Essential PH-1 vs. Google Pixel: Pure Android Showdown

The Google Pixel was hailed as one of the best phones of 2016, if not the best. Although it wasn’t necessarily flashy or innovative from a design standpoint, the device melded Google’s pure vision for Android with quality hardware. We gave it our Editors’ Choice award, and we’re looking forward to finding out what Google is planning for the Pixel’s successor, which is likely to land in the fall.

Before that happens, however, a new contender has emerged on the horizon: The Essential PH-1. It’s a device that resembles the Pixel in many ways, and that’s hardly a coincidence. Essential is a startup founded by Andy Rubin, the man typically considered the “father of Android” during his time with Google. This makes the PH-1 something like a Pixel from another dimension — though they’re hardly the same phone. Read on to find out how the two compare with one another.

Specs

Essential PH-1

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Google Pixel

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Size 141.5 x 71.1 x 7.8 mm (5.57 x 2.80 x 0.31 inches) 143.8 x 69.5 x 7.3mm (5.6 x 2.7 x 0.2-0.3-inches)
Weight 6.53 ounces (185 grams) 5 ounces (143 grams)
Screen 5.71-inch LCD 5-inch AMOLED
Resolution 2,560 x 1,312 pixels (504 ppi) 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (441 ppi)
OS Android 7.1.1 Nougat Android 8.0 Oreo
Storage 128GB 32, 128GB
MicroSD card slot No No
NFC support Yes Yes
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Qualcomm Snapdragon 821
RAM 4GB 4GB
Connectivity GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, LTE GSM, CDMA, HSPA, LTE
Camera Dual 13 MP rear, 8MP front 12MP rear, 8MP front
Video 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps, 720p at 120fps 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30 or 60fps
Bluetooth Yes, version 5.0 Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Other sensors Accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, compass, barometer Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, barometer
Water resistant No No
Battery 3,040mAh 2,770mAh
Charging port USB-C USB-C
Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Colors Stellar Gray, Ocean Depths, Black Moon, Pure White Very Silver, Quite Black, Really Blue
Availability Unlocked, Sprint Unlocked, Verizon
Price $700 $650
DT review Coming soon 4 out of 5 stars

From a hardware standpoint, there’s no getting around the fact the Essential PH-1 is a generation newer than the Pixel. Google’s smartphone benefited from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 processor. At the time of the phone’s release, it was speedier than the 820 found in other Android flagships, but it can’t compare to the 835 in Essential’s first product.

With the latest generation of Snapdragon processors, Qualcomm has touted performance gains of around 30 percent, along with a marked improvement in power efficiency, thanks to the newer chipset’s 10-nanometer construction. The Pixel is still likely plenty fast for most users, but you should feel a difference between the two handsets, and it works in Essential’s favor.

In another respect, the phones are more similar: Both offer 4GB of RAM. Surprisingly, however, the Essential has an edge in terms of internal storage. Whereas the Pixel comes with a base amount of 32GB, the PH-1 starts at 128GB. The 128GB configuration of the Pixel has been notoriously difficult to track down, and costs more — another reason the newcomer gets the win in this category.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Design and display

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This is easily the most significant difference between these two devices, and it all comes down to the Essential’s futuristic, edge-to-edge display. The 5.7-inch LCD panel stretches all the way to the top, curving around the front-facing camera and offering up 2,560 x 1,312-pixel resolution. It nearly fills the entire front of the handset, save for a chin along the bottom edge. It also looks stunning.

Meanwhile, the Pixel’s design is pretty run-of-the-mill as far as smartphones go, with chunky bezels above and below the screen.

The PH-1 bears a unique look many upcoming smartphones — including Apple’s iPhone 8 — are expected to emulate. And, although that notch on the top edge may seem awkward at first glance, it represents a major step toward bezel-free displays. On the back, both phones have rear-mounted fingerprint sensors, and the Essential even has magnetic pins in the upper-right corner for modular components, like a 360-degree camera.

At 504 pixels-per-inch, the Essential’s screen is also considerably sharper than the 5.5-inch, 1080p AMOLED offered in the Pixel. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the display in Google’s flagship, but both in terms of resolution and usable space, it loses this battle. Neither phone is water-resistant, though that’s something the next Pixel is expected to rectify.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Battery life and charging

Google Pixel XL

We weren’t terribly impressed with the Pixel’s 2,770mAh battery in our testing. Coming from the iPhone 7, which had a significantly smaller battery, Google’s effort was pretty underwhelming. Fortunately, the Essential PH-1 has a larger, 3,040mAh unit. Both benefit from fast charging, though neither supports wireless charging.

While the bigger size may seem promising alongside the Essential’s 835 chipset, it’s important to remember this phone is packing a more pixel-dense display — and displays are the number one enemy of battery life. At least on paper, it’s hard to tell if we’ll see a significant difference when it comes to battery life, though initial reviews have been encouraging. We’ll know more once we test the device for ourselves.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Camera

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On the back of the Essential PH-1, you’ll find twice the number of cameras as on Google’s flagship. That’s two to be exact, along with a 13-megapixel image sensor and an f/1.9 aperture. Those are numbers on par with the best phones out there, though the PH-1’s results seem to be a bit of a mixed bag, according to the reviews we’ve seen thus far.

Essential’s method combines a monochrome and full-color sensor, similar to what Huawei and Motorola have done with their dual-lens cameras. You can use the monochrome lens alone for true black-and-white shots, but otherwise, the whole experience seems surprisingly average for such a top-of-the-line device.

On the other hand, the Pixel offered perhaps the best camera of any smartphone released last year, despite it only using a single lens. It produces vibrant, detailed shots, and Google’s HDR+ mode worked reliably well with no noticeable processing lag. Although the 12.3-megapixel, f/2.0 shooter lacks the depth-of-field tricks you’ll find in most dual-lens cameras, it was excellent in every other respect — making the Pixel one of the leading handsets to beat when it comes to photography.

Winner: Google Pixel

Software

Google Pixel XL

Both of these devices offer a straightforward and bloat-free Android experience. That’s refreshing compared to the sea of phones pushing heavy customizations to Google’s operating system, though it does mean there isn’t much separating them from a software standpoint.

There are small differences, however. Essential’s camera interface isn’t quite as feature-packed as the one in the Pixel, and Google has provided 24/7 tech support for its phone in the form of a dedicated app. Otherwise, you should expect the same fast, fluid, and user-friendly rendition of Android in both phones. Pixel users are in the early stages of receiving updates to Android 8.0 Oreo, while Essential’s device is launching with 7.1.1 Nougat. There’s no word on when Oreo may arrive for the PH-1, but given the stock nature of the software, hopefully it won’t take very long.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

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You’d think, given the Pixel has been around for nearly a year, that it would be easier to find and buy than any new phone on the market. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. For a long time, some configurations — usually the larger XL model with the 128GB storage option — were available in extremely limited quantities. Manufacturer HTC faced supply issues throughout the phone’s lifespan, though, now it seems as though there’s plenty of stock available.

The 32GB Pixel retails for $650 direct from Google, while the 128GB model normally goes for $750. If you’d rather not go unlocked, the device is also available on contract from Verizon.

The 128GB version of the Essential, meanwhile, runs for $700, and can be purchased either unlocked or through a carrier — in this case, Sprint. Considering how new the phone is, it’s hard to say how the supply will shake out. For now, the Essential gets the nod as it offers significantly better specs for nearly the same price.

Winner: Essential PH-1

Overall winner: Essential PH-1

As excited as we are for Google’s next flagship, the Essential PH-1 beats the current Pixel on paper. The Essential’s innovative design, state-of-the-art silicon, and larger battery look to improve in a few key areas where Google’s phone was lacking. Still, no matter which you choose, you’re certain to have one of the best Android devices on the market right now.

Reddit, Twitter offer an oasis of info, resources for Harvey victims

Volunteers and officers rescue residents and their dogs from flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.
Volunteers and officers rescue residents and their dogs from flooding from Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.

Image: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The historic impact of Tropical Storm Harvey has everyone from federal agencies to the National Weather Service reeling from the storm’s power, but in the midst of it all, once again, social media is proving to be a vital life line. This time in the form of Reddit

A massive, constantly updated page titled the Hurricane Harvey Live Megathread has emerged as one of the best sources for real time information and updates on Harvey. 

From official status updates on the storm, local flooding in Texas, and additional weather events such as tornadoes — which threaten to make a disastrous situation catastrophic — the Megathread is delivering on the promise of social media far beyond the realms of joke memes and political debates.

Mixed in with official reports from sources like the Federal Aviation Administration, the Weather Channel, the National Weather Service, and local energy companies providing status updates are individual reports from citizens providing photographs of the damage. 

Those photographs, and the context the scores of individual citizen reporters are adding to them, are painting a more detailed picture of the storm’s impact than ever possible in past years during such events. 

Image: reddit 

Much of the sourcing is coming from Twitter, whose short messaging format is perfect for this kind of emergency event. Yes, you can search for Harvey news by following the Harvey hashtag, and Twitter does have its Moments page, which leads to a larger thread of info, but right now neither compares to the curated and rapidly updated Megathread on Reddit. 

Traditional news media has been doing its best to provide as much in-depth coverage of Harvey as possible, but the sheer number of users plugged in to Reddit (over 57,000 subscribers on /r/houston alone) delivering real time updates is invaluable. 

Hosted by the /r/houston Reddit group and maintained by just seven Reddit contributors, the page is currently the best place to find not only updates on Harvey-related weather events and damage, it’s also an incredible resource for emergency and rescue services for those still dealing with Harvey’s impact. 

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Y Combinator takes machine intelligence startups to school and learns a thing or two

Machine intelligence startups are the black sheep of the startup world. The new kids on the block are challenging investors to do their technical homework and differentiate themselves in intentional ways. Y Combinator joined a growing list of investors offering exclusive services to these companies in a specialized AI track for its latest S17 batch of startups.

In the competitive world of investing, Y Combinator has to work to convince top startups to apply to the program. Today, many startups that fit the bill are working to solve challenging AI problems. And with the amount of money sloshing around for AI startups, the sense of urgency isn’t always there for prominent researchers who have their choice of financial partners.

Daniel Gross, a Partner at Y Combinator and the brains behind the AI track, explained to me that his aim was to offer founders desirable data sets, compute resources and technical mentors, among other things. With experience founding a company and solving machine learning problems for Apple, Gross’ relatable technical background helps to emphasize the legitimacy of the storied accelerator.

Of course, YC also recognizes that much of the current machine intelligence space is hype. In an effort to make sense of the madness, Gross prioritized startups that were working on problems of perception, autonomy and machine learning services.

That last bucket includes startups like AssemblyAI, building a speech-to-text API, and Plasticity, building a natural language processing API. These were perhaps the most controversial of the S17 batch. Many VCs on Sand Hill have sworn off startups building AI cloud services on the grounds that tech giants like Google and Amazon are more likely to swallow the market than any singular startup.

But Gross asserts that a Heroku-esque possibility remains for companies that are capable of building services that are easier to use. In true contrarian form, Gross argues that the actual machine learning prowess of each of these teams comes secondary to their ability to craft a product that developers actually like and would use by choice.

Moving past APIs and other developer services, perception and autonomy were easily the most populated spaces for startups within the YC AI track. The perception subcategory includes startups like Standard Cognition, automating store checkout, VergeSense, facility management, CureSkin, classifying skin conditions, Modular Science, robotic farming, and D-ID, obfuscating faces for security. With a bias towards deep learning, these companies are exploiting unique data sets and readily available compute to automate tasks that were previously inconceivable.

Meanwhile, on the autonomy front, startups like May Mobility, creating autonomous vehicles, and Zendar, building its own radar, are very desirable on the M&A front as automakers and suppliers look to stand their ground in the rapidly evolving transportation space.

“There’s a common theme here,” explained Gross in an interview. “A breakthrough algorithm creates a temporary moat that allows you to get to another moat.”

The reality is that algorithmic advances become outdated on a nearly weekly basis in the world of AI. Things tend to go open source faster than they can even reach full deployment. This means that a startup initially using off the shelf AI tools might actually have a speed advantage to collect critical data over its competitors. This ability to forge gold from iron combined with meaningful domain expertise is the difference maker between successful and unsuccessful machine intelligence startups.

With Yoshua Bengio’s Element AI and other AI studios emerging from the woodwork, the question remains as to what resources actually move the needle for highly technical startups. I tend to believe that most AI startups fail because they are unable to effectively productize. Those whose biggest problem is tuning hyper-parameters are probably in the minority.

Gross mostly agreed with me, adding that a big challenge is helping customers who purchase services from machine intelligence startups understand what it means to rely on a stochastic product. Outcomes aren’t always predictable and often they’re not even explainable.

This is where I think the distinction between concrete and soft problems comes in handy. Concrete problems tend to be easily automatible. They are typically quantitative and highly repetitive in nature. Humans are very good at them but they are labor intensive. Try to think of standard classification problems like grouping images or extracting numbers from a document.

Meanwhile, soft problems tend to be things that humans are not particularly good at. Often qualitative in nature, soft problems require a lot of domain expertise to solve. Point being, I would trust an AI today to look at my photo library and organize it but I wouldn’t trust an AI to look at my photo library and use the knowledge within it to write a letter to my mom.

Applying this heuristic to YCs batch would seem to favor a business like CureSkin, classifying images of skin conditions, over a startup like Nimble, evaluating potential teachers, or Headstart, ranking job applicants by culture fit. There really isn’t a great reproducible methodology for predicting teacher performance or culture fit.

But Gross insists that it’s important to remember the cost of making a mistake. The cost of an inaccurate dermatology diagnosis could be very serious but the cost of accidentally rejecting a potentially fantastic job applicant is relatively low. And I’d mostly agree that regardless of the performance of a startup like Nimble or Headstart, anything is better than the status quo of crappy platforms employing keyword search.

“Algorithms can actually be useful at soft skills,” noted Gross. “These are areas where an AI can make more fair decisions where a human would be irrational.”

Time will tell if YC’s framework for investing in AI startups is accurate. In many ways this inaugural batch encapsulates broader trends in commercializing AI. For as long as the chance remains that one of these startups could be the next Dropbox or Airbnb, YC has nothing to lose from investing in verticalizing its storied accelerator.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

Where does Blue Apron go after Amazon wraps up its Whole Foods deal?


Last week, Amazon said that its massive $13.7 billion deal to acquire Whole Foods is wrapping up on Monday — giving it access to one of the strongest food brands in the United States, as well as hundreds of grocery stores in metropolitan areas.

That means it’s going to be easier and easier for people to get access to great ingredients, and there’s been a continued trickle of suggestions that Amazon will be gunning for a massive business that helped Blue Apron go public — a trickle that has since tempered Wall Street’s appetite for that business.

All this raises a ton of questions as to what the future of Blue Apron is as Amazon looks primed to bulldoze into its territory in a very Amazon move. But as the specter of Amazon getting into meal-kit delivery looms, let’s review really quickly what Blue Apron has going for it:

  • It has a strong brand in meal-kit delivery. The company wouldn’t have been able to go public, much less sustain unicorn status even as its stock continues to plummet. Originally pricing its shares between $15 to $17, and then subsequently dropping that while Amazon ruined its road show, it showed that there was a strong amount of good will for the Blue Apron brand as it approached its IPO.
  • It exposed a $800 million business in annual revenue at a minimum. That clearly got Amazon’s attention, as the company seems constantly looking to build new lines of consumer businesses where it can duct tape Prime into the package. Even at the kind of margins that Blue Apron may operate at given its complex web of operations and delivery, if that’s able to work at a large scale, it’s a non-trivial business.
  • Its customer base is still growing year-over-year, despite its challenges in holding on to customers for a long time. In its most-recent quarterly results, Blue Apron said its customer base grew 23%. Even as its customer base declined quarter-over-quarter, as it pares back marketing, it shows that consumers still want a product like Blue Apron’s — if it can capitalize on that brand.
  • The lifetime value of those customers is theoretically very high given the cost of the product. Churn is going to be a perpetual problem for Blue Apron as people hop on and hop off the service, especially based on promotions and other factors. But the company is trying to pull back on marketing and, in a past life, showed that the business could be profitable in an earlier quarter.

Still, Blue Apron’s stock fell quite dramatically again after it released its most-recent quarterly earnings report, even though the business showed some signs of life. It signaled that the company would likely continue to see losses going forward — projecting a net loss between $121 million and $128 million. Investors looking for a kind of performance like the flash of life that it showed earlier even amid a heavy burn rate to acquire customers seem likely to be disappointed in the near term as the company calibrates for a future where Amazon may go after its business.

While Blue Apron requires an aggressive marketing engine — especially as it tries to expand beyond metropolitan areas, which are probably its sweet spot — still seems primed for a product that could grow organically. One example would be that the product seems like a very natural fit for a gift for occasions like weddings, birthdays or the holidays. This seems like obvious low-hanging fruit, where it can turn around and rely on that branding and consumer experience in order to convert those customers to more long-term ones and start the cycle again.

Blue Apron can again lean on that strong brand that it’s built as one of the big anticipated consumer IPOs for 2017, even if it was a flop. Blue Apron at the beginning of 2018 — if it can last out to the holiday quarter — may end up looking like a much healthier Blue Apron at the middle of 2017.

To be sure, Blue Apron’s growth has greatly decelerated (in the same fashion most companies do as they mature), and there really isn’t a lot of data to predict that forward:

One of Blue Apron’s biggest challenges may end up being Amazon’s Prime business. The company said Prime members will soon see “special savings” when it comes to Whole Foods, which could end up being pretty much anything. Knowing Amazon, it’s likely to run a ton of experiments to figure out how to quickly quash any competitors and then decide how to grow it into a mature, profitable business later.

In the end, the drip-drip-drip of aggressive news about a potential Amazon competitor will probably continue to put a lot of pressure on Blue Apron, especially as it still seems to be racking up losses. But the company has shown that it’s willing to re-orient itself following the IPO, including making some changes in the executive ranks and some organizational changes.

And while Amazon even seems to be testing a product in the vein of Stitch Fix, that company has still filed confidentially to go public — and is going to charge forward despite the specter of Amazon. There are still a lot of things going for the company and, if it’s able to lean on what initially made it able to expose that huge business, Blue Apron may have a shot to be a company that continues to exist even if the Amazon behemoth tries to get into its market.

Featured Image: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

9 reasons social media stalking feels SO right

Turns out, observing other people’s lives is actually a biological instinct. And in the age of social media, where lives are presented on a platter and require only the slip of a thumb, it’s easy to indulge in those instincts. In fact, sometimes, we let our impulses run wild in the most unproductive ways.

But why the fascination? Whether we social media stalk out of adoration, fascination, hatred, or something else, it just so happens that the reasons are almost all based on science.

BittBoy is a retro pocket console that does a lot for very little


The GameBoy Pocket remains one of the best-designed pieces of mobile gaming kit ever in my opinion, which is why I was intrigued by the BittBoy, a new third-party portable console that clearly owes a lot of inspiration to the GameBoy. The tiny handheld packs a library of “300” games built-in, controls that will feel familiar to any Nintendo fan, a battery you can recharge via microUSB and a 2.2-inch IPS display.

First, let’s get to the highlights: This thing is super small. It’s only about 2.5 by 4 inches, and it’ll easily slip into just about any pocket. The battery also appears to last quite a while, even though it’s only 500 mAh; I’ve played for quite a few hours on a single charge without depleting it yet.

That screen is also pretty good, especially when compared to the screens of actual retro consoles. There are some issues with colors being rendered weird, but that’s the emulation software, not the display itself, as those color oddities carry over to TV output, too.

Speaking of TV output, that’s another strength – it ships with a simple mini stereo to RCA AV out, which can plug into any TV with one of those yellow round video inputs. It works, though the cable is somewhat short and the image flickers a bit if there’s much cable play, but it came in handy when spending time in a hotel and looking for something to do to pass some time.

The BittBoy’s biggest strength is its ability to go anywhere while taking up virtually no space in your kit, or adding any weight to your baggage. It’s so light you might actually forget you’re carrying it, as I have on occasion before emptying my pockets. The buttons and case, while not the most luxurious feeling in the world, also seem like they can take a fair amount of abuse before breaking down.

BittBoy’s weaknesses are probably in its software library: It offers “300-in-1” games, but you probably aren’t going to want to play most of them. Plus, they’re emulated NES titles, so you have to be okay with that legal gray area.

There’s plenty enough there to sustain the attention of retro gaming fans, however – especially at $39.99, the retail price of BittBoy. But if you’re hoping to expand the library with your own software, look elsewhere, since there’s a microSD-looking slot on top but it’s not functional.

Bottom line: This is a fun stocking stuffer or add-on gift for the avid retro gamer in your life, and something that you can basically stick in a regularly used backpack as a fun surprise you can re-discover on long commutes or while traveling.

Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Smart soccer balls, vibro razors, drum rings

At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the Web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there – alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the Pebble clones and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting new crowdfunding projects out there this week. That said, keep in mind that any crowdfunding project — even the best intentioned — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

Specdrums — light-sensitive music creation platform

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If there’s one thing crowdfunding sites are good for, it’s helping crazy new musical instruments come to life. Over the years, kickstarter and indiegogo have acted as springboards for just about every oddball noise-making device you could ever imagine: drum pads built into pants, motion-sensitive synthesizers, and even an all-in-one guitar/bass/piano/drum kit. The trend isn’t going away, and the latest addition to the growing list of offbeat insruments is arguably one of the strangest (and most intriguing) yet.

Specdrums, as its called, is a freeform music creation system that relies on programmable, light-sensitive actuators that translate color into sound. To make music with Specdrums, you start by slipping one or more of the system’s Bluetooth-equipped rings onto your fingers (or drumsticks, if that’s more your style).

When the rings tap on a surface, they shine a light on the surface, and a small sensor picks up the color. This color is instantly translated into a corresponding note — which plays through a connected speaker. The sound a given color creates can be assigned with the accompanying Specdrums smartphone app — meaning you can basically turn anything into an instrument that makes any sound you desire. Pretty nifty, right?

Luna Display — Wireless display extender for Mac/iPad

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Ever wished you could use your iPad as a wireless second display for you Mac? Well, good news! There’s finally a decent way to make it happen. It’s called Luna Display, and it’s basically a tiny dongle (roughly the size of your thumb nail) that plugs into your computer’s Mini DisplayPort, USB-C, or USB 3 port. Once installed, it works through an app on your iPad, and connects the tablet display to your Mac via Wi-Fi.

Now, truth be told, this kind of thing has been possible for quite some time, but most Mac-to-iPad display extenders are software-based solutions, not hardware-based like Luna. The dongle approach has a couple big advantages though. Because it’s plugged into your Mac, Luna can tap into its graphics processor capabilities — something no app can do. Essentially, this means that Luna can offer super high image quality, despite the fact that it’s completely wireless.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Luna Display is actually a two-way extension to your Mac, allowing you to interact with your computer directly from your iPad. It literally turns your Mac into a touchable device, allowing pinching, panning and tapping, making it much more than just a second screen.

New Nine — Size-adjustable 3D printer

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3D printers have come a long way in the past few years. It used to be that they were only found in well-funded engineering labs and the basements of uber-geeky enthusiasts — but now they’re available to anyone with $150. On top of that, the range of materials we can print with has greatly expanded in recent years. It’s not just ABS and PLA anymore; 3D printers can make stuff with wood, clay, nylon, and even metal these days.

Despite all the advances we’ve seen lately, there’s still one big limiting factor that’s holding 3D printers back: build envelope. Right now, if you want to make an object that’s bigger than your printer, you’re out of luck — but what if that wasn’t the case?

That’s precisely the idea behind the New Nine — an adjustable, scalable 3D printer that can be resized to accommodate bigger parts, when the job calls for it. We’re not just talking more width, either — the printer’s dimensions can be expanded along all axes, meaning you can make it wider, longer, taller, or any mix of the three.

As if that wasn’t awesome enough, it also has a boatload of high-end features, such as a heated bed, a mass damper to eliminate wobble, and a magnetic screen that can be re-positioned in seconds. Oh, and it’s also completely open source, which is pretty awesome.

DribbleUp — Smart soccer ball

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Smart sports equipment is everywhere these days. We’ve got swing analyzers for golf, tennis and baseball; sensors that measure reps for weightlifters, and a veritable boatload of fitness trackers that analyze your daily activity. But oddly enough, soccer (or football, to anyone reading this outside the U.S.) has largely been ignored in this trend, despite the fact that it’s arguably the most popular sport on the planet. But that might soon change if DribbleUp’s latest Kickstarter campaign finds success. The company, whose first product was a stat-tracking basketball that launched a few years ago, is now working on a stat-tracking soccer ball.

“We’ve reinvented the soccer ball for the digital generation,” Eric Forkosh, CEO of DribbleUp, told Digital Trends. “Our ball connects to an augmented reality app on your phone so you can train anytime and anywhere — in your home, on the field, wherever. The virtual trainer on the app guides through interactive drills with live audio feedback and gives you a drill-by-drill graded breakdown so you know what you need to improve. Even when it’s raining or too dark outside, you can always practice in your room with the virtual trainer and take your game to the next level. Most importantly, our match-ball quality soccer ball has no batteries, so you never need to charge it and costs less than a standard match ball. Why buy a dumb ball when you can get a smart ball for the same price?”

Shaveman — Vibrating razor attachment

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Ever since the practice of shaving has existed, inventors have been trying to re-invent the razor. First it was disposables, with cheap, mass-produced, and easily swappable blades. Then somebody decided to add multiple blades for more cutting power. After that came electric shavers, and now that Kickstarter and Indiegogo exist, there’s arguably more innovation in shaving technology than ever before.

In the past few years alone, we’ve seen everything from laser-powered razors that burn the stubble off your chin, to shavers with sapphire blades that never rust. And now, we can add another one to the ever-expanding list: the Shaveman.

The idea behind this gizmo is pretty straightforward. It’s basically a little vibrating puck that you can attach to any razor you own. Once activated, the Shaveman will vibrate at a super high frequency, which allegedly boosts the cutting power of your blades, and also makes the hairs on your face stand up straighter, thereby making them easier to chop down. We’re not entirely convinced that this scheme will work, but conceptually it’s a pretty cool idea, and is definitely worth bringing to life through crowdfunding.

Leap.ai: two former Google employees create app to help you find work

Why it matters to you

If you’re someone in the tech field having trouble landing your dream job, Leap.ai is here to help you.

Everybody wants to be able to find a job that they love, though the hiring process isn’t always want we want it to be. Richard Liu and Yunkai Zhou want to help those in the tech industry get interviewed for the kinds of jobs that they really want. The two ex-Google engineers have created a startup called Leap.ai, and the app’s goal is to help make things easier for those searching for a tech-related job.

The app officially launched on August 22 with $2.4 million in seed money. What you do is sign up on Leap.ai’s website or iOS app and create a profile for yourself, much like any other social media app. You submit a self-assessment, detailing your strengths, what types of jobs you prefer as well as your values as an individual. The algorithm then goes to work, matching your information with what a company is looking for in a potential employee. Once a match has been made, Leap.ai lets you know about the potential opportunity and sends your resume to the employer.

Not only does it go ahead and send the resume, but the app also delivers a letter of recommendation of sorts — an explanation of why the job seeker is a great match for the company and position. Leap.ai sets out to handle a lot of the work for you, making the act of job-seeking easier.

Dropbox, Zoom, and Uber are just a few of the customers the app has, which claims 50 in total. “We chose to partner with ZhenFund partially due to their strong brand recognition and Mr. Bob Xu’s strong influence over the young generation in China,” Liu, cofounder and CEO, wrote in an email to VentureBeat.

“I probably hired 500 people into my division,” Liu told TechCrunch in an interview. “We learned that hiring is hard. Your ability to learn, collaborate or take initiative are strong characteristics, but it is hard to get a feel for them from an interview. Curiosity and drive, in an interview process you can’t do too much to gauge that.”

Customers are charged when they hire a candidate through the platform, with the rate being based on the first-year salary.

Petcube Bites is a capable canine companion for when you’re not home


Keep your dogs close but your kitties closer, is I think the expression. Maybe. Whatever it is, pets are important to people. And keeping a close watch on them even when you’re not located in the same place has become increasingly possible thanks to the broad proliferation of tech like Wi-Fi connected cameras. Petcube Bites is one of those cameras, but it’s also a treat dispenser, which lets you fire nibblets for your pet back at home from wherever you happen to be, provided you have an active internet connection.

Fair warning: This is a much larger unit than your average Nest or Logitech smart home camera. It’s roughly the size of a big encyclopedia, or a couple of Mac minis standing on their thin edge and stacked. The size is functional, however, since it houses a decent-sized reservoir for your stock of treats, as well as an HD camera, a Wi-Fi radio, and a mechanism for actually firing off those treats, with a user-selectable range of up to around 6 feet.

Petcube Bites ships with a selection of all-natural treats included, so you can get started using it right away. My dog isn’t exactly discerning when it comes to what she eats (she ate half a pizza box the other day), but I can say that she happily scarfed these down.

Setup of the Pectcube Bites is easy if you’ve ever installed any kind of Wi-Fi camera or connected home device before – and it should pose no problem even if you haven’t. It basically involves getting the unit connected to your Wi-Fi network using an app you download for your iOS or Android smartphone.

Once connected, the Bites will show up in the app, and you can connect to it to view a live feed from the camera, and to do additional stuff including initiating a two-way voice conversation if you feel like ‘talking’ to your pet. You can also trigger the dispensing of a treat, of course, and this is where the Bites departs from a more rudimentary two-way connected home camera.

Using the app, you simply flick up on the smartphone screen to launch a treat. Again, you can set the distance, and after. few seconds the treat will drop into the tray and then get kicked out across the room. I found this worked as designed pretty consistently, although once in a while two treats were dispensed instead of one, which is not really a huge issue, and probably would be described as a feature, not a bug, by my dog. You can also adjust portion sizes, and even set a dispensing schedule if you want them released at pre-set times.

My dog pretty quickly learned that the whirring of the little motor within the unit mean that a treat was on its way, so she would appear in frame just before the treat was launched almost every time I sent one her way. It’s amazing how fun it is to play that way with your pet when you have to be away from home.

There are some nice features the Petcube Bites offers beyond just the pet treat dispensing. It has motion detection, with notifications that push to your device (which you can turn off if you like). Video quality is also not bad at all, compared to comparatively priced dedicated home security cams. If you’ve got a pet and you’re already considering a Wi-Fi camera, this might be a better option in terms of value for money.

Other advantages nice things about the Petcube Bites include the multiple installation options – you can either use the rubberized base to just sit it on a flat surface, or use the pre-drilled holes on the back to simply slot it over mounting screws in a wall. Again, it’s large, so having options in terms of how to use it is a nice benefit for anyone concerned with how well it will (or won’t) fit into their home decor.

Petcube Bites is available in three color ways for $229.99 right now from Petcube direct. Additional features, including historical cloud video storage, are available as part of additional paid monthly plans.

The Leap.ai app is here to help you find a job in tech

Why it matters to you

If you’re someone in the tech field having trouble landing your dream job, Leap.ai is here to help you.

Everybody wants to be able to find a job that they love, though the hiring process isn’t always want we want it to be. Richard Liu and Yunkai Zhou want to help those in the tech industry get interviewed for the kinds of jobs that they really want. The two ex-Google engineers have created a startup called Leap.ai, and the app’s goal is to help make things easier for those searching for a tech-related job.

The app officially launched on August 22 with $2.4 million in seed money. What you do is sign up on Leap.ai’s website or iOS app and create a profile for yourself, much like any other social media app. You submit a self-assessment, detailing your strengths, what types of jobs you prefer as well as your values as an individual. The algorithm then goes to work, matching your information with what a company is looking for in a potential employee. Once a match has been made, Leap.ai lets you know about the potential opportunity and sends your resume to the employer.

Not only does it go ahead and send the resume, but the app also delivers a letter of recommendation of sorts — an explanation of why the job seeker is a great match for the company and position. Leap.ai sets out to handle a lot of the work for you, making the act of job-seeking easier.

Dropbox, Zoom, and Uber are just a few of the customers the app has, which claims 50 in total. “We chose to partner with ZhenFund partially due to their strong brand recognition and Mr. Bob Xu’s strong influence over the young generation in China,” Liu, cofounder and CEO, wrote in an email to VentureBeat.

“I probably hired 500 people into my division,” Liu told TechCrunch in an interview. “We learned that hiring is hard. Your ability to learn, collaborate or take initiative are strong characteristics, but it is hard to get a feel for them from an interview. Curiosity and drive, in an interview process you can’t do too much to gauge that.”

Customers are charged when they hire a candidate through the platform, with the rate being based on the first-year salary.