Category Archives: Gadget News, Reviews, And Features

New UE Blast and Megablast speakers jump on Alexa train

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The speakers ship in late October.

John Falcone/CNET

Ultimate Ears has gone from boom to blast.

Its new Blast and Megablast portable speakers are shaped like its earlier Boom 2 and Megaboom Bluetooth speakers but the new models add Wi-Fi connectivity and Amazon Alexa voice control. They respectively cost $230 (£200) and $300 (£270) and you can also purchase an optional Power Up charging base for an additional $40 (£35). There’s no word yet on Australian pricing or availability.

As with Amazon’s Echo devices, to use Alexa you have to be connected to Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot. You get access to the more than 25,000 skills available for Alexa, including the ability to control smart home products.

That said, only Amazon Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn music services will be Alexa-enabled at launch. UE expects to add voice control for Pandora and Deezer in the future, but there’s no word yet on when the speakers will get voice control support for Spotify. However, you can stream any music service via Bluetooth.

The Blast is very similar to the Boom 2 but UE says the Megablast has been completely redesigned from the “ground up” and is equipped with new drivers that deliver enhanced sound with a top volume that’s 40 percent louder than the Megaboom’s. Both new speakers are fully waterproof with a range of 330 feet (100 meters) on Wi-Fi and 150 feet (45 meters) on Bluetooth.

Battery life for the Blast is up to 12 hours, and 16 hours for the Megablast. There’s also a new Ultimate Ears app, which will allow you to update the speakers with new features over time.

It’s worth mentioning that the earlier Boom 2 and Megaboom will remain in the line, but will only be compatible with the old UE app. That means you won’t be able to link older UE speakers with the new Blast and Megablast. UE also notes that at launch you’ll only be able to play music through one Blast or Megablast at a time; you can’t link them.

The speakers are set to ship at the end of October in six colors, though some colors will be limited to certain regions: The US will get Graphite (Black), Blizzard (White), Blue Steel and Merlot (Red), but Mojito (Green) and Lemonade (Yellow) will only be available in the UK. UE will also sell speakers bundled with the Power Up charging base for a small discount. 

While the Blast and Megablast join an increasingly crowded Alexa smart speaker market, the fact that they’re battery-powered and water-resistant set them apart from AC-powered, indoor-only competitors like the new Sonos One, second-gen Echo and Echo Plus.

We’ll have full reviews in the coming weeks. 

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These colors will only be available in the UK.

Nic Henry/CNET

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Pixel 2 XL: What’s up with that screen?


The Pixel 2 vs. the Pixel 2 XL. The smaller phone uses a 5-inch Samsung AMOLED screen, while the larger has a 6-inch LG P-OLED one.

James Martin/CNET

You might have heard: The Google Pixel 2 XL has a less-than-perfect screen.

Depending on whom you ask — see: Reddit, XDA Developers — the phone’s LG-made P-OLED screen has muted colors, a bluish tint or a blotchy, grainy texture that’s visible when you scroll down webpages.

The short answer: It’s basically all true.

But after a close comparison of five different phones here in the CNET offices — two Pixel 2 XL, two LG V30 and a Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus for comparison — it’s more of a nuanced issue, and less of an open and shut case.

Screen nerds may want to steer clear of the Pixel 2 XL for now, but we don’t believe any of the issues we’re seeing are deal breakers for ordinary users.

Here’s how things shake out.

1. Muted colors

There’s no question that the colors on the Pixel 2 XL’s 6-inch, 2,880×1,440-pixel P-OLED screen aren’t quite as vibrant as those on the flagship Samsung phone we used for comparison. We created pure red, green and blue RGB images in Photoshop at each phone’s native resolution for an apples to apples test, and the Pixel 2 XL’s colors were consistently muted by comparison. It didn’t matter whether we turned on the phone’s “Vivid” mode, or reduced the Samsung phone’s brightness to better match — the Samsung’s colors always popped in a way the Google’s screen didn’t.

But would you notice in everyday use? We’re tempted to argue you wouldn’t. When we watched movie trailers and CNET videos instead of peeping pixels, we had a tough time noticing a difference in color. (Maybe the skin tones were slightly better on the Samsung.)


Google’s phone is water-resistant.

James Martin/CNET

You might also argue that the muted colors are intentional, that Google calibrated its screen this way. Google certainly argued that, in a statement to CNET:

“We designed the Pixel display to have a more natural and accurate rendition of colors this year but we know some people prefer more vivid colors so we’ve added an option to boost colors by 10% for a more saturated display. We’re always looking at people’s responses to Pixel and we will look at adding more color options through a software update if we see a lot of feedback.”

But again, the “Vivid” mode didn’t make a big difference in our tests — and for whatever reason, the two LG V30 phones we tested, also with identical size and resolution P-OLED screens, didn’t have muted colors. They looked nearly as vibrant as the Samsung.

Besides, colors aren’t the only potential issue with Google’s screen.

2. Blue shift

The phone looks fine viewed head-on, pointed directly at your face. OK, maybe the colors are a touch muted. (See above.) But tilt it even a little bit, and all those colors get way cooler. Everything you see takes on a blue tint.

It’s not unusual for a screen’s colors to change at off-angles, particularly in phones with curved glass edges like these. Even our reference Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus takes on blue tint if you tilt it far enough. But the Pixel 2 XL’s blue shift is so immediate, the sweet spot so small, that you need to hold it perfectly level with your face to avoid the blue color cast.

Here’s the thing: It’s not nearly as bad on LG’s own phone, the LG V30. We pit two LG V30 phones against two Pixel 2 XL phones, and the V30s didn’t take on nearly as deep a blue tint when tilted the same degree.

3. Noisy/blotchy screen

Of the various concerns with the Pixel 2 XL’s screen, this is the tiniest by far. One of my colleagues said she couldn’t see the issue at all. But if you look very closely, particularly when scrolling down a white webpage, with the phone’s brightness turned down, maybe in a dark room, for good measure, you can see little splotchy rainbows appear on the surface of the screen, or a fine grain like the noise of a photo taken in poor light.

The theory is that these are because the individual subpixels that make up the pixels of the screen aren’t all lighting up to the same degree, and so some of those subpixels stand out. I can’t confirm that, but I definitely saw it happen on both the Pixel 2 XL and LG V30 phones.

However, once again, it wasn’t nearly as noticible an issue on our twin LG V30 units as it was on our two copies of the Pixel 2 XL. 

Which leads me to believe there’s more to the story than Google is letting on.

Eye of the beholder

The “smoking gun” for some are the noisy, blotchy patterns that are (barely) visible in the Pixel 2 XL’s screen, which directly mirror those in early “preview” samples of the LG V30 sent to journalists over six weeks ago, such as the ones highlighted by Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo.

LG V30

Early previews complained of issues with the LG V30’s screen as well.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That’s effectively what Vlad Savov at The Verge is saying: That LG’s P-OLED screen technology may be to blame. Both screens are from the same manufacturer, are the same size and resolution, and use the same underlying P-OLED screen technology, so it’s not a huge leap to make.

But when we compare the V30 and the Pixel XL, we’re seeing something different. Our final review units of the LG V30 look considerably better.

What does it mean? Well, with the caveat that perceptions are subjective, perhaps Google got a bad batch of LG screens, similar to the ones that wound up in those LG V30 “preview” units a few early reviewers got.

I’ve no proof of that — Google declined to comment and LG didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment — so take that idea with a grain of salt.

But it wouldn’t be the first time that an initial manufacturing run had some teething problems. Remember the “yellow-tinted” iPhone 4S screens in 2011?

The question is: Will the Pixel 2 XL you buy have a screen that looks more like the Pixel 2 XL units we have, or the LG V30s we have? I can’t answer that question.

You’re not missing much

Again, none of these issues are deal breakers. Many of them aren’t even noticeable unless you’re a pixel peeper, or compare the Pixel 2 XL side by side with other phones. We’re not currently planning to dock points from our Pixel 2 XL review, because the screen is still beautiful, sharp and colorful, even if it’s not the best that OLED has to offer.

Speaking of which, we didn’t spot any dead or discolored pixels in any of these phones, which was one forum concern. We tested with completely-black and completely-white images, and each phone offered the brilliant whites and inky blacks that OLED screens are known for. No issues there.

If you’re an absolute screen nerd, for whom the screen is the main reason to pick one phone over another, you might reconsider your Pixel 2 XL decision. (You might also reconsider if you’re planning to use Google’s VR headset.) 

Otherwise, we currently think the Pixel 2 XL is an excellent choice.

Just maybe buy it through Google’s Play Store, which generally has a much more liberal return policy than other retailers.

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‘Mythbusters’ reboot comes to Science Channel on November 15th

Jon Lung and Brian Louden will anchor the new series, which aims to continue the original’s mission to debunk fantastic claims and myths using actual science. The first episode will have the leads testing to see if an airbag can be lethal to front-seat passengers who put their feet on the dashboard. Of course, they’ll use a cadaver to do so. In addition, the team will test out whether a bad guy or zombie will hold still for a dramatic pause if you decapitate them with enough force like they do in the movies. A rocket-powered sword will be their instrument of truth.

Louden and Lung won a national talent search in Mythbusters: the Search, beating out 9 other teams who wanted to host the reboot. Louden has a biology degree and has trained in emergency medicine while Lung is an engineer and product designer.

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Silicon Valley unicorns are dying off, says VC Jenny Lee


Jenny Lee spoke about the fate of some companies with $1 billion valuations.

Nikki Ritcher for The Wall Street Journal

Dead unicorns.

That’s what venture capitalist Jenny Lee, managing partner of GGV Capital, thinks is in store for some of the startups that have managed to hit a $1 billion valuation — known as unicorns.

“2017 will see multiple unicorns die,” Lee said during a panel at The Wall Street Journal‘s tech conference Wednesday.

Discussion with fellow panelists Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator and Bill Maris, who leads venture capital fund Section 32, turned toward the idea of a mellowing in Silicon Valley. Altman said most companies are worth less than their valuations — although those high valuations could be worth it if another Facebook turns up. 

Already, new unicorns are becoming less frequent. Back in 2015, VC money was flowing more freely. In the third quarter of that year alone, 25 companies reached a $1 billion valuation.

Since then, caution’s been the name of the game in Silicon Valley. A year later, in October 2016, VC funding hit a two-year low.  

The one upside: Dying unicorns could show tech isn’t in a bubble, Altman said.

Lee thinks consolidation of services will be partly responsible for the disappearance of unicorns.

“The ones that can make it, I think will be magic,” she said. 

CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET’s newsstand edition.

Logging Out: Welcome to the crossroads of online life and the afterlife.

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Google reportedly put fake news ads on fact-checking sites


Google’s AdSense program put fake news on a fact-checking website.

Claudia Cruz/CNET

The fake news plague has reportedly spread to fact-checking websites.

On fact-checking pages like Snopes and Politifact, fake news ads popped up, with one claiming the First Lady Melania Trump was leaving the White House, according to a report from the New York Times.

The article redirected to a website made to look exactly like Vogue, as part of the fake news campaign. After a few paragraphs, it would drift off into a skin care cream advertising. The fake news popped up on the fact-checking websites thanks to Google’s AdWords system, which automatically places ads based on a target audience.

It’s unclear how the fake news ended up on Snopes and Politifacts. Google did not comment on how the fake news was approved for ads. 

“As always, when we find deceptive ad practices on our platforms we move swiftly to take action, including suspending the advertiser account if appropriate,” Suzanne Blackburn, a Google spokeswoman, said.

The spread of fake news has caused public scorn for companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, as tech giants fail to keep up with viral propaganda. Google has pledged to help stop the spread of fake news, but hoaxes have still found a way to slip by the search engine.

An internal Google investigation found that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads across Google’s properties, including in search results, YouTube and Gmail. For fake news peddlers, ads are a useful resource to grow their audience, gathering more eyes to pull the wool over.

Fake news on ads for Google continue to be a problem, with the company saying in January that it had removed 1.7 billion offenders in 2016. In this scenario, the fake news had been to sell products, instead of influencing any elections. 

Aaron Sharockman, PolitiFact’s executive director, said they had been aware of the fake news ads on the website for days, and believed Google Adsense was the cause.

“The revenue those advertisements provide is critical to funding a website like ours, but it’s equally important that we do everything we can to make sure the advertisements appearing on our site are not deceptive or intentionally misleading,” Sharockman said in a statement.

He said they’re working with Google to remove the advertisements. Snopes did not respond to a request for comment. 

Google started giving publishers control over ads on their sites in February, and added a feature last week specifically to filter out fake news

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WhatsApp lets users share their real-time locations

To use Live Location, start a chat with the person or group you’d like to share your location with. You’ll find the new option “Share Live Location” under “Location” when you hit the “Attach” button. You can predetermine how long you want to share your location, and then hit “Send.” If you want to stop sharing your location before the timer expires, you can choose to do so at any time. And if multiple people in your group share their locations with one another, it will all be visible on the same map.

WhatsApp has been steadily increasing in importance — its recently become a top news source in some countries and has a billion daily users. It’s nice to see that the company is focusing on that impressive user base and continuing to add new features.

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