Moschino has released a capsule collection inspired by Candy Crush in time for Coachella

Why it matters to you

Coachella is always a time for strange fashion, and perhaps the strangest this year will come from Moschino. The Italian fashion house has released a Candy Crush-inspired line.

Thought the Candy Crush craze was over? Think again. Now that you can actually wear your favorite game, you can bet that it’ll be seeing a resurgence (as if it ever really went away). That’s right, Moschino, the Italian luxury fashion house, has created a capsule collection inspired by the famous mobile game. And to make things even better, the collection is launching just in time for Coachella, so you can combine all elements of pop culture at one crazy music festival.

The Candy Crush collaboration features such practical pieces as a $650 limited-edition backpack; a $70 iPhone case; and a $300 women’s bathing suit and $205 men’s swimsuit. Sure, that amount seems like child’s play when you’re playing Candy Crush and earning coins in the app, but in real life? That’s a bit different. Still, we’re sure that plenty of people will be falling over themselves to grab one of these limited edition designs before they’re gone. Once Moschino is sold out, you’re out of luck.

If you want to check out the Candy Crush-clad crew at Coachella, you can follow the social media hashtag #MoschinoCandyCrush.

This isn’t the first time that Moschino has taken something of a fashion risk — or at least, offered some avant-garde interpretations. The brand’s creative director, Jeremy Scott, has previously worked with other tech companies. Two years ago, Scott worked alongside Nintendo on the “Super Moschino” collection, which as you might’ve guessed, featured items that drew inspiration from Super Mario characters.

And it’s not just tech that has served as Scott’s muse — indeed, the creative director has creatively turned McDonald’s and SpongeBob into fashion statements, too.

So in the grand scheme of things, a Candy Crush line really isn’t all that bizarre, and if nothing else, will likely prove popular for music festival goers this season. At least, for those with deep pockets.

The new Logitech Pop buttons work with Apple’s HomeKit

Why it matters to you

Logitech’s new Pop buttons will make tasks like switching on a lightbulb easier than ever.

Last year’s Logitech Pop button were an inventive solution to a common smart home problem: A lack of switches to go along with devices. You could wire up Logitech’s spring-mounted Pop buttons instead of having to fish out your smartphone for basic tasks like adjusting an internet-connected lightbulb or thermostat. And now, if you use Apple’s HomeKit, you can do the same with this year’s Pop.

The new Pop has the distinction of being the first internet-connected button inside Apple’s growing smart home ecosystem, Logitech said, and it works as you’d expect: You can control any compatible HomeKit-device you’ve set up within the iOS app.

Otherwise, it doesn’t do much to switch up last year’s formula. The new Pop still ships with an adhesive rear cover, and connects to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. It’s programmable — each button press can be tied to a different action, like dimming the lights and flipping on the television or opening the blinds. And it works with Logitech’s existing Pop companion app, which lets you create IFTTT-like “recipes” with custom delays, timing, and activation orders.

It’s a plug-and-play affair with just about every product that Logitech’s Harmony remote platform supports. The Pop can toggle wirelessly connected Sonos speakers on and off, flip Philips Hue overheads to a certain color, and open and close Lutron window drapes. And better still, it works in tandem with Logitech’s internet-connected Harmony remotes, if you happen to have one or two of those lying around — you can program a Pop to switch off your television with a tap, for example, or tune in to a favorited cable channel with a double press.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg — hardware on open platforms like WeMo, SmartThings, and Insteon platforms are also compatible. And existing Logitech Pop owners are getting a software update — users will be able to control Osram Lighting, Hunter Douglas Shades, and Lutron.

“You still want it to be simple, you still want it to be capable,” Logitech’s senior director of Home Control Neil Raggio said. “And so we landed on […] gestures, as something from a mental model that would be easy enough that a user would know [how to use it].”

The Logitech Pop Smart Button Kit starts at $50, and ships with the bridge necessary to connect it to your Wi-Fi network. Each additional button costs $40, and the product comes in white, alloy, coral, and teal.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review

With pre-orders through the roof, it looks like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus may be unmatched in sales this year (perhaps until the next iPhone at least). It’s certainly a win for the company, considering its new phones are $100 more than we’re used to paying. More importantly, this is Samsung’s first major device since it recalled the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, and it looks like people are hungry for a successor.

The Galaxy S8 is worth the hype and the wait since the year-old Galaxy S7 Edge (which frankly looks dated now with its home button). But in a time where you can get a fantastic smartphone for $400 or less, is it worth dropping $750 or more on the S8? We think so, if only for its brilliant screen, but it is a big ask if money is tight. The Galaxy S8 has exceptional build quality, design, and a stellar displays, not to mention plenty of power to crush any task. Let’s take a closer look.

Brilliant screen, eye-catching design

So far, the Galaxy S8 is the prettiest smartphone of 2017, and it will certainly be tough to beat. It’s smooth and soft to the touch, and the all-glass design means you won’t feel a disconnect between the back and the front of the smartphone — it’s seamless.

But we can’t talk about the S8’s design without first addressing its brilliant screen. Both the S8 and the S8 Plus have a resolution of 2,960 × 1,440 pixels, allowing for crisp image quality. The Super AMOLED screen gets impressively bright, offers darker blacks, and its mobile HDR Premium certification means it boasts greater color volume, meaning you can watch colorful High-Dynamic Range (HDR) content, which is the new hot thing in video. This has the best screen we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.

To showcase this vibrant display, Samsung added skimpy bezels (edges around the screen) on the top and bottom, and utilized its Edge display. As such, the screen takes up 83 percent of the front panel, and it’s absolutely the first thing anyone will notice on the phone. It looks “futuristic,” my sister told me; she hardly cares or pays attention to technology at all.

The bigger display improves the smartphone experience. Even sending an email feels nice because the screen makes well-designed apps look even more gorgeous. But while eliminating bezels may be the current smartphone trend, gripping the phone without triggering the screen is difficult. It takes some getting used to, but that’s because we have to rethink smartphone sizes, and what they mean.

The Galaxy S8 Plus is 6.2-inches, and the S8 is 5.8-inches — those are some of the largest screens we’ve seen on a smartphone. But as the screens have gotten larger, the smartphone’s frame has stayed nearly the same size. The curved edge-to-edge screen coupled with minimal bezels make it tough to grab the phone from a flat surface at first, for example, but it gets easier after a few hours. You also may find yourself accidentally triggering the screen when gripping the phone (more so with the S8 Plus), but again we adapted fairly quickly. You probably will, too.

The all-glass design means the phone is slippery and fragile, not to mention a fingerprint magnet. (Make sure you grab a case and keep a microfiber cloth handy at all times.) You’ll find the power button on the right side, and the volume rocker and Bixby button on the left. Bixby is Samsung’s new Siri, and we’ll talk more about it later. The headphone jack is on the bottom, to the left of the USB Type-C port. To the right of that port is the phone’s sole speaker, which is bottom-firing, like the iPhone.

This has the best screen we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.

The decision to only go with one bottom-firing speaker is unfortunate. As is the case with most single, bottom-firing speakers — such as the ones on the Pixel and the LG G6 — our hands end up blocking sound when holding the phone horizontally. The S8’s speaker quality is pretty good, but it doesn’t get as loud as the iPhone 7.

The back of the phone feels like an afterthought, though perhaps it’s simply overshadowed by the beauty of the front. There’s nothing special about it. The design looks almost the same as the Galaxy S7. The camera sits flush, next to the flash and heart rate sensor, and a fingerprint sensor. That’s right, for the first time Samsung has removed the home button from the front of the phone. Despite the rumors, the company hasn’t embedded a fingerprint sensor in the display so you’ll have to use the one on the rear. This causes two major problems, but we’ll dive into that later.

Samsung makes some of the best smartphone hardware, and the Galaxy S8 series is all the evidence you need. Both models feel incredibly smooth, thin, and the construction is seamless. We suggest opting for the S8 over the S8 Plus, because it’s compact and far easier to hold.

Top specs

The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are the first phones to feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor (international variants use Samsung’s Exynos 8895), which means it’s supposed to deliver 27 percent better performance than phones that use the Snapdragon 821, such as the Google Pixel and the OnePlus 3T. Qualcomm also claims the 835 is more energy efficient, though we haven’t seen a noticeable improvement in battery life from last year.

You’ll find both S8’s have 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage — though you can expand it with the MicroSD card slot.

Initially, we ran into a horrible bug. Our Galaxy S8 Plus was stuttering all over the place, particularly in the notification drawer and the Recent apps section. A factory reset fixed the issue, and we’ve tested each of our originally installed apps to figure out what caused the issue, but we can’t figure out what went wrong. We’ll update this review if we run into the problem again. So far, it was an isolated problem.

Now, the S8 flies with almost zero hiccups. We tested games such as Asphalt Xtreme and FIFA Mobile, and found no performance issues. Dawn of Titans ran well for the most part, but we did see some occasional stutters. We had no problems moving through apps and multitasking.

We ran through some benchmark tests, and the Snapdragon 835 more or less outperformed the Google Pixel’s Snapdragon 821:

  • 3DMark SlingShot Extreme: 2052
  • AnTuTu: 155253
  • Geekbench 4: 1762 single core, 5723 multi core

For reference, with Geekbench 4 the Pixel earned 1,665 in single core and 3,691 in multi-core; the iPhone 7 Plus received 3,367 in single core and 5,491 in multi-core.

We’re hoping we don’t see the initial issues again, and we’re enjoying the smooth performance from the Snapdragon 835. Still, we don’t think the Galaxy S8 offers smoother day-to-day performance than the Pixel, and that’s likely because Google can optimize its software and hardware far better than anyone else (except Apple). Samsung phones also tend to slow down a little over time, so we’ll keep you updated if anything changes.

TouchWiz UI is stylish

TouchWiz, Samsung’s Android skin, has never been the company’s forte. At times, it had a less than appealing design, and bogged down the operating system. That has changed with the Galaxy S8.

There is a clear, attractive design aesthetic — with uniform app icons and slick fonts. The lack of a physical home button also gives the smartphone a more modern look. Samsung has embedded a pressure-sensitive home button at the bottom-center — it’s not just an on-screen button, because you can press and hold it to go home even in full-screen apps or if the screen is off.

One of the first things I did when setting up the S8, was reverse the layout of the navigation icons. Samsung has gone against every other Android manufacturer for years, offering the Recent apps icon on the left, and the back button on the right. Well, on the S8 you can finally reverse it thanks to the on-screen navigation icons.

Choice is a prevalent in Samsung’s latest interface. You can choose where you want the brightness slider on the notification drawer; you can customize the display resolution; turn the Edge screen on and off; toggle Bixby on or off; use the LED indicator or not; turn on basic swipe gestures for the fingerprint sensor … you get the idea. There are a ton of features in this phone — most of which have been in Galaxy devices for a while — and they all feel polished and useful.

There is a clear, attractive design aesthetic.

I recall using Smart Stay on my Samsung Galaxy Captivate back in 2011 — it keeps the screen on as long as your eyes are staring at it. It was far from good then, but it’s useful on the S8.

Multitasking also offers more options than any other Android device — in splitscreen mode, you can reverse the app position or trigger picture-in-picture mode. You can even swipe from the top corners of any supported app to make it a floating window, and it works surprisingly well.

Even Bluetooth is improved. The Galaxy S8 is the first smartphone to utilize Bluetooth 5, which has 4x the range of Bluetooth 4.2, 8x the data throughput, and 2x the data speed. That means you can walk up to 200 meters (in direct line of sight) from your device and still listen via your Bluetooth-connected earbuds — that’s a lot further than ever before.

The upgrade means you can stream music to two different Bluetooth devices at the same time. We connected a pair of Bose wireless headphones and a speaker from Cambridge Audio — the two played music perfectly in sync, and the pairing process took less than 1 minute.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The facial recognition technology on the Galaxy S8 is also noteworthy. Sure, it may not work 100 percent of the time — especially if you’re moving or are in a darker environment — but it was often faster than using the fingerprint sensor. You can also choose to use the iris (eye) scanner, though we didn’t find it as effective. The fingerprint on the rear is the third option, and here’s where those two downsides come into play.

The fingerprint sensor is almost impossible to reach on the Galaxy S8 Plus — and that’s coming from someone with large hands. And even if it is reachable, you probably won’t make use of the fingerprint gestures, because the placement is so unnatural. The second problem is how your fingers will naturally touch the camera sensor on both models. Samsung knows this is a problem, and even warns you to clean the camera often to make sure there are no smudges. But it all could have been avoided if they placed the sensor lower, like almost every other Android phones that opts for a rear sensor.

All in all, the software experience on the Galaxy S8 is surprisingly useful, and you can toggle most options on or off to your heart’s content.

Stellar shots in the right conditions

The 12-megapixel rear camera hasn’t changed much from the Galaxy S7. That’s not a bad thing. The S7 also offered stellar photos.

In broad daylight, Galaxy S8 photos have great picture quality and accurate colors, but things were a little trickier in different lighting conditions. Occasionally, we had to take a photo twice to make sure it wasn’t blurry.

Low-light photos sometimes suffered in picture clarity, but other times photos were relatively sharp in dark environments.

We wish Samsung had done something different, new, or exciting with the rear camera, like a dual-camera setup. At least there are quite a few modes to choose from, including Selective Focus (like Apple’s Portrait Mode), Panorama, and even a Pro mode, where you can change the shutter speed, focus, and ISO if you’re more experienced with a camera.

But the 8-megapixel front-facing camera is where the camera experience shines, largely because it comes with a variety of stickers, filters, and masks, similar to what you’d find in Snapchat. They’re fun, and work pretty well. We imagine they’ll take off in popularity if Samsung adds new content often (they even work on groups).

Speaking of groups, Samsung has a “Wide Selfie” mode that lets you snap a photo, then twist the camera to your left and right to capture your friends. The photos are stitched together and the end result is surprisingly seamless. It’s a neat way to add group selfie capability without using a wide-angle lens.

Bixby? Bixby? Are you there?

If Bixby, Samsung’s new digital assistant, piqued your interest in picking up a Galaxy S8, you will be disappointed. Voice commands are not available yet and won’t be here until “later this spring.” So that leaves Bixby Home, Reminder, and Vision.

Home is an assortment of random information, such as your current step count, next calendar event, the weather, what’s trending on Twitter, and even a random GIF from Giphy that we’re not really sure how to use. It’s so much easier and faster to go into these respective apps, because the Bixby button is ridiculously slow and unreliable at activating Bixby Home.

Reminders is the equivalent to setting reminders on Google Inbox or with Google Assistant (which is also available on the S8 by pressing and holding the home button).

You can stream music to two different Bluetooth devices at the same time.

That leaves Vision, which is arguably the most useful feature of the bunch at the moment, but it’s use cases are limited to specific moments, like when you see a shoe and want to shop for something similar — point the camera to the product and tap the Bixby icon. You’ll be directed to an Amazon search link, or Bixby can show more images of similar products. I’ve used it once or twice, and it largely feels like a gimmick. Your mileage may vary, though.

Bixby very much feels like an unfinished product. If the assistant is one of the reasons you’re excited about the Galaxy S8, don’t expect it to be as useful as Samsung claims.

Average daylong battery

The Galaxy S8 Plus packs a 3,500mAh battery, while the smaller S8 has a 3,000mAh capacity. We found the S8 Plus to last a full day with moderate to heavy use — we ended up with around 25 percent around 8 p.m. after a long day of taking photos, music streaming, and browsing. On a day with regular use — where we checked and responded to notifications, listened to music, and did some light browsing — we came home with a little under 40 percent by 6 p.m.

We’ll need to spend more time with the Galaxy S8 to see how long it lasts, but we’re expecting more or less the same results due to the smaller screen.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Compared To

Both devices support high-speed wireless charging, which is always a plus, as is the USB Type-C connector, which is probably new for you, but will soon be a standard on most devices.

Warranty information

Samsung offers a standard 1 year warranty for the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. That covers manufacturing defects, but not much else.

The company has started an advanced warranty program called Premium Care, which will run you $12 per month (first month is free). This plan covers accidental drops, cracked screens, water damage, and mechanical defects. Samsung will provide you with a new or reconditioned device, though you’ll have to pay a $99 deductible. The device is either shipped or hand-delivered to you.

With Premium Care, you also get access to help via HelloTech, a company that will send authorized technicians to teach you about all the features on your phone.

Our Take

The Galaxy S8, in both its sizes, is an excellent smartphone with great build quality, a fantastic screen, solid cameras, and standard daylong-battery life. The Bixby voice assistant is underwhelming, but you can turn it off and opt for Google Assistant instead (or use both). Bixby will get better over time, we hope.

The DT Accessory Pack

If you prefer compact phones, the standard Galaxy S8 is your best bet. The S8 Plus might have slightly longer battery life, but it’s unwieldy for many hands (especially reaching that fingerprint sensor).

Are there better alternatives?

Yes. There are a ton of good smartphones that cost less than the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, such as the Google Pixel and the LG G6, or even the iPhone 7 if you’re not looking for an Android device. We also recommend a number of cheaper smartphones.

However, none compare to the Galaxy S8’s display.

How long will it last?

It should last you a little longer than two years. Samsung, and most Android manufacturers, stop supporting devices after two years. Expect the S8 to receive the same treatment. You should know that Samsung also delivers software updates far later than when Google rolls them out, so don’t expect the next annual version of Android (Android O) any time soon after its release this fall.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you have $750 or more to spare, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus are among the best Android smartphones you can buy right now. It’s an incredible amount of money, though, and you should note the plentiful number of more affordable options. Still, if you’re eyeing the S8, you’re likely looking for the cream of the crop. Well, you’ve found it.

F8 2017

General Partner Ophelia Brown has left LocalGlobe

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Just three years old, Oak HC/FT closes its second fund with $600 million

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Spotify’s artist dashboard exits beta, offering streaming insights, profile management & more

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Announcing the TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 agenda

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Master & Dynamic’s MA770 is a speaker molded out of concrete with Chromecast support

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Audi’s new electric car concept is pretty obviously from the future

Audi’s new all-electric concept vehicle, the E-tron Sportback, made its debut at the Shanghai auto show today. And in addition to being super futuristic-looking, it also has some fairly surprising specs.

The E-tron Sportback will have 320 kilowatts of power — though Audi promises a “boost mode” to 370 kW — and can sprint to 62 mph in 4.5 seconds. A 95 kWh battery pack will enable just over 310 miles of range per charge, although that will probably be closer to 275 miles, given that the Germany-based Audi uses the European rating system for electric vehicle range. The automaker says the new electric coupe crossover will hit the market in 2019, about a year after the Quattro E-tron, Audi’s first electric concept which it introduced back in 2015.

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The Audi badge on the front of the car lights up, as if to say, “Hi, I’m from the future.” Light-up badges are all the rage these days, with both Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti offering vehicles with glowing logos on their grille. Some auto execs predict that headlights will soon be obsolete, not necessarily because of these illuminated badges, but rather because the cars will be driving themselves.

The interior of the E-tron Sportback features a bunch of pretty, high-resolution touchscreens: one behind the steering wheel, two in the center console, and a few more scattered around. Digitally controlled LEDs at the front and rear of the car produce “an excellent light yield,” Audi says, while minuscule digital projectors “literally make their mark on the road ahead, turning light into a versatile, dynamic channel of communication with the surroundings.” In other words, the Audi badge on the front of the car ain’t the only thing that glows.

Audi has said it intends to produce three electric vehicles; the E-tron Quattro and E-tron Sportback being the first two. The automaker also has plans to build a hydrogen-powered SUV dubbed the H-tron Quattro, which it unveiled last year. This suite of zero-emission concepts makes it pretty clear that Audi is doing its best to look beyond our fossil fuel-driven present — typified by the diesel-emissions scandal that has embroiled its parent company, Volkswagen — and toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.

A disappointing debut for Samsung’s smart assistant, Bixby

Last week Samsung announced that the Galaxy S8 would ship without Bixby Voice control. It seems unlikely that little bombshell will dissuade anyone from buying the new flagship. It is, after all, a great piece of hardware, as detailed in our recent review.

Still, it’s a notable disappointment for one of the phone’s key selling points and a stumble for a feature that’s designed to point the way forward for the company. At present, the Samsung’s smart assistant has the makings of a compelling feature, but the execution is scattershot.

Bixby can and perhaps will be the great unifying force promised by the company. In its current state, however, it feels like a suite of features added onto Samsung’s already sizable selection of Android add-ons. The company has never wanted for apps. In fact, they’ve long been one of the driving factors it’s used to distinguish itself from the countless other Android manufacturers flooding the market.

That was likely a large part of the reason the company opted to launch its own assistant, after failing to make too much headway with S-Voice. Why settle for Google Assistant when you can make your own in house? Doing so could once and for all unite the Galaxy’s myriad applications under a single, accessible banner and serve as the foundation for broader controls.

After all, recent plays by Amazon, Apple and Google have all demonstrated that smart assistants are the gateway to a lot more than just the weather and silly Wikipedia questions. Among other things, they’re a common language that can serve as an entry point for unifying the smart home – a space in which Samsung is clearly heavily invested with numerous connected appliances.

It’s clear that Samsung is hanging a lot on the software. It even went so far as devoting a full button to Bixby, even as it made a big show of ditching the big home key up front. But an essential part of adoption requires a strong user experience right out of the gate, and in its present form, Bixby doesn’t deliver on the blustery promises the company made ahead of launch, when it promised it would be “revolutionizing phone interfaces.”

Samsung’s acknowledgement of its failure to ship Bixby at press time was less an admission of failure than it was an opportunity for the company to talk up the pieces that are shipping with the phone.

“With its intelligent interface and contextual awareness, Bixby will make your phone more helpful by assisting in completing tasks, telling you what you’re looking at, learning your routine and remembering what you need to do,” it said in a statement sent to TechCrunch following the news. “Key features of Bixby, including Vision, Home and Reminder, will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21. Bixby Voice will be available in the U.S. on the Galaxy S8 later this spring.”

In its current state, Bixby consists of Home, the bit that pops up when you hit the side button; Vision, an image and text scanning service; and Reminder, which, well, lets you create reminders.

This early iteration of Home doesn’t do all that much to set itself apart from myriad other content aggregating mobile services. Vision, meanwhile, is the most promising piece of the offering, adding a shopping feature along the lines of Amazon Flow, which lets users buy things by scanning a label or barcode. That’s coupled with the ability to scan and translate text – definitely a helpful feature for frequent travels.

But as with the S8 itself, which the company promised would be “the beginning of a new way to experience the world” in its keynote, Samsung is setting the bar impossibly high. Sure, there are some compelling features on the horizon, like Voice, which is said to offer a more contextual user experience than Siri and the like. More features derived from the acquisition of Viv like added third-party support could help push it over the top, as well.

At present, Bixby feels like a rushed piece of an otherwise well-formed and long thought out phone. The company has the opportunity to deliver a real groundbreaking software experience in Bixby, one that could truly set its software apart from the rest of its Android brethren and help build a connected future moving forward. As it stands, however, the smart assistant has gotten off on the wrong foot with undelivered potential.

Murj wants to give data collection from wearable devices an upgrade

Murj, a new company backed by $4.5 million in new venture financing, is looking to make data collection from implantable heart monitoring and management devices easier and more manageable.

The company was founded by a former Medtronic sales rep who’d previously worked as a product manager on Apple’s iPads. After a few years in sales, Murj founder Todd Butka began thinking about ways to make the data collected by cardiac technologies more easily available to physicians and diagnosticians.

Now the company is coming to market with backing from True Ventures and Social Capital.

Unlike existing technologies that deliver data in static .pdf documents, Murj collects the data and stores it in its own off-premise data warehouses. Using dashboards and other visualization tools doctors can get a better read on what’s going on with their patients’ heart health, Butka claims.

“The information comes from the devices to the implantable devices’ servers… We ping the servers,” Butka explained.

The Murj launch wraps up three years of work developing the technology, which was founded in 2014 and raised its first money in 2015.

The company, based in Santa Cruz, brought on Chris Irving as its lead designer and Patrick Beaulieu, an 18 year veteran of the medical device business, as its chief technical officer.

I think of the company as sort of an Apple Healthkit for implantable devices. If it can expand its scope beyond pacemakers and heart monitors to a broader range of implantables, it could be a pretty big business.

As the population ages, and technologies improve, demand for more persistent diagnostic tools will grow.

In a sense this is part of a number of companies that are trying to provide better tools to manage the data coming off of the sensors that we’ve got all around us.

The Samsung Galaxy S8’s beautiful hardware deserves a more unified software experience

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is a strange beast. All at once it seems like both the culmination of several generations’ worth of solid smartphone evolution, while feeling like a still-incomplete peek at the company’s grand plans moving forward. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of hardware with some cool software tricks that is less of the revolution that Samsung promised than it is an insight into a unified Galaxy theory that will likely define generations of the company’s devices to come.

When Samsung took the stage last month, it offered, “Not just the launch of a great device, but the beginning of a new way to experience the world.” A months-long apology tour following what had been an utterly dismal year for its public image gave way to the promise of the next key moment in mobile communication history.

The reality of the S8 is a solid device that furthers the company’s valiant quest to vanquish the bezel. Samsung’s building upon several generations of great phones with a mostly iterative but worthy follow up. The advent of the company’s brand new smart assistant Bixby, meanwhile, points the way forward for Samsung’s upcoming ecosystem play.

But the company still needs to thread the needle on that front. The experience isn’t fully fleshed, lending an air of disappointment to the company’s big new comeback device.

Infinity and beyond

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One thing Samsung has unquestionably perfected: making big phones seem small. It was one of the remarkable feats the company managed on the Note 7, and it’s on full display with the S8 and S8+. Matter of fact, the first time I got hands-on time with the S8+ at a press event, I could’ve sworn I was holding the smaller version.

I’ve been carrying the phone around for a few days now, and it fits in my pocket every bit as comfortably as the 5.5-inch iPhone 7+. And you’re able to operate that phone with a single hand, so this device will be no problem.

The larger handset doesn’t feel its full 6.2 inches, owing to a taller form factor and what the company has enticingly deemed its “Infinity Display.” The curved screen continues the company’s multi-generational war on bezels, exemplified by last year’s S7 Edge and Note 7. They’re not gone entirely, but they’re tucked away far enough to make previous generations look bulky by comparison.

The promise of an all-screen phone is still likely a couple of generations off (due in part to the persistent popularity of the selfie-camera), but Samsung has done yeoman’s work attempting to eradicate edges from the Earth. This is helped along immensely by the elimination of the front home button — the most striking design change on a phone that otherwise retains much of the design language of its predecessor.

The familiar oval button has been replaced by a virtual counterpart that sits under the screen in roughly the same spot. It’s been coupled with a haptic engine that offers the same rough approximation of a physical click as the latest iPhone. For unlocking purposes, a fingerprint reader has been moved to the back, just to the right of the camera. It’s an odd design choice.

It’s hard to access with a single hand — even when compared to the mid-phone placement on the Pixel, and it’s basically asking you to run your greasy fingerprints all over the camera as you fumble to find it (the entire back of the black version is one giant fingerprint magnet). Thankfully, there’s no want for different ways to unlock the phone with various body parts, though facial unlock, while cool, is pretty hit or miss in low light.

The birth of Bixby

It’s time to streamline the Galaxy software experience. And Bixby may well be the smart assistant to do it. For now, however, the AI is a bit of a hot mess. There are brilliant flashes here and there, but Samsung’s semi-homebrewed assistant feels more like a promise of what’s to come than a truly useful software feature. This is due in no small part to the fact that not all of the promised Bixby features will be available to Galaxy S8 buyers at launch.

Samsung confirmed with us via email that the handset is launching without Bixby Voice. That’s set to come at some point later this spring. For now, it feels like a gaping hole in the company’s plan to take on Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant head-on. Without it, the experience feels undercooked, and I can’t avoid the sneaking suspicion that the company rushed it into existence a mere five or so months after purchasing Viv in order to attempt to have one more key feature for its first post-Note 7 flagship.

The company even went so far as giving ol’ Bixby its own devoted button on the side of the phone, even as it killed the only physical button on the front of the device. Let’s all reconvene in six months or a year to see if the company’s delivered on some grand promises like uniting its smart home play. Meantime, there are some useful features present, most notably Bixby Vision.

Looking forward with Bixby Vision

Samsung always introduces a smattering of interesting software features designed to distinguish itself from the pack of Android also-rans. Bixby Vision is without question one of the most compelling in recent memory, taking advantage of the on-board camera for a number of different activities like shopping and text translation.

The former should be familiar to anyone who has seen or used Amazon Flow, the fascinating app launched in 2014 that undoubtedly gave millions of brick and mortar store owners minor heart attacks. It uses image recognition to scan bar codes and the front of images. Once it’s recognized them, both apps pull up a list of Amazon shopping results.

It’s admittedly not much more useful than downloading Amazon’s app, but will likely help fuel the massive portal of contextual information that Samsung’s compiling to help build a more useful Bixby experience. Vision also does a great job recognizing text on products. You can translate these into a number of different languages by highlighting them. Certainly a potentially useful feature, moving forward.

Where the heart is

Home is Bixby’s most forward-facing feature. It’s the thing that pops up when you give the devoted button a short press (down the road a longer one will bring up Voice). At first glance, it looks like any number of content hubs that Android hardware makers have plopped on top of the operating system. After using the phone for a week, mine currently has recently played Spotify songs, my daily step count, reminders and the weather, among others.

As with Bixby’s underlying technology, Home is designed to become more useful over time. The more you use it, the more contextual information it can pull in and the more potentially helpful it becomes. For the moment, however, it’s hard to see it as much of anything beyond a standard content hub. Not a bad thing, mind, but not nearly revolutionary.

Add voice, the promised third-party support and a clear connected home strategy, and Bixby starts to look like a truly compelling smart assistant. It could well end up being the connective tissue that finally unites generations of features laid a top of Android — and what helps truly distinguish its software offering from the competition. For now, however, it feels rushed out in order to make the S8 deadline.

Camera action

As far as specs go, Samsung hasn’t done much to update the rear-facing camera. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s been a major focus over the past few generations, and the result is one of the best smartphone camera experiences money can buy. There have been a few software tweaks, like enhanced image processing, which makes the camera’s already solid low-light image capture even better.

Interestingly, most of the big camera updates are aimed at making the S8 more of a social machine, following in the footsteps of upgrades from Chinese manufacturers like Huawei.

The front-facing camera has been bumped up to eight megapixels and now sports faster auto-focus and better facial recognition. So, you know, lots more better selfies. Samsung’s also loaded the camera app with a few dozen filters and animated stickers, bringing a taste of Snapchat to the device itself. The software has also been tweaked for easier one-handed picture-taking.

Really, few of the upgrades here are focused on “serious” picture taking. Samsung’s software offerings are often aimed at productivity and security. Given how the company seeded review units of the S8 to YouTube reviewers early on, it’s clear that Samsung is looking to broaden its appeal with a younger demographic.

A strong foundation

Taken alone, none of the new additions are nearly as groundbreaking as Samsung would like you to think. But what the S8 and S8+ do have going for them is several generations of advancements, and, taken together, it’s one of the most fully featured Android phones out there. Like their predecessor, the phones are rated IP68, so you can get caught in a downpour or even dunk them in a bucket of water with no problem.

They once again support expandable memory and wireless fast charging.

The battery on the S8 is the same size as its predecessor (and a bit bigger, naturally on the Plus). I was able to get about a day and a half of normal use. Samsung, understandably, wasn’t looking to push the envelope

The processor has seen a big bump, which is as much about future-proofing the device as anything. You likely won’t see a big difference in day to day usage, but as the company pushes further and further into more complex tasks like VR, it will begin to make that much more of a difference.

Reach higher

The S8 was bound to be a tightrope walk for Samsung. At recent events, the company has tested out slogans like “reach higher,” while striking an apologetic tone for past issues. The S8 feels a bit like the real-world manifestation of that mental chess, with solid hardware and a software experience that points the way toward something better — the unified ecosystem the company has always striven for, but never fully executed.

At $725 for the S8 and $825 for the S8+, the device is, as ever, a premium product with a premium price tag. Indeed, with the Infinity display, next-gen processor and already solid camera experience, there’s plenty to like, keeping Samsung toward the front of the Android handset race.

Offerings like Bixby could well be the key to taking the phone to the next level, finally tying all of Samsung’s various software offerings into a unified experience. The seeds are all there. Now all Samsung has to do is let them grow.

With DroneDeploy’s Fieldscanner, pilots can create maps as they fly

Flying drones to inspect a farm, construction site, or any other venue from overhead can generate a huge amount of data. It takes time, though, for drone users to upload and turn this high-resolution data into maps, graphs or business intelligence they can act upon.

Today, a data management platform for drones called DroneDeploy, is launching a tool called Fieldscanner that makes it possible to draw a low-resolution satellite map in real time with a drone, in the field, even where there’s no internet connectivity. Being able to see the map draw out as you’re flying means you can change course, or take multiple passes over a problem area before you land.

According to DroneDeploy co-founder Jono Millin, here’s how it works:

“You take your drone out, plug your phone into a remote control using the DroneDeploy app. In our flight-planning interface, there’s a Fieldscanner toggle, which you can turn on from the start. Then you press “go,” and begin flying as you normally would. You can view your Fieldscan offline. You don’t have to connect and upload your data to the cloud. You can start using it from the field.”

Fieldscanner doesn’t interrupt normal data gathering by drones. Users can still upload, store and analyze all the high-res data that they normally would while engaging the new feature.

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Millin, who co-founded DroneDeploy with Mike Winn and Nicholas Pilkington in 2013, explained that the ability to generate maps right away should help users in areas lacking reliable cellular and internet services. But it also makes drones more helpful in scenarios that require fast decision-making.

For example, crews sent to evaluate a flooded dam could use drones with Fieldscanner to figure out where to send repair resources first, while they’re still on-site. Or law enforcement could conduct spanning passes over an area to find a missing child last seen in a red coat, when time is of the essence.

Newer drones and mobile devices, which have strong communication links, precise GPS, and better compute capacity than previous generations, made it possible for DroneDeploy to begin offering real-time maps in the field, Millin said, especially DJI’s Mavic and Phantom 4 Pro.

“Our mission has always been to make drones accessible and a great tool for productivity. Taking processing we used to do exclusively in the cloud and doing this at a slightly lower resolution in the field, reduces time requirements so you can have data instantly accessible.”

Spending is expected to surpass $20 billion in the commercial drone market by 2021 according to forecasts from Goldman Sachs.  As competition encroaches on DroneDeploy’s early lead in this market– competitors now include Airware, 3DR, Dronifi, PrecisionHawk and others– Fieldscanner proves a differentiator.

Featured Image: DroneDeploy