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The best white elephant gift ideas for 2023

Whether or not you’ve heard of a white elephant gift exchange before, there’s a good chance you have the wrong idea of what it is, how it actually works and where the idea came from. According to legend, the King of Siam would give a white elephant to courtiers who had upset them. It was a far more devious punishment than simply having them executed. The recipient had no choice but to simply thank the king for such an opulent gift, knowing that they likely could not afford the upkeep for such an animal. It would inevitably lead them to financial ruin.

This story is almost certainly untrue, but it has led to a modern holiday staple: the white elephant gift exchange. Picking the right white elephant gift means walking a fine line: the goal isn’t to just buy something terrible and force someone to take it home with them. Rather, it should be just useful or amusing enough that it won’t immediately get tossed into the trash. The recipient also shouldn’t be able to just throw it in a junk drawer and forget about it. So here are a few suggestions that will not only get you a few chuckles, but will also make the recipient feel (slightly) burdened.

Clocky Alarm Clock on Wheels

KFC Fire Starter Log by Enviro-Log

LDKCOK USB 2.0 Active Repeater Extension Cable

Banana Phone

Galaxy Projector

Msraynsford Useless Machine 2.0

Lightsaber Chopsticks

MMX Marshmallow Crossbow

Friendship Lamp


What is white elephant?

A white elephant gift exchange is a party game typically played around the holidays in which people exchange funny, impractical gifts.

How does white elephant work?

A group of people each bring one wrapped gift to the white elephant gift exchange, and each gift is typically of a similar value. All gifts are then placed together and the group decides the order in which they will each claim a gift. The first person picks a white elephant gift from the pile, unwraps it and their turn ends. The following players can either decide to unwrap another gift and claim it as their own, or steal a gift from someone who has already taken a turn. The rules can vary from there, including the guidelines around how often a single item can be stolen — some say twice, max. The game ends when every person has a white elephant gift.

Why is it called white elephant?

The term “white elephant” is said to come from the legend of the King of Siam gifting white elephants to courtiers who upset him. While it seems like a lavish gift on its face, the belief is that the courtiers would be ruined by the animal’s upkeep costs.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

How a social engineering hack turned these Facebook pages into a dumping ground for spam

Hannah Shaw, better known as the “Kitten Lady,” teaches people how to care for neonatal cats, and has raised more than $1 million for animal shelters and rescues. Her Facebook page has gained over a million followers since she began making cat content, but she almost lost it all to a social engineering hack that took over access to her Meta business account.

“I built that community for more than a decade. Thinking that I might lose it was pretty devastating,” Shaw said.

Influencers rely on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube for their income. These sites have evolved from side project enablers to the sole source of income for some content creators. However, bad actors have found ways to also take a piece of the piece from those earning an honest living there. Yes, high-level hackers tend to seek entities with deep pockets, targeting them with highly complicated attacks. But much of the cyber criminality today is social engineering jobs, ripping off mid-level creators with much fewer resources than a multinational corporation, but also significantly less technical know-how.

A creator who goes by Hobby Bobbins — who gained a cult following within her niche of vintage clothing restoration — walked me through how all of this happened to her. The attack occurred in almost the exact same steps that led to Shaw’s account takeover. It started with an interview request from an individual going by Rex Hall, who claimed to be a manager for the show “Podcast and Chill with MacG.” This appears to be a real podcast, although no one named Rex Hall seems to be publicly associated with it. (We reached out to the podcasters to determine if they're aware their brand is being used to perpetrate a social engineering scheme and have not heard back.) "Podcast and Chill" is based in South Africa, and according to its Twitter bio, its purpose is in part for "documenting black excellence.” It doesn’t specifically focus on the topics Shaw or Bobbins cover, like animal wellness or vintage clothing. But influencers receive these requests constantly, the podcast hosts had a digital footprint and "Rex" was able to answer any questions that Bobbins had.

The malicious actor asked their targets to hop on a Zoom call for pre-interview prep, including setting up Facebook Live to bring in revenue. “Everything seemed normal at first, the only odd thing was his camera was not on. But even that is not too odd, a lot of people don’t want to be on camera,” Shaw said. After a labyrinth of back and forth over backend settings, the scammer leads their targets to a backend setting called “datasets.” It’s an obscure page, often used to give people admin access to a business account. But victims thought it was a normal part of setting up for Facebook Live because it does include event management options.

Both Shaw and Bobbins pushed back on the request to access datasets and turned off their screen sharing to avoid giving too much away. But the hackers still got in by insisting they help with setup, saying that they needed to view one seemingly innocuous link. In datasets, creators generated a unique URL that the scammers could use to get into the account. “When he captured that direct URL, it basically generated that email invite for him without ever having to access my email without him even needing to know a password or anything,” Bobbins said. “All he had to do was put in the link and accept the invite and then it automatically added his own personal Facebook to my page.”

After gaining access, "Rex" was able to make themself an admin of the page. With that power, they could remove Bobbins’ ability to log in. Support tickets with Meta sent her in circles trying to get her account back. Bobbins’ lost her way to communicate with her 400,000 followers, and hackers deleted years of content she had dedicated her career to making.

The scammers cleaned the page to make room for bogus links that led to ad-filled sites to generate easy revenue. They put in a list of about 100 blocked words so that followers couldn’t flag to each other that the account had been hacked. “Anybody who commented on my page that said ‘stolen’ or ‘hacked’ or ‘scam’ or whatever would be automatically blocked out. So, none of my other followers could see the people who knew that my account was hacked,” said Bobbins. She lost an unknown number of views and “hundreds of dollars” worth of sales each day that her account had been taken over.

Shaw and Bobbins both went to Meta for help, but it was fruitless. “There is zero support for a problem like this with Facebook,” Bobbins said. Resetting her password went nowhere, because it couldn’t change the admin settings that the hackers had changed. When Bobbins finally figured out how to contact the help desk at Facebook with a support ticket, it was closed out “almost instantly” with no help received, she said. In response to our questions about this attack vector or what they’re doing to help creators keep accounts secure, Meta recommended users implement multifactor authentication and report any issues to its support center. But Shaw and Bottoms both have two-factor authentication turned on, and their accounts still got taken over. Meta did, however, introduce better customer service as a feature in its paid verification package earlier this year, another way social media platforms are charging for security features.

Shaw got her account back in about 72 hours from the initial attack by using her following to find a person who could help, but Bobbins wasn’t as lucky. She’s still struggling with access today, over a month since the hack occurred. She briefly got back in and was able to begin manually reuploading her past content. Beyond that, those who accessed the accounts changed location permissions, turned off messaging capabilities, removed her shop from her page, blocked certain followers and took away her $5 per month subscribers. The web of damage became so widespread, Bobbins created a list of the footprints left by the attacker to help others undo the changes. Since the account takeover, Bobbins has struggled to keep access to her account, with unusual flags on seemingly unwarranted copyright violations and other issues kicking her out.

“There’s no extra step that can be taken right now to protect somebody from the thing that I just went through,” Bobbins said. The only prevention for a crime like this is spreading the word, so that others don't fall for the same social engineering trick. That’s why Shaw is helping bring together more than a dozen of other victims of the same scam to minimize damage and call for greater creator security.

Still, there’s no real solution without the platforms creating major change. Platforms should do a better job of quickly investigating complaints from followers because right now the onus is on the page owners to figure it out, said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. While there are a lot of prescribed processes for traditional identity theft, like freezing your credit, there aren’t well-defined practices for social media account takeovers because creators are at the mercy of these platforms.

If you stumble upon what appears to be an account takeover as a follower, Velasquez recommends getting in touch with the creator outside of that specific platform to let them know a hack is occurring. Victims of an account takeover can also alert the Internet Crimes Complaint Center about the incident, but there’s not much else they can do. Or, creators can avoid using the platform altogether. “At this moment in time, I don't recommend that anybody accepts Facebook Live interviews,” Shaw said.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The best iPads for 2024: How to pick the best Apple tablet for you

Finding the best iPad for you can be complicated. Between the 10th-generation iPad, the iPad Air and the M2 iPad Pro, Apple sells three tablets with roughly 11-inch screens and broadly similar designs, but key differences when it comes to internal components and accessory support. The older 10.2-inch iPad and iPad mini are still hanging around more than two years after their initial release dates as well. If you’re looking to buy a new iPad, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of each model and rounded up the best values of the bunch.

Before we dig in, a word of warning: Apple is very likely to introduce new iPads in the coming months. The company did not release any new tablets in 2023, but reliable Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman has said that Apple plans to update its entire lineup throughout 2024. According to Gurman, the next refreshes could arrive as soon as March and include overhauled iPad Pros with OLED displays as well as updated iPad Airs. For the latter, both Gurman and longtime Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo have suggested that Apple will roll out a new Air model with a 12.9-inch display. Updates to the entry-level iPad and iPad mini are also reportedly on the way. So if you can hold off on buying a new iPad right now, you should do so. But if you need a new tablet today, or if you just want to grab an existing model at a discount, here’s how the current lineup stacks up.

Best for most: iPad Air

Of the six iPad models currently on sale, the iPad Air is the closest to being universally appealing. We gave the latest Air a review score of 90: It has the same elegant and comfortable design language as the iPad Pro at a lower price, with a bright, sharp and accurate 10.9-inch display surrounded by thin bezels and flat edges. It comes with a USB-C port, just like recent MacBooks and iPhones, and while it's not a Thunderbolt connection as on the iPad Pro, simply being able to charge the Air with the same cable you use with your other gadgets is a plus.

Apple refreshed the Air in 2022 with its M1 system-on-a-chip, which is the same silicon found in the entry-level MacBook Air. This isn’t Apple’s newest SoC, but it’s still more than powerful enough for virtually any task you can throw at it, and an increasing number of iPadOS features are exclusive to M-series chips.

The iPad Air is also compatible with Apple’s best accessories, including the second-generation Pencil stylus and the (excellent) Magic Keyboard, just like the 11-inch iPad Pro. These add a good bit of cost to the bottom line, but for digital artists or frequent typers, they’re there.

The middle of Apple’s iPad lineup is a bit congested. If you need more than the Air’s default 64GB of storage, you might as well step up to the 11-inch iPad Pro, which starts at 128GB and packs a better 120Hz display and faster M2 chip for not much more than a higher-capacity Air. (The display on the 2021 iPad Pro is better, too.) The newer 10.9-inch iPad isn’t bad, either, but with its non-laminated display and lacking accessory support, it’s a harder sell unless you see it on deep discount. Still, while the iPad Air isn't cheap, it's the best blend of price and performance for most people.

Best budget: iPad (9th generation)

If you can’t afford the Air, or if you just don’t use your tablet heavily enough to warrant spending that much, get the 9th-gen iPad instead. It'll reportedly be phased out in 2024, but at $329 for a 64GB model — and regularly available for less than $300 — it’s by far the most wallet-friendly way into iPadOS right now. And though its hardware is an obvious step down from the models above, it’s still capable for the essentials.

We gave the 9th-gen iPad model a review score of 86 in 2021. It's the only "current" iPad to follow Apple’s older design language: It’s just a tiny bit thicker and heavier than the 10th-gen iPad and iPad Air, but its wider bezels mean there’s only enough room for a 10.2-inch display. Like the 10th-gen iPad, that screen is more susceptible to glare and not laminated, though it’s just as sharp. There’s a Home button on the bottom bezel with a Touch ID fingerprint scanner, and the device charges via Lightning port rather than USB-C. Its speakers don’t sound as nice, either, but it’s the only iPad to still have a headphone jack. Its 12MP front camera is also fine, though it’s not landscape-oriented as on the 10th-gen iPad.

The 9th-gen iPad runs on Apple’s A13 Bionic chip, which is the same SoC used in 2019’s iPhone 11 series. It's not as fluid or futureproof as the M1, but it’s still quick enough for casual tasks. In terms of first-party accessories, the tablet supports Apple's Smart Keyboard and first-gen Pencil stylus. Those aren't as convenient than the company’s newer options, but they’re serviceable.

In the end, it’s all about the price. The 10th-gen iPad is better in a vacuum, but the 9th-gen model is much more affordable, and those savings go a long way toward papering over its issues.

Best for one-handed use: iPad mini 

The iPad mini is exactly what it sounds like: the small iPad. It’s easily the shortest (7.69 x 5.3 x 0.25 inches) and lightest (0.65 pounds for the WiFi model) of every current iPad, with an 8.3-inch display that’s more comfortable to operate with one hand.

We gave the iPad mini a review score of 89 in 2021. Its design follows closely after that of the iPad Air: squared-off edges, thin bezels, no Home button, a Touch ID sensor in the power button, stereo speakers, solid cameras and a USB-C port. Its display is technically sharper, but otherwise gives you the same max brightness, lamination, anti-reflective coating and wide color gamut. It doesn’t have a “Smart Connector” to hook up Apple-made keyboards, but it does support the second-generation Apple Pencil.

The mini runs on Apple’s A15 Bionic SoC, the same as the one in 2021’s iPhone 13 phones. This is technically faster than the chip inside the 10th-gen iPad model and, again, more than powerful enough for most tasks, though it’s a step behind the laptop-grade M1 or M2 chip.

The mini has an MSRP of $499 for the 64GB model and $649 for the 256GB model. That’s a lot, though in recent months we’ve seen both SKUs available online for up to $100 less. If you specifically want a smaller tablet — whether it’s to easily stuff in a bag, use with one hand or treat like a high-end e-reader — this is the only one Apple sells, and the best option in its size range altogether.

Best for power users: iPad Pro 12.9-inch

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro exists in something of its own realm within the iPad lineup. It starts at $1,099 for 128GB of storage, which is $100 more than the entry-level MacBook Air. That’s well beyond what anyone needs to pay to do the vast majority of iPad things and a huge chunk of change for a platform that still has issues with laptop-style productivity. That said, this is the best pure piece of tablet hardware that Apple makes.

We gave the latest iPad Pro a review score of 87 in November 2022. The displays on both the 11- and 12.9-inch Pros can get brighter than the one on the Air, and both feature a 120Hz refresh rate that makes scrolling look more fluid than the Air's 60Hz panel. The 12.9-inch Pro’s Liquid Retina display is more of an upgrade than the 11-inch model, however, as it’s the only iPad to use mini-LED backlighting, which can deliver higher peak brightness, improved contrast and a generally more realistic image. 

The Pro also runs on Apple’s M2 SoC, which isn’t a huge upgrade over the M1 in real-world use but offers more performance overhead going forward. It has the same 12MP rear camera as the Air, but adds a 10MP ultrawide lens and an LED flash (plus a LIDAR scanner for AR apps). The 12MP front cameras, meanwhile, can take shots in portrait mode.

Beyond that, the Pro has a faster Thunderbolt USB-C port, more robust speakers and Face ID support. There are more storage options, going all the way up to 2TB, and the 1TB and 2TB models double the RAM from 8GB to 16GB (albeit at a super high cost). The device still works with all of Apple’s best accessories, and it can recognize when an Apple Pencil is hovering above the display and preview would-be inputs.

It's a powerhouse of a tablet, and if you do want to use an iPad more heavily for work, the roomier display on the 12.9-inch Pro should make it the most amenable option for all-day, laptop-style use. You’ll want to add a keyboard to get the most out of that, but if you’re spending this much on an iPad to begin with, that may not be as big of a deal.

Like the iPad mini, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is very much a niche device. It’s prohibitively expensive, and its hulking size makes it less portable than other iPads. Certain creative types have made it work as a Mac laptop replacement, but for most, iPadOS still makes multitasking and other computer-y tasks more convoluted than they’d be on a MacBook. This latest iteration is only a minor upgrade over the last-gen model too. Nevertheless, as a tablet, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is deeply powerful.


The 10th-generation iPad rests outside on top of a stack of books, on a wooden desktop, with its screen active, displaying a colorful home screen with various iPadOS widgets and apps.
Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

How long do iPads typically last?

If history is any indication, expect Apple to update your iPad to the latest version of iPadOS for at least five years, if not longer. The new iPadOS 17 update, for example, is available on iPad Pros dating back to 2017 and other iPads dating back to 2018. How long your iPad’s hardware will last depends on which model you buy and how well you maintain it (if you’re particularly clumsy, consider an iPad case). A more powerful iPad Pro will feel fast for a longer time than an entry-level iPad, but each model should remain at least serviceable until Apple stops updating it, at minimum.

What’s the difference between the iPad and the iPad Air?

Compared to the 10th-gen iPad, the 5th-gen iPad Air runs on a stronger M1 chip (instead of the A14 Bionic) and has twice as much RAM (8GB instead of 4GB). Having an M-series SoC gives the Air access to certain iPadOS features such as Stage Manager. Its display supports a wider P3 color gamut, has an anti-reflective coating and is fully laminated. Being laminated means there’s no “air gap” between the display and the glass covering it, so it feels more like you’re directly touching what’s on screen instead of interacting with an image below the glass. 

The Air also works with Apple’s latest Pencil stylus, Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio. Its USB-C port supports data transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps (the iPad’s goes up to 480 Mbps). Although the two tablets look very similar, the Air is marginally lighter (1.02 pounds instead of 1.05 pounds) and thinner (0.24 inches instead of 0.28 inches).

The 10th-gen iPad is less expensive than the iPad Air, with an MSRP starting at $449 instead of $599. It’s the only iPad with a front-facing camera along the long edge of the tablet, which can be a more natural position for video calls. It also supports Bluetooth 5.2, whereas the Air uses Bluetooth 5.0. It works with the first-gen and USB-C Apple Pencils – which are more convoluted to charge – and a unique keyboard accessory called the Magic Keyboard Folio.

Apple also sells the 9th-gen iPad, as we detail above. That one uses a more dated design language with larger bezels, a Home button and a Lightning port, but it starts at $329.

How do I take a screenshot on an iPad?

As we note in our screenshot how-to guide, you can take a screenshot on your iPad by pressing the top button and either volume button at the same time. If you have an older iPad with a Home button, simultaneously press the top button and the Home button instead.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Morning After: Apple may launch an M3 MacBook Air in March

According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple is planning big hardware announcements for early 2024. In his Power On newsletter, Gurman predicts the company will release the next iPad Pro and iPad Air generation in March. Gurman says the M3 MacBook Air will also likely come in March, in the usual 13- and 15-inch configurations. And Apple may kill off the 2020 M1 MacBook Air at that point too.

The company is also reportedly planning to make more apparent distinctions between its iPad families. The iPad Pro is expected to get Apple’s new M3 chip, an OLED display and come in two sizes: 11 and 13 inches. Meanwhile, the iPad Air will come in a 10.9-inch and a new 12.9-inch version and use the M2 chip.

If you’re waiting for a new Mac Studio and Mac Pro, those will land later.

— Mat Smith

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Researchers made VR goggles for mice

For science, not a bet.

Dom Pinke/ Northwestern University

Scientists have been using virtual reality setups to study brain activity in lab mice for years. In the past, they surrounded the mice with flat displays, with obvious limitations for simulating a realistic environment. Now, a team at Northwestern University developed tiny VR goggles to fit over a mouse’s face. Like you see above.

In their tests, the researchers say the mice appeared to take to the new VR environment more quickly than they did with the past setups. To recreate overhead threats, like birds swooping in for a meal, the team projected expanding dark spots at the tops of the displays. The way they react to threats “is not a learned behavior; it’s an imprinted behavior,” said co-first author Dom Pinke.

Continue reading.

Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories are back on X

Jones’ account was reinstated after users voted in a poll this weekend.

Alex Jones is back on X, five years after then-Twitter decided to permanently ban him and his show, Infowars, for violating the site’s policy on “abusive behavior.” Elon Musk created a poll on X over the weekend asking users to vote on whether to reinstate Jones. Jones won the vote.

Musk wrote, “I vehemently disagree with what he said about Sandy Hook, but are we a platform that believes in freedom of speech or are we not? That is what it comes down to in the end. If the people vote him back on, this will be bad for X financially, but principles matter more than money.” Principles? On X?

Continue reading.

Fortnite Festival tries to bring back the heyday of music gaming

It helps that it’s free.

Epic Games

Epic has launched an entirely new mode called Fortnite Festival, a social space where players can team up to perform their favorite songs or jam together on new mixes, all within Fortnite. The main stage, or championship stage, is basically the Rock Band experience recreated in Fortnite. You form a band with friends and choose a song to perform. Then you play the song using the standard music game format where notes slide down vertical bars, hitting the correct button when the note reaches the bottom. Meanwhile, the jam stage draws from Harmonix’s more recent (and less popular) mixing titles, Dropmix and Fuser.

Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Researchers made VR goggles for mice to study how their brains respond to swooping predators

Believe it or not, scientists have been using virtual reality setups to study brain activity in lab mice for years. In the past, this has been done by surrounding the mice with flat displays — a tactic that has obvious limitations for simulating a realistic environment. Now, in an attempt to create a more immersive experience, a team at Northwestern University actually developed tiny VR goggles that fit over a mouse’s face… and most of its body. This has allowed them to simulate overhead threats for the first time, and map the mice’s brain activity all the while.

The system, dubbed Miniature Rodent Stereo Illumination VR (or iMRSIV), isn’t strapped onto the mouse’s head like a VR headset for humans. Instead, the goggles are positioned at the front of a treadmill, surrounding the mouse’s entire field of view as it runs in place. “We designed and built a custom holder for the goggles,” said John Issa, the study’s co-first author. “The whole optical display — the screens and the lenses — go all the way around the mouse.”

What a mouse sees inside the VR goggles
Dom Pinke/ Northwestern University

In their tests, the researchers say the mice appeared to take to the new VR environment more quickly than they did with the past setups. To recreate the presence of overhead threats, like birds swooping in for a meal, the team projected expanding dark spots at the tops of the displays. The way they react to threats like this “is not a learned behavior; it’s an imprinted behavior,” said co-first author Dom Pinke. “It’s wired inside the mouse’s brain.”

With this method, the researchers were able to record both the mice’s outward physical responses, like freezing in place or speeding up, and their neural activity. In the future, they may flip the scenario and let the mice act as predators, to see what goes on as they hunt insects. A paper on the technique was published in the journal Neuron on Friday. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Apple may unveil an M3 MacBook Air in March alongside new iPad Pro and iPad Air models

Apple is planning some big hardware drops for early 2024, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. In the Power On newsletter, Gurman predicts the company will release the next generation of iPad Pro and iPad Air in March — each of which is expected to come in two sizes — and the new M3-powered MacBook Air. The Mac Studio and Mac Pro will likely be much later to the M3 party; Gurman writes that Apple won’t have these ready for release until at least the end of 2024, and they could even slip into 2025.

With the release of its new iPads, Apple is planning to make clearer distinctions between the models so the choices are less confusing for consumers, according to Gurman. The iPad Pro is expected to get Apple’s new M3 chip, an OLED display and come in two sizes: 11 and 13 inches. Apple will also release a new Magic Keyboard just for the Pro, Gurman says. The iPad Air, on the other hand, will come in a 10.9-inch version and a new 12.9-inch option, and use the M2 chip. The changes should make the differences between the high-end, midrange and standard iPads more obvious so people can more easily decide what fits their needs.

As for the M3 MacBook Air, Gurman says it’ll also likely come in March, in the usual 13- and 15-inch configurations. At that time, Apple may also kill off the 2020 M1 MacBook Air. Its higher-end models, the Mac Studio and Mac Pro, will be last to get the M3 upgrade.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Apple’s third-generation AirPods are back on sale for $140

Apple’s third-generation AirPods are back down to their record-low Black Friday price. The discount on Amazon shaves $30 off the AirPods’ normal price of $170, making them just $140 right now. Given that this is the lowest we’ve seen these AirPods go for, they’re likely to sell out. Amazon is also running a deal on Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro, or the latest version of the Pro earbuds, which are down to $200. The 20 percent discount isn’t the lowest they’ve ever dropped, but it’s still $50 off the usual price and only $10 more than the all-time low.

The third-generation AirPods were released in 2021 and completely refreshed the design. Apple shortened the stem, making the regular buds look more like the AirPods Pro, and tweaked the fit to make them more comfortable to wear. They’re lighter and angled in a way that’s meant to better hug the ear and deliver sound more effectively. In our review, we gave the third-gen AirPods a score of 88.

Apple’s third-generation AirPods also brought durability improvements to the non-Pro model. These AirPods and the charging case are IPX4 rated for water and sweat resistance, which is especially helpful for anyone using them during workouts. They feature Apple’s H1 chip, offering Adaptive EQ — which Apple says “automatically tunes music to your ears” — and spatial audio for more immersive listening. The AirPods also support fast pairing, and automatic switching between Apple devices. There’s also easy, hands-free access to Siri using the “Hey Siri” command.

The third-gen AirPods also have better battery life than earlier models. On their own, the earbuds last about six hours before needing to be charged again, and up to 30 hours with the charging case. In Engadget’s tests, we found the AirPods’ battery could actually be pushed to seven hours. They offer quick charging too, with about an hour of battery life after just five minutes in the MagSafe case.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories are allowed back on X

Alex Jones is back on X five years after then-Twitter made the decision to permanently ban him and his show, Infowars, for violating the site’s policy on “abusive behavior.” Elon Musk — who last year said he wouldn’t unban Jones because of the conspiracy theorist’s insistence on calling the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax — created a poll on X over the weekend asking users to vote on whether Jones should be reinstated. 

The poll closed with a majority vote for “Yes.” As of Sunday, Jones’ personal account was once again active, and already retweeting Andrew Tate.

Jones is well known for pushing disturbing conspiracy theories, which in some cases have led to real world harm. He was sued by the families of Sandy Hook victims, who won close to $1.5 billion in legal judgments after testifying in court that they’d been harassed and sent death threats by his followers. But after Jones appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on X last week, the conversation about his ban was reignited.

Responding to one user after the poll closed, Musk wrote, “I vehemently disagree with what he said about Sandy Hook, but are we a platform that believes in freedom of speech or are we not? That is what it comes down to in the end. If the people vote him back on, this will be bad for X financially, but principles matter more than money.” The decision comes at a time when X is rapidly losing advertisers because of hate speech on the platform, some of which Musk himself has elevated. Walmart, Apple, IBM and Disney, among others, have recently pulled their ads from X.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Offworld 'company towns' are the wrong way to settle the solar system

Company Towns — wherein a single firm provides most or all necessary services, from housing and employment to commerce and amenities to a given community — have dotted America since before the Civil War. As we near the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, they're making a comeback with a new generation of ultra-wealthy elites gobbling up land and looking to build towns in their own image

And why should only terrestrial workers be exploited? Elon Musk has long talked of his plans to colonize Mars through his company SpaceX and those plans don't happen without a sizeable — and in this case, notably captive — workforce on hand. The same Elon Musk who spent $44 billion to run a ubiquitous social media site into the ground, whose brain computer interface company can't stop killing monkeys and whose automotive company can't stop killing pedestrians, wants to construct entire settlements wholly reliant on his company's largesse and logistics train. Are we really going to trust the mercurial CEO with people's literal air supplies?

In this week's Hitting the Books, Rice University biologist and podcaster Kelly Weinersmith and her husband Zach (of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal fame) examine what it will actually take to put people on the red planet and what unforeseen costs we might have to pay to accomplish such a goal in their new book A City on Mars: Can we settle space, should we settle space, and have we really thought this through?

An illustration of a subterranean settlement village on Mars
Penguin Random House

Excerpted from A City on Mars: Can we settle space, should we settle space, and have we really thought this through? by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith. Published by Penguin. Copyright © 2023 by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith. All rights reserved.

On the Care and Feeding of Space Employees

One of the first things to know about company towns is that companies don’t appear to want to be in charge of housing. In our experience, people often think housing was an actively pursued control tactic, but if you look at the available data and the oral histories, companies often seem downright reluctant to supply housing at all. In Dr. Price Fishback’s economic analysis of coal towns in early-twentieth-century Appalachia, Soft Coal, Hard Choices, he found that companies able to have a third party supply housing typically did. This is hard to square with the idea that housing was built specifically with sinister intentions.

There are also good theoretical reasons to explain why companies build housing and rent it out to workers. Suppose Elon Musk is building the space city Muskow. Having wisely consulted the nearest available Weinersmith, he decides he shouldn’t own employee housing due to something or other about the risks of power imbalance. He looks to hire builders, but immediately runs into a problem: very few companies are available for construction on Mars. Let’s consider the simple case where only one company is willing to do it.

Well, guess what. That company now has monopoly power. They can raise home prices or lower home quality, making Muskow less attractive to potential workers. Musk can now only improve the situation by paying workers more, costing him money while lining the pockets of the housing provider.

If he wants to avoid this, Musk’s ideal option is to attract more building companies, so they can compete with each other. If that’s not possible, as was often the case in remote company towns, then the only alternative is to build the housing himself. This works, but the tradeoff is that he’s now managing housing in addition to focusing on his core business. He’s also acquired a lot of control over his employees. None of this setup requires Musk to be a power-hungry bastard — all it requires is that he needs to attract workers to a place where there’s zero competition for housing construction.

Historically, where things get more worrisome is in rental agreements, which often tied housing to employment. Even these can partially be explained as rational choices a non- evil bastard might non- evilly make. Workers in mines were often temporary. Mines were temporary, too, existing only until the resources were no longer profitable. This made homeownership a less compelling prospect for a worker. Why? Two reasons. First, if a town may suddenly fold in fifteen years because a copper mine stops being profitable, buying a house is a bad investment. Second, if you own a home, it’s hard for you to leave. This is a problem because threatening to leave is a classic way to enhance your bargaining position as a worker.

Once you have people whose housing is tied to their job, the potential for abuse is enormous — especially during strikes. Rental agreements were often tied to employment, and so striking or even having an injury could mean the loss of your home. When your boss is also your landlord, their ability to threaten you and your family is tremendous, and indeed narrative accounts refer to eviction of families with children by force. If employees either owned their homes or had more secure rental agreements, power would have run the other way. They could have struck for better wages or conditions and occupied those homes to make it harder for their employer to bring in replacements.

It may be tempting to see this as a purely capitalist problem, but very similar results occurred in Soviet monotown housing. Employees tended to get reasonably nice company-town housing; if they lost their jobs, they had to go to the local Soviet, which provided far worse accommodations. As one author put it, “Thus, housing became the method of controlling workers par excellence.” This suggests that there’s a deep structural dynamic here — when your employer owns your housing, they’re apt to use it against you at some point.

In space, you can’t kick people out of their houses unless you’re prepared to kill them or pay for a pricey trip home. On Mars, orbital mechanics may preclude the trip even if you’re able to afford it. In arguing with space-settlement geeks, housing concerns are often set up as binaries — “Look, they’re not going to kill the employees, so they’ll have to treat them well.” In fact, there’s a spectrum of bastardry available. A company-town boss on Mars could provide lower-quality food, reduce floor space, restrict the flow of beet wine, deny you access to the pregnodrome. They could also tune your atmosphere. We found one account by a British submariner, in which he claimed to adjust the balance of oxygen to carbon dioxide depending on whether he wanted people more lethargic or more active. Whether it’ll be worth the risk of pissing off employees who cost, at least, millions to deliver to the settlement is harder to say.

This overall logic — companies must supply amenities, therefore companies acquire power — repeats across contexts in company towns. To attract skilled employees who may have families, the company must supply housing, yes, but they also must supply other regular town stuff — shopping, entertainment, festivals, sanitation, roads, bridges, municipal planning, schools, temples, churches. When one company controls shopping, they set the prices and they know what you buy. When they control entertainment and worship, they have power over employee speech and behavior. When they control schools, they have power over what is taught. When they control the hospitals, they control who gets health care, and how much.

Even if the company does a decent job on all these fronts, there may still be resistance, basically because people don’t love having so much of their lives controlled by one entity. Fishback argued that company towns, for all their issues, were not as bad as their reputation. In theorizing why, he suggested one problem you might call the omni-antagonist effect. Think about what groups you’re most likely to be angry at during any given moment of adult life. Landlord? Home-repair company? Local stores? Utility companies? Your homeowners association? Local governance? Health-care service? Chances are you’re mad at someone on this list even as you read this book. Now, imagine all are merged into a single entity that is also your boss.

In space, as usual, things are worse: the infrastructure and utility people aren’t just keeping the toilet and electricity running; they’re deciding how much CO2 is in your air and controlling transportation in and out of town. Even if the company is not evil, it’s going to be hard to keep good relations, even at the best of times.

And it will not always be the best of times.

When Company Towns Go Bad

Unionization attempts on September 3, 1921, reporting on the then ongoing miners strike in West Virginia, the Associated Press released the following bulletin:

Sub district President Blizzard of the United Mine Workers . . . says five airplanes sent up from Logan county dropped bombs manufactured of gaspipe and high explosives over the miners’ land, but that no one was injured. One of the bombs, he reports, fell between two women who were standing in a yard, but it failed to explode.

“Failed to explode” is better than the alternative, but well, it’s the thought that counts.

Most strikes were not accompanied by attempted war crimes, but that particular strike, which was part of early-twentieth-century America’s aptly named Coal Wars, happened during a situation associated with increased danger — unionization attempts.

Looked at in strictly economic terms, this isn’t so surprising. From the company’s perspective, beyond unionization lies a huge unknown. Formerly direct decisions will have to run through a new and potentially antagonistic committee. The company will have less flexibility about wages and layoffs in case of an economic downturn. They may become less competitive with a nonunion entity. They may have to renegotiate every single employee contract.

Whether or not a union would be good per se in a space settlement, given how costly and hazardous any kind of strife would be, you may want to begin your space settlement with some sort of collective bargaining entity purely to avoid a dangerous transition. A union would also reduce some of the power imbalance by giving workers the ability to act collectively in their own interest. However, this may not happen in reality if the major space capitalists of today are the space company-town bosses of the future—both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos kept their companies ununionized while CEOs.

Economic Chaos

Another basic problem here is that company towns, being generally oriented around a single good, are extremely vulnerable to economic randomness. Several scholars have noted that company towns tend to be less prone to strife when they have fatter margins. It’s no coincidence that the pipe-bomb incident above came about during a serious drop in the price of coal early in the twentieth century. Price drops and general bad economic conditions can mean renegotiations of contracts in an environment where the company fears for its survival. Things can get nasty.

If Muskow makes its money on tourism, it might lose out when Apple opens a slightly cooler Mars resort two lava tubes over. Or there could be another Great Depression on Earth, limiting the desire for costly space vacations. So what’s a space CEO to do? In terrestrial company towns, if a Great Depression shows up, one option is for the town to just fold. It’s not a fun option, but at least there’s a train out of town or a chance to hitchhike. Mars has a once-every-two-years launch window.* Even a trip to Earth from the Moon requires a 380,000-kilometer shot in a rocket, which will likely never be cheap.

The biggest rockets on the drawing board today could perhaps transport a hundred people at a time. Even for a settlement of only ten thousand people, that’s a lot of transport infrastructure in case the town needs to be evacuated. Throw in that, at least right now, we don’t even know if people born and raised on the Moon or Mars can physiologically handle coming “back” to Earth, and, well, things get interesting.

The result is that there is a huge ethical onus on whoever’s setting this thing up. Not just to have a huge reserve of funding and supplies and transportation, so that people can be saved or evacuated if need be, but also to do the science in advance to determine if it’s even possible to bring home people born in partial Earth gravity.

There is some precedent for governments being willing to prop up company towns. Many old Soviet monotowns now receive economic aid from the Russian government. We should note, however, that keeping a small Russian village on life support will be a lot cheaper than maintaining an armada of megarockets for supplies and transportation.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Apple confirms it has blocked an iMessage exploit

It was never going to last. Ever since it was launched this week, the Beeper Mini app, which let Android users get iMessage text support, was expected to be in trouble as soon as it caught Apple's attention. And catch Apple's attention it has. Yesterday, the entire Beeper platform appeared to be on the fritz, resulting in speculation that the iPhone maker had been shutting down the iMessage workarounds. As of this morning, Beeper Mini was still posting on X (formerly Twitter) that it was working on and potentially fixing the outage, but with an announcement from Apple today, all that may be for naught. 

"We took steps to protect our users by blocking techniques that exploit fake credentials in order to gain access to iMessage," Apple said. "These techniques posed significant risks to user security and privacy, including the potential for metadata exposure and enabling unwanted messages, spam, and phishing attacks. We will continue to make updates in the future to protect our users."

Though Apple does not mention any apps by name, it stands to reason that, given the timing of Beeper Mini's launch and recent troubles, that this refers to the loophole the platform was using. 

Beeper's method sent users' texts to Apple's servers before moving on to their intended recipients, and was thought up by a high-school student. Would-be messengers wouldn't even need an Apple ID to access iMessage via Beeper Mini, though the Android app did offer end-to-end encryption for conversations between those on both operating systems. 

Apple also said today that it's unable to verify that messages sent through unauthorized means that pose as having valid credentials can maintain end-to-end encryption. Beeper had anticipated that this workaround might one day be shut down, and it looks like the Android-iOS messaging divide remains intact. For now.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Amazon asks court to dismiss FTC lawsuit that accuses it of ‘monopolistic practices’

Amazon filed a motion on Friday in the Western Washington district court asking a judge to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against it. The FTC along with 17 state attorneys general sued Amazon in September, alleging the company uses monopolistic practices that are unfair to both its competitors and consumers. Amazon is now arguing that the FTC did not provide evidence that its practices have driven up prices or harmed consumers, according to Bloomberg.

The FTC’s lawsuit claims Amazon uses illegal tactics to crush its competition — like punishing sellers who list their products for better prices elsewhere by burying them in search results, and coercing sellers into using Amazon’s own fulfillment service by tying it to Prime eligibility. It also accuses Amazon of inflating prices from 2016-2018 using an algorithmic tool codenamed Project Nessie. These increases added up to more than $1 billion, according to the suit.

In Amazon’s motion for dismissal, per AP, Amazon said it’s only engaging in “common retail practices” that “benefit consumers and are the essence of competition.” Amazon attorney Heidi Hubbard wrote that the suit “implausibly, and illogically, assumes that Amazon’s efforts to keep featured prices low on Amazon somehow raised consumer prices across the whole economy,” according to Bloomberg.

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Controversial AI image platform Civitai dropped by its cloud computing provider after reports of possible CSAM

OctoML says it has ended its business relationship with Civitai days after an investigation by 404 Media revealed the text-to-image platform was being used to generate images that “could be categorized as child pornography.” Civitai previously relied on OctoML’s OctoAI for image generation. While OctoML initially indicated it would continue working with Civitai and introduced new measures to curb the creation of harmful images, 404 Media reported on Saturday that it has now decided to cut ties with the platform altogether.

According to 404 Media’s December 5 report, internal communications showed that OctoML was aware some Civitai users were creating sexually explicit material that included nonconsensual images of real people and pornographic depictions of children. In a followup report this weekend, the publication noted that OctoML rolled out a filter to block the generation of all NSFW content on Civitai before announcing its decision to pull out. Civitai also added new moderation methods in response to the investigation earlier this week, including a mandatory embedding called Civitai Safe Helper (Minor) that bars the model from generating images of children if “a mature theme or keyword is detected,” according to 404.

Andreessen Horowitz-backed Civitai has previously come under scrutiny for its “bounties” feature that challenges users to generate realistic images of real people for rewards. In November, 404 Media found it was being used to make nonconsensual deepfakes of celebrities, influencers and even a private citizen that were, in many cases, sexual in nature. The subjects were primarily women. According to 404 Media, Civitai has since added a filter to prevent the creation of NSFW content featuring “certain” celebrities.

Nevertheless, OctoML — which uses Amazon Web Services’ servers — no longer wants to be involved. In a statement to 404 Media on Saturday, OctoML said, “We have decided to terminate our business relationship with Civitai. This decision aligns with our commitment to ensuring the safe and responsible use of AI.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Beeper Mini team says a fix is ‘coming soon’ and promises to extend users’ free trials

The Beeper Mini team has apparently been working around the clock to resolve the outage affecting the new “iMessage on Android” app, and says a fix is “very close.” And once the fix rolls out, users’ seven-day free trials will be reset so they can start over fresh. Beeper Mini was released earlier this week, and seemed an especially promising entrant due to its unique approach to bridging the iMessage-Android gap. The app, reportedly the result of a 16-year-old’s work to reverse-engineer iMessage, routes messages directly through Apple’s own servers, making it more secure than some of the other options out there.

But, only days after its release, Beeper Mini users on Friday found that they could no longer send and receive messages, sparking questions about whether Apple intervened and put a stop to it. In an update posted on social media, the team said it’s deregistered users’ phone numbers from iMessage while it works to fix the issue. That may not be the end of the immediate headaches caused by the outage, though. “Annoyingly, the iPhone Messages app ‘remembers’ that you were a blue bubble for 6-24 hours before falling back to SMS,” the Beeper Mini team wrote, “so it’s possible that some messages will not be delivered during this period.”

While Beeper says a fix is coming soon, it may still have a greater struggle ahead if Apple actually was behind the shutdown. The chat app costs $2 a month after the seven-day free trial and offers end-to-end encryption for messages sent between Android and iMessage users. In a statement to Engadget yesterday, Beeper co-founder Eric Migicovsky said, “If it's Apple, then I think the biggest question is — if Apple truly cares about the privacy and security of their own iPhone users, why would they try to kill a service that enables iPhones to send encrypted chats to Android users?”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Fortnite Festival tries to bring back the heyday of music gaming

Between Fortnite’s propensity for big-name concerts and Epic’s purchase of Harmonix two years ago, the inclusion of some kind of music-making feature in the game was inevitable. What Epic is releasing today is actually far grander: an entirely new mode called Fortnite Festival, a social space where players can team up to perform their favorite songs or jam together on new mixes.

There are two options, or stages, for users to play in the new mode. The main stage, or championship stage, is basically the Rock Band experience recreated inside Fortnite. You’ll form a band with friends and choose a song to perform. Then you play the song using the standard music game format where notes slide down vertical bars, hitting the correct button when the note reaches the bottom. Players can, of course, hear the song as they play it, which can be embarrassing if you’re not that good. Each performer earns points, which in turn leads to XP and character progression in the greater Fortnite ecosystem.

While the main stage may be old-hat to anyone present during the zenith of music games in the 2000s, the jam stage draws from Harmonix’s more recent (and less popular) mixing titles, Dropmix and Fuser. While both of those games had competitive modes, they were a lot more fun as music-making toys, where players could just throw different parts of popular songs together and see what comes out. Jamming in Fortnite Festival is pretty much that, but collaborative.

Fortnite Festival
Epic Games

When you first drop into a jam, your avatar will be standing in a virtual world full of stages, clubs and green spaces. It has an amusement park-like feel, similar to Disney World’s long-gone Pleasure Island. Despite the world’s appearance, you don’t have to climb on stage to play music, you can start jamming wherever you want by pulling up the emote wheel. The actions here have been replaced with song options. Just pick a song and instrument, and your character will start playing. It’s not the entire song, but rather one particular piece of it. To assemble something more complete, you need to collaborate with other players.

Jamming with other players is incredibly easy. All you need to do is walk up to someone who’s already playing (helpfully indicated by a wavy circle) and activate your own emote wheel. The system will automatically mix the two songs together no matter the genre or style. You want to add the vocals from The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” to the synth from “Gangnam Style?” Go right ahead, and don’t be surprised when someone else drops in the beat from The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.”

Instruments can be swapped out on the fly, and the key and tempo can also be tweaked to make a slow song fast or vice versa. There’s a lot of room for creativity here, as well as cacophony as the levels fill up.

While Fortnite Festival draws heavily on Dropmix and Fuser it has one key advantage over those two titles, one that could lead to success where its predecessors failed: it’s free. All three of the new Fortnite modes will be free, but Festival is a standout since it relies so heavily on licensed music. One huge barrier to entry for music games has always been the additional costs, especially the song packs. $2 for your favorite Nirvana or Bad Bunny tracks might not seem like much at first, but it adds up, and any online cost can be insurmountable to a kid without a credit card. The fact that this is a music game that anyone can download for free on their computer, console or mobile device without being bombarded with ads means it has the potential to make music games popular again.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Morning After: Battle of the chatbots, part two

Good morning. Do you want this customized PS5? You'll have to work the sunset years of your career at Sony then. That is, apparently, the only way. I'm also taking bets on which chatbot will be the chatbot we all depend on. It's like Yahoo (our parent company) or Google or Facebook. Who's going to get there first? This week's YouTube-coated cry for help features two of the biggest chatbot competitors, Google and Microsoft. And some Engadget editorial team in-fighting

This week:

Google’s Gemini is the biggest threat yet to ChatGPT

Microsoft upgrades its chatbot, too

Lenovo’s huge handheld PC is here

And read this:

Researchers have made an under-the-skin implant to treat Type 1 diabetes. The new implantable device could change the way Type 1 diabetics receive insulin without the need for needles or pumps. A thread-like implant is an “islet device” derived from the cells that produce insulin in our bodies naturally. This secretes insulin through islet cells that form around it, while also receiving nutrients and oxygen from blood vessels to stay alive.

However, the devices eventually need to be removed, so researchers are still working to extend their longevity before testing the devices, eventually, in patients. No sassy quip here – just pretty cool news?  

Like email more than video? Subscribe right here for daily reports, direct to your inbox.

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The EU has reached a historic regulatory agreement over AI development

Following a marathon 72-hour debate, European Union legislators Friday have reached a historic deal on its expansive AI Act safety development bill, the broadest-ranging and far-reaching of its kind to date, reports The Washington Post. Details of the deal itself were not immediately available. 

"This legislation will represent a standard, a model, for many other jurisdictions out there," Dragoș Tudorache, a Romanian lawmaker co-leading the AI Act negotiation, told The Washington Post, "which means that we have to have an extra duty of care when we draft it because it is going to be an influence for many others."

The proposed regulations would dictate the ways in which future machine learning models could be developed and distributed within the trade bloc, impacting their use in applications ranging from education to employment to healthcare. AI development would be split between four categories depending on how much societal risk each potentially poses — minimal, limited, high, and banned.

Banned uses would include anything that circumvents the user's will, targets protected social groups or provides real-time biometric tracking (like facial recognition). High risk uses include anything "intended to be used as a safety component of a product,” or which are to be used in defined applications like critical infrastructure, education, legal/judicial matters and employee hiring. Chatbots like ChatGPT, Bard and Bing would fall under the "limited risk" metrics. 

“The European Commission once again has stepped out in a bold fashion to address emerging technology, just like they had done with data privacy through the GDPR,” Dr. Brandie Nonnecke, Director of the CITRIS Policy Lab at UC Berkeley, told Engadget in 2021. “The proposed regulation is quite interesting in that it is attacking the problem from a risk-based approach,” similar what's been suggested in Canada’s proposed AI regulatory framework.

Ongoing negotiations over the proposed rules had been disrupted in recent weeks by France, Germany and Italy. They were stonewalling talks over the rules guiding how EU member nations could develop Foundational Models, generalized AIs from which more specialized applications can be fine-tuned. OpenAI's GPT-4 is one such foundational model, as ChatGPT, GPTs and other third-party applications are all trained from its base functionality. The trio of countries worried that stringent EU regulations on generative AI models could hamper member nations' efforts to competitively develop them.

The EC had previously addressed the growing challenges of managing emerging AI technologies through an variety of efforts, releasing both the first European Strategy on AI and Coordinated Plan on AI in 2018, followed by the Guidelines for Trustworthy AI in 2019. The following year, the Commission released a White Paper on AI and Report on the safety and liability implications of Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and robotics

"Artificial intelligence should not be an end in itself, but a tool that has to serve people with the ultimate aim of increasing human well-being," the European Commission wrote in its draft AI regulations. "Rules for artificial intelligence available in the Union market or otherwise affecting Union citizens should thus put people at the centre (be human-centric), so that they can trust that the technology is used in a way that is safe and compliant with the law, including the respect of fundamental rights."

"At the same time, such rules for artificial intelligence should be balanced, proportionate and not unnecessarily constrain or hinder technological development," it continued. "This is of particular importance because, although artificial intelligence is already present in many aspects of people’s daily lives, it is not possible to anticipate all possible uses or applications thereof that may happen in the future."

More recently, the EC has begun collaborating with industry members on a voluntary basis to craft internal rules that would allow companies and regulators to operate under the same agreed-upon ground rules. "[Google CEO Sundar Pichai] and I agreed that we cannot afford to wait until AI regulation actually becomes applicable, and to work together with all AI developers to already develop an AI pact on a voluntary basis ahead of the legal deadline," European Commission (EC) industry chief Thierry Breton said in a May statement. The EC has entered into similar discussions with US-based corporations as well. 


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Beeper Mini’s iMessage integration is on the fritz

Beeper Mini, the chat app that reverse-engineered Apple’s iMessage for Android, is having problems. 9to5Google reported Friday the entire Beeper platform is seemingly broken right now, leading to the obvious speculation that Apple has stomped on the bootleg iMessage workaround. Beeper posted on X that it’s “investigating reports that sending/receiving is not working in Beeper Mini.”

Engadget contacted Beeper co-founder Eric Migicovsky by email to ask whether the outage could have been triggered on Apple’s end, and he suggested it’s possible. “We had overwhelming interest and excitement in Beeper Mini this week!” Migicovsky wrote to Engadget. “As I tweeted, Beeper Mini is experiencing an outage — sending and receiving is not working right now.”

“If it's Apple, then I think the biggest question is — if Apple truly cares about the privacy and security of their own iPhone users, why would they try to kill a service that enables iPhones to send encrypted chats to Android users?” the founder and former Pebble CEO wrote to Engadget. “With their announcement of RCS support, it's clear that Apple knows they have a gaping hole here. Beeper Mini is here today and works great. Why force iPhone users back to sending unencrypted SMS when they chat with friends on Android?”

Beeper’s crafty solution — surprisingly — seemed to work well. The app automatically scans for messages from iMessage users and changes them to blue bubbles, apparently routing them through Apple’s servers. The wizardry is the product of a 16-year-old high school student, who reverse-engineered it by jailbreaking iPhones and digging into them to learn how iOS handles iMessages. It even included end-to-end encryption between iPhones and Android phones.

Migicovsky described the service to Engadget’s Richard Lai earlier this week as a “scale-up.” The original (pre-mini) Beeper depended on a Mac mini server farm to relay chats through Apple’s system. Whether Beeper Mini is going the way of the dodo (or the Sunbird), we’ll have to wait and see.

Update, December 8, 2023, 4:59 PM ET: This story has been updated to include a comment Migicovsky made to Engadget.

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CRISPR-based gene editing therapy approved by the FDA for the first time

In a landmark decision, the FDA greenlit two new drugs for the treatment of sickle cell disease in patients 12 and older, one of which —Vertex’s drug Casgevy — is the first approved use of genome editing technology CRISPR in the US. Bluebird Bio’s Lyfgenia also is a cell-based gene therapy, however, it uses a different gene modification technique to deliver tweaked stem cells to the patient.

Both approvals cultivate new pathways for the treatment of sickle cell disease, which is an inherited blood disorder that is characterized by red blood cells that can’t properly carry oxygen, which leads to painful vaso-occlusive crises (VOCs) and organ damage. The disease is particularly common among African Americans and, to a lesser extent, among Hispanic Americans. Bone marrow transplants are currently the only cure for sickle cell disease, but they require well-matched donors and often involve complications.

While both drug approvals use gene editing techniques, Casgevy’s CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing works by cutting out or splicing in DNA in select areas. Patients first have blood drawn so that their own stem cells can be isolated and edited with CRISPR. They then undergo a form of chemotherapy to remove some bone marrow cells, so the edited stem cells can be transplanted back in a single infusion.

Both drug approvals are based on studies that evaluated the effectiveness and safety of the novel therapies in clinical patients. With Casgevy, study participants reported that they did not experience “severe VOCs” for at least 12 consecutive months during the 24-month follow-up. Similarly, patients on Lyfgenia did not experience a “pain crisis” for six to 18 months after the therapy.

The FDA's decision comes shortly after UK regulators, as well as the National Health Regulatory Authority in Bahrain both approved Vertex’s Casgevy. The approval for a CRISPR-based treatment creates opportunity for further innovation in the gene editing space — for treatments ranging from cancers to heart diseases to Alzheimer’s. “Gene therapy holds the promise of delivering more targeted and effective treatments, especially for individuals with rare diseases where the current treatment options are limited,” Nicole Verdun, director of the Office of Therapeutic Products at the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said. Casgevy is still currently under review by the European Medicines Agency.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Alan Wake 2 to dispatch a new game plus mode on December 11

Alan Wake 2 won big at last night’s The Game Awards and the developer wasted no time to capitalize on that momentum. Remedy just announced that the game is getting free DLC next week, December 11, in the form of a New Game Plus mode. This has been a long-requested feature for fans of the title. Well, if by long-requested you mean within the past two months. 

Alan Wake 2: The Final Draft will include a brand-new ending for the story, though you must first beat the game in the traditional way to access it. Remedy says this ending will “spark speculation and theories from dedicated fans.” The updates go beyond the last act, however, as The Final Draft will feature new lore videos and manuscript pages and, of course, tougher enemies.

These enemies will populate a new Nightmare difficulty level. The baddies in the original game were already notorious bullet sponges, so we’ll see what happens with the DLC. Once you beat the game, you’ll be able to access New Game Plus. Also, you’ll have all of your weapons, charms and character upgrades from the first playthrough.

Alan Wake 2: The Final Draft will be available on all platforms, including PS5, Xbox X/S and PC. Set your calendars for December 11 and get ready to venture back into Bright Falls. In related news, the titular hero recently popped up in Fortnite as part of a cross-promotional campaign.

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The FTC is reportedly looking into Microsoft’s $13 billion OpenAI investment

OpenAI’s recent drama hasn’t only caught UK regulators’ attention. Bloomberg reported Friday that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is looking into Microsoft’s investment in the Sam Altman-led company and whether it violates US antitrust laws. FTC Chair Lina Khan wrote in a New York Times op-ed earlier this year that “the expanding adoption of AI risks further locking in the market dominance of large incumbent technology firms.”

Bloomberg’s report stresses that the FTC inquiry is preliminary, and the agency hasn’t opened a formal investigation. But Khan and company are reportedly “analyzing the situation and assessing what its options are.” One complicating factor for regulation is that OpenAI is a non-profit, and transactions involving non-corporate entities aren’t required by law to be reported.

In addition, Microsoft’s $13 billion investment doesn’t technically give it control over OpenAI in the eyes of the law, another factor in determining what action a governmental agency might be able to take. However, the recent ousting and re-hiring of Altman — and the integral role Microsoft played in reverting those chess pieces to its preferred positions — suggests the lack of control over the nonprofit is more a technicality than the relationship’s underlying essence.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 06: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (R) speaks as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (L) looks on during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 06, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Altman delivered the keynote address at the first ever Open AI DevDay conference. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (left) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wrote earlier today that it’s considering investigating the relationship between AI’s two dominant players. It said it’s weighing “recent developments,” referring obliquely to the Altman-Microsoft drama. “The CMA will review whether the partnership has resulted in an acquisition of control — that is, where it results in one party having material influence, de facto control or more than 50% of the voting rights over another entity,” the CMA wrote in its news release.

Khan, also challenging Microsoft’s $69 billion Activision Blizzard acquisition, has previously sounded the alarm about the need for AI regulations.

“As these technologies evolve, we are committed to doing our part to uphold America’s longstanding tradition of maintaining the open, fair and competitive markets that have underpinned both breakthrough innovations and our nation’s economic success — without tolerating business models or practices involving the mass exploitation of their users,” the youngest-ever FTC chair wrote in May. “Although these tools are novel, they are not exempt from existing rules, and the F.T.C. will vigorously enforce the laws we are charged with administering, even in this new market.”

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Threads countdown hints at EU launch on December 14

After much speculation and waiting, Threads is finally launching in Europe. Meta’s social media app will likely release in the EU on December 14, just in time to post photos of holiday dinners or whatever. There’s no official announcement by Zuck and the gang, but there is a countdown timer on Instagram appearing for EU users. These users will find a ticket within the app that advertises the pending release for the Twitter-like platform.

The timer is also available on the Threads website, but only for those clicking from EU-based IP addresses, as reported by The Verge. Finally, European Instagram users can simply search for “ticket” to find a scannable QR code that announces the forthcoming launch. We don’t know, however, which countries in the EU will get the app on December 14. Engadget reached out to Meta and will update this story if we hear back.

So what’s been the holdup? Meta has had trouble complying with the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). Meta and other tech giants were designated as platform gatekeepers back in July, forcing stricter rules regarding user consent and data protection. It looks like the company worked everything out in time for this release, though it remains unclear if the app itself would change to accommodate the regulations. We’ll find out next week.

Threads has certainly had a topsy-turvy year, launching to much fanfare amidst the dumpster fire that is X. However, user engagement fell sharply once people realized there wasn’t that much to do on the platform. Meta, to its credit, has been quickly adding features and tools to the app. In the past few months, Threads has gotten searchable topics, also known as hashtags, and an edit button that doesn’t cost $8 per month, among other upgrades.

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Microsoft is hiring dozens of ZeniMax QA contractors as unionized employees

Game studios and publishers have collectively laid off an estimated 9,000-plus workers this year. Microsoft (which itself has laid off workers from Xbox teams in 2023) is bucking the trend to a certain extent by hiring dozens of ZeniMax quality assurance contractors as unionized employees.

The company agreed at the beginning of this year to formally recognize a union representing around 300 QA workers at ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda that Microsoft bought in 2021. As part of bargaining talks that have been ongoing since April, Microsoft has agreed to hire 77 temporary workers and incorporate them into the ZeniMax Workers United-CWA (Communications Workers of America) union.

Microsoft is hiring 23 of the workers as full-time, permanent employees with a pay increase of 22.2 percent. The other 54 workers are getting an immediate pay bump from $18 per hour to $20.75 an hour. Once the collective bargaining agreement is ratified, Microsoft will hire those workers as temporary employees.

According to the CWA, the new employees will now receive paid holidays and sick leave. The latter was previously only available if contractors lived in a jurisdiction that requires paid time off for illness. In addition, all of the workers will receive a copy of Starfield, the blockbuster game they had worked on. The CWA says it was not standard practice for contractors to get copies of the games they help to ship.

The CWA says the union will keep fighting for more contractors to have a pathway to permanent roles. “We look forward to continued good faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement,” Microsoft vice president Amy Pannoni told Bloomberg.

“We are now stronger at the bargaining table and are working to secure a fair contract for all workers — direct employees and contractors," Chris Lusco, associate QA tester and a member of ZeniMax Workers United-CWA, said in a statement. "We are all a part of ZeniMax Studio’s success and we all deserve our fair share. We hope to set a new precedent for workers across Microsoft and the entire gaming industry so that all workers, regardless of their employment status, are able to improve their working conditions through collective bargaining."

Last year, while Microsoft was attempting to win regulatory approval to buy Activision Blizzard, the company said it would remain neutral when the publisher's employees wished to unionize. A pact it reached with the CWA to that effect is set to come into force on December 12, 60 days after the Activision deal closed.

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Sonos home theater gear is up to 25 percent off, plus the rest of the best tech deals this week

Depending on what you buy and where you shop, many online purchases should arrive before December 25th, so if you're still working through your gift list, it might not be too late. Even if you're just looking for deals in general, there are plenty out there. Despite the fact that the official "shopping holidays" have ended, retailers and brands are still discounting many gadgets and devices at prices that meet their Black Friday lows. Right now, you can save on Sonos speakers, Tile trackers, Google phones and tablets, and Amazon's most popular Echo device. We also found discounts on Xbox gift cards, a Nintendo Switch bundle and noted that a PS5 bundle was still selling for it's Cyber Monday low. Here are the best tech deals from the week that you can still get today. 

Sonos Era 100

As part of a larger sale, the Sonos Era 100 smart speaker is back down to $199 from the manufacturer's store front. That's $50 of the list price and matches the price we saw during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We named it the best midrange smart speaker in our guide and gave it an 88 in our review when it debuted earlier this year. It's an improvement over its predecessor, the Sonos One, which was in itself already pretty great. 

Upgrades include a new speaker array with two tweeters instead of one plus a woofer that’s 25 percent bigger. That lends the speaker impressive bass, a clear high-end and big volume. It connects via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and now also has a line-in USB-C port to directly connect a player (though you'll need an adapter to hook up a turntable). And the smart assistant duties come courtesy of Alexa or the music-focused Sonos assistant, unfortunately it doesn't support the Google Assistant.  

The Ray soundbar and the Sonos Move are also part of the Sonos sale with discounts of up to 25 percent off. 

Echo Show 5 + smart bulb

Amazon kicked of Black Friday early this year with discounts on their own devices. Many of the deals on Echo speaker and displays bundled with a free smart bulb didn't end with Cyber Week and are still live today. So you can save on an Echo Show 5 and smart bulb combo — and depending on where you're shipping, it should arrive by Christmas. The Echo Show 5 was refreshed in June and has a list price of $90. The Sengled light is $20 on its own. While both of them go on sale often, the bundle represents a 63 percent discount over buying them at full price. The set makes a nice smart home starter kit, as the Echo Show 5 gives you voice and touchscreen control over smart home devices like the Sengled bulb.  

Kobo Clara 2e

The best ereader, according to our guide is the Kobo Clara 2E. It's currently selling for $20 off the list price of $140, a discount it hit for Black Friday. It rarely goes on sale so this is a good chance to save on an ereader with a crisp 300 ppi screen with a waterproof build and warm LED front lights. Setting the device up is easy, even for those new to ereaders and the Kobo store is nearly as vast as Amazon's Kindle store, though without the Kindle Exclusive titles. You can also easily borrow books from your local library and read them on your Kobo for free. 

Tile Tracker Sale

Amazon is selling a two-pack of Tile Mate Bluetooth trackers for $33, which matches the record low the set hit for Prime Day in October. Or you can grab a four-pack of Tile Mates in grey directly from the manufacturer for 40 percent off. These handy fobs attach to your keys, backpack, or anything else you don't want to lose. The app works with both iPhone and Android and uses the community of other Tile users to locate items that you misplace out in the world. The smaller Tile Sticker is also on sale, currently 33 percent off, making it just $20. Or you can get our top pick for Androids in our Bluetooth tracker guide is the Tile Pro. It's down to $25, which is just $2 more than the record low it hit for Prime Day in July.  

Roku Ultra

The Roku Ultra is our recommendation for a set-top box in our guide to the best streaming devices. Right now it's down to $67 at Amazon and at Walmart. That's only about a dollar more than the lowest price it has sold for. It's been on sale for $70 for much of the past few weeks, so this is a chance to save a little more. While it's our favorite set-top streamer, it's not necessarily as good of a value as our top pick for a streamer, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. That model is down to $39, which is a full $10 more than it went for during Black Friday but still $28 less than the Ultra.

Anker Soundcore Space A40 

The overall pick in our guide to the best budget earbuds is Anker's Soundcore Space A40 and right now they're on sale at Amazon for $54. That ties the all time low the buds hit for Black Friday. We like the light, evenly balanced design that's comfortable to wear for long sessions and the sound profile is warm and pleasant. We also think the active noise cancellation is great for the price. Just note that they don't auto pause when you remove a bud and the mic quality for calls could be better.

Google Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro

An unlocked Pixel 8 with 128GB of storage is back down to $549 at Amazon. That's a $150 discount and matches its Black Friday low. You can get the same deal from Amazon and at the Google Store. For a larger screen, you can get the Pixel 8 Pro, which is $200 off at Amazon, Best Buy and the Google Store, bringing the base configuration with 128GB down to $799. We named these phones the best Android handsets you can buy and gave them a 90 in our review, calling them "Google's most compelling phones in years."

Xbox and Nintendo gift cards

If you know someone who plays games on an Xbox or Switch, these two deals may make great gifts. Right now, Target is selling $50 Xbox or Nintendo eShop gift cards for $45. Both cards are delivered electronically to an email address and can be transferred to the user's balance as soon as they get the message. They can then use the funds to buy games and add-ons through their console. 

Switch gamers can also get a digital code for an individual annual Switch Online membership for $18, or a family membership for $31.50. Both are 10 percent off the going rate for a 12-month subscription. 

Google Pixel Tablet

Right now at Amazon, Target and directly from the Google Store, you can get the latest Google Pixel Tablet for $100 off the list price. That brings it to $399, which is a discount we've seen a few times previously and matches the low it went for during Black Friday sales. The standout feature for the slate is its ability to function as a smart display, as it comes complete with a stand that doubles (triples?) as a charging base and a much fuller speaker than any tablet can muster on its own. We gave the Pixel Tablet a review score of 85 when it debuted back in June and mention it as an alternative in our buyer's guide to tablets — noting that it's a good pick if you think you'll make use of the smart display option.  

MasterClass BOGO

MasterClass is offering two annual memberships — one for yourself and one to give away as a gift — for the price of one. If you're unfamiliar, MasterClass offers courses taught by famous people — like Spike Lee teaching directing, Aaron Sorkin teaching screenwriting and Alicia Keys teaching songwriting. Memberships start at $120 per year, which lets you watch on one device at a time and go up to $240 per year for download permissions and access on six devices simultaneously. The free membership will be at the same level you buy for yourself. The deal ends December 12th. 

Google Pixel Watch 2

Google's Pixel Watch 2 just came out in October but we're already seeing a substantial discount of $50 off, making the Wi-Fi model just $300 at Amazon and from the Google Store. The LTE model is also $50 off and down to $350. The Pixel Watch 2 is an improvement over the previous model, with a longer-lasting battery that goes for 24 hours between charges. The Fitbit integration is even deeper this time, with a focus on stress levels using a new body-response sensor. We did find some flaws, however, such as the Fitbit branding throughout that felt like a disconnect from the Pixel brand. There were also software quirks and confusing data presentation that prevented us from giving it a glowing review. 

Apple iPad (10th gen)

The tenth generation iPad is on sale for $349 at Amazon, which is $100 off the list price and the same price it hit for Black Friday. It often sells for $399, so this is and additional $50 off the going rate. In our review we didn't call it a wild improvement over the previous generation, but we did appreciate that it orients the camera to the landscape edge, which is much better for video calls. The USB-C charging is more modern than the Lightning connector on the 9th gen iPad, but for some reason this model still works with the first generation Apple Pencil (even though the slate came out after the second-gen stylus).

Sonos Roam

The Sonos Roam is 25 percent off and down to $134, which is price it went for during Black Friday and has remained there since. It happens to be our top pick for a portable smart speaker thanks to its versatility as an indoor or outdoor smart speaker you can plonk down anywhere. You can control it with Alexa or the Google Assistant it and works on Wi-Fi or via Bluetooth. The sound isn’t as big as from larger speakers, but it still packs a surprising amount of bass and distinct highs

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon's best selling speaker — and our top pick for a smart speaker under $50 — is the Echo Dot and it is still down to $23, the low price it hit for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The sound is surprisingly good for the size and price and it brings Alexa's weather-forecasting, timer-setting, joke-telling abilities into whatever room you set it in. I use it to control our smart plugs and my kid uses it to play "The Wellerman" for the 900th time. 

Google Pixel Buds

Last week, Wellbots sold the Google Pixel Buds Pro earbuds for $120 with a code. This week you can get the same $80 discount, no special letters and numbers required. That makes the buds just $3 more than their all-time low. We called these earbuds the company’s best effort to date in our official review, praising the deep and punchy bass, the useful touch controls, wireless charging options and more. They're currently our top pick for Android users in our guide to the best wireless earbuds.


This bundle has been on sale for a few weeks now. It pairs the $500 PS5 console with the new Spider-Man 2 game for no extra cost. We named the latest PlayStation one of the best gaming consoles you can get right now. We also liked the game, and called it better than its predecessor in our review

Meta Quest 2

The Meta Quest 2 bundled with a $50 store credit at the Meta Quest store is now $249 from Walmart. The headset by itself retails at $300 so this is essentially a $100 discount and matches similar discount-and-gift card combos we saw for Black Friday. Now that the improved Quest 3 is out in the world, this is harder sell. The new headset goes for $500 and isn't on sale at the moment, but if you can swing it, you'll get a better VR experience along with mixed reality improvements. That said, we're still impressed with the bargain the Quest 2 provides and named it our pick for those on a budget in our VR headset buying guide.

Nintendo Switch OLED + Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

If you're willing to transport your actual human body to a GameStop and walk in the door like it's 2009, you can save $25 on the Switch OLED bundled with a download code for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and three months of Nintendo Switch Online. Place your order online then select in-store pickup to get the deal. The bundle is going for $349 at most outlets across the internet, but if you bought the (pretty excellent) game at full price along with the console and subscription, you'd pay $68 more. Combined with the $25 it's a good way to get the console if you somehow don't have it already. Keep in mind that an updated Switch is likely on the horizon, but as for now, the Switch is our favorite console for gaming whilst traveling

Samsung Evo Select 256GB Micro SD card

Samsung's Evo Select MicroSD is $15 which is a 25 percent discount and matches its Black Friday pricing. This is the value pick in our buyer's guide to MicroSD cards, partly because it's often on sale. It doesn't match the sequential write speeds of our top picks, so you may not want to use it for your camera, but if you just need more space for your Switch games, this will work well.  

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Here's everything that was announced during The Game Awards

The Game Awards is over and done with, leaving an empty theater in Los Angeles and plenty of happy game developers placing pointy statuettes on their mantels. To that end, Larian Studios and its massively successful RPG Baldur’s Gate 3 was the big winner of the night, taking home the prize for game of the year, player’s choice, best multiplayer game and more.

Remedy’s Alan Wake 2 was also on fire, winning best game direction, best narrative and best art direction, among others. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom paraglided away with the statue for best action/adventure and the RPG Sea of Stars won for best indie game, with Cocoon being awarded best debut indie game.

Okay. Now that the actual awards are out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. The main reason people watch The Game Awards is for reveals and trailers, and this year didn’t disappoint. There were over a dozen announcements, and here are the best and brightest of the bunch.

Light No Fire

Boy oh boy, a new title from Hello Games, the makers of a little-known space sim called No Man’s Sky. The studio has finally announced a follow up, which has been in development for five years. Light No Fire, another three-word monosyllabic game name, is being billed as the “the first real open world” title, a lofty promise that Hello may be able to pull off. The world is allegedly the same size as Earth, with secrets and mysteries around every corner. It’s also multiplayer, which is neat. Who knows when this one will come out, but it looks gorgeous.

Jurassic Park: Survival

It’s been a couple of years since a new Jurassic Park game, and more than that for a proper adventure title. Jurassic Park: Survival actually takes place one day after the events of the first film, and looks to feature plenty of stealthy action as you hide from hungry dinos. There’s no release date, but it’s launching on Xbox X/S, PlayStation 5 and PC.


Did you think Hideo Kojima would be spending all of his time on Death Stranding 2? Heck no. The legendary developer has also been busy preparing the cinematic horror game OD, previously called Overdose. It’s described as something “no one has ever experienced or seen before,” which is entirely possible, given Kojima’s pedigree. Filmmaker Jordan Peele is also on board, as are actors Sophia Lillis, Hunter Schafer and Udo Kier. Details are scant, as it’s a Kojima joint, but the game will release for Xbox X/S and PC at some point.

Marvel’s Blade

That’s right. Everyone’s favorite vampire hunter is getting his own video game. Even better? It’s being developed by Arkane Lyon, the talented team behind Deathloop and Dishonored 2. Sure, the dev also made Redfall, but maybe Arkane can take some of the best parts of that vampire shooter and translate it to Marvel’s hero. There’s no release date and no announced platforms for this one.


This is the first game from Archetype Entertainment, a studio staffed by former developers from Bioware, Naughty Dog and other AAA developers. Exodus is a sci-fi RPG that deals with the effects of time dilation, the notion that time passes more slowly to those experiencing high-velocity space travel. It looks cinematic and gorgeous, with a major emphasis on player choice. Exodus has no release date, but it's in development for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Monster Hunter Wilds

Capcom is busy working on a new Monster Hunter entry. Monster Hunter Wilds is a direct followup to Monster Hunter World and it looks to feature all of the big, bad beasties you can shake a sharpened stick at. It’s on the way to PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC, with more information coming this summer.


Motion Twin, the developer of Dead Cells, is back with another roguelike. Windblown looks to be a fast-paced release that promises “a whole new level of speed to the action rogue-like genre.” It’s also not a sidescroller, which is a definitive break from the Dead Cells formula. Windblown launches in 2024 for PC, though consoles are likely to follow.

Big Walk

Looking to relax? House House, the developer behind Untitled Goose Game, has got you covered. Big Walk is, well, a multiplayer walking sim with plenty of secrets to uncover. Cooperation is a major part of the game as you and your friends work to explore the wilderness. Big Walk is slated to arrive on Steam and the Epic Game Store in 2025.

No Rest for the Wicked

No Rest for the Wicked is the new project from Moon Studios, the team behind Ori and the Blind Forest and its sequel. It’s a top-down action RPG, departing from Ori’s metroidvania roots, set during the middle ages. The graphics are stunning, which is no surprise considering the developer. It's due to hit early access on Steam in the first quarter of 2024, and will eventually launch on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

Pony Island 2: Panda Circus

Indie developer Daniel Mullins made a name for himself with Inscryption and the original Pony Island. Now he’s back with Pony Island 2: Panda Circus, a game that’s not actually about ponies. The trailer is weird and creepy, as one would expect, with sudden shifts from a 3D adventure to a 2D point-and-click and back again. Voice actor SungWon "ProZD" Cho is also on board. The game may not be released until 2026, so put on your waiting cap.

Sega Embraces its Roots

Sega dropped a trailer for not just one game, but a whole bunch of games based on classic IPs. You can look forward to forthcoming reboots of Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage and Shinobi. Everything old is new again. But, where’s Seaman?

Final Fantasy XVI and God of War Ragnarok get DLC

The DLC faeries were good to us this year. There’s a God of War Ragnarok update launching next week, bringing a new roguelite game mode to Sony’s hit adventure. We also got a surprise drop for the first Final Fantasy XVI DLC. Echoes of the Fallen, set before the base game’s final battle, is available now, with a second DLC planned for next year. To that end, Square Enix dropped a trailer for next year’s installment, The Rising Tide.

Everything else

Those were the biggest reveals, but not all of them. The Game Awards also saw a title reveal and trailer for Supermassive’s Dead by Daylight spinoff, The Casting of Frank Stone. There was an announcement trailer for a remake of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and one for the music-tinged VR title Thrasher, by the makers of Thumper. Finally, we got an actual release date for Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones, February 16, and a surprise launch for Baldur’s Gate 3 on Xbox systems.

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Hideo Kojima’s documentary will be a Disney+ exclusive

Hideo Kojima said his documentary, Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds, will be distributed exclusively by Disney+. The legendary game designer posted Thursday on X (formerly Twitter) that the film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this summer, will launch globally in the spring of 2024.

Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds tracks the pioneering auteur during the development of Death Stranding while providing a rare glimpse into his creative process as he launched his studio, Kojima Productions. The film also includes “shots from the early days of our independent studio, memories from my childhood and my creative journey,” as the designer said. The film strives to capture the artistic side of gaming, which Kojima embodies as well as anyone.

Still from the trailer to the documentary Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds. The game designer sits, smiling, in a work setting. A caption reads,
Kojima Productions

The documentary announcement follows the official reveal of Kojima’s next game, OD. Although we don’t know much about it yet, its trailer blends a cinematic art style with horror, aligning with previous leaks. Director and comedian Jordan Peele is even involved. Xbox Game Studios is publishing the title, which Kojima has said will lean heavily on Microsoft’s cloud technology.

“Video gaming is an art,” director Guillermo del Toro summarizes in the documentary trailer (below) about the Metal Gear creator. “But the only person in charge of the orchestra is the auteur.”

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Amazon device deals include an Echo Show 5 and smart bulb bundle for $40

If you've been thinking of grabbing or gifting a new Echo device for the holidays, here's a quick PSA: A number of Amazon's smart speakers and displays are currently on sale for the lowest prices we've tracked, and many of them can be bundled with a Sengled smart light bulb for no extra cost. An Echo Show 5 bundle is down to $40, for instance, while one for the Echo Dot is available for $23. Beyond that, the latest Echo Show 8 is available for a low of $105, albeit without any extras. A bundle with the full-size Echo is also $40 off at $60, though that's a few bucks higher than its all-time low. Most of these deals have been lingering since around Black Friday, but each still represents a good chance to save. 

We recommend the Echo and Echo Dot in our guide to the best smart speakers, while the 8-inch Echo Show 8 and 5.5-inch Echo Show 5 are picks in our guide to the best smart displays. If you can afford the higher-end model of each pairing, they should be worth it: The Echo sounds decidedly fuller than the Echo Dot, while the Echo Show 8 has a better display, richer speakers and a much sharper camera than the Echo Show 5. But the Dot still performs well for its size and remains a good value for those looking to see if they'd get any use out of an Alexa speaker in the first place, while the Echo Show 5 can be useful on a bedside table as a sort of smart alarm clock

Amazon's Alexa assistant still has plenty of deficiencies — and all Alexa-based devices carry inherent security and privacy concerns — but for simpler requests and controlling other compatible smart home gear hands-free, each of these devices generally work well. The Sengled bulb, meanwhile, is a fairly simple color model that's compatible with the new Matter standard and normally costs around $20 on its own.

If you want the absolute cheapest Echo speaker, the Echo Pop is also on sale for $17 with the same smart bulb, but most people should get the superior-sounding Echo Dot when it's only a few dollars higher. The Echo Dot with Clock, which includes an LED display for showing the time and other basic info, is worth a longer look at $40, though that's $10 more than the lowest price we've tracked. On the smart display side, the Echo Show 10 is $80 off and down to $170, but we found that auto-rotating display to offer little extra value over the Echo Show 8 in our review.

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Google's AI-infused NotebookLM note-taking app is open to everyone in the US

Google’s NotebookLM, a note-taking app that’s infused with a large language model, is now available to everyone in the US. The company built NotebookLM to only pull information from a custom dataset. So you might use it, for instance, to help write a paper based on a specific set of PDFs and only rely on details from those documents.

The idea is that, by sticking to a custom dataset, the information NotebookLM handles will always be relevant to your specific needs as opposed to a more general chatbot that might draw from the entirety of the public internet. Google debuted NotebookLM as Project Tailwind at I/O this year before rebranding it and it says the tech is based on its Gemini Pro model

Google also notes that personal data isn't used to train NotebookLM, so any sensitive or private details in your sources will remain hidden. That is, unless you share the sources with collaborators.

Along with making NotebookLM more broadly available (Google has been granting access based on a waitlist over the last five months), Google has announced a string of new features for the software. It plans to roll these out over the next few weeks with the aim of easing the transition between reading, taking notes and writing.

Among other things, the chatbot can format your notes into a newsletter, script outline or a marketing plan draft and export everything to Google Docs with one click. You'll be able to pin notes to a Noteboard space above the chat box, save and pin responses from the chatbot as notes and hide the source material if you want to focus on jotting down your thoughts with fewer distractions. You'll soon be able to ask the AI to focus on certain sources (of which you'll be able to have up to 100 in total) or jump to a citation from a chat response or saved note.

NotebookLM will also suggest some actions based on selected text or notes. At the outset, you'll be able to combine notes, summarize several of them or create an outline or study guide.

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23andMe frantically changed its terms of service to prevent hacked customers from suing

Genetic testing company 23andMe changed its terms of service to prevent customers from filing class action lawsuits or participating in a jury trial days after reports revealing that attackers accessed personal information of nearly 7 million people — half of the company’s user base — in an October hack.

In an email sent to customers earlier this week viewed by Engadget, the company announced that it had made updates to the “Dispute Resolution and Arbitration section” of its terms “to include procedures that will encourage a prompt resolution of any disputes and to streamline arbitration proceedings where multiple similar claims are filed.” Clicking through leads customers to the newest version of the company’s terms of service that essentially disallow customers from filing class action lawsuits, something that more people are likely to do now that the scale of the hack is clearer.

“To the fullest extent allowed by applicable law, you and we agree that each party may bring disputes against the other party only in an individual capacity and not as a class action or collective action or class arbitration,” the updated terms say. Notably, 23andMe will automatically opt customers into the new terms unless they specifically inform the company that they disagree by sending an email within 30 days of receiving the firm’s notice. Unless they do that, they “will be deemed to have agreed to the new terms,” the company’s email tells customers.

23andMe did not respond to a request for comment from Engadget.

In October, the San Francisco-based genetic testing company headed by Anne Wojcicki announced that hackers had accessed sensitive user information including photos, full names, geographical location, information related to ancestry trees, and even names of related family members. The company said that no genetic material or DNA records were exposed. Days after that attack, the hackers put up profiles of hundreds of thousands of Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people for sale on the internet. But until last week, it wasn’t clear how many people were impacted.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, 23andMe said that “multiple class action claims” have already been against the company in both federal and state court in California and state court in Illinois, as well as in Canadian courts.

Forbidding people from filing class action lawsuit, as Axios notes, hides information about the proceedings from the public since affected parties typically attempt to resolve disputes with arbitrators in private. Experts, such as Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Nancy Kim, an online contractor expert, told Axios that changing its terms wouldn’t be enough to protect 23andMe in court.

The company’s new terms are sparking outrage online. “Wow they first screw up and then they try to screw their users by being shady,” a user who goes by Daniel Arroyo posted on X. “Seems like they’re really trying to cover their asses,” wrote another user called Paul Duke, “and head off lawsuits after announcing hackers got personal data about customers.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Cooler Master’s Framework case gives your laptop a second life

We’ve covered Framework’s modular, easy-to-repair laptops plenty here at Engadget and with good reason. Its mission is to end the need for users to toss out an otherwise perfect machine when just one component goes dead. But, as the company matures, it also has to tackle the issue of what happens when people choose to upgrade for performance reasons. An early buyer might choose to swap their 11th-gen Intel mainboard for any of its successors, or leap across the aisle to get the newly-released AMD edition. That leaves them with an otherwise perfectly functional mainboard they either have to sell on, turn into a hobby project or, more likely, leave on a shelf gathering dust as a just-in-case option. That’s why the company hooked up with Cooler Master to give you a far better alternative.

The Framework x Cooler Master Mainboard Case is a $39 barebones chassis into which you can put your existing Framework mainboard. For that, you get a cool-looking plastic frame and a kickstand, with four VESA mount screws buried inside and, uh, not much else. That’s the point, since you can either cannibalize other components from your laptop, use any compatible spares that are lying around, or pick up fresh ones from Framework on the cheap. I’d say this is aimed not at Framework’s dedicated and talented hobbyist community, which has made a raft of great 3D-printed cases on their own. Instead, it’s pointed at people like me, who break into a sweat whenever a DIY Perks video mentions soldering. (If you’re reading this, doubtless you’ve seen that video about preserving broken laptops but I also bet you’ve never tried to actually do it.)

Image of the rear of the case, with the expansion cards visible. The case is on a grey cloth in front of a grey background, and the rear of the case is white.
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

If you’re starting from a clean slate, you can probably pick up a better-specced mini PC for less cash. But if you’re already inside Framework’s ecosystem, and you have one of those boards to hand, as well as some other spare components, then this makes perfect sense. After all, that first generation model I tested was packing a Core i7-1165G7; more than enough power for everyday tasks like browsing, productivity work or for use as a media center. The case is flexible enough to let you pick and choose what accessories you need or use, including pre-drilled holes for you to add SMA antennas rather than reusing a laptop WiFi module. Oh, and you’ll need to buy a 100W charger since the mainboard was designed to be used with a battery.

The byword is flexibility both in letting you choose how you want to craft your system, but also a comment on the build quality. $39 doesn’t buy you a lot, and the two halves of the plastic case are a lot flimsier than I would like. It doesn’t help that you don’t so much mount the components onto the backboard as place them in, and then they’re held in place when you screw the lid in. It’s easy enough to drop all of the parts in – although a lack of cable routing for the WiFi was an issue when it came to seal this all up. Not to mention, the first time I screwed it all in, the USB-C ports for the expansion cards didn’t sit properly over the holes for them to pass through.

Close up of the Framework x Cooler Master logo on the front of the case in front of a grey painted wall.
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

The only other roadblock to my initial setup was that I couldn’t get the unit to push video to the TV. You need to set the mainboard into Standalone mode, but the iFixit-style guides don’t make it massively clear about how you go about doing that. Especially if you spend half an hour in the BIOS looking for the setting to no avail before and after installing a batch of updates. In the end I just dumped the board back in the case to see if anything had changed and, to my surprise, it booted straight to the screen. It’s worth hoping Framework remembers its user base might have a broader range of abilities than it expects and that no instruction should be made off-hand.

Once I’d dealt with those teething woes and poked the WiFi cables back into place by shoving a screwdriver through the VESA mount hole, I was ready to go. Since this is a Framework laptop just outside its usual chassis, you get the same pick of USB-C expansion cards as usual. With a HDMI-out and a couple of USB-A ports for peripherals, I was streaming 4K video without issue just as soon as I’d signed into Plex. Fundamentally, for those of us too timid to even think about rolling their own hobby project, it’s tools like this that make these projects accessible.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Traeger Ironwood (2023) review: Upgraded smart grilling comes at a cost

In 2022, Traeger began a major overhaul of its Wi-Fi-connected smart grill lineup. Only the most affordable Pro Series models have been left untouched as the redesign process that began with the Timberline made its way to the Ironwood this year. The company has debuted a host of changes along the way, all aimed at more efficient cooking, easier cleanup, customization and expanded smart features. A lot of what Traeger added to the Timberline trickled down to the Ironwood ($1,800), but this model is now significantly more expensive as a result and the best additions are still reserved for the most premium model.

A major redesign

When Traeger revealed its overhauled Timberline grills last year, one of the biggest updates was a new touchscreen display. The company has brought that to the new Ironwood grills too, replacing the single-knob navigation with a larger dial and a touchscreen. There are dedicated buttons for the full menu, timers, Keep Warm and Super Smoke to the left of the touchscreen, above the two wired food probe ports. While how you use the display to control the grill has changed, and the larger full-color panel is easier to see, I’m not convinced these grills needed a touchscreen. It doesn’t add a ton to the overall experience and a simpler update of just a larger, color display would’ve been more than enough and might kept prices down.

Another item Traeger borrowed from the Timberline is its so-called Pop-And-Lock (PAL) accessory rail. This is one new addition that I can get behind. It allows you to customize the grill based on your needs or what you’re cooking. PAL add-ons include a folding front shelf, storage bin, butcher paper/paper towel roll, tool hooks and a cup holder. These all snap onto a rail that goes almost the entire way around the grill and can be easily moved or removed as needed.

Inside, Traeger replaced the solid steel drip plate that directed grease to the catch can and the smaller fire pot shield. Now there are two larger pieces of metal that span the width of the grill. First, a diffuser spreads heat over the cooking surface and directs ash to the catch keg. A second piece above it still serves as a drip tray to channel grease to the same bin as the ash debris, but it now has holes around the outside to guide smoke and heat around the cooking surface. A dual-wall construction of the chamber itself provides better insulation, so temps remain consistent even in the colder months. Lastly, the auger was raised above the fire pot, so pellets drop down to burn. This should help with jams and lower the risk of auger and hopper fires. Once again, these changes debuted on the Timberline, but it’s nice to see them carry over to the mid-range Ironwood.

The key differences between the Ironwood and its pricier Timberline sibling are the vertical space inside the grill, the cart/leg design and the lack of an induction burner on the left side. Where the Timberline has two adjustable racks above the main cooking surface, the Ironwood only has one, and its maximum height is lower than that of the Timberline. Cooking grates on the Ironwood are also porcelain where they’re stainless steel on the more expensive model.

Traeger Ironwood (2023) review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Traeger nixed the four-legged design on the new Timberline in favor of a storage cart look that’s similar to Weber’s gas grills. The enclosed space is a nice addition that didn’t make it to the Ironwood, but the company did add an open shelf underneath that bolts to the legs. You can easily put a pellet bin and unused grates here when you’re not using them.

Lastly, the Ironwood doesn’t have the induction burner that the Timberline offers. It does have a larger side shelf than the previous iteration of the Ironwood, with a removable panel and an additional outlet on the back that suggests support for a burner add-on, but Traeger doesn’t currently sell one. I asked the company if it plans to do so in the future, but it declined to comment on unreleased products.

Upgraded smart grilling

Following its acquisition of Meater in 2021, Traeger made the company’s wireless meat probes standard equipment on the 2022 Timberline grills. Those devices get cumbersome cables out of the way, while sending internal food temperatures to the Traeger app for remote monitoring. The new Ironwood grill also supports the specially-designed Meater probes, but they don’t come in the box. Instead, you’ll have to make an additional $230 purchase to get a two-pack — which is more than if you bought two Meater Plus probes.

The problem is this two-pack only works with Traeger’s touchscreen grills and doesn’t sync with Meater’s app. This means you don’t get ambient temperature readings or estimated completion times — two valuable pieces of information. The Ironwood does come with two wired probes and the info from those is viewable inside of the Traeger app just like it has been on previous WiFIRE-equipped grills.

Traeger Ironwood (2023) review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

The company debuted a smart pellet sensor in 2019 and, while it would later ship grills with it included, it was a separate bolt-on component that needed to be installed. With the Timberline and Ironwood, this is now a fully-integrated piece of tech. Like before, the sensor monitors your pellet level and the app will alert you so you don’t have to keep watch. It’s not perfect — it can be tricked by tunneling when pellets are pulled in by the auger — but it’s good enough to keep tabs on the hopper while you’re relaxing.

Traeger has made the initial seasoning process almost entirely automatic. On previous grills, you had to manually set the temperature and a timer to burn off any residue from the manufacturing process, but now the WiFIRE controller handles all of that for you. You simply press a button and the grill keeps you posted on how much time is left. When you shut it down after cooking, either on the display or via the app, you get another countdown so you know the status of this 15-to-25-minute process that burns off excess pellets in the fire pot (time varies depending on your cooking temperature).

Cooking with the Ironwood

Changes aside, cooking with the Ironwood is as simple and straightforward as ever. Once you select your cooking temperature with the dial or send a recipe to the grill from the Traeger app, all you have to do is press the touchscreen to ignite it. The Ironwood reaches temperature in about 12 minutes, whether you're smoking at 225 degrees Fahrenheit or searing at 500. You’ll get a notification when the grill is preheated so you know it’s time to start cooking.

The Traeger app continues to be a wealth of information for cooks of all skill levels. The software houses over 1,000 recipes with adjustable ingredient lists based on how many people you plan to cook for. Step-by-step guidance is there, along with the ability to monitor grill and food temperatures remotely, and activate Super Smoke or Keep Warm modes as needed. The app still allows you to adjust grill temp, although there were a few times during my test I had to make that request twice. 99 percent of the time it works on the first attempt, but every once in a while the app needs a second prodding before sending the info to the Ironwood.

Over the course of a few months with the Ironwood, I cooked a range of foods at a variety of temperatures. Those include low-and-slow barbecue pork shoulders and turkey breasts, with hotter baking, roasting and searing thrown in too. I also cooked a few recipes where the temperature had to be adjusted during the cook, like the Over The Top Chili method that’s popular online these days. The Ironwood consistently produced great results, with Traeger’s trademark wood-fired flavors.

Traeger touts easier cleanup on the Ironwood thanks to the combination grease and ash keg underneath the grill. Part of that is also the heat diffuser that the company says directs ash to that bin. While it is an improvement that most of the waste goes into one container, you have to help some of the ash get there, and a significant amount of it makes its way on top of the diffuser. Some even ventures up onto the drip tray. You still need a shop vac to do a thorough cleaning every few cooking cycles and you’ll need an all-natural grill cleaner to get the grime off the drip pan, grates, sides and lid.

The competition

The pellet grill industry is increasingly crowded. Most hardware stores now carry a variety of them, most of which at least cover the basics and are available at a range of prices. Recteq’s Patio Legend 410 is under $600, for example. While it’s equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity, it’s more compact with only 410 square inches of grilling space. Pit Boss’ most premium models, the Navigator Series, are available for $999. The smaller Navigator 850 comes with wireless features but the larger Navigator 1150 requires an $150 upgrade for Wi-Fi. I’ve never tested a Pit Boss grill, so I can’t vouch for them, but they’re extremely popular and readily available at a host of big box stores in the US.

For more direct alternatives to the new Timberline, I’d consider the Recteq Backyard Beast 1000 or the Weber SmokeFire grills. The Backyard Beast ($1,099) is the largest “traditional” pellet grill in Recteq’s redesigned 2023 lineup introduced in late October. It offers slightly more cooking space at 1,014 square inches and includes new legs, improved wheels and a revamped controller. Weber’s SmokeFire smart grill debuted in 2020, and while the company has made some tweaks since, the same basic design remains. The main benefit is Weber Connect, the company’s grilling app that provides step-by-step guidance, including videos, and estimated completion times. The larger EX6 model has just over 1,000 square inches of grilling capacity and it’s currently available for $999.

When shopping for a pellet grill, remember that they all offer the same basic functionality. You’ll pay more for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to monitor things from your phone, but every model is capable of both low-and-slow smoking, high-heat searing and everything in between. There’s some variation in the max temperature, but the low end of that range is typically 500 degrees Farenheit. That’s plenty of heat for finishing off a steak. Where companies vary most is design and how common features are presented, so you’ll want to pay attention to things like how the metal components on the inside are arranged, how the grates fit in the cooking chamber and the grill controller.


The 2023 Ironwood starts at $1,800 and the XL model that I tested is $2,000. That’s $500 more than the previous versions, the Ironwood 650 and Ironwood 885. In fact, it’s also more expensive than both of the first-generation Timberline grills, which were top-of-the-line options at the time. I appreciate a lot of the changes that Traeger made, and many of them are improvements, but they’re now significantly more expensive than the most high-end models from the competition. The 2019 Ironwood is a workhorse that still works well and I’d argue it’s a better grill for most people. Ironwood used to be a solid mid-range option in the company’s lineup, but now it’s just another pricey alternative.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Sonos Era 100 is back down to $199 in a new holiday sale

The Sonos Era 100 wireless bookshelf speaker is back down to $199, matching prices found during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. That’s a discount of around $50, as the MSRP for this speaker is $250. If you squint, it’s almost like the holiday spending season never ended. (That’s because it mostly didn’t.)

This sale is for the both the black and white colorways, suiting those with diverging aesthetic preferences. The Sonos Era 100 boasts touch controls and voice controls, like many modern speakers. It’s wireless via Bluetooth or WiFi, which is handy, but also features a line in for connecting record players, home stereo systems and other audio devices that require an analog input.

We admired the Sonos Era 100 in our official review, calling out the excellent sound quality for the price, the simple yet attractive form factor and the built-in mics that allow for easy TruePlay tuning. For the uninitiated, TruePlay measures how sound reflects off of your walls and furniture to fine tune the speakers for optimal playback.

It has Alexa built-in, but recently lost support for Google Assistant, which is a bummer. You can, however, also access proprietary voice controls. The stereo separation is minimal, but that comes with the territory of trying to use a single speaker to complete the work of a matched stereo pair.

Sonos is also selling other speakers at Black Friday/Cyber Monday prices. The wireless soundbar Beam is down to $400 instead of $500 and the portable Roam speaker now costs $134 instead of $180. All of these speakers make for great stocking stuffers, except for the fact that they likely won’t actually fit in stockings.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Engadget Podcast: Our 200th episode celebration

We made it to 200 episodes folks! This week, Cherlynn, Devindra, Producer Ben Ellman and Senior Writer Sam Rutherford dive into some of the biggest tech developments since we rebooted the podcast in 2019. Remember, that was a pre-pandemic, pre-generative AI world! We also highlight a few guest interviews worth revisiting, like our chats with Bill Nye and Ann Druyan.

As for recent news, we quickly recap the OpenAI drama around Sam Altman’s ouster, discuss Google’s new Gemini AI platform, and chat about the revelation that governments are spying on our push notifications. Cherlynn also details her experience with Apple’s Personal Voice feature for iPhones and gives us a demo of her AI-generated digital voice.

Listen below or subscribe on your podcast app of choice. If you've got suggestions or topics you'd like covered on the show, be sure to email us or drop a note in the comments! And be sure to check out our other podcast, Engadget News!


  • It’s our 200th episode! We look back on what’s changed in tech since the show relaunched – 1:02

  • Sam Altman sacked and reinstated, a recap of the OpenAI drama – 44:29

  • Google announces Gemini AI, its answer to GPT-4 – 50:04

  • Microsoft upgrades Copilot with OpenAI’s GPT-4 Turbo and DALL-E 3 – 54:23

  • Governments are spying on push notifications, Google and Apple can’t do anything about it – 55:41

  • Mark Gurman reports Apple is working on revamped iPad Pros and an M3 MacBook Air – 58:02

  • Cherlynn’s experience with the new iOS accessibility feature Personal Voice – 58:58

  • Pop culture picks – 1:05:01


Hosts: Cherlynn Low and Devindra Hardawar
Guest: Sam Rutherford
Producer: Ben Ellman
Music: Dale North and Terrence O'Brien

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

YouTube now lets creators pause comments on videos

Comment sections can be a place of both community and animosity, with the speed of responses presenting a moderation challenge. YouTube is attempting to find a happy balance, announcing additional comment controls for creators — most notably the option to pause comments. The company trialed the feature and is now rolling it out to everyone.

The option to pause allows for existing comments to remain visible while not allowing other accounts to submit any more. Previously, creators could only disable comments from their channel or review each one before posting. Unlike the review setting, pause stops any remarks from coming in at all, removing the risk of a pile-up or viewing negative and inappropriate comments. Basically, if someone wants to spend time on other things like video creation or activities outside of YouTube, they can do so without thinking about the viewers waiting for their responses to go live. 

YouTube has also reorganized and renamed some of the comment settings, along with adding the pause feature. Now, creators will see three choices under the comments setting: On, Pause and Off. More specific moderation options appear when comments are turned on, starting with Basic, which holds comments that might be inappropriate for review. Then there's Strict, which casts a broader net as to which comments must be reviewed first, and Hold All, which lets creators review and approve every comment before they post it publicly. Creators can also choose to have comments turned on without any of these additional filters. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The best VPN service for 2024

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been having a moment recently. Massive marketing budgets and influencer collaborations have convinced consumers that a VPN’s functionality and privacy features will solve all of their security woes. However, it’s not as cut-and-dry as that. VPNs are just one part of a robust online security routine, but given the number of VPN services out there today, it can be hard to figure out which one will be right for you. Not to mention that you often have to dig through claims of attributes that aren’t always totally accurate to get to that answer. We tested out nine of the best VPN services available now and landed on five top picks that should suit most people's needs.

What is a VPN?

VPNs, or virtual private networks, mask your IP address and the identity of your computer or mobile device on the network and creating an encrypted "tunnel" that prevents your internet service provider (ISP) from accessing data about your browsing history. VPNs are not a one-size-fits-all security solution, though.

Instead, they’re just one part of keeping your data private and secure. Roya Ensafi, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, told Engadget that VPNs don’t protect against common threats like phishing attacks, nor do they protect your data from being stolen. Much of the data or information is stored with the VPN provider instead of your ISP, which means that using a poorly designed or unprotected network can still undermine your security. But they do come in handy for online privacy when you’re connecting to an untrusted network somewhere public because they tunnel and encrypt your traffic to the next hop.

That means sweeping claims that seem promising, like military-grade encryption or total digital invisibility, may not be totally accurate. Instead, Yael Grauer, program manager of Consumer Reports’ online security guide, recommends looking for security features like open-source software with reproducible builds, up-to-date support for industry-standard protocols like WireGuard (CR's preferred protocol) or IPsec, and the ability to defend against attack vectors like brute force.

Understand your VPN needs

Before considering a VPN, make sure your online security is up to date in other ways. That means complex passwords, multifactor authentication methods and locking down your data sharing preferences. Even then, you probably don’t need to be using a VPN all the time.

“If you're just worried about somebody sitting there passively and looking at your data then a VPN is great,” Jed Crandall, an associate professor at Arizona State University, told Engadget.

If you use public WiFi networks a lot, like while working at a coffee shop, then VPN usage can help give you private internet access. They’re also helpful for hiding information from other people on your ISP if you don’t want members of your household to know what you’re up to online.

Geoblocking has also become a popular use case as it helps you reach services in other parts of the world. For example, you can access shows that are only available on streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, in other countries, or play online games with people located all over the globe.

Are VPNs worth it?

Whether or not VPNs are worth it depends how often you could use it for the above use cases. If you travel a lot and rely on public WiFi or hotspots, are looking to browse outside of your home country or want to keep your traffic hidden from your ISP, then investing in a VPN will be useful. But, keep in mind that even the best VPN services often slow down your internet connection speed, so they may not be ideal all the time.

In today's world, we recommend not relying on a VPN connection as your main cybersecurity tool. VPN use can provide a false sense of security, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Plus, if you choose just any VPN, it may not be as secure as just relying on your ISP. That’s because the VPN could be based in a country with weaker data privacy regulation, obligated to hand information over to law enforcement or linked to weak user data protection policies.

For VPN users working in professions like activism or journalism that want to really strengthen their internet security, options like the Tor browser may be a worthwhile alternative, according to Crandall. Tor is free, and while it's less user-friendly, it’s built for anonymity and privacy.

How we tested

To test the security specs of different VPNs and name our top picks, we relied on pre-existing academic work through Consumer Reports, VPNalyzer and other sources. We referenced privacy policies, transparency reports and security audits made available to the public. We also considered past security incidents like data breaches.

We looked at price, usage limits, effects on internet speed, possible use cases, ease of use, general functionality and additional “extra” VPN features like multihop. The VPNs were tested across iOS, Android and Mac devices so we could see the state of the mobile apps across various platforms (Windows devices are also supported in most cases). We used the “quick connect” feature on the VPN apps to connect to the “fastest” provider available when testing internet speed, access to IP address data and DNS and WebRTC leaks or when a fault in the encrypted tunnel reveals requests to an ISP.

Otherwise, we conducted a test of geoblocking content by accessing Canada-exclusive Netflix releases, a streaming test by watching a news livestream on YouTube via a Hong Kong-based VPN and a gaming test by playing on servers in the United Kingdom. By performing these tests at the same time, it also allowed us to test claims about simultaneous device use. Here are the VPN services we tested:

Read more: The best password managers for 2023

Best VPN overall: ProtonVPN

The VPNs we tried out ranked pretty consistently across all of our tests, but ProtonVPN stood out as a strong option because of its overall security and usability. The Proton Technologies suite of services includes mail, calendar, drive and a VPN known for its end-to-end encryption. This makes it a strong contender for overall security, but its VPN specifically came across as a well-rounded independent service.

ProtonVPN’s no-logs policy has passed audits, and the company has proven not to comply with law enforcement requests. Because it is based in Switzerland, there are no forced logging obligations, according to the company. Plus, it’s based on an open-source framework, and has an official vulnerability disclosure program along with clear definitions on what it does with personal information.

While ProtonVPN offers a free version, it’s limited compared to other options, with access to server networks in just three countries. Its paid version, starting at about $5.39 per month, includes access to VPN server locations in more than 65 countries on 10 devices at a time. For dedicated Proton Technologies users, they can pay closer to $8.63 for a monthly plan to access the entire suite.

ProtonVPN passed our geoblock, streaming and gaming tests with only a very small toll on connection speeds. It also comes with malware-, ad- and tracker-blocking as an additional service, plus it has a kill switch feature on macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and the latest version of Android. It’s available on most major operating systems, routers, TV services and more including Firefox, Linux and Android TV. For dedicated Linux users, ProtonVPN added a new Linux-specific app to support its services in August.

Read our full VPN review of ProtonVPN

Best free VPN: Windscribe

By signing up for Windscribe's free plan with your email, users can access 10GB per month of data, unlimited connections and access to more than 10 countries. We selected it as the best free VPN because of its high security and wide range of server locations compared to other free VPNs. It has over 500 servers in over 60 countries, according to the company, and can be configured to routers, smart TVs and more on top of the usual operating systems.

Windscribe doesn’t have a recent independent security audit, but it does publish a transparency report showing that it has complied with zero requests for its data, runs a vulnerability disclosure program encouraging researchers to report flaws and offers multiple protocols for users to connect with.

On top of that, it’s easy to use. The set up is intuitive and it passed our geoblock, streaming and gaming tests. The paid version costs $5.75 to $9 each month, depending on the plan you choose, and includes unlimited data, access to all servers and an ad/tracker/malware blocker. Or, for $1 per location per month, users can build a plan tailored to the VPNs they want to access. Windscribe is still expanding its reach, adding Japan to its list of available spots.

Best VPN for streaming services, frequent travel and gaming: ExpressVPN

We picked the best VPN service for travel, gaming and streaming based on which one had access to the most locations with high speed connections and no lag. ExpressVPN met all those criteria and was one of the fastest VPNs we tried. Now, it even comes with an in-house password manager, ExpressVPN Keys, to manage and autofill logins across sites included with the subscription. That will make it easier to toggle between streaming and gaming accounts while browsing securely.

An internet speed test measured faster upload and download speed compared to using no VPN, practically unheard of compared to the other VPNs tested. But being this fast is likely a fluke due to the VPN service circumventing traffic shaping by the ISP or another disparity because even top VPNs will in some way slow down speeds. With 2,000 servers in 160 cities, according to the company, it had one of the broadest global reaches. It also passed our geoblock, streaming and gaming tests, and it does regular security audits. Plus, Network Lock is its kill switch feature, which keeps your data safe even if you lose connection to the VPN. Subscription costs range from $8.32 to $12.95 per month depending on the term of the plan, and include a password manager.

With ExpressVPN, users can connect to up to five devices at once, which is on the lower side compared to other services. That said, it works on a bunch of devices from smart TVs to game consoles, unlike some other services that lack support beyond the usual suspects like smartphones and laptops.

Read our full VPN review of Express VPN

Best VPN for cross-platform accessibility: CyberGhost

Because several of the best VPN services connect to routers, cross-platform accessibility isn’t always necessary. By connecting a VPN to your home router, you can actually connect to unlimited devices in your household, as long as they all access the internet through that router.

But if you use VPNs on the go, and across several devices, being able to connect to a wide range of platforms will be indispensable. CyberGhost offers simultaneous connectivity on up to seven devices for $2.11 to $12.99 per month depending on subscription term. It supports several types of gadgets like routers, computers, smart TVs and more. It’s similar to the support that ExpressVPN offers, but CyberGhost provides detailed instructions on how to set up the cross-platform connections, making it a bit more user-friendly for those purposes. Plus, it just expanded its network of servers from 91 to 100 countries, adding Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic to its available locations.

From a security perspective, CyberGhost completed an independent security audit by Deloitte earlier this year, runs a vulnerability disclosure program and provides access to a transparency report explaining requests for its data. An updated version of its transparency report went live in August. While it did pass all of our tests, it’s worth noting that we had trouble connecting to servers in the United Kingdom and had to opt to run our gaming test through an Ireland-based server instead.

Best VPN for multiple devices: Surfshark

As we mentioned before, connecting to a router can provide nearly unlimited access to devices in a single household. But Surfshark VPN is one of few VPN services that offer use on an unlimited number of devices without bandwidth restrictions, according to the company. And you get that convenience without a significant increase in price: Surfshark subscriptions cost about $2.49 to $12.95 for a monthly subscription, and the company recently conducted its first independent audit. It added QR-code-enabled login across devices and expanded support for alternative ID profiles since our initial review, a feature that some of its competitors already had.

We ran into some trouble connecting to Surfshark’s WireGuard protocol, but tested on an IKEv2 protocol instead. The VPN speed was a bit slow and struggled to connect for our geoblock test at first, but ultimately passed. What makes it different from other VPNs with unlimited connection options is that it has access to a larger number of servers and is available on more types of devices.

Read our full VPN review of Surfshark VPN

Other VPN services our experts tested


NordVPN didn’t quite make the cut because it’s overhyped, and underwhelming. As I've written in our full review of NordVPN, the pricing, up to $14.49 for a “complete” subscription, seemed high compared to other services, and its free or lower cost plans just didn’t have the same wide variety of features as its competitors. 


Despite the cute graphics and user friendliness, TunnelBear wasn’t a top choice. It failed numerous basic security tests from Consumer Reports, and had limited availability across platforms like Linux. It did, however, get a major security boost in July when it updated to support WireGuard protocol across more of its platforms.

Bitdefender VPN

Bitdefender doesn’t offer support for devices like routers, which limits its cross-platform accessibility. It also lacked a transparency report or third-party audit to confirm security specs.

Atlas VPN

Atlas ranked lower on our speed tests compared to the other VPNs tested, with a notably slower difference on web browsing and streaming tests. It was a good option otherwise, but could easily cause headaches for those chasing high speed connections. Security-wise, an Atlas VPN vulnerability leaked Linux users’ real IP addresses.


What are some things VPNs are used for?

VPNs are traditionally used to protect your internet traffic. If you’re connected to an untrusted network like public WiFi in a cafe, using a VPN hides what you do from the internet service provider. Then, the owner of the WiFi or hackers trying to get into the system can’t see the identity of your computer or your browsing history.

A common non-textbook use case for VPNs has been accessing geographically restricted content. VPNs can mask your location, so even if you’re based in the United States, they can make it appear as if you’re browsing abroad and unblock access. This is especially useful for streaming content that’s often limited to certain countries, like if you want to watch Canadian Netflix from the US.

What information does a VPN hide?

A VPN doesn’t hide all of your data. It only hides information like your IP address, location and browser history. A common misconception is that VPNs can make you totally invisible online. But keep in mind that the VPN provider often still has access to all of this information, so it doesn’t grant you total anonymity. You’re also still vulnerable to phishing attacks, hacking and other cyberthreats that you should be mindful of by implementing strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.

Are VPNs safe?

Generally, yes. VPNs are a safe and reliable way to encrypt and protect your internet data. But like most online services, the safety specifics vary from provider to provider. You can use resources like third-party audits, Consumer Reports reviews, transparency reports and privacy policies to understand the specifics of your chosen provider.

What about Google’s One VPN?

As of early 2023, Google One subscriptions include access to the company’s VPN. It works similarly to other VPNs on our list, hiding your online activity from network operators. Google One subscribers can access the VPN in 22 countries on Android, iOS, Windows and Mac devices, and they can share VPN access with up to five people who are on their One plans. We have not fully tested the Google One VPN yet, but we will add it to this list if we feel it is.

Update November 10, 2024: This story was updated after publishing to remove mention of PPTP, a protocol that Consumer Reports' Yael Grauer notes "has serious security flaws."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Amazon is trialing a $10 monthly grocery subscription for Prime members

Amazon regularly makes changes to the costs and availability of its groceries. The company's latest attempt to drive more business comes in the form of a subscription plan. Prime members can now pay $10 monthly for unlimited free Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods deliveries on orders over $35. The subscription also includes unlimited 30-minute pickup orders, regardless of the amount spent. 

The addition of Whole Foods is notable as any delivery from the retailer through Amazon has included a $10 delivery fee since 2021. However, Amazon Fresh grocery deliveries over $35 were already free for Prime members until early this year when Amazon added a fee for grocery deliveries under $150. The company reduced that threshold to $100 in October, with a $7 fee on Fresh orders of $50 to $100 and a $10 fee on orders below $50. So, basically, Prime members can now pay $10 each month to have the same deal they had up until January — plus the $15 monthly or $139 annually to be a Prime member.

The addition of a subscription plan follows other attempts from Amazon to drum up business for its grocery sector. In November, Amazon expanded Fresh grocery delivery and pickup to anyone, not just Prime members. Amazon is starting small with its newest offer, rolling out the subscription plan to Prime members in three US cities: Sacramento, CA, Columbus, OH and Denver, Colorado. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The Morning After: A PS1-themed PlayStation 5

This one-of-a-kind PS5 console was customized with the PS1’s retro gray finish, and classic quad-color PS logo. Even the DualSense controller was given a late-90s makeover, with a cute plug cover for the PS5’s front USB-C port to mimic the first-ever PlayStation’s controller.

No, this won’t go on sale. It’s a farewell gift for SIE (Sony Interactive Entertainment) President and CEO Jim Ryan, who is retiring in March 2024. At a thank-you party this week, the outgoing PlayStation boss was honored by many industry legends, including the “father of PlayStation” Ken Kutaragi, Gran Turismo’s Kazunori Yamauchi, Team Asobi’s Nicolas Doucet and, of course, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida.

It was a gaming-heavy 24 hours, actually. This year’s Game Awards barraged us with new trailers and game news. Surprise, free DLC, an RPG set on an entirely procedurally generated world and a... Blade game?

— Mat Smith

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The biggest stories you might have missed

Sega is resurrecting its classics including Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi and Golden Axe

Hideo Kojima’s Xbox game is the cinematic horrorfest OD

Here’s how to move your subscriptions off Google Podcasts before it shuts down

Meta’s Threads is getting searchable hashtags that aren’t quite hashtags

The company is trying to prevent “engagement hacking.”

Meta’s latest update for Threads brings the long-awaited ability to search for topics, with tags. Although the feature is under the familiar # symbol, Threads’ tags are slightly different to hashtags. Instagram head Adam Mosseri explained Threads tags can contain spaces and special characters, and can only use a single tag per post, so choose wisely.

Continue reading.

The makers of No Man’s Sky will simulate a whole planet for Light No Fire

Hello Games’ new title is an Earth-sized multiplayer RPG sandbox.


UK indie studio Hello Games has announced its next game, Light No Fire, which will bring the procedural generation of No Man’s Sky to an entire planet on an incredibly detailed scale. It will combine open-world exploration with multiplayer community building, set on a planet the size of Earth, apparently. Light No Fire has been in development for five years by about a dozen developers at Hello Games, but there’s no release window yet.

Continue reading.

Google admits it staged a Gemini AI demo video

There was no voice interaction, nor did the demo happen in real time


As Google scales up its AI battle with OpenAI and ChatGPT, the company has now admitted one demo, shown in the video “Hands-on with Gemini: Interacting with multimodal AI,” was edited to speed up the results. The interactions, too, weren’t based on voice but text input.

The demo used “still image frames from the footage and prompting via text,” rather than having Gemini respond to — or even predict — a drawing or change of objects on the table in real time. It’s all a little less impressive and comes when Google’s most cutting-edge AI models don’t differ hugely from OpenAI’s latest GPT tricks.

Continue reading.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is available on Xbox Series X/S

The official Game of the Year is finally on Microsoft consoles.

Developer and publisher Larian Studios had pledged to release the Xbox version of this year’s Game of the Year by… the end of the year and said it would reveal the exact date at The Game Awards. True to its word, Larian announced the Xbox version of Baldur’s Gate 3 is out right now.

The delay was due to a technical problem with the Series S, and the inability to make the game’s split-screen feature on the lower-powered console. However, Larian said it had a solution to support split-screen on Series X, but not Series S, and had permission to do so from Xbox bosses.

Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The UK's competition regulator is reviewing Microsoft's links to OpenAI

The UK is considering an investigation into Microsoft's partnership with OpenAI to decide if it has resulted in an "acquisition of control" that's subject to antitrust law, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wrote today. The regulator said it's considering "recent developments," no doubt referring to the Sam Altman CEO ouster drama in which Microsoft played a large role. 

"The CMA is now issuing an ITC to determine whether the Microsoft/OpenAI partnership, including recent developments, has resulted in a relevant merger situation and, if so, the potential impact on competition," it said in a news release. "The CMA will review whether the partnership has resulted in an acquisition of control — that is, where it results in one party having material influence, de facto control or more than 50% of the voting rights over another entity."

The regulator noted that the "close and multifaceted" partnership includes a multi-billion dollar investment by Microsoft, technology development cooperation and cloud services. It added that both firms have significant activities in financial and related markets, meaning their business dealings directly affect investors. It added that Microsoft was recently involved in developments related to OpenAI's governance.

When Sam Altman was fired by OpenAI's board, Microsoft stepped in to hire him, and a majority of OpenAI's staff threatened to bolt to Microsoft as well. OpenAI's board relented soon after and Altman returned as CEO. "Microsoft executives have since concluded that the current situation [with Altman back in charge] is the best possible outcome," according to a New Yorker expose on the drama. 

In a statement, Microsoft told Engadget that its relationship with OpenAI keeps both companies independent. "Since 2019, we’ve forged a partnership with OpenAI that has fostered more AI innovation and competition, while preserving independence for both companies," said Microsoft's vice-chairman and president, Brand Smith, in a statement. "The only thing that has changed is that Microsoft will now have a non-voting observer on OpenAI’s Board, which is very different from an acquisition such as Google’s purchase of DeepMind in the UK. We will work closely with the CMA to provide all the information it needs.”

The CMA is now seeking views on whether the partnership creates a relevant merger situation and how it impacts competition in the UK. If an investigation is launched, it would be the second one involving Microsoft in the last year, following the company's Activision Blizzard acquisition. The UK's probe had material effects on that merger, as Microsoft agreed to sell Activision Blizzard game streaming rights to Ubisoft to satisfy the CMA. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Android phones can now send medical data during 911 calls

Some Android users are getting an update that could literally save their lives one day. Android users who have a device with the Personal Safety app can now opt-in to sharing medical information with first responders when calling or texting 911. The feature has been available for iPhone and Apple Watch users since the rollout of iOS 13.5 in 2020.

Android users can add information such as caller name, allergies, emergency contacts and preexisting medical conditions. "This is when the information you put inside your phone becomes useful to 911," Tenea Reddick, ECC director at Baltimore City Fire Department, said in a statement. "This information is available to use before the dispatch, and before the responders arrive. It saves so much time because we already know what we're responding to and what we need." The feature is especially beneficial if the person contacting 911 is unable to communicate.

For now, this feature is only available on Androids with the Personal Safety app, such as the Nothing Phone 1 and the Google Pixel 4 through Google Pixel 8 Pro. Anyone with these devices can enable the new feature by going to the "Your info" section of the Personal Safety app. From there, they can click "Emergency info access" and then "Share during emergency call." 

Android and Apple's services are run by RapidSOS, a safety platform that securely shares critical information in times of crisis to over 16,000 911 and field responder agencies. Apple users can access Medical ID, a feature in the Health app that, similar to Android's Personal Safety app, stores information such as blood type, emergency contacts, allergies and preexisting medical conditions. RapidSOS shares this data with first responders, who can also determine a person's location if they call 911 in an area with Enhanced Emergency Data services. Android users have also had the ability to send location data through RapidSOS since 2018. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Apple plans to build more than 50 million phones in India within three years

Apple built more iPhone 15s in India than any past model and it plans to continue that trend. The company will shift a quarter of its iPhone production — more than 50 million phones — to the nation within the next two to three years, The Wall Street Journal reported. China would still remain the largest iPhone supplier by a good margin, though.

Foxconn and other Apple suppliers reportedly believe that the push into India has been proceeding well, so they're setting the stage for future expansion. The company proceeded slowly at first due to infrastructure problems and powerful unions that have helped set more restrictive labor rules — pushing back against 12-hour work days, for example.  

India's commerce minister said at the beginning of 2023 that Apple planned to build 25 percent of its phones in the nation, but there was never any timeframe attached to that. Two to three years would represent a fairly dramatic ramp-up, considering that the iPhone 15 marked the first time it had released a model made in India on launch day. 

It's also been known that Apple contractor Foxconn would manufacture more iPhone 15s than past models its facility in Tamil Nadu, India. It's part of Apple's plan to diversify manufacturing in the face of supply chain risks due to tensions between the US and China. Foxconn is currently building a plant in the southern Karnataka state expected to open in April 2024, and has another megaplant on the drawing board as well, according to the WSJ's sources. 

To date, Apple has only built a small percentage of its iPhones in India, and production previously lagged behind China by up to nine months. That changed with the iPhone 14, which started manufacturing the same month as in China, and iPhone 15s built in India were available in stores at launch. 

Relations between US and China are delicate at the moment, with the US recently taking measures to block access to advanced technology in the nation. Apple continues to stress the nation's importance, though, with CEO Tim Cook having traveled there twice in 2023. Apple also sells a large number of phones in China, accounting for about 19 percent of its total revenue — while stressing that all phones in sold China through authorized channels are also built in China and use local suppliers. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Intuit is shutting down Mint, its popular free budget-tracking app

Intuit is shutting down its free budgeting app Mint, which had 3.6 million active users in 2021, Bloomberg reports. The company will absorb users into its other service called Credit Karma when Mint disappears. An Intuit spokeperson told Engadget that Mint will be available until March 24, 2024.

"Credit Karma is thrilled to invite all Minters to continue their financial journey on Credit Karma, where they will have access to Credit Karma’s suite of features, products, tools and services, including some of Mint’s most popular features," Mint wrote on its product blog. The company noted that Mint's product team and some features have already shifted over to Credit Karma. 

Mint helps users manage their budget, track expenses and keep track of subscriptions and monthly bills so you don't pay late fees. Intuit acquired the company in 2009 for $170 million, with Mint saying the acquisition would help bring the app to millions more users. 

Intuit will shift users to Credit Karma (a company it acquired in 2020), even though they're not exactly the same. Credit Karma is more like a banking app that lets users view transactions, monitor credit and see multiple accounts, but lacks the budget tracking features that make Mint attractive to many. Intuit specifically notes on a support page that "the new experience in Credit Karma does not offer the ability to set monthly and category budgets," instead helping users "build awareness" of their spending. However, Mint's net worth feature was recently ported over to Credit Karma.

Mint users will be able to transfer their accounts by logging into Credit Karma from the Mint app, after which they'll lose access to their Mint profiles. They can also download or erase any Mint data if they'd rather not switch. 

Some Mint users on Reddit don't seem thrilled with the switch, with one saying that without the budgeting feature, "Mint is just a glorified checkbook register." Intuit, meanwhile, was recently ordered to pay $141 million for deceiving millions of low-income Americans into paying for tax services that should have been free. 

Update, December 7 2023, 3:20PM ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from an Intuit spokesperson, who confirmed to Engadget that Mint will be available until March 24, 2024. Mint's announcement originally stated that the app would be shut down on January 1, 2024. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Feast your eyes on this PS1-themed PlayStation 5

Remember the 20th anniversary limited edition PlayStation 4? No, I didn't get one, either. But what if Sony were to port that same sweet retro look from the PS1 to the PS5? Look no further than the farewell gift which SIE (Sony Interactive Entertainment) President and CEO Jim Ryan — who is retiring in March 2024 — received yesterday.

In a photo posted by Yuichi Haga, the Global Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Lead at SIE, the "one of a kind" PS5 console — not the slim model — was customized with the PS1's retro gray finish, along with the classic quad-color "PS" logo. Even the DualSense controller was given a DualShock 1 makeover, complete with a cable and a cute plug cover that goes over the PS5's front USB-C port. Ryan's team went the extra mile to make a special packaging design — one that pays homage to the PS1's box art.

At yesterday's thank-you party, the outgoing PlayStation boss was honored by many industry legends, including the "father of PlayStation" Ken Kutaragi, Gran Turismo's Kazunori Yamauchi, Team Asobi's Nicolas Doucet and, of course, Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida. PlayStation's BAFTA-winning indies lead, Shuhei Yoshida, was notably absent as he had to attend The Game Awards (while nabbing the "Games for Impact" award on behalf of Awaceb, the developer behind indie title, Tchia).

It's unclear as to whether us mere mortals will get to own a version of this special edition PS5, but considering that it'll be PlayStation's 30th anniversary next year, perhaps Sony will consider making one for the PS5 Slim then?

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Google admits that a Gemini AI demo video was staged

Google is counting on its very own GPT-4 competitor, Gemini, so much that it staged parts of a recent demo video. In an opinion piece, Bloomberg says Google admits that for its video titled "Hands-on with Gemini: Interacting with multimodal AI," not only was it edited to speed up the outputs (which was declared in the video description), but the implied voice interaction between the human user and the AI was actually non-existent. 

Instead, the actual demo was made by "using still image frames from the footage, and prompting via text," rather than having Gemini respond to — or even predict — a drawing or change of objects on the table in real time. This is far less impressive than the video wants to mislead us into thinking, and worse yet, the lack of disclaimer about the actual input method makes Gemini's readiness rather questionable.

It comes as no surprise that Google denies any wrongdoing here, as it referred The Verge to an X post written by Gemini's co-lead, Oriol Vinyals, which says "all the user prompts and outputs in the video are real," and that his team made the video "to inspire developers." Given the industry and authorities' attention on AI lately, perhaps the tech giant should be more sensitive about its presentations in this field.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

TikTok adds comment filtering tools to better handle Israel-Hamas war content

ByteDance's TikTok has been facing a tough time over its handling of Israel-Hamas war content and related hate speech, but it is now stepping up with some new initiatives. On the moderation side, the social platform is rolling out new comment filtering tools, with the most notable one being "Comment Care Mode," which supposedly automatically filters comments that are deemed similar to the creator's previously reported or deleted ones. Another new feature helps nix comments made by accounts that are not in the creator's following or follower list. The company aims to increase new users' awareness of these tools via a prompt after their first video upload, and in the long run, it'll set up a product beta testing program to get direct feedback from creators.

TikTok has also set up a new anti-hate and discrimination task force, in the hopes of proactively spotting antisemitism, Islamophobia and other hate trends before they get out of hand. The team will work with experts on improving training for moderators to better address hate speech, and it will expand its managed creator communities to Jewish plus other inter-faith communities, as well as API and LGBTQ+, next year. 

The Information added that TikTok plans to expand access to its research APIs to civil society groups — as the likes of the Anti-Defamation League have been requesting for years, apparently — so they can better understand the types of content spreading on TikTok. This comes in stark contrast to how X — well, Elon Musk, mostly — limited social media researchers' access to its platform, while it continues to deny any wrongdoing over accusations of antisemetic content.

While TikTok's stepped-up efforts may not convince those who still accuse its algorithm of bias, the platform has at least continued removing a staggering amount of offending content. The latest figure on removed videos in the conflict region has hit 1.3 million, between October 7 and November 30. These included "content promoting Hamas, hate speech, terrorism and misinformation."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The first Final Fantasy XVI DLC 'Echoes of the Fallen' is out now

The first Final Fantasy XVI DLC was not only announced at the Game Awards 2023; it’s already available on the PlayStation Store. Echoes of the Fallen, set before the base game’s final battle, is out now, while a second DLC installment, The Rising Tide, arrives in spring 2024.

The PlayStation blog says Echoes of the Fallen “unlocks a whole new story, battles, weapons, accessories, level cap and more.” You’ll follow Clive and the gang as they run into “a group of suspicious traders,” which points them to an abandoned Fallen tower, the Sagespire. “Terrible secrets” lie in store.

A bonus awaits those who buy Echoes of the Fallen or the game’s Expansion Pass, in the form of the Buster Sword from Final Fantasy VII. In addition, it adds the “Away (1987)” Orchestrion Roll, unlocking a chiptune version of the song as new hideout background music.

As for The Rising Tide, Square Enix promises a climactic confrontation between Clive and Leviathan, the legendary Eikon. In addition, if you haven’t played the base Final Fantasy XVI game yet, it’s discounted on the PlayStation Store through December 11.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Capcom's next big Monster Hunter game is Wilds, coming in 2025

Monster Hunter is one of Capcom's biggest franchises at this point, so of course the company has been cooking up another mainline entry. It's called Monster Hunter Wilds and it's coming to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC in 2025. 

The trailer shows the player character and several creatures trying to escape a dust storm before lightning strikes. The air then clears to reveal a lush landscape teeming with wildlife. There wasn't a whole lot else to the announcement clip other than the appearance of a dragon, but hey, it looks pretty and it gives fans of the series something to look forward to. 

Series producer Ryozo Tsujimoto said at The Game Awards his team plans to show off much more of the game in the summer of 2024. In the meantime, fans can keep themselves occupied with the likes of Monster Hunter Now and a Monster Hunter crossover that's set to go live in Exoprimal next month. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Baldur's Gate 3 is available now on Xbox Series X/S

Xbox-only gamers have had to patiently bide their time until Baldur's Gate 3, one of the biggest titles of 2023, hit Microsoft's consoles. The RPG came out of early access on PC in August and it landed on PS5 the following month. However, technical issues held up the Xbox Series X/S version until now. 

Developer and publisher Larian Studios had pledged to release the Xbox version by the end of the year and said it would reveal the exact date at The Game Awards. True to its word, Larian announced that the Xbox version of Baldur's Gate 3 is out right now

Along with Alan Wake 2, Baldur's Gate 3 had the most nominations (eight) of any title at The Game Awards 2023. It ultimately won six: Best Performer, Best Role Playing Game, Best Community Support, Best Multiplayer Game, Players' Voice and the big one, Game of the Year.

The Xbox delay was due to a technical problem with the Series S. As Larian's director of publishing Michael Douse wrote in July, "We cannot remove the split-screen feature because we are obliged to launch with feature parity, and so continue to try and make it work.” However, Larian said the following month that, after meeting with Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer, it had found a solution that would allow it to support split-screen on Series X but not Series S.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

The makers of No Man's Sky will simulate a whole planet for Light No Fire

UK indie studio Hello Games is building something that it's calling "more ambitious" than No Man's Sky. The studio's next game is Light No Fire, and it brings procedural generation to an entire planet on an incredibly detailed scale.

Light No Fire is an open-world exploration and community-building game set on a planet the size of Earth, blending RPG elements with sandbox survival. It's a multiplayer experience in an ancient and fantastical landscape, with climbable trees, hills and mountains, and secrets to discover at every turn. It's "the first real open world," according to Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray. 

Light No Fire has been in development for five years, by about a dozen developers at Hello Games. In the title's first trailer, it looks like the team took an entire planet from No Man's Sky and filled it completely with life, resources and mysteries. 

There's no release date for Light No Fire and no confirmed platforms, and the game was kept in complete secrecy until its reveal at The Game Awards on December 7. Given Hello Games' history with over-hyped marketing schemes, that's no surprise.

Hello Games is synonymous with No Man’s Sky, a sprawling and incredibly popular space-exploration sim that landed in 2016 and only got better with time. But before the indie studio scored a huge marketing deal with Sony for No Man’s Sky — before one of its founders was meeting with Steven Spielberg and appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert — Hello Games was known for the cartoony sidescroller Joe Danger.

UK developers Ryan Doyle, Grant Duncan, Sean Murray and David Ream founded Hello Games in 2009, after quitting their jobs at major studios like EA and Criterion. This was before the modern indie boom, at a time when XBLA was just getting started and Steam had only a handful of indie games.

"Actually breaking away and doing your own thing was a stupid thing to do at the time," Murray told me in 2016.

For nine months, the Hello Games quartet worked on Joe Danger, a 3D sidescroller starring a happy-go-lucky dirtbike daredevil, and they tried to lock down a publisher. No one was interested.

"Everyone turned us down," Murray said in 2016. "Sony turned us down, and Microsoft and so many places."

Out of money and resigned to giving up on their indie dreams, Doyle, Duncan, Murray and Ream went to the pub.

"We came up with this stupid idea," Murray said. "I had a house, and so I sold my house to pay for the rest of development. … The way I looked at it was like, I had bought that house because I had worked at EA, so it was like blood money. Like a blood diamond. You gotta sell that; that's bad karma."

And he really did. Built on loans and the money from Murray’s house sale, Joe Danger came out on June 9, 2010, and it was a hit. Hello Games followed it up with Joe Danger 2: The Movie in 2012. By then, the studio was an established indie hit-maker and it had relationships with major publishers. In December 2013, the team revealed something entirely unexpected: No Man’s Sky, a multiplayer game the size of the universe and filled with galaxies of procedurally generated planets to explore.

The next summer, No Man’s Sky had a tentpole moment at Sony’s E3 press conference, and the AAA marketing machine was activated. Sony leaned heavily on Hello Games to bolster its image as an indie curator, and over the next two years, the buzz around No Man’s Sky reached astronomical heights. Spielberg, Colbert, Kanye West and Elon Musk all got involved in their own ways, and No Man's Sky was a household name years before it launched.

No Man's Sky
Hello Games

By the time the game came out, it was impossible for it to live up to the hype. No Man’s Sky promised a universe of procedurally generated planets to explore, teeming with minerals and creatures and other players to encounter, but at launch on August 9, 2016, it was buggy and empty. The bones of a fantastic game were there, but some players felt so misled by Sony's intense marketing campaign that they filed a lawsuit against Hello Games.

The team kept working on No Man’s Sky, releasing bug fixes, updates and expansions, including a VR version. Over the years, the vision that players were initially sold clarified in-game, and the online rage died down until it was fully replaced by admiration. Since launch, No Man’s Sky has won multiple high-profile awards, including Best Ongoing Game at The Game Awards 2020. This year, it’s nominated at The Game Awards in the Best Community Support category.

"It's become so much simpler two years out from launch," Murray told me in 2019. "At launch, we were so focused on trying to please the partners that we were working with, trying to market our game, trying to live up to expectations that we were really struggling to meet."

No Man's Sky
Hello Games

No Man’s Sky in particular is Murray’s brainchild, and he was the face of the game as it rose and fell and rose again in public perception. He and the rest of the Hello Games team — which is bigger than four developers nowadays — have been keeping silent about their internal projects, and it’s easy to understand why.

"They are super talented and I didn't want to just move on and let that be their legacy," Murray said in 2019. "It's really nice for them to be able to say to people, 'I worked on No Man's Sky,' and people to be really happy and positive about it now. That is something that they deserved."

This history makes today’s reveal of Light No Fire even sweeter. Fourteen years after that fateful night in the pub, Hello Games is a testament to persistence.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Arkane Lyon is making a Blade game and we're all very excited

Arkane Lyon, the developer of Deathloop, is making a game based on Marvel’s resident vampire hunter Blade. There’s a trailer, but it’s just a cinematic with no gameplay. Still, this is very exciting news as Arkane Lyon is the talented team behind Prey and the Dishonored 2. It also made the vampire shooter Redfall, which had some good ideas that were marred by, well, some very bad ideas. Here’s hoping the second time’s a holy watered charm.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Marvel’s upcoming Blade film, which has been in and out of development hell these past few years. It’s an original game set in Paris that adapts the comic book character. Arkane calls it a mature single-player adventure, so it's likely to feature more gore than other Marvel games because, well, that’s kind of Blade’s whole bag. As usual, Marvel Games is on board, as VP and creative director Bill Roseman took the stage at The Game Awards after the trailer reveal.

Marvel is fairly hands-on with its games nowadays, and recent titles like Spider-Man 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy had its stamp of approval. There’s no release date and no announced platforms for Blade, though the entire team at Arkane Lyon is currently “pouring so much love” into the game.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Ubisoft's long-delayed Skull and Bones is finally set to arrive on February 16

After what feels like countless delays (seriously, our first hands-on with it was in mid-2017), Ubisoft's Skull and Bones finally has a release date. As revealed at The Game Awards, the action-adventure game is at last set to land on February 16, 2024. Ubisoft+ subscribers and those who pre-order can hop in three days earlier.

As this name suggests, this is a game all about piracy. You can choose to set sail on a pirate ship by yourself or team up with a friend or two in co-op play. You'll battle settlements and other ships, "defy legendary pirate myths" and face off against fearsome creatures from the deep.

If you have a pirate-sized itch to scratch and Sea of Thieves isn't quite cutting it for you, you can register for the Skull and Bones closed beta, which will run from December 15 to 18. The game is coming to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC and Amazon Luna. At one point, Skull and Bones was supposed to arrive on Google Stadia, but the cloud gaming platform has both debuted and died since the game's first delay.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Hideo Kojima’s Xbox game is the cinematic horrorfest ‘OD’

Hideo Kojima officially unveiled his upcoming game (that leaked in 2022) at the Game Awards 2023. Previously described as something “no one has ever experienced or seen before,” the cinematic OD (previously known as Overdose) will include a collaboration with horror director and comedian Jordan Peele.

OD’s 90-second trailer includes intimate closeups of actors reading nursery rhymes and other dialogue as they grow increasingly frantic. In the clip’s final moments, you catch a glimpse of a door opening in the reflection of their eyes (with a creaking sound hammering the point home). Wherever the game’s plot takes us, the trailer makes it clear it falls squarely in the horror genre (as expected).

We already knew the title would be published by Xbox Game Studios, relying heavily on Microsoft’s cloud technology. Previous leaks indicated Death Stranding actor Margaret Qualley would play the protagonist, although she was nowhere to be found in the trailer. The billed cast in the trailer includes Sophia Lillis, Hunter Schafer and Udo Kier.

You can watch OD’s cryptic trailer below.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at