Category Archives: Gear & Gadgets

Report: Nintendo has sold more than 1.5 million Switches in the first week

Enlarge / The Switch's JoyCon controllers in their Grip cradle. (credit: Mark Walton)

Early numbers are still rolling in for Nintendo's Switch, and for now it looks like the news is still good: according to numbers compiled by SuperData from both Famitsu and market research firm GfK, Nintendo's new console has sold 1.5 million units worldwide, including 500,000 consoles in the US, 360,000 in Japan, 85,000 in the UK, and 110,000 in France. SuperData also says that 89 percent of Switch buyers have also purchased The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which would work out to sales of about 1.34 million (this doesn't account for Wii U sales of the title).

GamesIndustry.biz points out that "most" of these numbers just account for the console's first week of sales and that the actual number should be higher now. The numbers are also measuring consoles actually sold to customers, while Nintendo's official sales figures count consoles shipped to retailers (a higher number).

As we've already said, it's not really possible to draw conclusions one way or the other about the long-term health of the Switch from these initial sales. On the one hand, it's good for Nintendo that the console is selling so briskly and that the company appears to be well on its way to its own sales goal of two million units shipped by the end of March. On the other hand, even the Wii U sold pretty well in its launch window, and early sales goals are just as likely to be about hitting manufacturing targets as measuring actual consumer enthusiasm. Still, these figures suggest that at the very least, Nintendo's most enthusiastic supporters aren't feeling burned by the Wii U and that they haven't been spooked by reports of hardware problems like Joy Con connection issues or dead pixels.

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Samsung commits to monthly security updates for unlocked US smartphones

Enlarge / The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, Samsung's most recent (non-exploding) flagship smartphones. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

According to a report from ZDNet, Samsung is finally bringing monthly Android security updates to one of its most neglected flagship smartphone variants: unlocked US devices. An e-mail from the company says it has "resolved the challenges" with releasing monthly updates, and it is now "committed" to releasing updates every month for "unlocked Galaxy devices" in the US.

Unlocked devices are usually safe bets as the best models for updates because they are free from carrier interference. This means there is one less stumbling block in the usual "Google ⇒ OEM ⇒ Carrier" software handoff. In Samsung's case, though, there are two major versions of the Galaxy S7 (and most other Samsung flagships): the "international" version with a Samsung Exynos SoC and the "US" version with a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC. For the "international" Exynos version, the conventional wisdom of "unlocked models get updates first" holds true.

In the US, Samsung is all-in on the carrier-driven business model. The vast majority of the Snapdragon models are sold through carriers, so the unlocked Snapdragon models are the black sheep of the Samsung family. You usually can't even buy an unlocked US Samsung device at launch—for the Galaxy S7, you had to wait three months for a carrier-free version to become available.

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Tag Heuer’s latest smartwatch is modular, still very expensive

Enlarge (credit: YouTube/Tag Heuer)

Swiss watch manufacturer Tag Heuer is following up its uber-expensive $1,500 smartwatch with an even more expensive wearable. Today, the company announced the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45, an Android Wear smartwatch that comes in a range of materials and with a plethora of interchangeable parts that let customers to make it their own, all for $1,650 (€1,600).

The most interesting thing you can swap out of the Modular 45 is the smartwatch itself. The 45mm case that holds all the tech can be swapped out for a "regular" Tag Heuer watch case, specifically the Calibre 5 or the Tourbillon Heuer 02-T. This increases the longevity of the watch, since most smartwatches today are outdated within two years. Instead of being stuck with last year's Android Wear device, you can change out that case and make it a regular luxury timepiece or possibly upgrade to the newest version of Tag Heuer's connected devices if the company makes interchangeable smart cases in the future.

YouTube/Tag Heuer

In addition to the case, you can swap out the watch's straps, buckles, and lugs, and Tag Heuer made enough accessories to add up to over 500 different design combinations. The case will come in satin or polished titanium, 18k rose gold, and black ceramic, all with or without diamond accents. There will be at least 18 straps available at launch, including ones made of leather, rubber, titanium, and ceramic. You'll be able to customize your Modular 45 before you buy it, but there are no details about how many interchangeable parts are included in the $1,650 price tag.

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Nintendo Switch ships with unpatched 6-month-old WebKit vulnerabilities

Enlarge / A proof-of-concept that exploits WebKit vulnerabilities on Nintendo's Switch. (credit: qwertyoruiop)

Nintendo's Switch has been out for almost two weeks, which of course means that efforts to hack it are well underway. One developer, who goes by qwertyoruiop on Twitter, has demonstrated that the console ships with months-old bugs in its WebKit browser engine. These bugs allow for arbitrary code execution within the browser. A proof-of-concept explainer video was posted here.

These bugs attracted attention last year because they were used to hijack an iPhone used by a political dissident in the United Arab Emirates; the bugs could allow attackers to steal call histories, texts, contacts and calendar information, and messages from apps like Gmail and WhatsApp. The trio of bugs, collectively known as "Trident," were disclosed after Apple patched them in iOS 9.3.5 in August of 2016.

The potential impact of these vulnerabilities for Switch users is low. A Switch isn't going to have the same amount of sensitive data on it that an iPhone or iPad can, and there are way fewer Switches out there than iDevices. Right now, the Switch also doesn't include a standalone Internet browser, though WebKit is present on the system for logging into public Wi-Fi hotspots, and, with some cajoling, you can use it to browse your Facebook feed.

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Wowing and washable: Google’s smart jacket wears and works well at first glance

AUSTIN, Texas—"The tech couldn't be seen as slapped on the garment," Ivan Poupyrev, technical program lead at Google’s Advanced Technology And Products (ATAP) group, told the crowd during his weekend South by Southwest panel. "So we started from the core—the yarn—we built starting there and went from the ground up. The first yarn we brought, I remember Levi’s looked at us funny and said, 'you know that’s going to break right?'"

"It's called singing denim," responded Paul Dillinger, vice president for global innovation at Levi's. "You expose the cloth to an open flame which burns excess cotton. So we said, 'You have this great tech, but you understand we’re going to blow torch this right? We’re going to do this to an open flame.' Frankly, I was doing it to scare them off, but then Ivan's response was 'what’s the fuel source for this flame?' He wanted to learn how to solve this problem."

You read that correctly: at SXSW this weekend, Google visionaries sat hobnobbing with style icons from Levi's as they discussed thread and production techniques. That's because this fall, the companies will release what can crudely be referred to as a smart jacket. Named Project Jacquard, this is by no means a new entity. Google first announced its intentions to make smart textiles back at Google I/O 2015, and last year the idea of debuting the technology in a commuter jacket form factor became public. But with Jacquard inching closer to an actual release, SXSW gave these two collaborators another opportunity to explain. More importantly, the event presented these companies with the first high-profile opportunity to let the attending public reach out and wear the thing.

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RunIQ review: New Balance goes after runners with Android Wear and Strava

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

New Balance and Intel have teamed up to release one of the first new Android Wear watches of the year. The RunIQ fitness watch is a runner's companion that features built-in support for Strava, as well as New Balance's own running app. Since it has every necessary sensor you'd need to track a workout, it's also competing with the most equipped smartwatches on the market, including the Apple Watch Series 2, the LG Watch Sport, and even the Garmin Fenix 3 HR.

Stuffed with a GPS, optical heart-rate monitor, and more, the $299 RunIQ wants to be the smartwatch that runners choose to wear both on the trail and at the office. But just because it was developed by one of the biggest athletic apparel companies in the country doesn't mean it's the most valuable tool a runner could have.

Look and feel

What Nike did with its model of the Apple Watch Series 2, New Balance did with the RunIQ Android Wear fitness watch. It's an all-black mammoth of a tracker with a 1.39-inch, 400×400-pixel, AMOLED display embedded in a thick, matte black case. On the crown are three physical buttons, up- and down-select buttons, and a larger, middle home button that's branded with a tiny New Balance logo. The top button opens the default running app, which is Strava on this device; the middle button acts like most similar buttons do on Android Wear by bringing up the app drawer; and the bottom button acts as a one-touch lap counter while you're recording a run.

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Our new (mixed) reality: Early adopters have become HoloLens believers at work

Enlarge / Increasingly, businesses are adding this ol' thing to their workflow. (credit: Luka Kojima St-Laurent / Finger Food)

It’s been roughly two years since Microsoft unveiled its augmented/mixed reality (AR/MR) HoloLens headset and about one year since the first publicly available dev kits went on sale. But ever since launching this impressive piece of tech, Microsoft has instead seemed content with letting Virtual Reality (VR) take the limelight. Take its recent Creators Update presentation in October as an example. Microsoft revealed tons of upcoming 3D functionality to benefit both VR and AR, but the headlines came when the company announced hardware OEMs like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer would be making VR headsets of their own with Microsoft software powering the experience.

Throughout HoloLens’ short existence, Microsoft has repeatedly emphasized how this product, still a first-generation device, was simply not yet consumer-ready. In these first two years of HoloLens public awareness, Microsoft would only focus on building partnerships and use cases that showcased the business and enterprise applications for this new augmented/mixed reality platform.

The terms AR and MR are often applied interchangeably, but MR is used most often by Microsoft when describing the HoloLens technology. No matter what you want to call it, this approach has several practical advantages compared to VR. Not only is it much less likely to trigger the type of discomfort associated with so-called "simulator sickness,” but the ability to overlay holographic elements onto real-world environments makes the HoloLens particularly suited to training and education applications, for example.

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Malware found preinstalled on 38 Android phones used by 2 companies

Enlarge (credit: portal gda)

A commercial malware scanner used by businesses has recently detected an outbreak of malware that came preinstalled on more than three dozen Android devices.

An assortment of malware was found on 38 Android devices belonging to two unidentified companies. This is according to a blog post published Friday by Check Point Software Technologies, maker of a mobile threat prevention app. The malicious apps weren't part of the official ROM firmware supplied by the phone manufacturers but were added later somewhere along the supply chain. In six of the cases, the malware was installed to the ROM using system privileges, a technique that requires the firmware to be completely reinstalled for the phone to be disinfected.

"This finding proves that, even if a user is extremely careful, never clicks a malicious link, or downloads a fishy app, he can still be infected by malware without even knowing it," Check Point Mobile Threat Researcher Daniel Padon told Ars. "This should be a concern for all mobile users."

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Review: Better GPU and 4K screen make the XPS 15 a MacBook Pro for PC users

Andrew Cunningham

PC companies are striving to make their 13-inch laptops ever thinner and lighter, a trend that has been good for our shoulders and backs but not as good for performance. Luckily, 15-inch laptops are there to serve as a counterweight, offering not just quad-core processors but increasingly powerful and desktop-like graphics chips.

Dell’s XPS 15, much like Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, attempts to straddle the line between svelte and powerful. It’s not the smallest or most powerful laptop, but last year’s model struck a good balance between size and speed even if the best configurations were on the expensive side. This year’s version doesn’t change a lot, but a new more power-efficient GPU, a Kaby Lake CPU upgrade, and a fingerprint reader all make it worth reconsidering anyway.

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ZX Spectrum Vega+ in limbo after Retro Computers tries to halt BBC report

The BBC reports that the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ crowdfunding project has been suspended by Indiegogo. The project raised well over $500,000 from thousands of backers—but they are still waiting for their devices to arrive, despite a planned shipping date of September 2016.

In a curious twist, Retro Computers Limited (RCL), the company behind the Vega+, asked the BBC to refrain from publishing its story.

"Following a credible threat of violence against personnel of Retro Computers Limited, including threats made as recently as last night, we asked Leo Kelion [BBC's tech editor] and the BBC to refrain from publishing a story we believe to be factually inaccurate and might put people at risk of physical harm, alarm and distress," RCL founder David Levy said in a statement. "Since December 2016 the BBC have formally been on notice that this is a police matter, and we ask that the BBC and Mr Kelion do not compromise the police investigation."

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