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TikTok and WeChat Both Avoid an App Store Ban for Now

The TikTok and WeChat apps on an iPhoneAscannio/Shutterstock

Last week the U.S. Department of Commerce announced a ban on both TikTok and WeChat that would remove both from all U.S. app stores starting Sunday, September 20. That date has passed, and both apps are still available for download. Both apps managed a reprieve, but it still remains to be seen how long that will last.

TikTok’s attempt to avoid a ban involved a buyout process that would turn into a U.S. company. The U.S. administration had said that nothing less would be acceptable, due to national security concerns. In the beginning, Microsoft was the frontrunner to purchase TikTok from Chinse parent company ByteDance, but those talks fell apart.

Oracle and Walmart teamed up and won the bidding process, but that left ByteDance as the majority owner, with Oracle merely owning a 20% stake. When the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the impending ban, it seemed the Oracle/Walmart bid wasn’t good enough.

But things change quickly, and now President Trump has given his approval of the Oracle and Walmart deal to purchase a stake in TikTok. The exact details are murky, though. According to Oracle’s CEO: “Upon creation of TikTok Global, Oracle/Walmart will make their investment and the TikTok Global shares will be distributed to their owners, Americans will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

ByteDance seems to disagree and maintains it will have majority ownership of TikTok. In any case, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it will push back the ban by one week to September 27, 2020 at 11:59 p.m (no timezone given). So for now, TikTok remains available in app stores for download while all the companies involved hash out the details.

WeChat, on the other hand, isn’t involved in a buyout of any form. Instead, the courts intervened to block the ban. WeChat users sued on behalf of the company, arguing that a ban would impede First Amendment free speech rights.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler agreed, and blocked the ban on those grounds, writing “the plaintiffs have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor, and the plaintiffs establish sufficiently the other elements for preliminary-injunctive relief.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce didn’t comment on the ruling, but it can appeal to attempt to overturn the order and followthrough with the ban. So WeChat isn’t out of the woods just yet.

via The Verge, TechCrunch, CNBC

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

USB Explained: All the Different Types (and What They’re Used for)

Hand holding a USB C cabledhehaivan/

USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, is a common type of computer port that makes it easy to charge a device or transfer data between two devices. Since it was first developed in the ’90s, USB has continued to evolve alongside technology, progressively becoming smaller, faster, and more powerful. With so many devices that use USB, it’s easy to get confused by the different connectors. But fear not—we’re going to demystify all of that today.

When it comes to USB, there are really only four things that matter: form factor, transfer speeds, power delivery, and video delivery. Let’s dig in.

Form Factor

USB 2.0 and 3.0 connector typesMilos634/

There are multiple types of USB that have popped up over the years, each with a unique design and use case. The most common types are USB-A, Micro-USB, and USB-C, but we’ll briefly discuss all of them.


USB-A, or USB Type A, is the original flat and rectangular connector that no one could ever figure out how to plug in correctly the first time. These cables always have USB-A on one end with a different port type on the other, and can be used for device charging and data transfer. USB-A is still widely used and can be found on devices like computers, gaming consoles, TVs, and all kinds of peripherals.


USB-B is pretty much only used on large devices, like scanners or printers. Visually, this connector looks almost square. Most of these are USB-B to USB-A cables, though some newer devices have moved on from USB-B to smaller options, like Micro-USB or Mini-USB.


Micro-USB was the standard a while back for certain portable devices, like Android tablets and smartphones because it can transfer data and provide charge. It comes in both Type-A Micro and Type-B Micro flavors, and is smaller than USB-A. Some manufacturers still opt for using Micro-USB parts for their devices, as they’re less costly than those for USB-C.


As its name suggests, Mini-USB is a smaller version of USB-B. It was the standard for charging or transferring data from devices like tablets before Micro-USB was. There are also Type-A and Type-B versions of this connector. It’s uncommon to see many products using Mini-USB today, though you can still find them on older electronics like MP3 players or the PlayStation 3 controller.


This is the current standard, and it marries power and data delivery with display connectivity. USB-C is what you’ll see on most new devices like smartphones, game controllers, earbud cases, microphones, and laptops. Its form factor is small, oblong, and reversible, so it can be plugged in either way (take that, USB-A). The port’s 100-watt connection makes it perfectly suited for fast charging and data transfers, even with larger devices.

USB-C can do more than other USB types can, and get it done faster. USB-C has the potential to replace all other cables, thanks to its diverse multi-tasking abilities. It has the ability to power even the most power-hungry devices, like laptops and TVs. It can also transfer 40 gigabits of data per second (Gbps), and can be used to deliver 4K video to external monitors.

While manufacturers continue to release new products with ports other than USB-C (looking at you, Apple), we aren’t yet able to live in a single-cable society, but we’re getting there we, and we may eventually be freed from the burden of lugging around multiple cords.


Technically, Lightning is not USB, but rather Apple’s proprietary connector type that works similarly to USB. You’ll see it on Apple’s devices, like the iPad and iPhone. It’s similar to USB-C in that it is reversible. It supports speeds similar to USB 3.0.

Data Transfer Speed

Close up of computer cable USB isolated on white background, selective focustristan tan/

In addition to coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, USB types also have multiple speed standards. Keep in mind that some USB cables are data transfer only, and others are power delivery only, but also that there are options that can handle both tasks. Be sure to verify a cable’s abilities before purchasing it.

The first, USB 1.x, is old and incredibly slow, and can only move 1.5 Mbps. Your odds of finding a device in the wild still on 1.0 are slim to none. The slightly less old (and comfortably slow) USB 2.0, however, is still relatively common, though you’ll really only find it on older electronics. 2.0 has a full-speed option that can handle 12 Mbps, and a high-speed version that can handle 480 Mbps. SuperSpeed USB 3.x can transfer data between 5-20 Gbps.

The latest entries, USB 4.0, Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4, are where you’ll find the highest data transfer speeds: a maximum capable throughput of 40 Gbps. Thunderbolt is another transfer speed standard used in some USB-C cables—all Thunderbolt 3 and 4 cables are USB-C, but not all USB-C cables are Thunderbolt. So if Thunderbolt is what you’re after, you’ll need to make sure that’s part of the cable you’re buying.

These super-high transfer rates are impressive, but they don’t matter much if you aren’t regularly transferring hundreds of GB of data or doing something wild like editing video on an external hard drive. If you are, however, you’ll want at least Thunderbolt 3.

Power Delivery

As we mentioned above, some USB cables are only capable of delivering power or transferring data, though most can do both. PD (power delivery) standards fall into one of three main categories: power only, slow charge, and fast charge.

USB 2.0 supports 2.5W charging and USB 3.0 supports 4.5W charging. To put things in perspective, 10W is enough power to slow charge your phone, and 18W is enough to fast charge your smartphone or power a Netbook or similar bare-bones laptops.

In contrast, USB PD can handle up to 100W, which is powerful enough to power things like a MacBook Pro, monitors, docking stations, and most TVs. It can also fast-charge smaller compatible devices like your phone or Nintendo Switch. PD also only provides the necessary charge to your device but won’t overcharge it. Newer battery banks are starting to support USB PD, which are more capable of keeping your power-hungry devices powered and fully charged.

Video Delivery

Smartphone connected to laptop via USB cableLTim/

Being able to transfer data and power a device is already impressive. But you can also choose to use USB-C to connect to monitors in place of a bulky HDMI or VGA cable. USB-C also has support for 4K video delivery to a screen. Thunderbolt 4 cables can handle displaying 4K content on two monitors at a time, or 8K on a single monitor. Again, this isn’t going to be the use case for most people, but as 4K and 8K video becomes more commonplace, you’ll eventually need a cable that can keep up.

How to Know if You’re Using a Safe USB Cable

The rule of thumb is that you should always use the cable that came with your device and that you should buy any replacements from the manufacturer as well. That cable is specifically engineered to be used with your phone, tablet, or computer.

However, if you want to purchase one from a third party, be sure to stick with trusted established brands like Anker, Aukey, or Belkin, or at least look to see if a different brand lists the cable’s USB certification. Otherwise, you could end up with an inferior cable that lacks official USB-IF certification and could potentially damage your device.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Suzanne Humphries

Plastic Phones Are the Best Phones—Here’s Why

A photo of the Google Pixel 4a.Justin Duino

Plastic’s got a bad rap. We fool ourselves into thinking that plastic phones are cheap and ugly, but they’re just as good as a glass-backed and aluminum devices. In fact, you might prefer a lightweight and durable plastic phone over the greasy glass sandwich that’s weighing down your pocket.

Glass Sandwiches Are Heavy and Fragile

The Google Pixel 3a---a plastic phone that hardly weighs nothin'.The Google Pixel 3a—a plastic phone that hardly weighs nothin’. Google

I’m currently using a Pixel 3a, and for all of its standout features, I’m constantly impressed by its weightlessness. It’s one of the lightest smartphones I’ve ever used, and a far cry from the weighty gigantic glass-backed phones that Samsung and Apple are releasing today.

Some people may argue that the Pixel 3a is lightweight because of its small 5.6-inch footprint. But size ain’t everything; the Pixel’s weightlessness is all because of the plastic! Just look at the new Pixel 4a, which weighs a paltry 5.04 ounces despite its 5.8-inch display. That’s significantly less weight than the new 4.7-inch iPhone SE, which pushes the scale to 5.22 ounces and feels like a shiny $400 bludgeon.

Not that I would use the iPhone SE as a weapon—it’s too fragile! There’s no landing on your feet with a glass-backed phone. If it drops hard enough, you’re gonna end up with a cracked display or a shattered backside (or both). A plastic phone that lands on its back probably won’t need any repairs, although it may come out with a scuff or a scar.

Lots of Plastic … Looks Fantastic!

The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact, a plastic phone from 2017.The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact, a plastic phone from 2017. Sony

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 marks a turning point for phone design. Not because it was especially attractive or ambitious looking, but because critics thought that its dimpled plastic backside looked cheap. Complaints were so bad that Samsung replaced its design chief and spit out the S6 and S6 Edge, two phones that set today’s design standard for glass backs and curved displays.

Phone critics were probably envious of the aluminum-wrapped iPhone 6, which looks futuristic next to the Galaxy S5. But the complaints about plastic suddenly extended to every device from 2014 onward. Even phones that look modern today, like 2014’s Nexus 6, were criticized for their “cheap” plastic appearance.

But we both know that plastic looks fine. Ugly phones don’t look that way because they’re made of plastic; they look that way because of poor design choices. Plenty of phones rock the plastic look, and even years-old devices like the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact look futuristic thanks to a satin finish and smart color design.

Speaking of satin finishes, don’t you hate the fingerprints and smudges on your glass-backed phone? Plastic phones are perfect for people who like to go without a phone case, as they’re (mostly) fingerprint-proof and resistant to unsightly cracks or blemishes. (And if you use a phone case … then why do you care what the back of your phone looks like?)

Plastic Doesn’t Interfere with 5G or Wireless Charging

Samsung's Galaxy Note20, a plastic 5G machine.Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20, a plastic 5G machine. Samsung

One of the difficult things about 5G phones and wireless charging technologies is that they don’t have a lot of range. They’re also easy to obstruct, which is just one reason why manufacturers like to make their phones out of glass instead of aluminum. But it just happens that plastic is perfect for wireless charging, and it may be better suited for 5G than glass.

You know the white or gray lines that run on the top and bottom edges of your phone? Those are antenna bands—although they aren’t actually antennas. Instead, they’re strips of plastic that allow your cellphone’s antenna signal to slip past the metal frame that holds all that glass together.

But plastic is practically invisible to radio waves. Phone manufacturers don’t need to worry about antenna bands or signal strength while working on plastic phones, which makes it a lot easier to deal with sensitive 5G technology. It’s also (maybe) the reason why both the $1,000 Galaxy Note 20 5G and the sub-$500 Moto G 5G Plus rock our favorite material—plastic! Turns out it’s not just budget phones, even in 2020.

Repairs Are a Breeze! (Kinda)

When the lead designer behind Samsung’s Galaxy S5 was asked why the company stuck with plastic, he answered that it makes battery-swaps and repairs easier. You can open the back of an S5 and replace its battery using just your fingernail, which is a far cry from the hour-long process of replacing the glass-backed Galaxy S6’s battery.

While plastic phones aren’t as repairable as they used to be, they’re easier to fix than their glass-backed counterparts. Take the Pixel 3a and Pixel 4a—two phones that are easy to open and secured by light manageable adhesive. The newer Pixel 4a is also notable for its accordion design, which allows you to quickly navigate the phone’s internals by removing the display and taking out a single midframe screw.

Repairing a plastic phone is still a frustrating time-consuming process that most people won’t (or shouldn’t) bother with. But hey, at least you know that your Pixel 4a will be refurbished and resold after you’re done with it. Phones that are more difficult to repair don’t always enjoy the same fate.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn’t buy a phone based on its backside. Plastic phones have a lot to offer. They look fantastic with satin or matte finishes, they don’t screw with 5G signals, they’re practically weightless, and they’re slightly easier to repair than your average glass-backed phone.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Andrew Heinzman

The Best Affordable Windows Laptops (That Don’t Suck)

Acer Swift 3 promotional image.Acer

You can get a good laptop, or you can get a cheap laptop. That’s the general wisdom, at least when it comes to something powerful enough to run Windows. At any budget under about $800, you’re looking at a bare minimum machine full of plastic and bargain bin parts.

But the laptop market is changing. With competition from cheaper low-power Chromebooks, and more flexible options thanks to AMD’s low-cost Ryzen chips, there are more choices in the lower price ranges than you might think.

What Makes a Laptop Not Suck?

That said, you can’t perform miracles. We’ve selected the best options in several categories at the lowest price for laptops that we’d consider using in our own work or leisure. While there were many choices at lower price levels, we knocked off any models that got notably poor marks from users or professional reviewers, and made other distinctions based on less obvious differences.

We also started with just one minimum specification. While a low-power processor, a low-res screen, or a plastic body aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, we think that trying to run Windows 10 on any machine with less than 8 GB of RAM is gonna be a bad time. Chromebooks can do with less, like the wonderful and extremely affordable Lenovo Chromebook Duet, but Windows has a lot more going on under the hood.

You can find some older models for less than the ones we chose, and a few currently produced ones at 4 GB or (shudder) 2 GB of memory. But we think these are the best in Windows laptops on the market that don’t suck.

The Best Standard Laptop: Acer Swift 3

Acer Swift 3Acer

If all you need is a regular laptop for browsing the web, reading email, and maybe watching the occasional movie, Acer’s Swift 3 is hard to beat. It comes in AMD and Intel varieties, but the SF314-42-R6YC variant packing a Ryzen 4500U is the one we recommend for those on a budget. It uses in a 14-inch, full HD IPS screen, a generous 256GB of SSD storage, and some surprising extras, like an illuminated keyboard and built-in fingerprint reader.

You won’t get a touchscreen in this price range, but the laptop does come loaded with a full-sized HDMI port for easy output to a monitor or TV, and USB-C charging along with two standard USB A ports.

Best General Cheap Windows Laptop

The Best Affordable 2-in-1 Laptop: HP Pavilion x360

Hp Pavilion x360HP

It’s hard to find an inexpensive laptop with decent specs and a fold-back 2-in-1 touchscreen design. The best one on the market is the Pavilion X360 from HP. We’re recommending the 14t-dw000 variant, which comes with 128GB of SSD storage. It’s using an Intel Core i3 10th-gen processor—something of a luxury in this category—though the 14-inch touchscreen is only “HD” at 1366×768.

The Pavilion X360 has a few premium touches, like a metal lid, integrated fingerprint reader, USB-C charging, and—a rarity on pretty much all laptops now—a full-sized SD card reader. While it’s compatible with an active stylus, one does not come in the box. Reviewers say the battery life isn’t great and the keyboard isn’t anything special, but performance, fit, and finish are well above expected in this price range.

The Best Affordable Big Screen Laptop: Dell Inspiron 17 3793

Dell Inspiron 17Dell

If you don’t often move your laptop around and prefer a big machine with a big screen, Dell’s got you covered. The latest generation of the Inspiron 17 (3793 model) packs a lot more of the comforts of a desktop while still being capable of travel (though it’s not coming out on any domestic airline flights). The base model on Dell’s website starts with a 10th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a huge (but slow) 1TB hard drive.

But the real draw here is that 17.3-inch 1080p screen (non-touch in the entry model) and the variety of ports on its big body. You get a full-sized SD card reader, three USB-A ports, HDMI out, and, surprisingly, both a full Ethernet port and a DVD drive. (Remember those?) The drawback is there are no USB-C ports, and one of the USB-A ports uses the slower 2.0 standard. Also be aware that at over six pounds, this machine is more “luggable” than portable.

The Best Affordable Ultraportable Laptop: ASUS Zenbook 14

Zenbook 14ASUS

For those who want a svelte laptop that will turn a few heads in an airport gate, the Asus Zenbook 14 will fit the bill. This little aluminum alloy machine is more expensive than others on this list with comparable hardware, but it weighs just 2.65 pounds and it’s only .7 inches thick. Bargain hunters should seek out the Q407IQ version with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor—it’s considerably cheaper than the Intel version of this laptop.

The Zenbook 14 uses a discrete GeForce MX350 GPU for a little extra graphical power, which you’ll be thankful for on the 14″ 1080p display with thin bezels. It has 256GB of SSD storage and a MicroSD card reader, with both HDMI and USB-C ports, but sadly it doesn’t charge from the latter. Surprisingly, it’s the only laptop on this with a Windows Hello-compatible IR camera.

The Best Affordable Gaming Laptop: Acer Nitro 5

Acer Nitro 5Acer

Trying to find an inexpensive laptop that can hold its own in 3D PC games is a herculean task—the “budget” category for gaming laptops tends to start at four figures. But Acer’s Nitro 5 in its cheapest configuration is surprisingly affordable for a 15-inch machine packing a 10th-gen Core i5 processor and a mid-range GTX 1650 graphics card. That won’t be enough to play the latest games at full quality, but with a few compromises you should be able to use the laptop’s 1080p screen at 60 frames per second.

Other charms include a red backlit keyboard with tenkey area, 512GB of SSD storage, and dedicated HDMI and USB-C ports. And because this thing is bigger and more generous with space than most laptops, you should be able to upgrade the memory and storage with only basic tools, if you’d like a little more performance later.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

External PC Drive Bays Are Dying, And That Sucks

Two 5.25-inch drive bays: one a standard DVD drive, the other a 3.5-inch card reader in an adapter.bump Michael Crider

Even now that PC gaming is a bigger market than ever, those who build their own desktops are niche customers. So when I talk about desktop PC cases, I do so knowing my position represents a niche of a niche, and one that might fairly be criticized as old-fashioned. That said: Let’s talk about external drive bays!

Even more specifically, about the 5.25-inch external drive bay—the one that holds a CD DVD Blu-ray removable disc-based media drive. Please don’t kill it, PC case makers. I’m begging you.

Hard to Find

A couple of months ago, deep in the work-from-home malaise of the pandemic, I decided to upgrade my desktop PC’s case. I’d been using the Fractal Design R4 for my desktop for almost eight years, carrying it across three major system rebuilds and more individual parts than I can remember. I wanted something with a more modern internal layout for better cable routing, maybe easier-to-access bays for my hard drive and SSD, and—the real draw—a fancy USB-C port on the front panel.

So, I got to looking. In order to keep all of my current hardware, I’d need to find a case with two external drive bays, because I use a standard 5.25-inch DVD drive (the oldest dustiest piece in my case, which has been pulling sterling service since my very first PC build 12 years ago) and a camera card reader, which is technically a 3.5-inch drive in a 5.25-inch adapter. A 3.5-inch bay is the one you might remember as the “floppy drive.”

So, I plugged my needs into Newegg’s handy search filters: full-sized ATX motherboard case, at least one USB-C port on the front, two 5.25-inch drive bays. Here’s what I got:

Newegg screenshot

“Alright,” I thought, “External drive bays have kind of gone out of fashion now that everyone’s streaming movies and downloading games from Steam. I’ll have to settle for just one, and pick between my DVD drive and my card reader. Let’s drop the 5.25-inch bay requirements down to one.”

Oh dear.

Newegg screenshot

As it turned out, I could find precisely one modern ATX case with both a front USB-C port and one (and only one) 5.25-inch bay: the Fractal Design Define 7, the spiritual descendant of my own Define R4. So, I ordered it … and found out that, while my 1.5-year-old motherboard can handle the USB 3.0 connector necessary for some USB-C ports, it doesn’t have the 3.1 gen 2 connector that the R7 case uses.

So, in order to use this very fancy very expensive case, I’d need to ditch either my trusty dusty DVD drive or the camera card reader that I use on a regular basis, and I’d have to go without access to the USB-C port I wanted in the first place. Alternately, I could replace my motherboard, for something approaching a full PC rebuild—for another $300 or so.

Fractal Design Define 7There’s a 5.25-inch bay in there somewhere. If you look. Really hard.

I sent the Define 7 back, and shoved all my parts back into my old R4. I could find a similar case to the one I’m using now, but it wouldn’t have access to USB-C, and my current case isn’t so useless that I’m ready to ditch it. I’ll upgrade my PC case eventually, but it looks like this one’s going to make it to double digits in years.

Discs Aren’t Dead

As someone who hasn’t bought a physical game in years, I’m an odd champion for the physical disc drive, if not the disc itself. But it’s worth pointing out that physical media, while absolutely on the decline, still has some utility left.

The most obvious application here is movies. Cinemaphiles still demand Blu-ray for their gigantic uncompressed video files, especially now that more and more are coming in 4K: That’s why you shouldn’t watch a movie like Into the Spider-verse on a streaming platform (if you can help it). To say nothing of the arbitrary and somewhat random nature of actually buying movies on streaming—if a movie I want isn’t available on a platform I’m currently paying for, it’s often much cheaper to buy the DVD or Blu-ray than to buy it (or even rent it!) on a streaming platform.

Blu-ray discsOngala/

Which brings up another point: for some people, getting shipped physical media is the best option! When I was living in rural Texas, streaming a movie for two hours was less than a given on an unlimited LTE connection. Getting a 50GB Steam game might take a week or more. Going to the store or ordering something off of Amazon made more sense on a regular basis. Even Microsoft acknowledged this, offering the massive Flight Simulator 2020 in an admittedly unwieldy 10-DVD physical edition.

And that ignores the vast libraries of music and movies that many people already own in disc format. Plenty of people like to digitize that—bloated Plex libraries are an indication—and need a disc drive to do so. Sure, it’s possible to do that with an external disc drive, but then what’s the point of having a gigantic ultra-customizable desktop PC in the first place?

More Options Are Better

I’ve already said that my situation—needing or at least wanting a weird combination of the latest ports and compatibility with older equipment—is niche. But catering to niches via flexibility is what building your own PC is all about!

Multi-card readerStarTech

Take that card reader, sitting in the second 5.25-inch bay via a 3.5-inch adapter. I have to take photos for reviews on a regular basis—my photos need to be higher-quality than my phone can handle, and my camera’s old enough that Wi-Fi transfers are achingly slow. So a dedicated gadget inside my PC is great, both for the standard SD card and the occasional microSD transfer for fooling around with phones.

But that’s hardly the only use for a full-sized drive bay. Another common alternative for this space is a hot-swap hard drive bay, which allows users to insert and remove massive amounts of storage for high-speed transfers instantly. Gamers and enthusiasts like to use this space as a dedicated fan or light controller. If nothing else works, you can add just tons and tons of USB ports, connected directly to your motherboard.

A full-sized hard drive bay.Kingwin

More creative uses for the space include an unobtrusive reservoir for liquid cooling, or a handy little hidey-hole for your screws and tools, secondary status screens, or even a cup holder. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

Admittedly, some of these uses for the 5.25-inch drive bay are more practical than others. But in a product category that includes pyramids and cruise ships and whatever the hell this thing is, I think a modern case with modern ports and the option for some old-school expansion isn’t too much to ask for.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

Beloved PS2 Game ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ is Coming Back for 2021

screenshot from The Prince of PersiaUbisoft

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released way back in 2003. It was one of the first games that really showed off the new generation of hardware (PS2 era), enabling smooth and interesting gameplay that hadn’t really been possible before. It’s still fondly remembered today—fondly enough that Ubisoft will be bringing it back in remastered form next year.

Ubisoft made the announcement yesterday, during its Ubisoft Forward presentation. The new game is coming out January 21st. And this is a full remake, not just a remaster—it looks like everything’s been redone from the ground up, following the combat, level design, and story of the original game, but otherwise including all new elements. It’ll be coming to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with no word on next-gen consoles.

The original Sands of Time was the second 3D reincarnation of Prince of Persia, after a lackluster attempt on the PC/Dreamcast. It’s considered a classic, smartly weaving time-bending gameplay into both precarious platforming and innovative, multi-enemy melee combat. The story was also uncommonly good for the time, with critics and players praising the expressive Prince hero and his dynamic love interest Farah. Later entries in the series never reached the same level of acclaim, and the last time a 3D game in the series was released was in 2010.

All the visual elements of the game have been enhanced in both technical and design terms, but those who want to see the original (and somewhat cartoony) costumes and weapons will need to pre-order the game.

Source: Ubisoft via Engadget

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

Kyvol Cybovac E30 Robot Vacuum: A Competent Cleaner with Floor Mapping Memory

kyvol cybovac e30 on charging dockSte Knight

The Cybovac E30 is a robot vacuum cleaner (RVC) that forms part of the new Kyvol range of semi-autonomous cleaning solutions. They have released three models: the E20 (vacuum), the E30 (vacuum), and the E31 (vacuum/mop hybrid). The E30 is their midrange option and, as such, has several features you would expect from such an RVC.

Retailing at $249, you actually get quite a bit for your hard-earned dollar. This is a seriously low price for a robot vacuum so I was genuinely curious to see how the E30 would perform when lined up to some of its competition. That competition is pretty stiff in a market that is becoming more and more saturated with like-for-like models, so the Cybovac has a lot to prove.

With all of that in consideration, let’s take a look at the performance of this cyborg chambermaid and see what all the fuss is about.

A Box of Tricks

We’re not talking Masked Magician level tricks, here, but the Cybovac E30 does come with some features that will make it stand out against other robot vacuums within the $249 price range. The box contains all you need to get started; you don’t actually need to use the Kyvol smartphone app which can be downloaded from the Google Play and Apple App stores, although that is an option.

Two AAA batteries manufactured by Sundy.Sundy; such a reliable brand

In the box, you get the Cybovac E30 vacuum, a power adapter, the charging dock, remote control with two AAA batteries (manufactured by Sundy; you know, the inventors of the Strollboy personal cassette player and the RecreationTerminal games console), two side brushes, instruction manual, the maintenance tool, a HEPA filter, and the boundary strips with 3m tape to stick it down.

In terms of dimensions, the vacuum is 325mm diameter x 73mm high. This means it should slip under sofas and such without a problem. It is always worth measuring this kind of space before you buy any robot cleaner; underneath the sofa is where most dust will accumulate, so you want to make sure the robot can get under there and give it a good clean.

In terms of its looks, you’re getting a circular robot vacuum that emulates the appearance of pretty much all of the other RVCs on the market. It comes in a black colorway with a high-luster plate at the top, complete with an attractive concentric circle design. The top houses the auto-start button and the charge button. The former will commence a clean, while the latter will send the vacuum to the charging dock. You will also find the Wi-Fi indicator next to the auto-start button.

kyvol cybovac e30 top controlsSte Knight

The front of the Cybovac houses the sensor for mapping your home. This is covered by a plastic bumper that absorbs any bumps or knocks that your vacuum may take during a clean. The back features the recess for the dustbin, which is capable of holding up to 0.6 liters of dust and is easily removed with a click of the orange clip. This is the average volume of dustbin for a robot vacuum where the dustbin clips into the back. The E31 hybrid model has the same-sized dustbin, which can be swapped out for the included mopping reservoir.

kyvol cybovac e30 undersideSte Knight

The belly of the beast is where the action all happens. We have all manner of gubbins on the underside, including (from front to back) the front drop sensor that prevents the vacuum from doing its best Slinky impression down the stairs, the universal balance wheel, the “hall sensors” that detect the magnetic boundary strips, the mount for one side brush (we’ll discuss this later), two more drop sensors, the drive wheels, dust inlet, the main brush, and the power switch.

In all, there isn’t really anything outstandingly different about the appearance of the E30, apart from the fact that it only has one side brush. We’ll talk about this when we discuss the performance of the machine later.

Just Get Vacuuming, Will You?

If you are a newbie where robot vacuums are concerned, then I’ll venture that you will like the Cybovac E30. As mentioned earlier, the vacuum can work with or without the Kyvol app. So, you don’t necessarily need to download it at all if you’re happy with just setting the vacuum off on its first clean.

Just pop the robot on the charger for its first full charge and, once that is done, you’re ready to send it off on a scouting mission. Once you’ve loaded the Sundy batteries into the remote, just hit start, and off the E30 will go to map the space it will be cleaning. It will complete a clean now as well, killing two birds with one stone. Note, if you don’t use the app, you won’t see the map that the E30 creates. Not that you really need to.

kyvol cybovac e30 remote controlSte Knight

If you do want to use the app, you need to connect the robot to your Wi-Fi, so it can speak to your phone. It will only connect to a 2.4 GHz band, so dual-band routers will need to have the signal split so it can recognize this. It uses the 2.4 GHz band, as that offers better stability through walls and floors etc.

Once you have connected to the app, it’s pretty much the same as using the remote control in terms of operating the vacuum. There is even a soft-remote within the app that sets the device off in exactly the same way as the remote control does. Simple, Simon!

The initial bedroom mapping/cleaning session took four minutes in all. I was kind of expecting this, as the same has been true with previous mapping robovacs I have reviewed. My house is small, so it was over and done with pretty sharpish. Overall, setting the device up is nice and simple, whether you decide to use the remote or the app.

It Vacuums … Well

So, how does the E30 perform in terms of vacuuming? Well, it has a whopping 2,200 Pa suction power so, with that in mind, it should make light work of any debris littering your floor. Even carpets shouldn’t be a bother for this kind of suction. But are they?

Well, apparently not. I threw the vacuum in at the deep end and set it to task in my upstairs space (which is essentially just two bedrooms). This area is carpeted, and it is also where the cats spend most of their day. They’re molting heavily at the moment, so the carpet needs to be vacuumed every day.

The dustbin once the first clean had taken placeThe dustbin once the first clean had taken place…. Ste Knight

The vacuum does an excellent job of cleaning the floor upstairs. It lifts the cat hair out of the pile with ease and sucked up any cobs of cat hair without even breaking a sweat. I had noticed a couple of strands of cotton on the carpet before I started the test clean and those were gone, too. So, it is great for carpets.

The E30’s performance was relatively good downstairs on the laminate floor. Most of the cat litter trails were gone, so that was great, and it made light work of most other dust and debris that was laying around. Like a novice Pokemon trainer, though, it didn’t catch ’em all and there were some bits randomly strewn across the floor, so I did need to then make use of the spot clean function where it hadn’t quite grabbed everything. It took 23 minutes in total; this time is in line with other robot vacuums I’ve used.

The vacuum cleans in a linear pattern, thanks to the gyroptic navigation (presumably a combination of a gyroscope and the optical mapping sensor, I’m guessing…). This offers a significantly more efficient clean than a vacuum that cleans in a random pattern. The Cybovac E20 is a vacuum that uses a random “bounce mode.” It is cheaper, and hence, why the E30 is the midrange model.

cybovac e30 single side brush nodeOnly one side brush node…. Ste Knight

There is one hang-up I have about the E30. I mean, I’m really flummoxed over this one. The E20—Kyvol’s lowest-priced vacuum—comes with two side brushes. However, both the E30 and the E31 come with only one side brush, with an optical flow sensor located where the other should be. I feel like they should have maybe placed the sensor somewhere else, as having only one brush means that the vacuum can only pick up debris that lies to the right-hand side of the vacuum. However, I also accept that this might not be possible.

This is why the cleaning downstairs wasn’t overly impressive, I’ll venture. It basically only has 50% of the dust-sweeping efficiency of a vacuum with two brushes. Aside from getting into corners, the brushes are supposed to sweep debris towards the vacuum inlet. If only one brush is present, it is logically only going to do half the work. I just wish that the more expensive models had two brushes.

Mid-Range Performance?

We do have mid-range performance with the Cybovac E30. It takes 6.5 hours to charge it from empty (which is what you are required to do when you first get it). That is a long time. However, you do get the full Kyvol-published 150 minutes of cleaning time out of the device once it’s fully charged.

a clean carpet with the linear mode shown by the carpet pileIf you look closely you can see the pattern left by the linear cleaning mode…. Ste Knight

Plus, once it is fully charged, unless you use it for the full 150 minutes, it will never fully run out of battery. It heads back to the charging dock of its own accord once a clean is complete. In my case, it took 4 minutes to clean my bedroom. This is only a small space, however, and is predominantly inhabited by the bed and sideboard.

The boundary tape certainly helps when it comes to the E30. It recognizes these on the floor via the hall sensors underneath. These prevent the vacuum from crossing over the boundary strip and into, say, a pile of wires or an expensive vase. That way you know both the vacuum and your belongings are safe from damage.

The remote control is decent, though. It has all the cleaning modes on there, plus it even displays the time on the display at the top. This is important as you can also use the remote to schedule cleans, meaning that it can clean when you’re not even at home, without you even having to interact with the E30. I’m a fan of this ability straight out of the box. It means you don’t even need the app. Speaking of which….

So … the App

E30 app select device E30 app map display E30 app soft controls

The first thing that annoyed me about the app was the fact that I need to create an account to use it. Had I not been reviewing this device, I genuinely wouldn’t have bothered with the app. Why do I need to register my details to clean my house? None of the other app-enabled RVCs I have reviewed require this—you just launch the app and connect the vacuum. So, that got my goat from the offset.

Once my abject rage had subsided (perhaps I’m exaggerating a little), I added my details and I was into the app. The first thing we are greeted with is the “Add Device” screen. This is pretty straightforward and connecting my smartphone to the vacuum wasn’t an issue. You just select the right model, and the app guides you through the setup process. Then you’re ready to direct the vacuum with the software.

The app is fairly light. It can show you a cleaning record, which features a map of the area it has cleaned, plus the size of the space it cleaned and the time taken. Aside from that, the only other real feature in the app is the soft remote.

I can’t help but feel the app is a little unnecessary. You have a remote control that you can use to direct the device, and you have boundary strips to block areas off. You can’t draw virtual walls on the map as with the OZMO T8, so this is more like a gimmicky remote control. I don’t really need to see a map of my room; I live in it, so I know the layout.

What’s the Verdict?

kyvol cybovac e30Ste Knight

The Cybovac E30 cleans relatively well. It doesn’t struggle with carpets or hard floors in terms of actually sucking the debris up. However, I feel it is hampered by the fact that it only has one side brush, and therefore, doesn’t pick everything up as you might like. The fact that the lower-end model has two brushes, while the mid- and top-end models don’t, is somewhat confusing.

I recently praised the simplicity of the Yeedi K700 (which can also mop, by the way) for not having an app. With a basic device, this just hampers matters and could make it seem less accessible to people who perhaps aren’t as techy as others. I feel like the Cybovac app isn’t necessary at all. You can schedule a clean (with the remote control) for the time you finish work so that, when you return, it is all clean and nicely vacuumed.

In all, the E30 does a relatively decent job of cleaning, but I do feel that there are other vacuums out there that are within the same price bracket, yet do a better job.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Ste Knight

It’s Official: Xbox Series X is $499, Series S is $299, Coming November 10th

Xbox Series X and Series S pricingMicrosoft

After finally spilling the beans on the cheaper variant of its new Xbox yesterday, Microsoft is ready to lay out the whole enchilada. It’s been officially confirmed: the Xbox Series X and disc-free Xbox Series S will be on sale starting November 10th, for $499 and $299, respectively. Pre-orders for the hardware will begin September 22nd.

That’s half of the layout for this holiday season’s console conundrum. Sony’s up next, having shown off the PlayStation 5 and a cheaper PlayStation 5 Digital Edition, but not giving a specific price or date for either. Rumors have been fling that Sony won’t be able to beat Microsoft on price, especially for the cheaper disc-free option.

This is the tweet…

Xbox Series X: $499 (ERP)
Xbox Series S: $299 (ERP)

Release date: November 10

Pre-order starts September 22: | #PowerYourDreams

— Xbox (@Xbox) September 9, 2020

Microsoft’s economic advantage doesn’t end with the hardware. The company is pushing the Xbox Game Pass hard, after a year of adding new titles and features like mobile game streaming. The Xbox All Access service is a monthly subscription that includes an Xbox Series console, Game Pass Ultimate, and full online play, with a cell-phone style interest-free payment plan. The Xbox Series X plus Game Pass will be $35 a month for two years, with the Xbox Series S being just $25 a month. That’s an incredible value considering the 100+ games in the Game Pass library, which is now bolstered by EA Play being included.

Xbox Series financing optionsMicrosoft

For comparison, the Game Pass Ultimate is $15 a month on its own. So over two years, buying an Xbox Series S outright and subscribing to the service costs $660, while the zero interest financing is only $600. The Xbox Series X doesn’t save quite as much, just $20 over the course of two years, but it’s still telling that there’s no downside to the payment plan.

By focusing on both affordability and a low-cost subscription for popular and new games, Microsoft is making a compelling offering for the next generation. It will be interesting to see how Sony and Nintendo respond.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

Microsoft Confirms the Xbox Series S, Coming Soon for $299

Xbox One Series SMicrosoft

We’re finally getting down to the wire for the next generation of game consoles. After months of leaks and one big leak over the long weekend, Microsoft has officially announced the Xbox Series S, the smaller, less expensive version of the Series X. The company confirmed that it will retail for $299.

👀 Let’s make it official!

Xbox Series S | Next-gen performance in the ˢᵐᵃˡˡᵉˢᵗ Xbox ever. $299 (ERP).

Looking forward to sharing more! Soon. Promise.

— Xbox (@Xbox) September 8, 2020

The Series S will not be equipped with a disc drive, like the PS5 Digital Edition and the currently-sold Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. You can see that it’s more of a conventional shape than the skyscraper layout of the Xbox Series X, and based on the controller next to it, quite a bit smaller, too. Based on the orientation of the Xbox logo in the corner, it looks like you can lay it on its side or stand it up, in the style of the PS2 and Xbox 360.

no point holding this back now I guess

— WalkingCat (@_h0x0d_) September 8, 2020

That’s about it in terms of confirmed data. A leaked commercial posted to Twitter this morning indicates that the Series S will be capable of “1440p at up to 120FPS”, along with ray-tracing and and a 512GB flash-based SSD storage. That’s impressive compared to current consoles, which tend to chug on 4K resolution, but the tiered nature of the console would mean that it would have to be much less powerful than the Series X. The latter uses a custom CPU and GPU from AMD rated at 12 teraflops with 16GB of GDDR6 RAM. There’s no indication of the comparative power of the One Series S, though presumably it would play the same games.

Other leaks this morning indicate that the Xbox Series X (man, those names are extremely Microsoft) would be $499, launching at the same time as the Series S on November 10th. Those are unconfirmed at the time of writing, but would make sense. Sony has yet to confirm a price or date for the PlayStation 5 (and its presumably cheaper Digital Edition).

Source: The Verge

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

Why You Shouldn’t Spend More Than $500 on Your Next Phone

The Pixel 4a with the display on, lying on a white backgroundThe Pixel 4a might be the best Pixel ever. And it’s $350. Cam

Flagship phones are great. They push innovation forward with (mostly) thoughtful improvements. But we’re at a point where even budget and midrange smartphones are generally impressive now, mostly thanks to trickle-down technology from their flagship brethren. The affordable phones of today are the flagships of yesterday.

High-end phones are how we end up with features that drive the industry forward. Things like Apple/Google Pay, fingerprint sensors, or computational photography that can make even subpar photos look incredible. These tools started out on the flagship phones of their day, but are now pretty much prolific on the majority of phones—even in the budget price range.

Of course, but sometimes you pay extra for “innovation” that you don’t actually need—like the Soli radar chip in the Pixel 4 and 4 XL, for example. Sure, it’s innovative and forward-thinking, but that doesn’t immediately make it useful. Almost every Pixel 4 owner I know disabled Motion Sense (the features that use the radar chip) almost immediately, and haven’t turned them back on. It’s a novelty.

But innovation works through experimentation. That’s why I’m still glad Google put the radar in a phone and tested the waters. If the rumors are true, the Pixel 5 won’t have this. Maybe because it was realized that it’s a novelty, and there wasn’t a lot more that could be done with it. Maybe it’s to get the price down. Who knows. Either way, it’s proof that trying new things is a gamble.

A screenshot from the Pixel website showing Motion Sense in actionMotion Sense on the Pixel 4 was an interesting innovation but a novelty nonetheless. Google

But I digress. The things that become mainstays and eventually make their way into more affordable smartphones become the foundations that we all rely on. And when you can get that sort of reliability from a phone that costs half that of a flagship, why pay more?

Affordable Phones Have Everything You Need…

“Need” is a funny word when talking about smartphones, especially when thinking about it in the most basic sense. By its very definition, “need” means to “require because it’s essential.” So, we’re only going to talk about things that most would consider essential in a smartphone.

What defines “essential” in a smartphone, anyway? Let’s think about a few key ingredients:

  • A great display. This is the first thing you see, and the very thing you’ll look at the most when you see your phone. It has to have a good display. This is non-negotiable.
  • A form of biometric security. Gone are the days of needing to type passwords or PINs to log into your phone or other apps. A fingerprint sensor or other form of biometric login is a must.
  • A good camera. They say the best camera is the one you have on you, and your smartphone pretty much fits that bill all the time. A good camera is now expected on all phones at every price point.
  • Usable performance. This means different things to different people, but at a minimum, you shouldn’t want to throw your phone across a room because it’s taking too long to load your favorite app.
  • Reliable and timely updates. An outdated phone is an insecure phone, period.

Let’s look at the iPhone SE and Pixel 4a for excellent examples. These are incredible phones for the respective operating systems.

The iPhone SE uses a slightly older design—a tried-and-true form factor that Apple uses for years. It skips newer (and more expensive) features, like Face ID, for the sometimes-preferred Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the home button. That was innovative during its time, and now it’s a tested feature that has made its way to the most affordable iPhone ever.

A screenshot from the Apple website showing the iPhone SE's Touch ID sensorThe iPhone SE champions the return of Touch ID, a tried-and-true form of biometric security. Apple

But it ticks all of the boxes above. It has a good display (even if it is on the smaller size respective of today’s popular phones), the aforementioned inclusion of touch ID, a very good camera, the fastest smartphone processor on the market today, and regular updates from Apple. Boom—all the needs, covered.

The same can be said for the Pixel 4a. Google took the most useful features from the Pixel lineup and baked them into a $350 smartphone. It has an excellent OLED display, Pixel Imprint (the fingerprint sensor), arguably the best camera on the market thanks to Google’s magic sauce, snappy performance, and monthly security updates from Google. All that in a $350 package. What else do you need?

The Pixel 4a showing astrophography modeThe Pixel 4a features astrophography mode. It can literally capture the stars. Google

…And Even Some of What You Want

Just because a phone falls within a certain budget or is considered “midrange” doesn’t mean it skimps on some excellent quality-of-life features. The SE is a great example here because it features wireless charging and an IP rating, which really sets it apart from the pack. I will be absolutely shocked if Google doesn’t follow suit with at least one of those features for next year’s assumed Pixel 5a. Probably both.

A screenshot from the Apple website highlighting the iPhone SE's water and dust resistanceThe iPhone SE has an IP67 rating. Apple

Just a few short years ago, these were both features that were reserved exclusively for flagship smartphones. But Apple put them into a device that starts at just $399.

The Pixel 4a also has something the iPhone SE doesn’t, however: a headphone jack. You won’t find this on many flagship phones today, so dropping to the budget/midrange category actually gets you something that’s missing on more expensive phones. The headphone jack is a big deal to a lot of people!

Modern Midrangers Are the Best Bang for Your Buck

A closeup of the Google logo on the back of the Pixel 4aCam

When it comes time to upgrade your smartphone, don’t disregard the midrange—this whole category has come a long way in 12-18 months. The Pixel “a” line and iPhone SE have changed how we think of affordable smartphones. Right now, the midrange might actually be the fastest-moving smartphone segment.

Plus, with all that money you saved, you can get yourself a smartwatch and some killer earbuds.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Cameron Summerson

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