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The Best iPhone Games Currently Available (January 2021)

As the world gets cold again, there’s little reason to venture out into the frigid darkness except for the occasional wander. So, why not while time away with a good game on your iPhone? After all, a new console is expensive, and your phone is right there, just waiting for you.

While gaming phones are picking up steam, there’s no better phone to buy than the iPhone if you’re a mobile gamer. With more than a million iPhone apps available in the Apple App Store, the gaming options on the iPhone are nearly limitless. But finding the best iPhone games isn’t always easy. Not every game in Apple’s massive library is worth $1 — or your time, for that matter.

Luckily for you, we’ve taken on the burden of sorting through the heaving sea of titles to bring you some of the best iPhone games. So, whether you’re looking for a casual puzzler or something a bit more epic, take a look at our list of the best games you’ll find on your iOS device.

Subscribers to Apple’s library of games — which we think contains enough gems to justify the price of membership — should check out our picks of the best Apple Arcade games. For more ideas, check out the best Android games, because many of them are available for the iPhone as well. And if you want to switch off that screen, the best board games could offer a welcome alternative.

League of Legends: Wild Rift

League of Legends is one of the world’s biggest games, and you can now play it on your iPhone. If you’ve played LoL before, then you know what to expect — choose your champion and join your team of four other players in a five-on-five battle to push up the map and into your opponent’s base. It’s a simple formula, but the mobile online battle arena (MOBA) is also cunningly deep, and you’ll be looking up tactics for your chosen champion in no time at all. It’s free to play, so you don’t need to pay to access any of the champions. Instead, you can unlock them over time by playing the game.

iOS

Orwell’s Animal Farm ($4)

So, this is a weird thing to see on the App Store under “Games,” but it’s surprisingly good. George Orwell’s classic tale Animal Farm translates well into a gaming medium, and you can now play Orwell’s scathing critique of corruption and totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. Alright, so it’s less of a game than an interactive experience, really, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, and while the $4 price tag is a little bit of a barrier to entry, if you think of this as an alternative to reading the book, this isn’t a bad price at all.

iOS

Chess — Play & Learn

If you’ve always wanted to play more chess but have been put off by the rather intimidating atmosphere around it, then give Chess — Learn & Play a try. It has a huge range of opponents to play against, both human and artificial intelligence (A.I.), and if you pick a computer-controlled opponent, then you can make sure to pick an easy opponent (if you’re just starting), an adaptive opponent (who’ll change their difficulty to try and give you a challenge), or a grandmaster (if you’re looking to stretch your skill). You can play for free, but you can pay for different tiers of membership, which offer unlimited puzzles, more lessons, and game analysis, amongst other bonuses.

iOS

Legends of Runeterra

It seems like every game has to have a trading card game spin-off these days — but while they’re as good as Legends of Runeterra, we’re not going to complain. Set in the world of League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra has you collect classic LoL champions and new characters alike, as you battle other players. Unlike other collectible card games, there’s a heavy emphasis on dynamic gameplay that has you counter your opponent’s play with your own, so you’re not just sitting back and watching as someone else takes their turn. Like most other games in the genre, you can pay to increase your collection, or earn cards as you play.

iOS

Subway Surfers

The “endless runner” genre is a mobile gaming staple, and Subway Surfers is the best curent game in the most casual and fun of genres. The premise is simple — run along the subway, jump between cars, collect coins, and avoid falling off. It’s simple, but it’s still a lot of fun.

iOS

Ink Inc.

You need a special skill set to become a tattoo artist, but not so in Ink Inc. Fill in your customer’s desired tattoos and grow your business, with hundreds of potential stencils to tattoo onto waiting skin. It’s certainly a chill game at heart — each tattoo has been stenciled in, and your job is simply to color between the lines and make sure you don’t mess it up. So really, it’s a paint-by-numbers simulator, but if you’re fine with that, then you’ll love this.

iOS

Genshin Impact

It’s the unexpected hit of 2020 that’s taken the world by storm and introduced the “gacha” genre to a wide audience. Essentially an open-world, free-exploration action game in the same vein as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildGenshin Impact adds a large roster of unlockable characters, a wide range of magical powers, and a more populous world. Climb, fight, and glide your way across the massive map as you plunge into the game’s deep RPG elements and further the engaging story. This is no Breath of the Wild copy, Genshin Impact deserves to thought of as a legitimately great game in its own right, and you can play it from your iPhone.

iOS

Rome: Total War ($10)

One of the biggest PC games of all time and the engine behind a popular British TV show, it seems crazy that Rome: Total War is available to play on your iPhone — but it is. It’s not the same game that you might remember, of course, and the UI and controls have been adapted to allow it to work properly on a smaller screen, and while that may fill you with some trepidation, don’t let it. While there’s a small learning curve to get over, it’s fast and easy to use once you get used to it. Play as any one of many different civilizations at the time of Rome’s ascendancy, and lead them to greatness. Will you follow in Rome’s footsteps, or substantially change history? It costs $10, but if you love strategy games, it’s well worth the investment.

iOS

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

If you spent countless hours locked into The Witcher 3, then it’s likely you also sunk far longer than you should have into the addictive Gwent side game. Well, Gwent is now available as a standalone game for your iPhone. Collect your favorite Witcher heroes, and battle with the computer, or other players. The base game is free to download, but you will have to pay if you want to buy additional card packs.

iOS

Among Us!

Every few months, we get a game of the moment that sets the internet alight. Among Us! is firmly on that list of games. The simple game based on the well-loved Werewolf/Mafia format has become a cultural icon, and it’s easy to see why. The game sees between four and 10 players on a spaceship, working together to keep it running in the vacuum of space. But not everyone is as they seem, and a certain number of those players are actually Imposters, placed there to sabotage the ship and kill as many players as you can. With no-one able to know who to trust, can you figure out who the imposter is, and can you trust your friend when they say they saw that person sabotaging the ship, or are they lying to you … ? Intrigue at its finest, Among Us! features crossplay between Android, iOS, and PC, and you can play on the internet or locally.

iOS

Bullet Echo

Bullet Echo is a player-versus-player tactical shooter where you play in the dark. All you have to see is your trusty flashlight, attached to the front of your gun, and your job is to sneak around the arena, taking out opposing team members. Your sight may be limited by the flashlight’s beam, but your hearing is not — your enemies will give themselves away with footsteps and gunshots, so make sure to use all the tools at your disposal to find them. You can play with friends or drop into a game, and there are a range of heroes with unique abilities to unlock.

iOS

Ministry of Broadcast

A game in the vein of classic adventures such as Prince of Persia and Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, Ministry of Broadcast drops you into the shoes of a man who has been separated from his family by The Wall. In order to get back to his family, he agrees to take on The Wall Show, a state-sponsored TV show where the contestants compete for freedom. But is this promise what it seems on paper? Jump, climb, and swing through various levels and precarious puzzles with our protagonist to find out the truth.

iOS

EVE Echoes

EVE Online is one of the world’s biggest and most engaging MMOs, and now you can finally play a similar game on your smartphone. EVE Echoes brings a lot of what made the PC MMORPG amazing — the open-ended player interactions, skill trees, and the enormous amount of risk — and transplants it into your iPhone. Start your EVE career however you fancy, whether that be by mining, trading, or hunting pirates, and work your way up, banding together with other players into Corporations and galaxy-influencing Alliances. Take part in massive PVP fleet wars, and leave your mark on New Eden’s history. EVE Echoes takes place in a completely separate parallel universe from the main EVE Online game, so you don’t need to worry about bumping into PC players who have had years to build up their powerbase.

iOS

The Sims Mobile

It’s not hard to guess what this game is — it’s The Sims and it’s on mobile. If you’re a fan of the long-running life simulator, then it’s likely you’ve already dived into this game and played the heck out of all its levels. But if you’re a newcomer to the Sims franchise, then all you need to know is The Sims lets you live another life by bossing around tiny people. It’s up to you to make sure they eat, sleep, work, and look after themselves. That may seem boring, but generations of gamers would be happy to let you know how wrong you are. The Sims Mobile is a chilled out and fun mobile game that you can sink time into without worrying too much about needing split-second reflexes. It’s free to play, but keep in mind it has a number of microtransactions available in the in-game store.

iOS

Brawlhalla

According to its description, Brawlhalla is a “platform fighting game,” which isn’t much of a description at all, if we’re honest. What it is, as far as we’re concerned, is a pretty strong Smash Bros. clone. Select a character, and take on up to seven other player-controlled characters in a 2D-style brawl where the objective is to be the last to be kicked off the stage. It’s an awful lot of fun, and not as intimidating as it initially seems.

iOS

F1 Manager

The Formula One World Championship is one of the biggest racing syndicates around, and while you may never get the chance to get behind the wheel of one of these powerful machines, F1 Manager allows you to manage your very own team. Create a pit stop strategy, decide whether to go all out or sneak the lead on the final lap, and recruit and level-up real-life F1 drivers. It looks great and plays excellently — though keep in mind it has some items for sale, so lock down your account if you’re handing control over to a child.

iOS

Minecraft ($7)

Minecraft on iOS

If you don’t know what Minecraft is, well, you’re about to have a very good time. Minecraft is, without a doubt, one of the biggest games of the last decade. Essentially kickstarting the survival genre’s mass popularity, Minecraft drops you into a box-based world and tells you to survive and build. From modest beginnings of creating your first pickaxe and punching trees, you’ll soon be building yourself a house, starting a farm, and even adventuring into creepy other dimensions. Just watch out for Creepers — you’ll know when you find one.

iOS

Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom

While his games may not have made the lasting impression of long-time rival Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog is still a hot topic, thanks in large part to his recent film adaptation. Sonic Dash 2: Sonic Boom is an endless runner in the vein of games like Temple Run, and it’s really the most natural fit for everyone’s favorite hedgehog. You’ll play as Sonic characters from the recent popular Sonic Boom TV show, including Sonic, Tails, Amy, Shadow, and more.

iOS

Crying Suns ($9)

Space empires are cool, but fallen space empires are even cooler. Crying Suns puts you in the boots of a spaceship fleet commander, and your task is to explore the remnants of a fallem empire, all while taking part in tense battles with other fleets. It borrows heavily from sci-fi classics like Foundation and Dune, but that’s no bad thing, and Crying Suns goes all in on world-building with over 300 story events, and six chapters of space-based drama. It is a rogue-lite, which means you should expect to die quickly and a lot — but every mission gives you the chance to learn more about the procedurally generated universe around you.

iOS

QuestBall

Our British and Irish history is a little hazy, but we didn’t remember much tennis. Regardless of historical accuracy, it turns out fantasy tennis is a lot of fun, and it means QuestBall thrives. Play as up to eight characters (including Boudica) with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses, and a variety of power-ups and special shots to exploit in your battles with royalty, outlaws, giants, and gods. A fun little time-waster.

iOS

Vía (free-to-start/$1)

If you’re looking to relax a little, settle down with Vía‘s collection of maze puzzles. It may seem like a simple premise to go from A to B, but hurdles will jump in the way, forcing you to think carefully about the choices you make while playing. It’s difficult enough to be challenging, but not too tough to put you off — and it’s oh-so addictive as well. The first 30 paths are free to play, but you’ll need to purchase the full game for access to all 10 journeys. However, it’s well worth your dollar.

iOS

War Tortoise 2

War Tortoise 2 is something of a genre defier. It styles itself as an idle shooter, but that’s not entirely correct. Loaded up on your War Tortoise, you shoot down bad guys that approach, gaining money and buying followers as you defeat them. Miniature army in tow, you trek off at a slow plod to the next area, fending off attacks as you go. It’s simple to control — just drag your finger to move your gunsights, and your pilot will shoot automatically. Upgrade your tortoise’s weaponry and armor, add to your army and upgrade their abilities, and keep plodding on. There are a few nice graphical touches too, like droplets impacting on the screen during the rain. A fun little time-waster.

iOS

If Found … ($3)

Another game from those who like stories to really make them feel things, If Found …‘s story centers around the diary of protagonist Kasio. It tells the story of her return to the west of Ireland, her conflict with friends and family, and the challenges she comes across — but it all leads up to one fateful night, where a black hole is set to destroy the world. Can Kasio stop the black hole from eradicating everything she holds dear? Stunning hand-drawn art and some storytelling that’s truly emotional means this game is an excellent way to spend a quiet evening.

iOS

Snipers Vs Thieves: Zombies!

From the makers of Snipers Vs Thieves, this sequel takes the simple formula from the last game and adds — you guessed it, zombies. But this time, zombies aren’t hungry for brains, they’re hungry for money. Whatever, the story isn’t the reason you’ll be playing this. Protect your cash from hordes of zombies by taking them out with perfectly placed shots, and use the cash you earn to upgrade your trusty weapon. The controls are simple — just drag the crosshair over a zombie and hold it there until your shot meter fills up. There are in-app purchases, as you might expect, but it’s fun enough that you’ll be able to play without paying.

iOS

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

The latest Animal Crossing game has set the internet on fire, but you don’t need to own the Nintendo Switch game to get in on the magic. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is an excellent way to get your Animal Crossing fix right from your pocket. Set up your own little campsite, designing it however you like by collecting items from daily tasks and annual events. Want to set up a theme park, music festival, or an amazing glamping site? You can, and you can do it in the cutest surroundings possible. As a mobile game, there are plenty of microtransactions available, so it’s not the best game for anyone who struggles to hold back from spending too much. But if that’s not an issue, this is a great way to spend some time.

iOS

Angry Birds 2

If you don’t know what Angry Birds is, well, it’s one of the most legendary mobile franchises around. The sequel to the hit game that spawned a movie, of all things, Angry Birds 2 takes you back into the war between the birds and the egg-nabbing pigs — a war that can only be won by flinging miffed birds at piggy houses. Hey, we said they were “angry,” not “clever.” There have been a few changes to the original formula though, and you can now pick the bird you use, take on multi-stage levels, and impress the Mighty Eagle to win coins to spend in his shop. While that may sound like a lot, trust us when we say this is one of the best casual gaming experiences around.

iOS

Scrabble Go

Scrabble is one of the best loved and simple games of all time, and now you can playnit on your phone, thanks to Scrabble Go. So if you want to dive into a game, then don’t bother digging the board game out of your attic, just download this instead. Unlike its board-based counterpart, Scrabble Go isn’t restricted to just playing with people in your immediate area, and you’ll be able to play with multiple people from around the world at the same time. Take a turn against one opponent, then open another game and take your turn there. There’s no turn timer, so there’s never any stress to get back to the game, and it’s completely free to play.

iOS

Disney Sorceror’s Arena

The turn-based battler has seen a big revival in the last few years, and Disney is the latest to create its own card-collecting version. Thankfully, it’s pretty good. If you’ve played one of these games before then you know what to expect — collect cards to unlock new Disney characters and use them to battle through a series of A.I. or human opponents to unlock more. Battles are conducted in a turn-based environment, and a lot of the strategy comes from choosing when to use each character’s special abilities. It’s compulsive, but be aware there are a lot of microtransactions.

iOS

Homicide Squad: New York Cases

Hidden object games are something of a guilty pleasure for many, and they shouldn’t be, because they’re actually a lot of fun. In this game, you take control of a pair of wisecracking detectives as they solve crimes and deliver justice in New York City. Examine murder scenes and find and gather your evidence. You have limited energy to play with, and you have to pay to recharge it — which makes it a casual game for everyone but those with deep pockets. Still, it’s a fun hidden object game if you enjoy them, and worth trying if you’re unfamiliar with the genre.

iOS

Baseball Boy!

Hit the baseball as hard as you can with your bat, and see how far it flies. That’s all Baseball Boy! is, but there’s something beautifully compulsive in its extremely simple loop. Every hit earns you gold, which you can then use to upgrade your strength, ball bounciness, and other attributes. It’s dumb, but it’s an awful lot of fun, and by the time you start unlocking new cosmetic bats and balls, you won’t care how stupid it is — you’ll just care about getting to the next major milestone. A great little casual game that doesn’t push you into spending money.

iOS

Editors’




Repost: Original Source and Author Link

Categories
Computing

MacBook Pro 2020: News, Rumors, Price, and Release Date

The MacBook Pro has gained a renewed lease of life since Apple outfitted it with the superb M1 chip in 2020. It seems to have an exciting future ahead of it, and with plenty of interesting rumors doing the rounds, there is a lot of debate as to what the next version of Apple’s Pro laptops might contain.

There has been a recent flurry of information, with respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and prominent reporter Mark Gurman both shedding light on an all-new 14-inch version, as well as updates to the current MacBook Pro 16. We have broken down their thoughts, as well as other rumors from the industry, to summarize what you can expect from the 2021 MacBook Pro models. Here is everything you need to know, from the price and design to battery life and more.

Price and release date

When Apple last redesigned its professional laptop range with the MacBook Pro 16 in 2019, it kept the price exactly the same as that of the previous MacBook Pro 15, despite introducing a raft of new features and an overhauled design. The company did the same thing when it outfitted the MacBook Pro 13 with the brand-new M1 chip, despite the massive uptick in performance this upgrade offered.

We expect the same will be true of the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models due out this year. Apple seems to be happy with its current MacBook Pro pricing structure, and we do not expect that to change any time soon. Ultimately, that could mean more bang for your buck.

So, when might you be able to get your hands on one of these new models? The likelihood is they will be out around the middle of 2021, with Kuo expecting them to be released in the third quarter of 2021 (July 1 to September 30). Gurman offers a similar timeline, saying they should make an appearance “around the middle of the year.”

A new, squared-off design

In recent years, Apple has started to revert many of its products back to the square-edge design last seen in the iPhone SE in 2016 — first the iPad Pro and then the iPhone 12 range. According to reports, the MacBook Pro will soon join them.

Kuo believes the MacBook Pro 2021’s design will feature squared-off sides on both the top and bottom sections, rather than the slightly curved back found on the current MacBook Pro models. This may only be a minor change, as the bottom half of the existing MacBook Pro could already be thought of as “squared-off.”

Aside from that, you may be wondering if the MacBook Pro 16’s thermal architecture will make the leap across to the MacBook Pro 14. Given the superb thermal efficiency of the M1 chip in the current MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Air, though, this may be entirely unnecessary — the new MacBook Air, after all, does not even need a fan, such is its chip’s ability to keep cool under pressure.

The Magic Keyboard is almost certain to remain in place — no return to the ill-fated butterfly keyboard — but there is one longtime MacBook stalwart that may finally be ditched: The Touch Bar. Ever since debuting in 2016, this touch-sensitive strip has been divisive, and it seems Apple may have finally lost patience with it rather than trying to fix it. Kuo claims the next MacBook Pro will definitely go without the Touch Bar, while Gurman says only that Apple has been testing Touch Bar-free models, but both lines of thought seem to indicate there is not much future for Apple’s OLED bar. Given how little it lived up to its potential, that may not be a bad thing.

Processor and battery life

Apple made a real splash when it released the first version of its own Apple Silicon processors, the M1, in the latest round of Macs. In our testing, they proved to be blazing fast, with the Mac Mini offering the best performance of the lot.

There is good news on that front, as the 2021 MacBook Pro models are expected to have the next generation of this chip (perhaps called the M2 or M1X). We already know from previous reporting that Apple is working on processors with upwards of 32 cores, although that chip in particular is almost certainly reserved for the Mac Pro. That said, expect the 2021 MacBook Pro models to come with more cores and more performance — the M1 was just the beginning.

A report from Bloomberg has claimed the next generation of Apple Silicon chips could feature 16 high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. They are supposedly due out this year, meaning they could debut in the next MacBook Pro. If those chips do not quite meet the deadline, Apple might launch chips with eight or 12 high-performance cores instead. Either outcome would be an increase over the M1 and its four high-performance and four high-efficiency cores.

The processor also means good things for battery life. When we reviewed the M1 MacBook Pro, we got 21 hours of battery life in our video playback test and 16 hours during light web browsing. That is around three times the battery life of the 2020 Intel MacBook Pro. You can expect similar feats from the 2021 MacBook Pro thanks to the incredibly efficient ARM-based chip it will be using.

A brighter, higher-contrast display

Among all the MacBook Pro rumors, those concerning its display have remained some of the most interesting. Kuo has maintained for some time that Apple is working on outfitting its pro laptop with a Mini-LED display. This tech crams thousands of small-scale LEDs into the screen, offering superb contrast and dynamic range without the burn-in issues that OLED displays can suffer from.

The latest reports on Apple’s MacBook Pro plans leave this Mini-LED possibility open, seemingly without confirming either way whether Apple will use it. Gurman, for example, says the 2021 MacBook Pro models will have “brighter, higher-contrast panels.” This fits with what we expect from Mini-LED displays without referring to them by name, so it remains to be seen what Apple will do.

What is more certain is that Apple will slim down the bezels on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, allowing for a larger 14-inch panel to fit in the same-sized chassis. This is the same approach the company took when it replaced the MacBook Pro 15 with a 16-inch model without increasing its footprint. This change will result in a more modern-looking laptop and more screen space for your work.

More port variety and the return of MagSafe

Ever since the 2016 redesign that ushered in the Touch Bar and butterfly keyboard, Apple has stuck resolutely to USB-C in its laptops — to the exclusion of all other port options. That, though, may soon change.

Multiple reports have suggested Apple is going to loosen the USB-C stranglehold a little and allow a smidge more port variety in the 2021 MacBook Pro. We do not know exactly which ports might come back (although USB-C will still be present), but anything that lessens our dependence on adapters and dongles is a good thing.

The increase in port variety means an apparent return for a much-loved MacBook feature that was first ditched with the 12-inch MacBook in 2015: MagSafe. This handy tech magnetically attaches the charging cable to your Mac, meaning it quickly snaps loose if the cable gets yanked, preventing your expensive laptop from falling to the ground and smashing. According to industry rumors, Apple is going to reintroduce MagSafe in the 2021 MacBook Pro and have it work using a pill-shaped port much like its old incarnation. Given how popular MagSafe was — and how much we have missed it since it was ditched — this is a welcome change of heart from Apple.

It does, however, mean a return to a proprietary charging tech, whereas from 2016 to the present the MacBook Pro has charged over the common USB-C port. Although you might be worrying about whether your old USB-C charger will work with the new MagSafe-equipped MacBooks, don’t – provided the new MacBook Pro comes with USB-C ports, you will be able to charge it up over that slot, even if it also has MagSafe.

MacBook Pro 2021: Our wish list

Despite the extensive rumors over what might be included in the 2021 MacBook Pro, there are still a few other features that we would love to see make an appearance. These are not guaranteed but would certainly have a hugely positive impact should Apple give them the green light.

Aside from more port variety, we would like to see more ports, period. It is still possible to buy a MacBook Pro with only two ports — in fact, the four-port MacBook Pro models are limited to Intel processors, and if you want the much better M1 chips, you must accept half the number of USB-C slots. When you are paying $1,299 or more for a laptop, that is not good enough.

The second feature we would love to see is Face ID. This secure tech already works wonders on the iPhone and iPad, and it would be a welcome addition to the Mac. Imagine sitting down in front of your laptop and it automatically unlocks without you having to do anything — that is what Face ID could offer, and we know Apple is at least considering it.

However, the industry has been noticeably quiet on this of late, and neither Kuo nor Gurman mention it in their latest reports, so we think it is sadly unlikely to be a feature in the 2021 MacBook Pro models. Whether that is due to delays caused by COVID-19 or Apple’s unwillingness to add it to the Mac, we cannot say.

Editors’




Repost: Original Source and Author Link

Categories
Computing

The Best Web Browsers for 2021

Unlike choosing MacOS, Windows, or Chrome OS, where choices are mutually exclusive, switching between web browsers isn’t quite so jarring. You can download and install any browser you choose, but which is best? Which is the safest and most private?

To help you decide, we grabbed the latest browsers and boiled them down. Even if some of them could use a complete overhaul, these options are your best chance for a great online experience.

The best web browsers at a glance

The best web browser: Google Chrome

Chrome is ubiquitous — and for good reason. With a robust feature set, full Google Account integration, a thriving extension ecosystem, and a reliable suite of mobile apps, it’s easy to see why Chrome is the gold standard for web browsers.

Chrome boasts some of the best mobile integration available. Served up on every major platform, keeping data in sync is easy, making browsing between multiple devices a breeze. Sign in to your Google account on one device, and all Chrome bookmarks, saved data, and preferences come right along. Even active extensions stay in sync across devices.

To celebrate the browser’s 10th birthday, Google introduced a significant visual redesign and some nice new features with Chrome 69 in 2018. Google rounded and smoothed out the user interface, ditching all the previous sharper edges and harsh angles for a gentler and more attractive aesthetic. Tabs are easier to identify thanks to more visible favicons, making it perfect for anyone who typically keeps numerous tabs open.

In addition, Chrome’s password manager now automatically generates and recommends strong passwords when a user creates a new account on a webpage. The search bar, or Omnibox, provides “rich results” comprised of useful answers. Favorites are more accessible too, and they’re manageable on the New Tab page.

Other more recent updates include a Dark Mode for Windows and MacOS, better New Tab customization, tab hover cards, and an in-browser warning if your password was discovered in a data breach. There’s also the ability to quiet notifications so websites don’t bombard you with requests to enable in-browser notifications.

What’s the bottom line? Chrome is fast, free, light, and even better-looking than before. With a thriving extension ecosystem, it’s as fully featured or as pared down as you want it to be. Everything is right where it belongs, privacy and security controls are laid out in plain English, and the browser just gets out of your way.

If you’re not sure which browser to use, install Chrome now.

The best Chrome alternative: Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox comes in a close second — a very close second. Mozilla takes real strides to make its browser a truly modern way to surf from site to site, thanks to efforts like its upgrade to Firefox Quantum, its virtual reality-based alternative Firefox Reality, and password-free browsing.

It wasn’t too long ago that Mozilla rebuilt the browser’s interface, offering a cleaner, more modern take on what a web browser should be. The changes weren’t just skin deep, however: There’s some impressive engineering going on behind the scenes.

For instance, Firefox Quantum is designed to leverage multicore processors in ways that its competitors just aren’t doing. It’s not going to make a huge difference in your day-to-day browsing, but Mozilla hopes this design will give Firefox Quantum an edge moving forward. By engineering for the future now, Firefox Quantum is in a better position to take advantage of quicker and quicker processors as they emerge.

More recent updates include better privacy protections with anti-tracker support, improved password syncing across devices, improved readability, integrated breach alerts, and a Protections Dashboard that provides a summary of how Firefox protects your privacy behind the scenes. WebRender improves the graphics performance on Windows PCs with Intel and AMD CPUs.

Beneath those changes, Firefox remains the comfortable, familiar standby. It’s a capable browser with a deep catalog of extensions and user interface customization. While managing settings across platforms isn’t as seamless as Chrome, the mobile app lets you share bookmarks between devices when using a free Firefox account.

There’s a bit of a fringe benefit, too. Since it’s been around longer than Chrome, some older web apps — the likes of which you might encounter at your university or workplace — work better on Firefox than they do on Chrome. For that reason, it never hurts to keep it around.

Overall, Firefox is more privacy-centric than Chrome and is comparably fast, but its feature set isn’t quite as expansive elsewhere.

The most innovative web browser: Opera

Opera Browser

Also a venerable browser and popular alternative, Opera shares much of Chrome’s DNA. Both browsers are built on Google’s open-source Chromium engine, and, as a result, they have a very similar user experience. Both feature a hybrid URL/search bar, and both are relatively light and fast.

The differences appear when you look at Opera’s built-in features. Where Chrome relies on an extension ecosystem to provide functionality users might want, Opera has a few more features baked right into the browser itself. It also introduced a predictive website preload ability, and an Instant Search feature isolates search results in their separate window while the current page fades into the background — letting users more easily focus on the research task at hand.

You can install extensions from the Opera Add-ons store, just like Chrome. Similar to Google’s browser, you’ll find useful tools like Giphy, Amazon Assistant, Avast Online Security, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and more. If Chrome’s wide variety of extensions is important to you, then Opera becomes an intriguing alternative. It might just be one of the best browsers for quickly navigating web pages.

Opera also features a built-in “Stash” for saving pages to read later. There’s no need to sign up for a Pocket or Evernote account to save a page for later reading. Similarly, Opera features a speed dial menu that puts all your most frequently visited pages in one place. Chrome also does this but only on a blank new tab. Finally, Opera has a built-in unlimited VPN service, making it a more secure option.

The biggest changes came with Opera 60 and Reborn 3, a complete revamp of the browser’s design that brought a new borderless design, Web 3 support, and a Crypto Wallet allowing users to prepare for blockchain-based sites. With version 69, Opera became the first browser with a built-in Twitter tool. Just click the icon on the toolbar, log in to your account, and tweet away right from within the slide-out menu.

You can see that we’re well into hair-splitting territory, which is why it’s important to remember that your choice of browser is, more than any other service or app you use each day, entirely dependent on your personal preferences — what feels most right for you. Opera has a unique look and feel, and it combines some of the best features of Firefox and Chrome.

The web browser with the most potential: Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge Chromium

Microsoft developed an integrated browser for Windows 10, dubbed Edge, that used an in-house browsing engine and updated along with the operating system. This project was arguably a failure, as Edge remained unable to gain a substantial market share despite serving as the default browser.

In response, Microsoft rewrote Edge using the open-source Chromium web browser engine. The new version launched on February 5, 2020, as a separate, stand-alone browser that replaced the integrated version. It’s now part of Windows 10 as of the May 2020 Update, although you can still download it for Windows 10 builds prior to version 2004.

At first glance, Microsoft Edge looks and feels like Chrome. It prompts you to import Chrome’s bookmarks toolbar and other settings. This is great if you previously hated Edge and want to give Microsoft’s browser another shot. Even more, it supports Chrome extensions, though the browser leads you to the Microsoft Store for add-ons. You must manually load the Chrome Web Store to install anything not listed in Microsoft’s repository.

However, it’s not Chrome with a Windows 10 theme. Leaked slides from a now-suspended Twitter account revealed that Microsoft disabled many features, including Google’s Safe Browsing API, ad blocking, speech input, Google-centric services, and more. But the big news here is performance. Microsoft optimized the Chromium-based Edge for Windows 10, reducing the amount of RAM used, which should be good news for PCs with minimal installed memory.

Microsoft Edge provides simpler privacy settings, too. In Chrome, you merely have separate panels for safe browsing, “do not track” requests, and more. Microsoft Edge provides a more graphically friendly interface, displaying three security levels: Basic, Balanced, and Strict. With Balanced set as the default, many sites request you to disable your pop-up blocker even though one isn’t manually installed.

At this point, the new Microsoft Edge shows promise. Even still, it’s also available on MacOS and iOS, giving Mac owners another alternative to Safari. It’s available on Android, too.

Alternative browsers

While the preceding browsers will meet most users’ needs, other alternatives exist for anyone looking for something different.

Apple Safari

If you use Apple devices exclusively, Safari is already your default choice. It might not be the fastest browser available — Chrome is significantly quicker — but it’s fast enough that your browser won’t feel sluggish. It’s integrated into iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS, meaning you feel more at home, and you’ll likely get better battery life thanks to Apple’s in-house optimizations and the underlying hardware.

Safari also focuses a great deal on privacy and security. If you want to minimize how you’re tracked and whether Big Brother is looking over your shoulder, then Safari is a good choice. If you also use an iPhone and/or an iPad, then using Safari on your Mac will make for the most seamless transition between platforms. Open websites on an iPad or iPhone, and they are carried over to MacOS.

Safari is not offered outside the Apple ecosystem.

Vivaldi

Vivaldi is truly unique. No two Vivaldi users will have the same setup. When you run it for the first time, you’re guided through a setup process that lays out your browser in a way that makes sense for you. You choose where your tabs and address bar go and whether you want browser tabs displayed at the top of the page or in a separate side panel. This is a browser built from the ground up to deliver a unique user experience, and for the most part, it succeeds. Vivaldi 2.0 enhanced the customization features and made them easier to access.

This browser excels at customization, and you can choose from a variety of tasteful themes that don’t feel dated or out of place on a modern PC, in addition to the aforementioned UI choices. It also has some standout privacy-enhancing features, like its team-up with DuckDuckGo to make the non-tracking search tool the default option when in privacy mode.

Finally, recent updates added more powerful tab management, enhancements like Web Panels that make for smarter browsing, and (as mentioned) even more powerful customization options. Other new updates include a built-in ad blocker, a built-in tracker blocker, a clock in the Status Bar, a new Notes Manager, and a Break Mode for pausing the internet while keeping the browser open.

Brave

One of the most unusual browsers around is Brave — or, perhaps, its Brave’s business model that’s the strangest. Brave blocks all ads on all web pages by default, which makes it arguably the fastest browser around. Ads are a huge portion of how many websites make money — block these ads, and suddenly the most important web financial tool is eliminated.

That’s where the Brave Rewards program comes in. Users receive Basic Attention Tokens (BATs) when they view alternative ads that Brave places in the browsing stream. Users can pass along a portion of their tokens to publishers. As of January 2021, there were 69,797 websites that supported BAT-based transactions through the Brave browser, including Wikipedia, The Guardian, WikiHow, MacRumors, and more.

What’s in it for users? Simply put, if you’re not waiting for ads to download along with website content, then your web experience will feel much faster. Brave performs no user tracking, making it a private browser as well.

Tor

The Tor Browser is a version of Firefox that serves one very specific purpose: A simple entry point for The Onion Router, or TOR.

Tor is software combined with an open network aimed at making you invisible by routing your traffic through several anonymous servers. While it’s not foolproof, it’s very difficult for someone to identify you when you’re properly configured and using something like the Tor Browser to surf the web — especially if combined with a VPN.

There are many legitimate uses of the Tor Browser and the Tor network, such as people who live in countries with repressive governments, as well as journalists and activists. The dark web is also one of the destinations for people using Tor, which includes many nefarious and illegal sites.

In any event, if you want to remain completely anonymous while surfing the web, the Tor Browser and network are for you. If you want a more mainstream alternative, Opera includes a VPN component, but it’s far less private.

Benchmark tests

Notice we don’t include Internet Explorer and Safari in our main comparison.

Microsoft’s aging Internet Explorer browser received some improvements over the years, but it’s no longer the default browser on Windows 10. It doesn’t offer much beyond the bare minimum, either. It only exists today because some companies still need it for legacy applications.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Safari web browser is still used by Apple device owners. However, it’s not available on Windows, Android, or Chrome OS, so we removed it from our primary list.

Most browsers are compatible with web standards and handle performance with relative ease. A casual user probably won’t notice a difference in the rendering speed between today’s modern browsers, as all six are much faster and leaner than those of a few years ago.

We ran the following benchmarks on a desktop with an Intel Core i7-6820HK processor, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe solid-state drive, and Windows 10. All browsers were clean installs of the most current production versions as of September 2020, and all were run at their default settings.

First, JetStream is a JavaScript and WebAssembly benchmark. It tests how quickly a web browser can start, execute code, and how smoothly it runs.

Firefox 80 Edge 85 Opera 70 Chrome 85
Score: 75.311 87.487 90.689 95.585

Notice how all three Chromium-based browsers outperform Firefox. Mozilla’s browser had issues with this test, throwing up a pop-up stating that it was causing the page to run slowly. And while this version of Microsoft Edge isn’t exactly new, Microsoft may need more time to meet Chrome’s performance.

The next test we ran was Speedometer. It measures how responsive a browser is to web applications by repeatedly adding a large number of items to a to-do list.

Firefox 80 Opera 70 Edge 85 Chrome 85
Score: 65.05 77.7 86.6 87.8

Here, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome went nearly neck to neck, while Firefox fell in last place. Overall, Chrome is the fastest browser of the four after averaging the two test scores together.

Finally, we tested how much RAM each browser uses, both with no tabs open and then with 10 tabs open accessing the same popular sites. We made sure that each browser had no extensions running, and we let each browser settle in before looking at its memory use. For the test with 10 tabs open, we averaged memory use when all of the tabs were first opened and then five minutes later to account for any variability.

It’s not a scientific test, but it should be sound enough to give you an idea of which browsers are the most and least efficient in terms of taking up your RAM. We found Opera to use the least amount of RAM when first opened, while Firefox used the least with all 10 tabs loaded. Chrome was much less efficient with multiple tabs opened, while Microsoft Edge was a solid performer in both instances.

Security and privacy

The most valuable tool for secure browsing is user discretion, especially when you consider that every web browser has encountered security breaches in the past. In particular, Internet Explorer and Chrome’s reputation for protecting users’ security and privacy credentials is spotty at best.

Chrome, Safari, Vivaldi, Opera, and Firefox all rely on Google’s Safe Browsing API to detect potentially dangerous sites. Thanks to constant updates, Mozilla, Chrome, and Opera all make constant security improvements. Microsoft disabled this API in Edge.

All browsers offer a private session option, too. Private sessions prevent the storage of history, temporary internet files, and cookies. Browser support for Do Not Track remains spotty.

Mozilla made some strides in differentiating itself from the others with a real focus on privacy in recent years. It even debuted a Facebook Container in 2018 to make it harder for the social network to harvest user information.

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Categories
Computing

The Best Microsoft Surface Pro Deals for January 2021

Microsoft built the most famous computer operating system in the world (that’d be Windows), but as a software company, it was slow to build physical PC hardware — its successful Xbox gaming consoles notwithstanding. When Microsoft finally launched its unique Surface line of tablet/laptop hybrids about a decade ago, however, it was a pleasant surprise, and these devices now rank highly among our own favorites.

In fact, the Surface Pro 7 paired with a Type Cover keyboard is perhaps the best 2-in-1 laptop money can buy, and if you’re looking for a Windows tablet (meaning these iPad deals probably don’t appeal to you), then the Surface Pro line is worth a long look. To help you find the right one at a discount, we’ve rounded up all the best Microsoft Surface Pro deals and bundles right here:

Today’s Best Microsoft Surface Deals

  • Surface Pro 7 (Core i3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) + Type Cover Keyboard
    $599, was $959
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 12.4″ Touchscreen (Core i5 – 8GB RAM – 128GB SSD)
    $650, was $700
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
    $700, was $899
  • Microsoft Surface Pro X (Microsoft SQ1 CPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB) Wi-Fi + 4G LTE
    $1,099, was $1,299
  • Surface Laptop 3 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB) + Microsoft 365/Creator Pack Platinum
    $1,299, was $1,599
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Touchscreen (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD)
    $1,380, was $2,199
  • Microsoft Surface Book 2 15″ 2-in-1 (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, GTX 1060 GPU)
    $1,600, was $28,499

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

We chose the sixth-gen Microsoft Surface Pro as the best 2-in-1 that money can buy when it rolled out in 2019, and although the newer Pro 7 and Pro X are a bit more fresh, the Surface Pro 6 is still a fantastic device in 2020. In fact, in the wake of the Pro 7 and Pro X releases, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is an incredible value now and could be considered the best 2-in-1 if your main priority is price-versus-performance.

Given that it’s around two years old, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is hardly what anyone would call dated: It packs eighth-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, 8 or 16GB of RAM, and 128GB to 1TB of solid-state storage. The 12.3-inch PixelSense touchscreens are absolutely superb, and for a tablet-like 2-in-1, the Surface Pro 6 boasts excellent build quality for everyday use without worry. And, like other Surface Pro devices, you can easily pair it with a Type Cover keyboard to transform your Surface into a super-slim featherweight laptop.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

This fall we saw the release of the updated seventh iteration of the Microsoft Surface Pro along with the innovative Surface Pro X. For this refresh, Microsoft continued its conservative approach and decided not to tinker too much with a winning formula. It was a good strategy: The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 has everything we love about the Pro 6 with some subtle improvements like a ninth-gen Ice Lake Intel Core CPU and the welcome addition of a high-speed USB-C port.

Along with those relatively minor (but very nice) upgrades, the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 still boasts that beautiful 3:2 PixelSense touchscreen and great build quality, and it also works beautifully with a Type Cover keyboard for pulling double duty as a 2-in-1 ultrabook laptop. One of our few gripes is that it still doesn’t come bundled with that keyboard cover, but Surface Pro deals and ongoing sales should help to alleviate that.

Microsoft Surface Pro X

Microsoft revealed two new Surface devices last year, launching the all-new Surface Pro X alongside the Surface Pro 7 refresh in late October and early November. The Pro 7 was just a small update of the mainline Surface Pro series, but the Microsoft Surface Pro X delivered the long-needed facelift that we’ve been waiting for: Most notably, Microsoft finally cut down those chunky bezels surrounding the display, which was one of our few persistent complaints with the regular Surface Pro models (including the newest Pro 7).

It’s not quite as fast as the Surface Pro 7 in terms of specs, but the main trade-off here is that the Microsoft Surface Pro X is thinner and lighter. In fact, it’s the slimmest Surface yet at just 0.2 inches, and those leaner bezels allow for more screen real estate with a larger 13-inch 1920p PixelSense touchscreen (for an extra 0.7 inches). The Surface Pro X is the complete package, but it’s also the most expensive new member of the Surface family, so savvy shoppers would be wise to hunt around for the numerous deals during seasonal sale events.

Microsoft Surface Pro (5th Generation)

Microsoft Surface Pro 5 2017

This Surface Pro represents the fifth generation of Microsoft’s 2-in-1 and the oldest one that you can still easily find new, although it doesn’t officially bear a numbered “Surface Pro 5” moniker. Our review team stated that the fifth-gen Microsoft Surface Pro was the best 2-in-1 available at the time of its release in 2017 (it has since been succeeded by the newer models, naturally), but if you want what might be the cheapest Surface Pro you can buy new in 2020, it’s a great high-value pick.

Like the newer Pro devices, the 2017 Microsoft Surface Pro comes with a fantastic 12.3-inch touchscreen display, sturdy construction quality, and generous all-day battery life. It also syncs wonderfully with the Type Cover keyboard, although you’re still going to have to buy that add-on separately. The Surface Pro 6 may still be our top pick for someone looking for an older model, but deals on “new old stock” units make the fifth-generation Surface Pro worth it for shoppers on a tighter budget.

Microsoft Surface Go

Microsoft Surface Go Review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

If we’ve whetted your appetite for these 2-in-1s but, for various reasons, you don’t want to dump a huge wad of cash for one of the Surface Pro models, then the Microsoft Surface Go is definitely worth a look. The 10-inch Surface Go is a more budget-minded alternative to the high-end Surface Pro lineup, packing a smaller display, simpler hardware, and Windows 10S (a pared-down version of the Windows 10 OS). We’re not going to claim it’s the best Surface that money can buy — it’s not — but for around 400 bucks, it’s very, very hard to look this cheap gift horse in the mouth.

The Surface Go is a great option for anyone looking for something a bit smaller than a Surface Pro or for shoppers who want something affordable (be it as a secondary 2-in-1 for travel or a device for basic web browsing and streaming), and the above Microsoft Surface deals make it even sweeter. Microsoft recently released the second-gen Surface Go, and while our review team felt that it’s a bit too pricey at the moment, it’s another option to consider if you want some hardware upgrades and can find a good deal.

Looking for more great stuff? Find tech deals, fall sales, and much more on our curated deals page.

We strive to help our readers find the best deals on quality products and services, and we choose what we cover carefully and independently. The prices, details, and availability of the products and deals in this post may be subject to change at anytime. Be sure to check that they are still in effect before making a purchase.

Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.

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Categories
AI

US announces $1 billion research push for AI and quantum computing

The US government is announcing $1 billion in new funding for multidisciplinary AI and quantum computing research hubs today, according to multiple reports. A total of 12 hubs will be funded, each embedded within different agencies of the federal government. Their work will span a diverse range of topics, from using machine learning for atmospheric and ocean science, to speeding up high-energy physics simulations with quantum systems.

The investment is part of a slow push from the White House to fund emerging technologies. Many policy advisors have worried that America is falling behind in AI and quantum research compared to rivals like China, and warn that these technologies are instrumental not only for economic development but also national security.

It’s extremely difficult to make a fair comparison of US and Chinese spend on technology like AI as funding and research in this area is diffuse. Although China announced ambitious plans to become the world leader in AI by 2030, America still outspends the country in military funding (which increasingly includes AI research), while US tech companies like Google and Microsoft remain world leaders in artificial intelligence.

The Trump administration will likely present today’s news as a counterbalance to its dismal reputation for supporting scientific research. For four years in a row, government budgets have proposed broad cuts for federal research, including work in pressing subjects like climate change. Only the fields of artificial intelligence and quantum computing, with their overt links to military prowess and global geopolitics, have seen increased investment.

“It is absolutely imperative the United States continues to lead the world in AI and quantum,” said US Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios ahead of today’s announcement, according to The Wall Street Journal. “The future of American economic prosperity and national security will be shaped by how we invest, research, develop and deploy these cutting edge technologies today.”

Some $625 million of today’s funding will go to research involving quantum information sciences in five centers linked to the Department of Energy (DOE). A further $140 million will be invested in seven AI initiatives, two overseen by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and five by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Private tech companies, including IBM and Microsoft, are contributing $300 million in the form of “technology-services donations,” reports the WSJ, likely meaning access to cloud computing resources.

You can read a full list of the projects being funded in this report from VentureBeat.

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Categories
Security

Some T-Mobile customers’ call records may have been accessed in a recent breach

T-Mobile suffered a security breach in December that may have exposed call-related information and phone numbers for some of its customers. First reported by Bleeping Computer, the information affected by the breach did not include names on customers’ accounts, physical or email addresses, financial data, credit card information, Social Security numbers, tax IDs, passwords, or PINs, the company said.

T-Mobile said in a statement emailed to The Verge that it had notified “less than 0.2 percent” of its customers— which works out to about 200,000 people— that some account information may have been illegally accessed. That information “may have included phone numbers, number of lines subscribed to and in a small number of cases some call-related information collected as part of normal operation and service.” T-Mobile says it “identified this attack in early December and quickly shut down the incident.” Affected customers were notified via text message.

In a notice on its website, T-Mobile said its security team “shut down malicious, unauthorized access,” and it began an investigation to determine what information was involved. The company reported the situation to federal law enforcement.

T-Mobile has been victim to several data breaches in recent years; in 2018, hackers accessed personal information for roughly 2 million customers that included names, addresses, and account numbers. In 2019, some of the company’s prepaid customers were affected by a breach that accessed names, addresses, and account numbers. And in March 2020, a breach exposed some T-Mobile customers’ financial information, Social Security numbers, and other account information.

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Categories
Game

‘Resident Evil Village’ hits Xbox One, Series S/X, PS4, PS5 and PC May 7th

Pre-orders are open now, and there is a deluxe and collector’s edition up for grabs. There’s also a “visual demo” called Maiden available today, but it’s exclusive to PS5. It’ll come to additional platforms in the spring, Capcom said.

Capcom showed off new gameplay footage for Village during today’s stream, including combat, an inventory system reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, and the introduction of The Duke, the game’s obese merchant. Village stars Resident Evil 7: Biohazard protagonist Ethan Winters as he hunts for his daughter in a gothic castle filled with puzzles, murderous undead creatures, and overbearing, finely dressed Edwardian women who sometimes turn into swarms of bugs.

Capcom also lifted the lid on Re:Verse, an online multiplayer game that pits classic Resident Evil characters against one another in five-minute rounds of four to six players. Re:Verse will be free for anyone who owns Village.



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Tech News

Apple to make a plain old VR headset before its fancy AR glasses

For years, we’ve been hearing rumors Apple is working on some kind of fanciful AR glasses — the futuristic kind that might look like regular old lenses. And while those are apparently still on the way, the company is reportedly settling for a more boring “mostly virtual reality” device to start, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Apple is planning to launch the headset, codenamed N301, as soon as 2022. It’s expected to compete against existing products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, although it’s expected to be much more expensive. It’s described as an immersive, multipurpose device for gaming, videos, and communication.

There will be some AR functionality, allowing you to overlay images over the real world, but the report says this aspect will be “limited.”

Current prototypes of the device are about the size of the Oculus Quest, and Apple has reportedly created a system that allows you to use prescription lenses in the headset rather than trying to wear it over your glasses. In terms of performance, prototypes have included a processor that outperforms the new M1 chip.

As noted by Bloomberg, the company normally likes to enter a new category by taking trending technology and simplifying it for the mainstream, but this time, “Apple isn’t looking to create an iPhone-like hit for its first headset.” The VR headset instead appears to be a taste of things to come — a niche product for early adopters and developers.

Granted, that’s actually not all that different from what Apple has done in practice. Products like the iPhone and MacBook Air may be revolutionary in retrospect, but it’s debatable whether the first generation products really justified those revolutions on their own.

After early adopters picked up first-gen products, it was subsequent hardware iterations that really refined the products into the game-changers they were. It seems Apple may be banking on that history to try and get its AR glasses right.

The glasses, reportedly codenamed N421, are still “several years away,” although the company originally aimed for a 2023 announcement. That said, I wouldn’t get my hopes too high for the VR headset in the meantime; the report claims there’s still a chance Apple could scrap the project altogether.

Did you know we have a newsletter all about consumer tech? It’s called Plugged In –
and you can subscribe to it right here.

Published January 22, 2021 — 05:31 UTC

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Categories
Tech News

An Indian city plans to use facial recognition to spot women in distress — what could go wrong?

It’s now fairly common for cities to install surveillance cameras with facial recognition capabilities to help catch criminals  — Beijing and Moscow use them extensively. However, a city in northern India is taking a different approach: it wants to detect distress on women’s faces, so it can assist them when they’re attacked or threatened.

Cops in Lucknow, the capital city in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), aim to install an AI-based camera system on 200 crime hotspots that will alert the police force’s control room if the system detects distress on the women’s face.

Not only is the premise of this solution deeply problematic, but there are also numerous concerns and reasons why this is basically the worst crime-fighting idea ever. Let’s get into it.

The state has a history of a high crime rate, with 162 cases registered for offenses against women every day in 2018 — and that’s just officially recorded data. A report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) published last year suggested that more than 3,000 rape cases were filed in UP in 2019. So, it’s not entirely surprising that cops want a system to bring these numbers down.

However, facial recognition systems haven’t really been the best way to stop crime. In the US last year, a Black man was wrongfully arrested for shoplifting, after being misidentified by a facial recognition system.  In 2019, Delhi police, which serves India’s capital city said that the success rate of the system was under 1% — the system sometimes misidentified gender as well.

Then there’s an issue of detecting emotions. Data suggests that AI systems have hugely inconsistent track records when it comes to identifying the emotions behind a facial expression. Plus, most algorithms concentrate on a limited range of emotions. Last year, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Middle East Technical University found that AI systems detecting emotions might have inherited bias towards minorities because of its training data.

Even if a system successfully detects someone’s facial expression, it might get the emotion behind it horribly wrong. Rana El Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, an AI company working on human emotion and cognition, said in a conversation with MIT that “there is no one-to-one mapping between a facial expression and an emotion.”

Currently, without any test data, Lucknow’s facial recognition system looks like a bad idea. Plus, there’s no information as to how cops are planning to store and process this data. It will also cause an invasion of women’s privacy in the city, and potentially lead to wrongful charges and investigations. It’s time to shelve this idea.

Published January 22, 2021 — 07:00 UTC

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Categories
Tech News

My team tried blocking Slack to focus — it worked

It’s time to write. I make some coffee, open a blank document, then decide to quickly check Slack before I get started.

Two hours later, I’ve written nothing.

Team chat apps are essential for online collaboration, but their very existence makes it hard to focus on longer-term projects. There’s always something I could be responding to on Slack, and responding to those things usually feels productive—and sometimes it is. But that time adds up, and I’m perpetually putting off bigger projects because of it.

I know I could solve this problem by simply closing Slack, or turning off notifications, but that’s not enough for me. Just the idea that I could open Slack distracts me, and the app is always just a click away. Which is why I decided to do an experiment: block Slack entirely for a couple of hours every work day, using software that makes it impossible for me to open the app even if I want to. And I invited my coworkers to do the same.

For when you’re not blocking Slack, you can still cut down on the time spent in the app by automating some of your Slack workflows. Here are the best automations for Slack users.

Slack is fuzzy — and that’s the problem

“My first thought on seeing this experiment was ‘who even am I without Slack?’” said Katie Redderson-Lear, Escalations Customer Champion at Zapier. “So I feel like that’s a sign that I should try this.”

Apps like Slack are essential for remote teams—they really are the virtual office. But Slack is addictive in precisely the way other messaging apps are: notifications, red dots, and other features capture my attention and ensure that I spend more time in the app.

So it makes sense that Slack is the app I spent the most time in this month, according to the time tracking app on my laptop. Google Chrome, a browser I use only for work, is a close second—mostly for research but also for writing and editing in Google Docs. Ulysses, the app I do first drafts in, comes third—and I spend half as much time using that app as I do using Slack.

Not all of my Slack time is unproductive. Digging down, I’d say that easily half of my Slack time is directly work-related, and another quarter tangentially so.

But that leaves a quarter of my Slack time just…chatting. At least 10 hours a month, probably. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily—small talk at work is healthy, and it’s particularly important in the era of social distancing when I’m more starved than ever for social interaction. But right now, the balance is off. I also know that the existence of Slack makes it hard for me to focus on writing.

[Read: How Netflix shapes mainstream culture, explained by data]

This isn’t about whether Slack is good or bad for productivity—ultimately, Slack is just a tool. This is about examining how we use a particular tool, then making adjustments so that it works better for us. It turns out that, to use Slack well, I need to block it when it’s time to focus. If you feel the same way, here’s how.

How to block Slack

There are plenty of apps to help you focus and block distractions. For this experiment, we used the Mac app SelfControl because it’s free and nearly impossible to undo.

Self Control

These apps all work the similarly: you add a list of domains to block, set a timer, and then have no choice but to wait out the clock. To block Slack, you need to block “slack.com” and your particular Slack subdomain (for example, “zapier.slack.com”). Make sure you also close Slack—in some cases notifications still come in, meaning you’ll see incoming messages but won’t be able to respond. That’s basically torture—and the opposite of the point.

My usual routine is to block out two or three hours on my calendar. I ensure that all research is done ahead of time, particularly anything that I need to ask coworkers about. Then, when my focus block comes up, I close Slack and block it using Self Control. I usually also block Twitter, too, just for good measure—add any apps that you tend to lose time to.

The nice thing about Self Control is that it’s impossible to undo: short of reinstalling your OS, you aren’t going to access Slack on your computer after you click the Start button—at least, not until the timer runs out.

Setting a block list in Self Control

The specifics are going to vary depending on what software you use, but here are some tips we learned that are useful for every platform.

  • Do your research ahead of time. You don’t want to run into a situation where there’s some question you don’t have the answer for because you won’t be able to ask your coworkers. For me, this meant outlining an entire article, with quotes and research, ahead of time.

  • Block out time on your calendar. It’s easy to keep Slack open just because, so be intentional. Schedule unplugged time—block it out on your calendar if you have to. Set an intention and stick to it.

  • Record questions you want to ask later, so you don’t need to ask questions on Slack mid-process. If you do have questions, put them in a document to ask later.

  • Set a status on Slack letting your coworkers know you’re going to be offline. I have an automation set up that puts “writing” as my status when I block out writing time using Google Calendar.

  • Put your phone in a different room. Consider also turning off all notifications. If you hear Slack messages coming in, you’re going to wonder what’s going on, and that alone will be distracting. You might even get up and check Slack on your phone. Remove that temptation entirely.

The surprising freedom of not being able to chat

A few of my coworkers blocked Slack with me. How was it? In a word, liberating.

“I disabled Slack for an hour today, and it was very freeing,” said Eileen Ruberto, Senior UX Researcher at Zapier.

Deb Tennen, my editor, agreed.

“I got more done in 11 minutes than I get done in an hour with Slack open,” Deb said. “Knowing that I literally couldn’t check Slack, even if I wanted to, helped get me into focus mode. There are plenty of times I don’t check Slack for an hour, but even knowing it’s there distracts me and brings me out of my zone.”

I relate to this a lot. Sometimes I’ll get stuck while writing and open Slack, more out of reflex than anything else. When Slack is blocked, I can’t do that, so I don’t even try opening it. Just knowing that I can’t access Slack makes it easier to focus. That, in turn, can lead to a kind of momentum after the clock expires.

“I ended up working with Slack closed for an additional two hours, without the block, because I was in the zone,” said Eileen.

I feel the same way. I just got through a two-hour blocked session, but am now wrapping up this article instead of checking what I missed.

It wasn’t all upsides, though. The main problem we ran into was predictable: sometimes you don’t know something, and need to ask a coworker for help. The solution was simple enough.

“I was afraid that I’d need to look something up in Slack,” Eileen said. “There were a couple of things I absentmindedly tried to check Slack for, but then I just jotted them down to handle them later.”

Another problem was the all-too-human capacity to find new distractions.

“At first I thought Slack was still working, even though it wasn’t, so I wasted at least 10 minutes poking around to see if I could still get into it,” Katie said. She continued:

I was trying to finish my Friday update and go through some feedback on a doc to make updates. I finished the update, but learned I’m very good at finding other distractions—apparently Slack is not my only problem, I’ve now also blocked Twitter and Google Calendar (maybe I am the real problem, honestly.)

We are all our own biggest problems. Blocking Slack doesn’t solve the problem of feeling distracted—no software tool can do that. But doing something like blocking Slack, or any other tool that ends up being distracting, can help build the habit of deep work. Blocking is just a tool you can use in order to build the habit.

This didn’t fix everything about my habits, but it did give me enough momentum to finish this article. It can probably help you too. Give it a try, and let us know if it works.



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