divisive political atmosphere in the U.S. has put even more pressure on social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to justify how they enforce their content policies. Adding another layer of complexity to the issue are ongoing Congressional investigations over how much major tech companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google knew about ads that were bought and placed by a Russian company to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Instead of providing clarity, however, Twitter’s promises to “update” or “refine” its policies may add to the confusion, especially if it doesn’t also provide more transparency to how they are applied. TechCrunch has asked Twitter when it will give more specific information about policy changes to users.

Featured Image: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Sony Xperia XZ1 review

The Xperia XZ1 is similar to Sony’s earlier 2017 flagship, the Xperia XZ Premium. It has the same, excellent camera that can shoot super slow motion videos at an impressive 960 frames per second. It has almost everything you’d want in a smartphone, and in our review, we see if it’s worth your money among the intense competition.

An aging design

It’s been some time since a Sony phone was hailed for design, and it will likely stay like that until 2018. Sony has been reusing the same design theme for the past four years, and nothing’s different with the Xperia XZ1.

The smartphone trend of the year is the “bezel-less” design. It’s where the edges flanking the screen are as small as possible for a truly immersive experience, such as the Galaxy Note 8, the LG V30, and the iPhone X. You end up getting a larger screen, in a smaller frame. You won’t find an edge-to-edge display here, as Sony is sticking with a somewhat large forehead and chin on this device — the result looks dated.

Like other Sony phones, the XZ1 sports a sharp rectangular design. It’s different from other phones on the market that opt for rounded corners and an overall softer look. The back is incredibly minimal, which we like. The camera sits on the top left corner with a slight bump, and the Xperia logo is in the middle.

The left edge of the phone is where you’ll find the SIM and MicroSD card slot, which is a little finicky. Ours eventually broke on the Xperia XZ Premium, so we imagine the one on the XZ1 will be just as fragile. The good thing is you don’t need a SIM card removal tool — just a long fingernail that can dig in.

Sony has been reusing the same design theme for the past four years.

On the right is the power button, volume rocker, and a camera button. We always like to see dedicated shutter buttons, and wish more manufacturers added them in. On the XZ1, you can immediately launch the camera by pressing the button and use it to capture photos and videos. The power button is indented — it doesn’t stick out like traditional buttons. On the top, you might be pleased to know there’s a headphone jack.

You may have noticed something missing missing: There’s no fingerprint sensor. Sony has long-claimed the reason it doesn’t have a fingerprint sensor is a “business decision.” It’s puzzling, because you can find the sensor on the international models of these Xperia phones. The lack of a fingerprint sensor is inconvenient, especially since you can use it to unlock banking and other security sensitive apps. You’ll have to stick with a PIN or swipe pattern here.

We do like the XZ1’s design — the back is minimal and attractive, but the front looks dated due to the chunky edges around the screen. If you’re looking for something new in Sony design, wait until next year. The company confirmed we can expect to see a visual refresh in 2018, and hopefully it includes a fingerprint sensor.

Top-tier performance

You’ll hardly have any issues with the Sony Xperia XZ1’s performance. It’s responsive and snappy, apps load quickly, and we didn’t have problems when multitasking. It was able to handle graphic-intensive games, like Asphalt 8, extremely well, and the only stutter we saw was when it tried to load an ad in the game’s menu.

Sony Xperia XZ1 review

Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

The smooth performance is all thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, which is the same chip you’ll find powering most Android handsets of 2017, including the Galaxy S8 Plus, and the Pixel 2.

Let’s take a look at those Benchmark scores:

  • AnTuTu: 169,582
  • Geekbench 4: 1,836 (single-core), 6,508 (multi-core)
  • 3DMark Slingshot Extreme: 3,609

These benchmark scores are quite good, as the XZ1 managed to beat out other high-end phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, which scored 155,253 in its AnTuTu test. Naturally, it didn’t come close to the iPhone 8, which scored a massive 214,492 on AnTuTu. Benchmarks aren’t the be-all end-all of performance though, so don’t rely on it too much.

You’ll find 4GB of RAM, which helps with multitasking, and 64GB of internal storage should be plenty for most people. The MicroSD card slot means you can expand that storage up to 256GB if you need more space.

A good display, and daylong battery

At 5.2-inches, the Xperia XZ1 is smaller than your average flagship smartphone, and its size means you definitely don’t need a super high resolution like the Note 8’s 2960 x 1440-pixels. Instead the XZ1 has a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) pixel resolution. The LCD screen is sharp and bright, but colors aren’t as vibrant and the blacks aren’t as deep as the AMOLED screen on our Google Pixel XL.

Sony Xperia XZ1 Compared To

The 2,700mAh battery is small, but the phone managed to last a day in our tests. You’ll want to make sure that you charge the phone daily, but at least there’s support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 — that means you can get quite a bit of juice after a short charging time.

The camera to end all cameras? Not quite

One of the main selling points of the Xperia XZ1 is its camera. The rear camera packs 19 megapixels and a f/2.0 aperture, electronic image stabilization, and predictive phase detection and laser autofocus. The spotlight is on videos over photos, because the killer feature is the ability to capture slow motion videos at 960 frames per second at 720p. That means you can slow down incredibly high-speed movement. Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus can do slow-motion video of 240fps at 1,080p, which isn’t as slow as the XZ1.

It’s a fun feature, but it can be pretty tricky to use.To use super slow-mo, you’ll first start recording video, then you’ll hit the “super slo-mo” button at the exact moment that you want, after which it’ll start filming at 960 frames per second. The camera only takes slow-motion footage for a few seconds, which means you have to time it all perfectly or you’ll miss the action. It works best in bright daylight, which can be a little limiting, and we would have liked to see a 1,080p resolution — maybe next year.

When it comes to taking photos, we compared the XZ1 closely to the Google Pixel as we had it on hand.  Images weren’t as sharp as those taken by the Pixel, and colors weren’t as saturated — to be fair, the Pixel tends to oversaturate images. We had quite a bit of trouble with the XZ1’s focus: The Pixel was able to latch onto objects and people quickly and easily, but the XZ1 kept shifting focus. The camera’s results are best with landscape shots, which are well detailed with accurate colors.

In low light, the Xperia XZ1 largely could not produce many usable photos.

In low light, the Xperia XZ1 largely could not produce many usable photos. You may be able to achieve better results using the camera’s manual mode and tweak settings, but we were a little disappointed with the results from the automatic mode.

There are some other nifty features in the camera, such as “predictive phase detection autofocus.” It keeps the focus on a moving object and takes a burst of photos. For example, if you wanted to take photos of the front of a train pulling into a station, the XZ1 can keep the focus on the front of the train as it moves closer and closer. This worked pretty well, and while one or two photos were still blurry, we were always able to find great shots within the cluster.

The Sony Xperia XZ1 is built around offering a great camera experience, but so far its best attributes aren’t exactly necessary. We like the object tracking focus and the super slow motion, but an overall improved photography-experience would have been preferred.

Android 8.0 Oreo

The Sony Xperia XZ1 is one of the first devices to ship with Google’s latest and greatest operating system, Android 8.0 Oreo, but Sony has tweaked it heavily for a custom experience.

It’s not a bad-looking theme, but we definitely could have done without the pre-installed apps – and there are plenty of them. From Google-replacement apps, like “Album,” and “News,” to other apps like the PlayStation app, the bloatware is serious on this phone. These extra apps sit next to Google’s ones, so you’re sometimes stuck with two of the same app.

What makes the XZ1 unique is 3D Creator, which allows you to create 3D scans of faces, food, and so on. You can have these scans printed if you own a 3D printer, and if you don’t you can send them to a third-party service straight from the app itself. We found the 3D scanner to be a little tricky to use, and you’ll want both a steady hand and a steady model – but in the end it can produce some cool effects. We like it, but we don’t think it’s going to be popular or widely-used. It’s rather niche.

In general, the software works fine and was responsive, though a little cluttered. If you’re looking for a pure, simple Android experience, look to an HTC, Google, or Motorola phone.

Warranty, price, and availability

Sony offers a one year limited warranty on the Xperia XZ1, which covers failure under normal use and factory defects. It’s important to note that it does not cover standard phone wear and tear or cases of user errors – including accidental damage or dropping your phone in the pool. The phone does offer an IP68 rating – which should allow it to withstand up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes.

The Xperia XZ1 is available now on Amazon, but you should know it is only supported on GSM networks such as T-Mobile and AT&T. It does not work on Verizon and Sprint. It costs $700, though it’s already discounted to $650 for some colors.

It can be easy to forget about Sony in the smartphone world. While players like Apple, Samsung, and more recently Google, but you should know it is only supported on GSM networks such as T-Mobile and AT&T. It does not work on Verizon and Sprint. It costs $700, though it’s already discounted to $650 for some colors.

Our Take

The Sony Xperia XZ1 is a good phone. It offers excellent performance and ships with the latest Android 8.0 Oreo. While some of its camera features are little gimmicky, we did enjoy playing around with them, especially the Super Slo-mo. For the price, we expect the camera to be better for photography, and the dated design, lack of a fingerprint sensor, and bloatware and unnecessary blights.

If you’re a Sony phone enthusiast, we recommend waiting until next year. The company said it will introduce a refreshed design ethos for 2018, and we’re optimistic it’ll pull out something interesting.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes, there is. The Samsung Galaxy S8 offers a modern design, excellent camera, and beautiful display. It also keeps the great performance offered by the Xperia XZ1 thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, and it’s slightly cheaper on Amazon right now at $625.

You can even go for a the first-generation Google Pixel, which is now $550 on the Google Store, or the HTC U11.

How long will it last?

The phone performs well, so its performance should hold for at least the next two years. The IP68 water- and dust-resistance rating gives added durability, and there’s no glass on the back so there’s less of a chance to break the phone. We expect two to three years of use here, more if you take care of the phone.

Should you buy it?

Yes. You get good performance, a capable camera with fun features, daylong battery life, and a good display. It’s a little too expensive for what it offers though, and there’s easily better competition. Buy it if you really love taking slow motion videos.

Beginning October 19, you’ll be able to walk into a Google pop-up in NYC or LA

Why it matters to you

If you’re in New York or LA beginning October 19, you may want to check out the Google pop-up store.

Start the countdown, friends, because in 10 days, you’ll be able to walk into a storefront hosted by Google. Reprising its successful pop-up concept from last year, Google is once again hosting two pop-up stores to sell its new Made by Google products. Slated to open on both the east and west coasts of the United States, these transient stores just may be a reason to mark your calendars.

Google’s not sharing much information about the pop-ups as of yet — currently, a landing page notes only that the New York City store will be located at 110 Fifth Avenue and will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the duration of the popup; and that the Los Angeles store will be located at 8552 Melrose Avenue and will keep the same hours as its New York counterpart. While the tech giant hasn’t confirmed how long the stores will remain open, if history is any indication, we can expect to be able to walk into a physical Google store through the holiday season.

It’s likely that the products to be found at the pop-up will be those that made their debut at the October 4 Google event. That suggests that you could buy the new Pixel 2 smartphones from the store, as well as the premium Chromebook known as the Pixelbook, alongside its compatible Pixelbook Pen stylus. We might also see the Pixel Buds, which are Bluetooth headphones capable of translating among 40 languages thanks to Google Assistant and Google Translate. On the smart home side, the pop-up might feature the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max.

Other recently launched products that could be found at the pop-ups include the Google Clips (an A.I.-enhanced mini camera) and the Daydream View VR headset. Of course, the vast majority of this is speculation, and Google has made no confirmation of what it might be selling at its short-lived stores. That said, on its landing page, Google is offering eager buyers the opportunity to sign up for updates about devices, news, tips, and offers from Google.

So if you’ll be in LA or New York in a week and a half, you might just want to pop by the Google pop-up.

Amazon’s Fire HD 10 does everything you expect a cheap tablet to and nothing more

In recent years, the tablet world has been little more than the iPad world. If you’re looking for a tablet, it’s very likely that the iPad is the right tablet for you. The iPad’s drop in price to $329 earlier this year strengthened its position even further.

But back when the iPad cost $500 or more, there was a burgeoning market of cheap tablets that promised to do all of the iPad things for a lot less money. This was Amazon’s world. Its line of Fire HD tablets were way less expensive than Apple’s devices, and made for good alternatives if you didn’t want to spend the money for an iPad.

Amazon never really left the cheap tablet market; you’ve been able to consistently get 7- and 8-inch Fire models for as little as $50 that worked fine as a device for kids or a Kindle replacement that could also play video. But now Amazon has refreshed its larger Fire HD 10 for the first time since 2015, with an upgraded display, faster processor, better sound, and lower price. A lot has changed since the last time the Fire HD 10 was updated — not least of which: the iPad is a lot cheaper now. So, Amazon is tackling that head-on. The HD 10 is much closer in size to the standard iPad, and at $149 to start ($80 less than the 2015 model), it’s less than half the price. (The $149 Fire HD 10 comes with Amazon’s ads on the lock screen; a one-time $15 fee will remove them.)

So the obvious question, as always, is: does the Fire HD 10 work well enough to be a compelling alternative to Apple’s tablet, while saving you a good chunk of money? I’ve been testing the new tablet for the past few days, and my response is no. If you want an iPad to do iPad things (video, games, reading, email, etc.) and maybe sit in for a laptop from time to time, you should pony up for an iPad. But that doesn’t make the Fire HD 10 a complete write-off.

The biggest and best improvement Amazon made to the new Fire HD 10 was giving it a new 10.1-inch display with 1920 x 1200 pixels of resolution. It’s well saturated and has good viewing angles, making it great for watching video, browsing webpages, or reading ebooks. It’s obviously not as nice as the iPad’s higher-resolution screen, but most people won’t have an issue with this panel. It’s the best screen an Amazon tablet has had since 2013’s Fire HDX, and far better than I expect from a $150 device.

Amazon’s also upgraded the sound with two Dolby Atmos-tuned speakers, and the processor has been bumped up to a newer MediaTek quad-core chip paired with 2GB of RAM, which Amazon claims is 30 percent faster than the 2015 Fire HD 10’s chip. The entry-level model comes with 32GB of storage, but you can pay more for 64GB or just use a microSD card to expand the storage.

All of these things make the Fire HD 10 very capable at doing basic tablet things: playing video, browsing the web, or even playing games. Navigating the interface, loading apps, and switching between them all happens without drama.

You don’t really get the feeling that the Fire HD 10 is cheap until you turn it over, where a hardy, matte plastic finish greets you. It feels a bit like a child’s toy compared to an iPad (especially in the bright blue color of my review unit), but it’s grippy and feels like the kind of thing that will take a few knocks without showing it. Most people are probably going to put the HD 10 in a case and never see the finish anyway. (Amazon offers a basic $39.99 folio case that can prop the tablet up in either portrait or landscape orientation.)

Despite its low cost, it’s not the hardware that really holds the Fire HD 10 back from competing head-to-head with the iPad, it’s the software. As with every Fire tablet, the HD 10 runs Amazon’s custom version of Android called Fire OS. The core interface is fine; it’s easy to switch between the main app launcher and sections for video, books, games, music, audiobooks, and magazines. There’s also a new “For You” section that shows apps, books, and videos you’ve recently used, as well as suggestions for what to do next.

But going beyond the basics is where the Fire HD 10 starts to falter. Amazon’s app store is loaded with popular apps, such as Netflix, HBO Go and HBO Now, Hulu, and so on, but it doesn’t have nearly as many apps as Apple’s App Store or even Google’s Play Store. It’s missing all of Google’s apps, including Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, and Chrome, and all of Microsoft’s apps. Fire OS comes with its own web browser and a rudimentary email, calendar, contacts, and document apps, but they are poor substitutes for Google or Microsoft’s suites. This all makes the Fire HD 10 a fine consumption device, but not something you’d want to use for heavy productivity. The app I missed the most was my password manager, which meant that I had to look up my passwords on my phone whenever I wanted to log into an account on the Fire HD 10.

Like most Amazon products, the Fire HD 10 wants you to use Amazon’s apps for everything, such as Kindle, Amazon Music, Audible, Prime Photos, and so on. All of these apps come preinstalled on the tablet and are great if you’re already fully invested in them. But if you use a different photos app or music player on your phone, they won’t do you much good here.

One thing that Amazon has added is hands-free Alexa, which means you can bark voice commands at the Fire HD 10 and it will respond to you, even if the screen is off. Like the Echo Show, the Fire HD 10’s version of Alexa will display information on the screen depending on what you ask. Ask for the weather and it will show current conditions plus a five-day forecast, for example. Alexa on the Fire HD 10 is almost as fully capable as it is on Echo devices, and it can be used for managing smart home gadgets, adding things to a shopping list, or buying items from Amazon by voice. The only thing it wouldn’t do for me is play music from Spotify or use Alexa voice and video calling, which is an odd and frustrating limitation, given that Echo devices support Spotify and the Fire HD 10 has a front-facing camera. (Amazon tells me that it is “working on” support for Spotify.)

That makes the Fire HD 10 a compelling kitchen tablet: it can be used hands free for unit conversions, timers, alarms, recipe look-ups, and other cooking related tasks. Or you can use it to watch videos from Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, or other sources, including live TV from Hulu or Sling. That makes it a better (and cheaper) kitchen device than Amazon’s own Echo Show, provided you don’t care about using Amazon’s video calling service (and you probably don’t).

The other thing that the Fire HD 10 will be appealing for is as a device for kids. I’ve already mentioned its hardy construction, but it also supports multiple accounts and parental controls, which are non-existent or difficult to implement on an iPad. Since kids are most likely to use a tablet for watching video or playing games, the Fire HD 10’s software limitations aren’t going to be much of an issue here. (The only problem might be YouTube, which can be accessed via the Fire HD 10’s web browser.)

I don’t think cheap tablets will ever be as interesting as they were a few years ago, when the iPad was a much more expensive device. But while the Fire HD 10 won’t win over anyone looking to replace their laptop with a tablet, it’s still a fine tablet for doing basic things that doesn’t cost a fortune.

And when you’re spending $150, there’s little more you can ask.

7 Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • It’s cheap
  • Great screen
  • Capable performance

Bad Stuff

  • Plasticky as all get out
  • Weak app selection
  • Alexa is strangely limited

Divoom Timebox Mini review

Roaming the halls of the IFA tech conference in September, we were immediately charmed by this eye-catching pixel art display. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the front of a Bluetooth speaker which hooks up to your iPhone or Android smartphone via an incredibly feature-packed app. It can play music, display the time, alert you to incoming notifications on your phone, and a whole lot more.

Best of all it can be customized to show any retro pixel artwork of your choice – including your own creations. Dig into our Divoom Timebox Mini review to learn about the full potential of this delightful Franken-gadget.

Portable and lightweight

Best of all it can be customized to show any retro pixel artwork of your choice

The Timebox Mini is a plastic box measuring 3.5 inches wide and about 1.5 inches thick. The front sports an 11 x 11 chunky pixel display with a thin bezel. On the back, you’ll find a speaker grille with a Micro USB charging port at the bottom, flanked by two standard 3.5mm jacks for input and output.

Up top, there are volume controls and a play/pause button. On the right side, you’ll find the power button and a cycle button that goes through a few different functions. On the bottom, there are tiny rubbery feet to give it some space between your desk or nightstand. The Timebox Mini is very light and highly portable. It comes in a range of different colors including black, red, white, pink, blue, green, and teal – our review unit is red.

Feature-packed app

To use your Timebox Mini, you download the app for Android or iOS and pair your smartphone via Bluetooth. It’s quick and easy to set up and the app is absolutely packed with functionality. You can tap into weather, calendar, clock, or alarms. You can choose from an extensive gallery of existing artworks and animations, or create your own (more on that in a moment). You can even have your Timebox Mini show notifications from your phone, for example, flashing up the Facebook or Twitter icons when you have incoming alerts or informing you of incoming calls and emails.

It’s fun to get animated pixel art with your music. We were excited at the idea of it matching animations to music, but sadly it doesn’t work with streaming services, only with the music you have stored on your phone in MP3 format. There’s even a sleep function that plays supposedly soothing sounds — some are, some aren’t — with matching colors for a chosen length of time to help lull you off the sleep.

The kitchen sink approach continues with the option to display block colors, play games, use it as a stopwatch or scoreboard, or even chat through it with text and voice messages. This last function requires you to create an account and connect with a friend who also has a Timebox Mini, but it means you could send a message and have it display on the Timebox Mini on their desk at work.

Retro pixel art fun

The feature attraction here is obviously the pixel art display. Originally, pixel art popped up in old 2D video games where graphics were severely limited. Talented artists used individual pixels as building blocks to make up a recognizable image, a bit like a mosaic. Even though graphical capabilities have moved on, pixel art is still hugely popular and the Timebox Mini is a great way to dip into it.

This is a great little gift that’s impressively versatile and genuinely fun.

Go into the design section of the comprehensive app and you can create your very own artworks pixel by pixel. There are a few block colors to choose from, or you can use the RGB slider to get the exact tone you want. Then it’s a simple case of tapping the individual pixels to light them up. Once you’re done you can save your creations or share them. There are lots of artworks available in the app that other users have created and uploaded.

It’s a speaker, too

If you’re anything like us you already have a scattered tribe of Bluetooth speakers in your home and, to be honest, there’s nothing special about this one on the audio front. It features a 5W 2-inch driver that’s plenty loud and clear enough for use as an alarm clock or speakerphone. It can also fill a small room with music, but it obviously lacks the range and quality of something bigger. Check out our picks for the best Bluetooth speakers if you’re an audiophile.

We’re excited by the prospect of technology like the Tempow Audio Profile inside the forthcoming Moto X4, which allows you to simultaneously connect to four Bluetooth speakers and play perfectly synced audio through them. That could be a great way of getting more use out of Bluetooth speakers like the Timebox Mini.

Battery life

There’s a 2,500 mAh battery inside that’s good for around 10 hours of music playback, but it will obviously drain faster if you’re using the LED display. We found it lasted a full day of mixed use with plenty left in the tank, so charging every few days should be enough. It comes with a Micro USB to USB cable, but you’ll have to provide your own wall charger.

Tap the power button once and you’ll get a remaining power display in the shape of a battery icon. When it does run out of battery, you can charge it fully back up again in around three hours.

Cute and incredibly versatile

Kids absolutely love the Timebox Mini and it’s the sort of device that can slot into any environment because it’s so customizable. It works well as a fun desk toy or a retro alarm clock. Some people will like the notifications and speakerphone functionality. Others will just enjoy creating space invaders or watching it animate in time to their music. Put two together, and you have a super cute, unique way of communicating.

The Timebox Mini costs $60 right now on Amazon and we think it’s well worth it. This is a great little gift that’s impressively versatile and genuinely fun.

See how food changes your smoothie’s nutrition with NutriBullet Balance

Why it matters to you

Those closely tracking calories, cholesterol, or other nutrition information will appreciate seeing exactly how much of each is in at least some of their food.

When making comparisons, you’re supposed to use apples to apples. But check out a calorie-counting website, and you see that even these fruits are not all created equally.

Apples can range in calories from 53 to 116 depending on where you look and you might have to grab a measuring tape or scale to tell where yours falls.

NutriBullet, along with Perfect Company, wants to make keeping tabs on nutrition a bit more seamless with its new NutriBullet Balance blender. The smart blender — introduced this week at the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle — has an accompanying app and integrated scale and can recommend recipes based on what you like and your diet.

The app lets you choose your eating style, with options such as low-sugar, dairy-free, and paleo. Each recipe lists nutritional information, including calories, protein, carbs, sugar, and fiber. As you start adding ingredients, the app will show you when you’ve got the right amount. This should help you see what happens when you add an extra glob of peanut butter or a handful of spinach.

Featuring a Bluetooth-enabled Smart Nutrition Sensor, the blender acts as a “Virtual Nutritionist,” assisting you in counting calories or assessing what you’re putting in your smoothie.

Even though the blender itself has just one button, users can make the consistency of their smoothies more personalized via the app. Based on the ingredients, the app uses six algorithms to determine speed and duration of the blender, so you shouldn’t find celery chunks when you open the lid. The company hopes that you end up with a perfect blend.

It has a 1,200-watt motor and comes with two 32-ounce cups that serve as the blender’s jar and your to-go cup. The app will launch with more than 300 recipes and continue to add more; in addition to smoothies, it will have recipes for desserts, soups, dips, and other blender-made fare.

When the $180 NutriBullet Balance launches this fall (date TBD) you will be able to upload your nutrition data to Apple Health and Google Fit — helpful for those of us who don’t use a blender for 100 percent of our meal prep.