The smartphone market has someone for everyone, whether you’re looking for a budget device that doesn’t compromise on features or a flagship model sporting the latest and greatest hardware. Despite chip shortages, shipping delays, and production bottlenecks, manufacturers still managed to deliver an assortment of new handsets in 2021, including these top-of-the-line models. iPhone 13 Love it or hate it, … Continue reading
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We review a lot of gadgets here at Gizmodo, and honestly, many of them are good. We detailed our favorites here. But we also see a lot of really bad products—some are just plain bad, while others are capable and well-designed but fatally flawed in one way or another (usually when it comes to privacy). Still others…
Smart homes are probably the closest we can get to the futuristic dwellings seen in science fiction. The technology powering all of this can be quite complex, but putting it all together doesn’t necessarily need to be. You can also put a half-decent smart home together without bankrupting yourself.
Sure, if you’re going all out, you’re probably going to spend a fortune. And if you opt to put together your own components, technical know-how will be required. But there is another way. You can buy a bunch of reasonably priced, highly effective devices and get a lot out of the smart-home concept without breaking the bank.
As with anything, you can make a smart home incredibly complex if you want to. But it doesn’t have to be, and doing so sort of defeats the point of the whole thing. Smart homes as a concept exist to make your life easier, not add more headaches.
And it’s all going to get even easier as Project Matter begins to standardize smart home components. But even outside of Project Matter, the vast majority of smart home products will work with Google Assistant, or Alexa, or both.
So, as a rule, double-check whatever you’re buying works with your preferred voice assistant, and try to stick with a brand you’ve found that plays nicely with the rest of your smart home. If you do that, you shouldn’t run into any major headaches.
These are the backbone of any smart home. Although they aren’t technically necessary—you can control your smart devices through an app—the voice functionality they provide makes everything so much easier. Why unlock a phone or look for a remote when you can just bark a command at the box in the corner?
If you do find yourself using your phone—say you’re out of the house and want to make sure the kitchen light is off—the Google and Alexa apps can control all of your devices from one place. This is far better than having several apps specific to different devices and than having to remember which one controls that particular light. You can even group devices by type or room if you want to control all of them at once.
The various options available, but Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home assistants are the two main players. Smart hubs can also be used to help keep everything organized, but we’re trying to save money and, since those aren’t even necessary, your current Wi-Fi network should do the trick.
Something like the Echo Dot seems to be on sale more often than it isn’t and can be picked up for around $25 per unit. You can put one in every room, but even that isn’t always necessary. There’s every chance you can clearly communicate with your kitchen’s echo from your living room, for example. So feel free to experiment with placement.
It’s always possible to add devices, too, so you could go with one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen for now, and grab one for the living room or an office a bit later. Different types of devices are also available, so maybe you want something with a visible clock face for your bedside or something with a better speaker for a room where you like listening to music.
You can get functional smart lightbulbs for very little money. They are often on sale, and lower-end units are available for between $10 and $15 each. This is more expensive than a regular lightbulb, but you might claw a bit of that back in energy savings and from the bulb’s lifespan. LED lights don’t require much power and last a long time.
As far as installation goes, most bulbs just screw in then connect to your Wi-Fi network via a smartphone app. Once connected, they usually work with Alexa and Google without any significant issues. Although turning them off manually via a switch can cause some bulbs to disconnect and require a manual reset before they’ll hop back on the home network.
A more expensive and complex option is available in the form of a smart light switch. These can’t be accidentally disconnected from your network, which is a plus. But you should really pay to have them professionally installed if you don’t know what you’re doing as mains electricity isn’t something you want to play around with.
Plugs Make Almost Anything Smart
Smart plugs and power strips allow you to turn anything in your home into a very basic smart device. Okay, so functionality is limited to on or off, but if you have something like an old air conditioner, that’s all you really need. You can turn it on before you head home and come back to a nicely chilled room for as little as $20, which is a lot cheaper than a brand-new “smart” air con.
Smart power strips are great for things like Christmas lights but can be used for anything you would use a regular power strip for. Each socket can usually be controlled individually or as a group.
Take a look around your home, think about things you might want to turn on or off remotely. If it has a mechanical switch, it’s an effortless upgrade.
Many new TVs come with some kind of smart functionality as standard. Non-smart TVs can still be purchased but are usually not that much cheaper. Roku, WebOS, Tizen, et al. will all integrate with your smart home.
Personally, I have Alexa and a Roku TV. I would describe the functionality as limited. I can turn the TV on or off, pick a particular app, and adjust the volume. Above all else, Alexa seems to be very particular about phrasing. Still, Alexa is a good backup when the remote is missing, which is roughly around 90% of the time.
Things like Chromecast, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV, can also turn a regular television into a smart home-ready smart TV for anywhere between $20 and $80.
Something like Google Nest’s smart thermostat will learn what temperature you like your house to be at and when—both automating the heating process and saving you the bother of adjusting the thermostat. This can, of course, be overridden via the app or a voice command if you’re feeling a bit chilly or leaving town for a few days.
So, How Does All Of This Add Up To A Cheap, Easy, Smart Home?
Nothing on this list is essential, nor is any of it that expensive. The key part is tailoring your own home to your own needs. If you can get away with one smart speaker and a couple of lightbulbs, great. Your life is a little bit easier, and you probably spent less than $50. If you go for absolutely everything I’ve mentioned, you can probably keep the budget under $1,000 and have some kind of smart home functionality in every room. The key is to dump the idea of a set smart home and tailor everything to your individual needs and budget.
The modular nature of a modern smart home means you can add to it as you go. This has two benefits: it stops you from overspending on unnecessary objects and allows you to get comfortable with the technology. If you can set up an Alexa, you can set up a smart bulb. If you can set up a smart bulb, smart plugs are basically the same process. Things like light switches and thermostats may be more complex or intimidating but can be professionally installed for a small fee. And once they’re installed, they all work the same way; just say what you want and as if by magic, it will happen.
Though this year is by no means one to celebrate, there were still some bright spots in the world of tech. It’s with plenty of loathing that we admit this: NFTs somehow won this year. They’ve taken over. Reddit’s day traders also deserve recognition for the way they’ve managed to manifest GameStop’s slogan, “Power to the players.”
Also (and this might be the most painful to acknowledge), the Metaverse (sorta) took off this year. At least in terms of our lexicon, with mentions of the word skyrocketing since Mark Zuckerberg uttered it while announcing plan for a richer VR and AR-focused world. Maybe people were confused between “metaverse” and “multiverse” as in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?
Besides the things we love to hate, there are some products this year we genuinely liked as well. Apple continued to impress with its M1 chips and, more importantly, gave users a way to repair their own devices (kinda). Google’s first-ever mobile chip powered clever experiences on the latest Pixel phones and showcased the company’s AI and software prowess at a competitive price. As we continue to be bombarded by depressing news every day, it’s worth taking the time to reflect on the wins this year, no matter how tiny.
Noam Galai via Getty Images
2021 has not been a quiet year, so NFTs deserve something approaching praise for securing a spot in the highlights reel. NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are an attempt to create an immutable digital asset in an environment where such a thing has historically been tricky. For the industry’s proponents, it’s a way of imposing some form of scarcity on digital artifacts that you can’t easily make scarce. Anyone can right-click and save a picture of a monkey wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt after all. But only the person who paid a lot of money for the NFT can go around calling themselves the “owner” of the same. As Nietzche didn’t say, NFTs are the lie agreed upon, suggesting that people respect the owner of the certificated copy of something over everything else.
So far, the biggest and most notable moves in the NFT space have happened in the art market, with pieces being bought and sold for eye-watering numbers. On March 11th, digital artist Beeple sold Everydays: The First 5,000 Days at Christie’s auction house for $69,346,250. Those hefty sums are, in some people’s minds, justified because they believe that NFTs will become the new crypto, with everyone trying to get aboard the bandwagon before it goes big. After all, there are lots of folks who got rich during the Bitcoin boom that want to further enhance their fortunes, while some who were left behind now hope to get in on the ground floor on the next big thing. Others, meanwhile, think that the big craze in NFTs right now is to help folks move large quantities of money around away from the auspices of, you know, regulators.
The NFT market is so awash with speculator cash that it’s normal to have… questions. A recent Harvard Business Review article talks about how commerce can’t work without “clear property rights,” which NFTs help to impose. There’s also the matter of whether NFTs could better enable more reliable and secure ticketing and permission systems? I’ll be honest, I’m personally unconvinced by the argument that NFTs offer rights of ownership, since they don’t necessarily confer upon the buyer the proper rights of ownership.
These issues are, however, going to be worked out over the next few years, and it will only be when the speculation has died down that we’ll see if NFTs have any residual worth. And, hey, not every deeply-technical cryptographic ownership record gets their own SNL sketch shortly after they broke into the mainstream, do they. – Daniel Cooper, Senior Editor
Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent the term, but by rebadging Facebook as “Meta,” he helped kick off a wave of interest in the metaverse. While it was originally a dystopian view of cyberspace via Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the metaverse now represents the next big online goldrush. You can think of it as the logical step forward from the mobile internet, a world where our online experiences can easily transition between multiple devices. And eventually, it could be something we interact with via AR and VR glasses.
To be clear, we still don’t have an exact idea of what the metaverse will be. The Meta renaming could easily be seen as a way for Zuckerberg to avoid his responsibilities as the leader of a fundamentally broken social media company. But other companies have been exploring this idea for years: Microsoft’s HoloLens has proven to be surprisingly useful for commercial and front-line workers, and it’s also core to Mesh, the company’s ambitious solution for virtual meetings. The Borg-like Google Glass was widely ridiculed, but its failure hasn’t stopped Google from thinking about its role in the metaverse, either.
Maybe it’ll take a killer new device, like Apple’s fabled AR glasses, to bring the metaverse into focus. Or maybe it’ll go the way of wearables — a category of devices that’s useful for some people, but not necessarily essential for everyone. Either way, it’s something that will forever be tied to 2021. – Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor
Home fitness tech is here to stay
As the pandemic kept many of us indoors and out of gyms, companies like Peloton, Apple, Tonal and even Amazon were able to pull us into new fitness habits and equipment.
Meanwhile, major fitness studios and gyms like Equinox, Soulcycle, OrangeTheory and F45 have modulated (while some created from scratch) their online services. Many companies expanded replayable class options or added live lessons, leaderboards and more in a bid to keep members fit – and keep those membership dues coming in.
COVID-19 offered a chance to shift our workout habits and reduce gym costs. Why pay $50 for a high-intensity interval training gym membership when I can track myself in Apple’s Fitness Plus classes, SharePlay with my friends and jump in my own shower, all for just $10 a month?
Of course, the comparison isn’t oranges for oranges, and despite cheerleading Peloton trainers and form corrections from gym coaches over video livestreams, it’s very hard to get the degree of attention gained from in-person training. That’s likely one reason why at-home exercise injuries have never been higher. The Wall Street Journal reported that emergency room visits after home workouts increased by more than 48% from the end of 2019 through the end of 2020, according to a survey by Medicare Advantage.
However, just like traditional gyms did when the pandemic first hit, these businesses have to figure out how to hold onto their customers.
Tonal is a ‘Peloton for weight training’ product that Engadget tested back in 2018. When our usual bench-press machines and squat racks were locked inside gyms over the last year and a half, Tonal saw demand for its resistance-training system rocket. Sales grew more than eight times year-over-year. In a bid to hold onto these new customers, the company recently introduced live classes for Tonal owners, with direct feedback from coaches and classes reportedly calibrated for each user.
Meanwhile, Peloton, arguably the most recognizable at-home fitness company, faces more competition from (and litigation with) rivals and a tougher business outlook. After a rough earnings report in November, the company said it didn’t expect to be profitable again until 2023. Worse, its Bike was involved in the death of an important character in the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That. But the company has plans (and cheeky responses). It’s integrated into many corporate fitness plans, launched its first exercise game, announced a fitness camera for strength training and finally — added a pause button.
The challenge will be keeping many of us from returning to our old gyms, cycling commutes, or our old, less healthy habits when things eventually return to normal. – Mat Smith, UK Bureau Chief
Apple takes baby steps toward the right to repair
Apple continued to impress the industry with its M1 Pro and M1 Max chips this year, putting them in new MacBooks that garnered rave reviews. And though the iPhone 13 Pro is just catching up to Android phones with its 120Hz screen, it’s an undeniably good device with solid cameras and excellent performance. The Apple Watch Series 7 isn’t much different from its predecessor, barring its larger display, but it’s still the best smartwatch around. Plus, Apple TV+ gained much more credibility in 2021 with the giant pile of awards its original series Ted Lasso brought home.
But the biggest thing that Apple did this year was to start selling DIY iPhone and Mac repair kits to consumers. After it was discovered Face ID on an iPhone 13 would stop working if a third party replaced its screen, the company first issued a software fix for this specific issue and announced the repair kits shortly after. The move was hailed by activists as a victory for the right-to-repair movement, given the company’s history of making it obnoxiously difficult for you to get your Apple products fixed by anyone else.
Of course, Apple could still do better — activists say the company’s plans could be more comprehensive, for example. But this is a major reversal of policy that shows the company is opening up, ever so slightly. Last year, it allowed users to set third-party browsers and email apps as their default on iPhones and iPads. This year, it introduced FaceTime on the web as a means to allow PC and Android users to join calls that they had previously been excluded from. The company may never fully embrace integrating different ecosystems into its walled garden, but it seems they’re at least listening to what people want and taking small steps towards giving users what they deserve. – Cherlynn Low, Deputy Editor
At the start of 2021, Gamestop’s share price was $17.25. As of this writing, it’s $136.88. This year has been so long that it’s easy to forget many things that happened in January, including the Reddit-driven short squeeze that pushed Gamestop’s stock price to as high as $500 at its peak. Despite subsequent criticism, calls for better regulation, a congressional hearing on what happened and multiple class-action lawsuits having been filed against parties like brokering app Robinhood, here we are 12 months later with the company’s stock still higher than it’s ever been before 2021.
This year, in possibly the most 2021 combination of words ever, GameStop announced it’s working on an NFT platform based on Ethereum. It also signed a lease for a new 530,000 square-foot fulfilment center in Nevada and opened a new customer care center in Florida. It made $1.18 billion in the second quarter compared to $942 million in the same period in 2020. That could partly be due to the fact that Sony and Microsoft launched their consoles after the second quarter in 2020. Basically, 2021 has been a great year for GameStop, and not just for its business.
Discovery+ is even working on a documentary (narrated by “Wolf of Wall Street” Jordan Belfort) on the entire fiasco titled GameStop:The Wall Street Hijack. Nine other films based on these events are reportedly in the works, according to Vulture. Gamestop wasn’t the only company that Reddit’s day traders flocked to in their nostalgia-driven frenzy, either. Companies like BlackBerry and AMC also saw their share prices surge, with the latter’s stock jumping 480 percent at its peak. GameStop’s slogan uncannily sums up the situation: “Power to the players.” – C.L.
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget
If you had told me in January that Microsoft had its Windows 10 successor primed and ready for release by the end of the year, I would have laughed in your face. But Windows 11 is actually here, and it’s a pretty solid step forward aesthetically (despite some clunky usability issues). I’d bet even Microsoft was surprised it managed to make that happen.
Windows 11 rose from the ashes of Windows 10X, an OS variant that was originally supposed to focus on dual-screen devices, but was eventually canceled in May. That would explain why Windows 11 feels more like a fresh coat of paint on its predecessor. But despite that inauspicious start, it’s still a worthwhile update: there’s more of an emphasis on security, and the facelift brings some Mac-like pleasantries into the typically stark world of Windows.
It’s not a complete success — upgrading is an annoying process if you’ve got a self-built PC, and very old computers won’t be able to upgrade at all (at least, not without going through a manual ISO installation). But at the very least, Microsoft managed to keep most of what made Windows 10 such a successful operating system, while also delivering a more mindful experience for PC users. – D. H.
David Imel for Engadget
Google Pixel 6 Pro
The Pixel 6 Pro is my favorite Pixel yet. Yes, I wish Google offered a smaller handset in its latest flagship series, but that complaint aside, there’s plenty to love. The company’s first-ever mobile chip Tensor powers the phone’s impressive AI features like live translation in messages and captions, as well as smarter voice typing features.
Most of all, I adore the Pixel 6 Pro’s cameras. If I’m headed out somewhere that I have the slightest sense might warrant some sort of picture-taking, I make sure to bring the 6 Pro with me. Its portrait mode, which I abuse for my food photos, is superior to every other phone I’ve used, and frankly, I’m partial to Google’s colors and clarity.
Plus, bonus features like Magic Eraser, Face Unblur and Action Pan give me the option to add fun effects or clean up my shots. Everyone I’ve taken pictures of has been impressed by the quality. Of course, the Pixel 6 is not without its flaws. Setting aside my complaint about its size, the Pixel 6 Pro also has a finicky in-screen fingerprint sensor. Google has also had to issue several fixes in recent weeks to address bugs that themselves were caused by over the air updates. Still, as a showcase for Google’s strengths in software and AI, the Pixel 6 Pro fully delivers. Best of all, it does so for hundreds of dollars less than rival flagships. – C.L.
In an admittedly niche industry, Samsung has pulled far ahead. Sure, it was one of the first to try its hand at foldables, but it’s also arguably the last one standing. The foldable phone race really kicked off when relative unknown Royole showed off the first working prototype at CES 2019. Soon after, Huawei and Samsung announced their own devices. The original Mate X and Galaxy Fold made the rounds at various press events after, but only Samsung eventually sold its first-gen foldable to the general public (outside of China, anyway).
David Imel for Engadget
Motorola jumped on the trend, capitalizing on the sheer nostalgia value of its Razr Flip phone. Alas, all these initial attempts were doomed to fail. Foldables, it turns out, with their soft, vulnerable displays and damage-prone hinges, are hard to nail. Worse, the Razr Flip’s screen just felt weird and flimsy, and its hinge would make a cracking sound when you open or close the phone.
After a slew of reports of broken review units, Samsung returned with updated iterations of the Fold. It also released the Flip series, a smaller, Razr-like version that received its share of early complaints. Yet, today, Samsung not only continues to produce these foldables, but at cheaper prices, too. The Z series is now in its third generation, and Samsung said it shipped four times more foldables in 2021 than in 2020. While Huawei also unveiled a third version this year, its foldables haven’t been available in most places outside of China. We’ve also yet to see a new version of the Razr this year, although Motorola did roll out a 5G-capable update in 2020 that we never got to test. Companies like Oppo and Xiaomi have also unveiled their own foldables recently, but they’re relatively new to the game.
By bringing the price of the Z Flip 3 down to a more competitive $999 while continuing to improve the durability and usefulness of its products, Samsung has shown it may be the only company with the resources and expertise to continue to deliver foldable phones, even if they may never gain mainstream popularity. – C.L.
You’re still waiting for Android 12 to reach your phone, but Google’s already working on the next iteration of its mobile OS—Android 13. Codenamed “Tiramisu,” the Android 13 update may include a ton of killer new features, such as opt-in notifications for all apps.
A ton of internal development screenshots obtained by XDA Developers shows off a few of Android 13’s features. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Google will actually implement these features or that they will be exclusive to Android 13.
One of the coolest new features that Google’s testing for Android 13 is called “Panlingual.” It allows you to set languages on a per-app basis, rather than setting a system-wide language that applies to all apps.
Of course, some apps like Google Maps already offer custom language settings. But Panlingual will allow you to set an individual language for each app, so long as that app supports the language of your choice. (Google could also use the Android 12 Translation API to automatically set apps to different languages without help from the app’s developer.)
Post Notifications: Opt-In App Notifications
We’re all frustrated by app notifications, which are often annoying and difficult to turn off (especially the Doordash notifications). And although Google has made some minor improvements to notifications over the years, they still suck. But they might stop sucking in Android 13.
Google is testing a new “POST_NOTIFICATIONS” runtime permission for Android 13. That’s a fancy way of saying that all app notifications could become opt-in. No more digging through settings to disable notifications every time you install a new app!
I would do just about anything to make opt-in notifications a reality. Of all the features Google is testing for Android 13, this one is my favorite, although I have a soft spot for the next new feature because it’s so freakin’ weird.
But Android 13 could find a very weird way to preserve battery life. Google is testing a tool called TARE, or The Android Resource Economy. Basically, it’s a digital currency system that Android 13 awards to apps when battery life is low. Apps can “spend” this currency to perform tasks in an orderly fashion and preserve battery life.
If apps run out of “money” when the battery life is low, they can no longer schedule tasks. Google could also increase the “cost” of performing tasks as battery life depletes.
Early leaks indicate that TARE will operate through the JobScheduler and AlarmManager policies. The system sounds incredibly complex, so don’t be surprised if it isn’t included in Android 13.
Other Features: Lock Screen Clocks, Bluetooth LE Audio
Along with its notification, language, and battery-saving features, Android 13 may feature new controls for your lock screen clock. The Android 12 lock screen clock has a weird behavior where it switches between a “stacked” double-line layout and a more traditional “digital clock” single-line layout. Android 13 may let you force the clock to stay in the layout of your choice.
Android 13 may be the first release to add full support for Bluetooth LE Audio.
Google recently merged an LC3 (the LE Audio codec) encoder and is adding the codec as an option in settings. It’ll be the highest priority A2DP source codec.
Additionally, Android 13 could introduce Bluetooth LE Audio to your phone. The Bluetooth LE Audio protocol is exactly what it sounds like—it lets you stream wireless audio using Bluetooth Low-Energy radio, saving battery life in the process. The new protocol also unlocks killer new features, like the ability to broadcast audio to multiple devices simultaneously or run hearing aids over Bluetooth without wasting power.
Bluetooth LE Audio has some tradeoffs, including reduced audio bitrate. But the drop in audio quality isn’t noticeable if you’re using a cheap pair of wireless earbuds, and anyway, Bluetooth LE Audio isn’t a full replacement for traditional Bluetooth Audio.
With the heavily advertised Google Workspace now online, you may find yourself wondering whether it’s time to leave open-source LibreOffice behind and switch to something a bit more corporate. We compare the two to see which may be the better fit.
Windows processes play a significant role in the proper running of your PC or laptop. Some, like csrss.exe and winlogon.exe, are so crucial that if you mistakenly decide to terminate them, you may end up crashing your device. Malware authors take advantage of such a criticality to infect healthy Windows systems. The premise is that viruses, adware, spyware and Trojan’s can be labeled anything – even named after standard Windows system processes.
Below are a few leading Windows 11 and 10 processes often confused for their namesake malware. Learn how to spot the fakes if they show up on your system.
It looks like New York City is going all-in on electric vehicles. Earlier this month, we reported on the Ford Mustang Mach-E joining taxi fleets, and now it looks like the NYPD is doing the same. This week, the City announced it had bought 184 Mustang March-E vehicles for the police department and emergency services.