All posts in “electronics”

OnePlus is developing its own smart TV

Smartphone upstart OnePlus’s upcoming 6T flagship promises to bring changes — it’ll see it ditch the headphone jack and sport an in-screen fingerprint reader — but first there’s something else. OnePlus is developing its first smart TV.

CEO Pete Lau revealed the details today, explaining that the device will mark the five-year-old company’s next step to “building a connected human experience.”

“For most of us, there are four major environments we experience each day: the home, the workplace, the commute, and being on-the-move. The home – perhaps the most important environment experience – is just starting to enjoy the benefits of intelligent connectivity,” he wrote on the company’s website.

“We want to bring the home environment to the next level of intelligent connectivity. To do this, we are building a new product of OnePlus’ premium flagship design, image quality and audio experience to more seamlessly connect the home,” Lau added.

Shenzhen-based OnePlus has distinguished itself from a raft of Chinese mobile wannabees with some beautifully designed and well-functioning devices — eight phones to date — while it has developed its own Android-based OS and branched out into headphones. It has seen particular success in India, where it has beaten Samsung and Apple to become the country’s top ‘premium’ smartphone brand, and it has also landed a carrier distribution deal in the U.S. — something that has alluded larger rivals Huawei and Xiaomi. That’s impressive for such a young business.

It has tinkered around before. OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei previously told TechCrunch that the company had developed (and then abandoned) a number of prototype devices outside of phones before, but the TV project is very real. That said, the company is opening it up to its community of five million registered users who will be given the opportunity to name it. You can find more details about that in the announcement post here.

Scientists make a touch tablet that rolls and scrolls

Research scientists at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab have built a prototype touchscreen device that’s neither smartphone nor tablet but kind of both — and more besides. The device, which they’ve christened the MagicScroll, is inspired by ancient (papyrus/paper/parchment) scrolls so it takes a rolled-up, cylindrical form factor — enabled by a flexible 7.5inch touchscreen housed in the casing.

This novel form factor, which they made using 3D printing, means the device can be used like an erstwhile rolodex (remember those?!) for flipping through on-screen contacts quickly by turning a physical rotary wheel built into the edge of the device. (They’ve actually added one on each end.)

Then, when more information or a deeper dive is required, the user is able to pop the screen out of the casing to expand the visible display real estate. The flexible screen on the prototype has a resolution of 2K. So more mid-tier mobile phone of yore than crisp iPhone Retina display at this nascent stage.

The scientists also reckon the scroll form factor offers a pleasing ergonomically option for making actual phone calls too, given that a rolled up scroll can sit snugly against the face.

Though they admit their prototype is still rather large at this stage — albeit, that just adds to the delightfully retro feel of the thing, making it come over like a massive mobile phone of the 1980s. Like the classic Motorola 8000X Dynatac of 1984.

While still bulky at this R&D stage, the team argues the cylindrical, flexible screen form factor of their prototype offers advantages by being lightweight and easier to hold with one hand than a traditional tablet device, such as an iPad. And when rolled up they point out it can also fit in a pocket. (Albeit, a large one.)

They also imagine it being used as a dictation device or pointing device, as well as a voice phone. And the prototype includes a camera — which allows the device to be controlled using gestures, similar to Nintendo’s ‘Wiimote’ gesture system.

In another fun twist they’ve added robotic actuators to the rotary wheels so the scroll can physically move or spin in place in various scenarios, such as when it receives a notification. Clocky eat your heart out.

“We were inspired by the design of ancient scrolls because their form allows for a more natural, uninterrupted experience of long visual timelines,” said Roel Vertegaal, professor of human-computer interaction and director of the lab, in a statement.

“Another source of inspiration was the old rolodex filing systems that were used to store and browse contact cards. The MagicScroll’s scroll wheel allows for infinite scroll action for quick browsing through long lists. Unfolding the scroll is a tangible experience that gives a full screen view of the selected item. Picture browsing through your Instagram timeline, messages or LinkedIn contacts this way!”

“Eventually, our hope is to design the device so that it can even roll into something as small as a pen that you could carry in your shirt pocket,” he added. “More broadly, the MagicScroll project is also allowing us to further examine notions that ‘screens don’t have to be flat’ and ‘anything can become a screen’. Whether it’s a reusable cup made of an interactive screen on which you can select your order before arriving at a coffee-filling kiosk, or a display on your clothes, we’re exploring how objects can become the apps.”

The team has made a video showing the prototype in action (embedded below), and will be presenting the project at the MobileHCI conference on Human-Computer Interaction in Barcelona next month.

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While any kind of mobile device resembling the MagicScroll is clearly very, very far off even a sniff of commercialization (especially as these sorts of concept devices have long been teased by mobile device firms’ R&D labs — while the companies keep pumping out identikit rectangles of touch-sensitive glass… ), it’s worth noting that Samsung has been slated to be working a a smartphone with a foldable screen for some years now. And, according to the most recent chatter about this rumor, it might be released next year. Or, well, it still might not.

But whether Samsung’s definition of ‘foldable’ will translate into something as flexibly bendy as the MagicScroll prototype is highly, highly doubtful. A fused clamshell design — where two flat screens could be opened to seamlessly expand them and closed up again to shrink the device footprint for pocketability — seems a much more likely choice for Samsung designers to make, given the obvious commercial challenges of selling a device with a transforming form factor that’s also robust enough to withstand everyday consumer use and abuse.

Add to that, for all the visual fun of these things, it’s not clear that consumers would be inspired to adopt anything so different en masse. Sophisticated (and inevitably) fiddly devices are more likely to appeal to specific niche use cases and user scenarios.

For the mainstream six inches of touch-sensitive (and flat) glass seems to do the trick.

Taking a spin with Garmin’s vivosmart 4 activity tracker, out today

Garmin continues to go head-to-head with Fitbit with the launch of its latest offering — the vivosmart 4 activity tracker. This sleek new wristband not only tracks steps, activities and gives you the weather but also comes with a blood oxygen sensor and will tell you how much energy you have saved up for your next full throttle burn session.

That new body battery energy calculator estimates the body’s energy reserves to help you figure out when you feel more rundown and why. You simply swipe through the menu on the display to get to your energy levels or a number of other data offerings like steps, heart rate, stress levels and stairs climbed. The blood oxygen sensor will tell you how well oxygen is being pumped from your heart to the farthest regions of your body and can help you figure out if you are getting a good sleep in.

I took the new vivosmart 4 for a spin this week and was not disappointed in the upgrades. First off, this is a very nice looking piece of jewelry. Its slim, fashionable design fits neatly on the wrist and comes in berry with gold bezel, powder grey with rose gold bezel, azure blue with silver bezel, and black with slate bezel. It also feels good to wear. The material is smooth, soft and lightweight, slipping on easily.

The new model comes equipped with a newly redesigned wrist-based heart rate sensor, VO2 max and tracker for various activities like running, strength training and yoga.

One other interesting feature includes stress level measurement tool that will remind you to relax and take a breath throughout your busy work day.

Like its predecessor, the vivosmart 3, the 4 comes with the ability to check the weather, play music, and receive text message updates. It is safe to use under water so it can be worn in the shower or if you want to go for a swim.

The battery life is also strong enough to stay charged for up to a week at a time. Compare that to the Fitbit HR and Charge 2, which last up to five days.

The body energy feature is also a nice touch. The tracker figures out your energy levels using a combination of data including heart rate, sleep, stress levels and activity from the previous few days so it will likely take a while to figure out how much output you’ve got before a workout.

Overall, I’d say it’s a nice watch to hang on your bod. However, there are some drawbacks. The display is hard to work with. I found I had to tap several times, not just twice, as the instructions indicate. It’s also not very intuitive to maneuver and doesn’t pick up immediately that you are trying to swipe through the menu at times. You’ll need to take some time playing around with it to get the hang of it.

This is an activity tracker I would like to recommend for the fitness and life balance oriented individual, except for the difficulty in navigating the screen. That is one area that could be vastly improved by the manufacturer and would put it at the top of my list for trackers instead of somewhere in the middle.

For those interested, the vivosmart 4 will retail for about $130 and can be found online or at a sports gear shop near you.

I, for one, welcome our robotic ukulele overlords

It is unclear where the UkuRobot came from and where it will go once it is done with humanity but I fear that it is up to no good. Look at this robot: small, compact, infinitely complex. Its fretting system stares at us, gimlet -eyed, while the plucking system continues its dark work on the strings. The system uses Lego, motors, and what looks like an Arduino to bring evil songs out of that mini-guitar of death, the ukulele. The world will never be the same and, honestly, do we deserve it to be?

The UkuRobot can play almost any song. In these videos it plays two songs, The Godfather theme and Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day. In the end the tune this monstrous creation plays does not matter. It will pluck out the end of days, winking stars from the sky as each note cascades out of its sound hole. In the end we will not fear the UkuRobot but we will obey it. In the end, all will be lost.

You can also watch it play the Requiem for a Dream theme song here. Pretty cool stuff.

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Dixons Carphone now says ~8.8M more customers affected by 2017 breach

A Dixons Carphone data breach that was disclosed earlier this summer was worse than initially reported. The company is now saying that personal data of 10 million customers could also have been accessed when its systems were hacked.

The European electronics and telecoms retailer believes its systems were accessed by unknown and unauthorized person/s in 2017, although it only disclosed the breach in June, after discovering it during a review of its security systems.

Last month it said 5.9M payment cards and 1.2M customer records had been accessed. But with its investigation into the breach now “nearing completion”, it now says approximately 10M records containing personal data (but no financial information) may have been accessed last year — in addition to the 5.9M compromised payment cards it disclosed last month.

“While there is now evidence that some of this data may have left our systems, these records do not contain payment card or bank account details and there is no evidence that any fraud has resulted. We are continuing to keep the relevant authorities updated,” the company said in a statement.

In terms of what personal data the 10M records contained, a Dixons Carphone spokeswoman told us: “This continues to relate to personal data, and the types of data that may have been accessed are, for example, name, address or email address.”

The company says it’s taking the precaution of contacting all its customers — to apologize and advise them of “protective steps to minimize the risk of fraud”.

It adds it has no evidence that the unauthorized access is continuing, having taken steps to secure its systems when the breach was discovered last month, saying: “We continue to make improvements and investments at pace to our security environment through enhanced controls, monitoring and testing.”

Commenting in a statement, Dixons Carphone CEO, Alex Baldock, added: “Since our data security review uncovered last year’s breach, we’ve been working around the clock to put it right. That’s included closing off the unauthorised access, adding new security measures and launching an immediate investigation, which has allowed us to build a fuller understanding of the incident that we’re updating on today.

“Again, we’re disappointed in having fallen short here, and very sorry for any distress we’ve caused our customers. I want to assure them that we remain fully committed to making their personal data safe with us.”

Back in 2015, Carphone Warehouse, a mobile division of Dixons Carphone, also suffered a hack which affected around 3M people. And in January the company was fined £400k by the ICO as a consequence of that earlier breach.

Since then new European Union regulations (GDPR) have come into force which greatly raise the maximum penalties which regulators can impose for serious data breaches.

Last month, following Dixon’s disclosure of the latest breach, the UK’s data watchdog, the ICO, told us it was liaising with the National Cyber Security Centre, the Financial Conduct Authority and other relevant agencies to ascertain the details and impact on customers.

Of the 5.9M payment cards which Dixons disclosed last month as having been compromised, it said the vast majority had been protected by chip and PIN technology. But around 105,000 lacked the security tech so Dixons said at the time could therefore have been compromised.

It’s the additional 1.2M records containing non-financial personal data — such as name, address or email address — that have been revised upwards now, to ~10M records, which constitutes almost half the Group’s customer base in the UK and Ireland.

The spokeswoman told us the Group has approximately 22M customers in the region.