Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

Generations ago, the internet spoke of an old saying that involved a man exhibiting excitement about hearing of a person’s love of an object, so he did favor, and put that something inside of something else. That’s what Netgear did here. Netgear heard people like the internet so much that the company put an internet modem inside a wifi router.

The Orbi WiFi System with Built-in Cable Modem is just that. It’s an Orbi wifi router with a DOCSIS® 3.0 cable modem built in. In theory this setup would make for easier setup and troubleshooting of internet issues while providing the home with great wifi.

I have an Orbi system in my house and it’s wonderful. The system does a far better job at covering my home with wifi than my previous single router setup. Including the cable modem in the setup, though, just makes sense and other networking companies would be smart to follow Netgear’s lead. Naturally, there’s a danger in including a cable modem in a router as one piece could become obsolete before the other but I would argue that most consumers upgrade their equipment every few years anyway.

This convinence comes at a cost. The router with built-in Orbi networking costs $299 and a system with an Orbi extender costs $399.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Jonathan Shieber

At Kaptivo, a company that’s bringing high-tech image recognition, motion capture and natural language processing technologies to the lowly whiteboard, executives are hoping that the second time is the charm.

The Cambridge, U.K. and San Mateo, Calif.-based company began life as a company called Light Blue Optics, and had raised $50 million in financing since its launch in 2004. Light Blue Optics was working on products like Kaptivo’s white board technology and an interactive touch and pen technology, which was sold earlier in the year to Promethean, a global education technology solutions company.

With a leaner product line and a more focused approach to the market, Kaptivo emerged in 2016 from Light Blue Optics’ shadow and began selling its products in earnest.

Founding chief executive Nic Lawrence (the previous head of Light Blue Optics) even managed to bring in investors from his old startup to Kaptivo, raising $6 million in fresh capital from Draper Esprit (a previous backer), Benhamou Global Ventures and Generation Ventures.

“The common theme has been user interfaces,” Lawrence said. “We saw the need for a new product category. We sold off parts of our business and pushed all our money into Kaptivo.”

What initially began as a business licensing technology, Lawrence saw a massive market opening up in technologies that could transform the humble whiteboard into a powerful tool for digital business intelligence with the application of some off the shelf technology and Kaptivo’s proprietary software.

Kaptivo’s technology does more than just create a video of a conference room, Lawrence says.

“In real time we’re removing the people from the scene and enhancing the content written on the board,”  he said.”

Optical character recognition allows users to scribble on a white board and Kaptivo’s software will differentiate between text and images. The company’s subscription service even will convert text to other languages.

The company has a basic product and a three-year cloud subscription that it sells for $999. That’s much lower than the thousands of dollars a high-end smart conferencing system would cost, according to Lawrence. The hardware alone is $699, and a one-year subscription to its cloud services sells for $120, Lawrence said.

Kaptivo has sold more than 2,000 devices globally already and has secured major OEM partners like HP, according to a statement. Kaptivo customers include BlueJeans, Atlassian and Deloitte, as well as educational institutions including George Washington University, Stanford University and Florida Institute of Technology.

The product is integrated with Slack and Trello and BlueJeans video conferencing, Lawrence said. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, the company has sold about 5,000 units.

The vision is “to augment every existing whiteboard,” Lawrence said. “You can bring [the whiteboard] into the 21st century with one of these. Workers can us their full visual creativity as part of a remote meeting.”

Gadgets – TechCrunch John Biggs

The whole-home wireless craze peaked and waned last year with the rise of Orbi, Eero, Google WiFi, and Linksys’ Velop. These routers use mesh technology to blanket your home in soft, velvety Wi-Fi, ensuring that everything from the front camera/lamp to the Wi-Fi-connected grill in the back yard are connected to the Internet. I’ve tested a number of these so far and have settled on Orbi as the best of the bunch but the original tri-band Velop was excellent and this dual-band model – a cheaper but still speedy whole home solution – has maintained quality and value and holds the crown for the cheapest – and best – mesh network you can buy.

This new mesh kit, the Velop AC3900, costs $299 and is slightly smaller than the original AC4400, a tri-band solution that started at $349 for three units. Considering most routers hover around the $100 mark with some falling as low as $20, it was a hard sell and the story manufacturers told – your Wi-Fi was insufficient for your home and you needed multiple little routers instead of one in the living room – didn’t quite resonate. Linksys reacted to this by releasing this smaller, cheaper model onto a single-router world.

The result is the AC3900, a shorter, smaller device that can hide in your home (as long as its near an electrical outlet) or sit out as a high-design techno-tchotchke. The Velop can blanket up to 4,500 square feet and even act as a wired router for standalone devices. Setup is as easy as pulling a single unit out of the box and connecting to it while running the Linksys app. You can then add more units throughout the home.

The AC3900 devices are a few inches shorter than the AC4400 and they are missing a few of the high-end bells and whistles of the original models. First, these routers have less memory than the original models, with system memory halving from the original 512MB down to 256MB and internal Flash memory falling from 4GB to 256MB. The router also supports only two simultaneous bands while the original model supported three simultaneous bands. In practice I saw solid performance out of both models with the AC3900 maxing out at about 900Mbps internal network speeds which equates to some excellent Internet speeds when the entire system is working. Interestingly, you can also ask your voice assistants to turn on or off Velop’s guest network, a cute feature for when visitors come over.

The real question most people have regarding these whole home solutions is whether they work and whether they’re worth it. Most of them, except for a few exceptions I discovered in my trials, work very, very well. Velop is easy to set up – you just place it in a room and press a button – and once it’s installed you’ll throw away all of your other routers. For years I placed a single router in my living room and used some Apple Airports and wireline networking to connect things up to my attic. Now with mesh networking I get a solid signal throughout the house and even in the back yard.

The AC3900 comes with three units and costs the same as Linksys’ dual-unit AC4400. While the AC4400 are ostensibly better I would argue that the AC3900 is about the same and the added benefit of an extra unit makes the whole-home Internet even more widespread. Mesh routers are the way to go and this is a great way to try them out.

The only thing you really need to know about these units is that they work. Whether you’re dropping a bunch of Netgear Orbis around your house or starting up a Google Wifi unit, mesh networks make your wireless experience much better. Linksys, to their credit, just made that experience a little cheaper.

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Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

The headphone jack could still have a future in an iPhone. These leaked pics show an iPhone SE 2 with a glass back and headphone jack. Like the current iPhone SE, the design seems to be a take on the classic iPhone 5. I dig it.

The leak also states the upcoming device sports wireless charging, which puts it inline with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Rumors have long stated that Apple was working on an updated iPhone SE. The original was released in March 16 and updated a year later with improved specs. With a 4-inch screen, the iPhone SE is the smallest iPhone Apple offers and also the cheapest.

WWDC in early June is the next major Apple event and could play host for the launch of this phone. Last month, around the iPhone SE’s birthday, Apple held a special event in a Chicago school to launch an education-focused iPad. It’s logical that Apple pushed the launch of this new iPhone SE to WWDC to give the iPad event breathing room.

While Apple cut the headphone jack from its flagship devices, the SE looks to retain the connection. It makes sense. The low-cost iPhone is key for Apple in growing markets across the world where the last two models helped grow iOS’s market penetration. This is Apple’s low-cost offering and thus suggests Apple doesn’t expect buyers to also spring for its wireless earbuds.

If released at WWDC or later in the year, the iPhone SE looks to serve consumers who enjoy smaller phones with headphone jacks. That’s me.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

The headphone jack could still have a future in an iPhone. These leaked pics show an iPhone SE 2 with a glass back and headphone jack. Like the current iPhone SE, the design seems to be a take on the classic iPhone 5. I dig it.

The leak also states the upcoming device sports wireless charging, which puts it inline with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Rumors have long stated that Apple was working on an updated iPhone SE. The original was released in March 16 and updated a year later with improved specs. With a 4-inch screen, the iPhone SE is the smallest iPhone Apple offers and also the cheapest.

WWDC in early June is the next major Apple event and could play host for the launch of this phone. Last month, around the iPhone SE’s birthday, Apple held a special event in a Chicago school to launch an education-focused iPad. It’s logical that Apple pushed the launch of this new iPhone SE to WWDC to give the iPad event breathing room.

While Apple cut the headphone jack from its flagship devices, the SE looks to retain the connection. It makes sense. The low-cost iPhone is key for Apple in growing markets across the world where the last two models helped grow iOS’s market penetration. This is Apple’s low-cost offering and thus suggests Apple doesn’t expect buyers to also spring for its wireless earbuds.

If released at WWDC or later in the year, the iPhone SE looks to serve consumers who enjoy smaller phones with headphone jacks. That’s me.

Gadgets – TechCrunch John Biggs

A new – and theoretical – system for blockchain -based data storage could ensure that hackers will not be able to crack cryptocurrencies once the quantum era starts. The idea, proposed by researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, would secure cryptocurrency futures for decades using a blockchain technology that is like a time machine.

You can check out their findings here.

To understand what’s going on here we have to define some terms. A blockchain stores every transaction in a system on what amounts to an immutable record of events. The work necessary for maintaining and confirming this immutable record is what is commonly known as mining . But this technology – which the paper’s co-author Del Rajan claims will make up “10 percent of global GDP… by 2027” – will become insecure in an era of quantum computers.

Therefore the solution is to store a blockchain in a quantum era requires a quantum blockchain using a series of entangled photons. Further, Spectrum writes: “Essentially, current records in a quantum blockchain are not merely linked to a record of the past, but rather a record in the past, one does that not exist anymore.”

Yeah, it’s weird.

From the paper intro:

Our method involves encoding the blockchain into a temporal GHZ (Greenberger–Horne–Zeilinger) state of photons that do not simultaneously coexist. It is shown that the entanglement in time, as opposed to an entanglement in space, provides the crucial quantum advantage. All the subcomponents of this system have already been shown to be experimentally realized. Perhaps more shockingly, our encoding procedure can be interpreted as non-classically influencing the past; hence this decentralized quantum blockchain can be viewed as a quantum networked time machine.

In short, the quantum blockchain is immutable because the photons that it contains do not exist at the current time but are still extant and readable. This means the entire blockchain is visible but cannot be “touched” and the only entry you would be able to try to tamper with is the most recent one. In fact, the researchers write, “In this spatial entanglement case, if an attacker tries to tamper with any photon, the full blockchain would be invalidated immediately.”

Is this possible? The researchers note that the technology already exists.

“Our novel methodology encodes a blockchain into these temporally entangled states, which can then be integrated into a quantum network for further useful operations. We will also show that entanglement in time, as opposed to entanglement in space, plays the pivotal role for the quantum benefit over a classical blockchain,” the authors write. “As discussed below, all the subsystems of this design have already been shown to be experimentally realized. Furthermore, if such a quantum blockchain were to be constructed, we will show that it could be viewed as a quantum networked time machine.”

Don’t worry about having to update your Bitcoin wallet, though. This process is still theoretical and not at all available to mere mortals. That said, it’s nice to know someone is looking out for our quantum future, however weird it may be.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

GoPro is willing to take that old digital camera stuffed in your junk drawer even if it’s a GoPro. Through a program called Trade-Up, the camera company will discount the GoPro H6 Black $50 and Fusion $100 when buyers trade in any digital camera. The company tried this last year for 60 days, but as of right now, GoPro is saying this offer does not expire.

This offer works with any digital camera including old GoPros. It clearly addresses something we noticed years ago — there’s often little reason to buy a new GoPro because their past products were so good.

GoPro tried this in 2017 for 60 days and says 12,000 customers took advantage of the program.

The service is reminiscent of what wireless carries do to encourage smartphone owners to buy new phones. It’s a clever solution though other options could net more money. Users could sell their camera on ebay or use other trade-in programs. Best Buy lets buyers trade in old cameras, too, and currently gives $60 for a GoPro Hero3+ Black and $55 for a HD Hero 960.

GoPro is in a tough position and this is clearly a plan to spur sales. The company’s stock is trading around an all-time low after a brief upswing following a report that Chinese electronic maker Xiaomi was considering buying the company. The company also recently started licensing its camera technology and trimmed its product line while introducing a new, $200 camera.

 

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

Just like Nintendo before it, Sega is releasing a mini version of its iconic Mega Drive game system. The system is supposed to be available sometime in 2018 and the company also announced at least 15 classic Sega games will hit the Switch this summer to celebrate the system’s 30th anniversary.

Sega turned to AtGames to build the hardware according to this Facebook post. AtGames had previously built the shoddy Sega Genesis Flashback so hopefully this system will be better than that version. Nintendo paid attention to the details in its retro systems and it showed. The mini NES and SNES are lovely throwbacks that bring the best of past to the present — I just wish the controllers had longer cords.

Growing up I had an SNES because my parents thought Sega games were too violent. Basically, Killer Instinct instead of Mortal Kombat. I hope I can handle Scorpion’s finishing moves now.

If that’s not enough nostalgia, Sega Ages series producer Kagasei Shimomura hints Sega Dreamcast games could also hit the Switch, which if happens, could bring Phantasy Star Online or Jet Set Radio to Nintendo’s system.

Gadgets – TechCrunch John Biggs

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

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What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

Gadgets – TechCrunch Matt Burns

I recently received a review unit of the Embrace Smart Mirror . It’s essentially a 24-inch Android tablet mounted behind a roughly 40-inch mirror. It works well when 3rd party software is installed. Here’s what I learned.

It’s impossible to get a good photo of the smart mirror

I tried a tripod, selfie stick, and every possible angle and I couldn’t get a picture that does this mirror justice. It looks better in person than these photos show. When the light in the bathroom is on, the text on the mirror appears to float on the surface. It looks great. The time is nice and large, and the data below it is accessible when standing a few feet away.

When the room is dark, the Android device’s screen’s revealed since it can’t reach real black. The screen behind the mirror glows gray. This isn’t a big deal. The Android device turns off after a period of inactivity and is often triggered by the light to the bathroom is turned on. More times than not, people walking into the room will be greeted with a standard mirror until the light is turned on.

There’s a handful of smart mirror apps, but few are worthwhile.

This smart mirror didn’t ship with any software. That’s a bummer but not a deal breaker. There are several smart mirror Android apps in the Play Store though I only found one I like.

I settled on Mirror Mirror (get it) because the interface is clean, uses pleasant fonts and there’s just enough customization though it would be nice to select different locations for the data modules. The app was last updated in July of 2017 so use at your own risk.

Another similar option is this software developed by Max Braun, a robotistic at Google’s X. His smart mirror was a hit in 2016, and he included instructions on how to build it here and uploaded the software to GitHub here.

Kids love it.

I have great kids that grew up around technology. Nothing impresses these jerks, though, and that’s my fault. But they like this smart mirror. They won’t stop touching it, leaving fingerprints all over it. They quickly figured out how to exit the mirror software and download a bunch of games to the device. I’ve walked in on both of kids huddled in the dark bathroom playing games and watching YouTube, instead, of you know, playing games or watching YouTube on the countless other devices in the house.

That’s the point of the device, though. The company that makes this model advertises it as a way to get YouTube in the bathrooms so a person can apply their makeup while watching beauty YouTubers. It works for that, too. There is just a tiny bit of latency when pressing on the screen through the mirror. This device isn’t as quick to use as a new Android tablet, but since it’s sealed in a way to keep out moisture, it’s safe to go in a steamy bathroom.

Adults will find it frivolous.

I have a lot of gadgets in my house, and my friends are used to it. Their reaction to this smart mirror has been much different from any other device, though.

“What the hell is this, Matt,” they’ll say from behind the closed bathroom door. I’ll yell back, “It’s a smart mirror.” They flush the toilet, walk out and give me the biggest eyeroll.

I’ve yet to have an adult say anything nice about this mirror.

It’s frivolous.

A smart mirror is a silly gadget. To some degree, it’s a , but in the end, it’s just another gadget to tell you the weather. It collects fingerprints like mad, and the Android screen isn’t bright enough to use it as a regular video viewer or incognito TV.

As for this particular smart mirror, the Embrace Smart Mirror, the hardware is solid but doesn’t include any smart mirror software. The Mirror is rather thin and easily hangs on a wall thanks to a VESA port. There are physical controls hidden along the bottom of the unit including a switch to manually turn off the camera. It’s certified IP65 so it can handle a bathroom. A motion detector does a good job turning the device on so. If you don’t have kids, it should stay smudge-free.

The Embrace Smart Mirror does not ship with any smart mirror software. The instructions and videos tell users to add widgets to the Android home screen. This doesn’t work for me, and I expect a product such as this to include at least necessary software. Right now, after this product is taken out of the box, it’s just an Android tablet behind a mirror, and that’s lame. Thankfully there are a couple of free apps on the Play Store to remedy this problem.

At $1,299, the Embrace Smart Mirror is a hard sell but is among the cheapest available smart mirrors on the market. Of course, you can always build one yourself, and as The Verge points out, it’s rather easy.