TechSummit Rewind #004: January 4th, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the TechSummit Rewind, which can be seen every Saturday right here on Paw Print.

Vine comes to the Web

vine_web_profile

 

Twitter-owned social network Vine is now available on the web.

On the app’s website (linked above), you can view your home feed and like, comment, and share videos just as you do on the company’s mobile apps. You can also visit the Vine profiles of your favorite users to browse the videos they’ve created since joining Vine. Plus, now you can share your profile with others so they can see your posts.

Finally, the Web launch also brings an exclusive feature to Vine: TV mode — an entirely new way to watch Vine videos. Click the TV Mode button in the upper right corner of your feed or any profile to view the collection of videos in sequence and in full screen mode.

Anki Drive update offers upgrades, weapons for its robotic slot cars

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One of the most exciting aspects of Anki Drive’s robotic race cars is that much like a video game, each vehicle can be upgraded with different boost and items over time. Now, thanks to Anki’s first major software update, the cars can get more goodies than ever. Indeed, the update lets each miniature racer get up to 20 upgrades across four different dimensions — engine, combat, energy and chassis — along with weapons and swappable items. Some of the latest tricks include a Reverse Drive that prompts the car to turn around and drive against the flow of traffic, a Kinetic Brake that brings it to a screeching halt sending the car behind you flying past, an electromagnetic pulse that’ll send out a blast radius and a simple horn that pushes cars out of your way.

Additionally, you don’t need to worry about being stuck with an upgrade you didn’t think was so great — the new update also lets you swap out upgrades if you wish. This way, you can explore many different progression paths. There’s a little bit of a penalty when trading a skill back in, so you’ll likely need to keep earning points to try out all the different possibilities. Still, the upgradeability of Drive is what sets it apart from ordinary toys.

Anki co-founder Mark Palatucci:

“It’s been a great holiday season for us. Over 42 million laps have been driven on the Anki track in the US and in Canada … [With the update,] we’re able to make the game significantly more fun, much more strategic and add many more dimensions to the gameplay.”

So if you’re one of the lucky ones to score an Anki Drive over the winter break, go on and head on over to the App Store to get the first of many software updates that Anki hopes will keep the game fresh and exciting.

Wikipad breaks off controls into mobile Gamevice gamepad

Wikipad-Gamevice

 

In its ongoing effort to announce products people may not want long before said products are available to buy, Wikipad has unveiled its Gamevice tablet game controller. The Gamevice will be available sometime later this year — it doesn’t have a projected price or release window other than the aforementioned indicator. Rather than focus on the larger tablet form factor, the Gamevice adapts the 7-inch Wikipad’s controls for — the company’s hoping — a variety of Android and WIndows 8 devices. It sounds like iOS support is in the works, but nothing’s been officially confirmed.

Whether the Wikipad’s Gamevice has a market, period is another question altogether. There’s no shortage of mobile gamepads out there, and it’s not clear that Gamevice is any better than the competition.

The company also announced a OTA update for the seven-inch Wikipad that adds Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and mappable controls. It’s available now.

Acer introduces TA272 Android all-in-one

acer ta272

Acer has launched the TA272 HUL Android all-in-one that combines an ultra-high definition 27-inch display, NVIDIA Tegra quad-core processor and premium chassis design.

The Acer TA272 HUL brings a 2560×1440 WQHD display that is four times sharper than 1080p HD, providing users “incredibly crisp visuals” for their discerning entertainment needs. In addition, it also offers wide viewing angles without color difference and a high contrast ratio, ideal for sharing and collaborating with friends and family. Featuring a 10-point touchscreen, users are provided a convenient, intuitive experience for apps and widgets.

The Acer TA272 HUL possesses the necessary performance for “smooth multitasking, daily computing, gaming and applications.” The system comes fitted with an NVIDIA Tegra quad-core processor, 16GB of internal storage and dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless. Running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean (at launch), users can take advantage of millions of free apps and enjoy the Android experience afforded by mobile devices on a big screen.

The Acer TA272 HUL sports a premium design that incorporates a transparent base and asymmetric stand that makes the AiO appear it is floating and an edge-to-edge glass design for a “seamless and minimalistic look.” The stand allows the frame to be easily positioned from 30 to an 80 degree angle, allowing users to set the most comfortable viewing angle for them. The Acer TA272 HUL is also outfitted with two front-facing Dolby surround sound speakers for “superb” audio and a 2MP webcam.

Excellent connectivity is afforded including a USB 3.0 port for attaching game controllers and other peripherals. HDMI and DisplayPort permit the display to be used as an external monitor for other devices, and Windows 8 certification permits “smooth touch control” when the Acer TA272 HUL is used to project devices with Windows as well.

Acer PCs can be seamlessly integrated for accessing data anytime, anywhere through Build Your Own Cloud (BYOC). It enables users to build their own cloud on their devices, such as music, photos and other types of clouds. These self-built clouds, based on an Acer Open Platform, are “reliable, more secure, easy to use and provide users convenient access to their information and content anytime, anywhere.”

The Acer TA272 HUL all-in-one is already shipping worldwide with a MSRP of $1,099. Pricing and availability wasn’t announced.

Ford to offer free Sync AppLink upgrade to current owners this year

Ford Sync Applink

Ford certainly didn’t wait until the tech press landed in the Nevada desert to start breaking its CES news. The auto maker will offer SYNC AppLink as a free upgrade this year to owners of vehicles model year 2010 and newer. The system allows drivers (and their passengers) to use iOS and Android apps like Spotify, NPR, TuneIn and others via voice control, keeping your attention on the highway (at least, in theory). Ford’s in-car technology is currently in over one million vehicles already on the road and those offered the update will add another 3.4 million to that tally. Unfortunately, the company didn’t offer a detailed list of eligible cars at the time of this announcement, but we’ll have them later on.

Basis announces Carbon Steel Edition fitness band with improved design; old model drops to $179

Basis Carbon Steel Edition 2

By all accounts, the Basis B1 is one of the smartest fitness trackers on the market. It monitors sweat output, heat dissipation, blood flow and heart rate. And, as of a recent update, it can automatically detect when you’ve started walking or running. Still, smart doesn’t mean much when the watch isn’t comfortable to wear or — worse — when it resembles a Casio watch from the ‘80s. Accordingly, then, Basis just announced a new model, the Carbon Steel Edition, which comes in direct response to early user feedback, according to company representatives. For starters, the new band has a sleeker look, compete with chrome accents. It also features a stretchable silicone strap that’s more flexible and breathable. That’s available today for $199, while the original B1 band is getting a price cut to $179.

Meanwhile, even if you’ve already splurged on the B1, you’ll be happy to know that Basis is rolling out some new sleep-tracking features for both models. In short, the two bands will be able to differentiate between REM, deep and light sleep. And, just like with the activity tracking, this will all happen automatically, so that you won’t have to press a button to put the device into sleep-tracing mode. Also, you’ll be able to see a “personal sleep score” inside the app itself, though you’ll have to update your Android, iOS or Web application first. That update is available now.

Hands-On

The Carbon Steel Edition is more comfortable than the original. Though the press materials basically make it seem like the old B1 with a new wristband, it’s now covered in chrome accents (if you can call a faceplate an “accent’?). So, while the overall shape remains the same, and though the screen still has touch-sensitive pins in each corner, it has a more premium look that it did before. It’s not a Pebble, to be sure, but it’s a step towards that.

Even without the metal overcoat, though, this would have been a big improvement if only because of the wristband. In brief, it has a much softer finish that the rubbery plastic used in the B1. It rests more comfortably against the skin, and is stretchier as well, allowing for a snuggier fit. Even some retooled hinges allow the band to curl around your wrist a little more naturally.

The app has a appreciately clean design, especially the color-coded graphs that make it easy to understand when you were in REM sleep versus light sleep. The graphs also let you scroll through to see even more detailed information about your sleep during the night. Our one question? What will Basis do to reward users for consistent sleeping habits? As is, while the app is simple and easy to use, it doesn’t offer much in the way of motivation.

Sinister gamepad hopes to replace PC gamers’ keyboards, leave the mouse

Sinister Gamepad

Putting aside arguments over platform exclusives, graphical output and the convenience of getting from the couch, one element separates console and PC gamers more than any other: control. Those parked in front of a television have an all-in-one gamepad with analog nubs, clicky buttons and smooth triggers, while those who bask in the glow of a monitor boast wield a high-accuracy mouse and a full QWERTY keyboard. While trying to jump from one platform to the other, inventor Chris Zhao-Holland found the differences “frustrating.” Sure, games on the PC benefited from mouse control, but the stiff inputs of the keyboard lost the built-in sensitivity of the console’s dual-analog joysticks. It didn’t take long for Zhao-Holland to cook up the idea for Sinister, a modular PC keypad that hopes to take the best from both words.

An early prototype was presented to Engadget as a 3D-printed palmrest adorned with Xbox 360 buttons and a single analog nub. These buttons are modular, and can be rearranged mid-game without forgetting their function. The contraption looks like a mashup between one of Razer’s keypad peripherals and a Splitfish controller, and functions like both. A pair of switches on the unit’s side decide if the PC will recognize it as an Xinput device (such as an Xbox controller), a mouse and DirectInput device (with keys that need to be assigned through a companion program) or a mixture of both. These disparate modes give the device compatibility, but each comes with its own caveats.

In the default Xinput mode, Sinister is immediately usable with any game that supports the Xbox 360 controller, but, it also means that the device acts like an Xbox 360 controller. This specially becomes an issue while using the mouse, which emulates the gamepad’s right analog stick while in this mode. Games that normally display a cursor won’t , and first person shooters will react to mouse movements differently than with native mouse control. Gamers used to precision mouse control might find it a little off-putting. Tweaking in-game sensitivity settings can help, but the experience will vary from title to title. To combat this, the device has a hybrid mode, allowing the gamepad to function like an Xbox controller, while leaving the mouse (attached through a USB passthrough port) to function in its native mode — the only problem here is that not every game supports using both devices simultaneously. Finally, Sinister has a DirectInput mode, which allows users to map the gamepad’s buttons to keyboard commands manually while still enjoying full native mouse control.

Magellan’s Echo smartwatch now tracks your golf and skiing adventures

Magellan-Echo-1

Magellan thinks that many smartwatch buyers are fitness maniacs, and it’s catering to that health-minded audience with a big upgrade to its Echo Smart Sports Watch. The iOS-compatible wristwear now tracks data for a much wider range of activities beyond running, including golf, hiking and skiing; you won’t need a dedicated device or special watch apps to get stats for that black diamond ski run. As before, the Echo offers basic control over both music as well as athletic apps like Strava and Wahoo Fitness. If you’re interested in giving the upgraded watch a try, you can pick one up now for $149 by itself, or $199 when paired with a heart rate monitor.

Federal court rules suspicion for laptop searches at border not needed

A federal court dismissed a lawsuit arguing that the government should not be able to search and copy people’s laptops, cell phones and other devices at border checkpoints without reasonable suspicion. An appeal was being considered. Government documents show that thousands of innocent American citizens were searched when they return from trips abroad.

Catherine Crump, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney who argued the case in July 2011:

“We’re disappointed in today’s decision, which allows the government to conduct intrusive searches of Americans’ laptops and other electronics at the border without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of wrongdoing. Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of wrongdoing. Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the standard set by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight.”

The ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed the lawsuit in September 2010 against the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS assets the right to look through the contents of a traveler’s electronic devices, and to to keep the devices or copy the content s in order to continue searching them once the traveler has been allowed to enter the US, regardless of whether the traveler is suspected of any wrongdoing.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a dual French-American citizen who had his laptop searched and confiscated at the Canadian border; the National Press Photographers Association, whose members include television and still photographers, editors, students and representatives of the photojournalism industry; and the NACDL, which has members in 25 countries.

Abidor was traveling from Montreal to New York on an Amtrak train in May 2010 when he had his laptop searched and confiscated by customs officer. Abidor, an Islamic Studies PhD student at McGill University, was questioned, taken off the train in handcuffs, and held in a cell for several hours before being released without charge. When his laptop was returned 11 days later, there was evidence that many of his personal files were searched, including photos and chats with his girlfriend.

An ACLU Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Homeland Security released its December 2011 Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Impact Assessment of its electronics search policy, concluding that its suspicionless searches do not violate the First or Fourth Amendments. The report said that a reasonable suspicion standard is “inadvisable” because it could lead to litigation and the forced divergence of national security information, and would prevent border officers from acting on inchoate “hunches,” a method that it says has sometimes proved fruitful.

Acer’s new Liquid Z5 smartphone is more expensive than it should be

acer liquid z5

 

Acer didn’t just bring a couple of new tablets and an Android AiO to Vegas this year, but something to make calls with, too. The latest addition to its Liquid range after the top-spec S2, the Z5 is very much a “value” proposition, as the raw numbers show. We’re looking at a 5-inch 854 x 800 display, 1.3GHz dual-core Mediatek processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage which is expandable via microSD, and a 2,000mAH non-removable battery. On the cameras front, the Z5 has a modest VGA shooter up front, and a 5-megapixel main entity with a five-lens array and IR sensor that Acer promises will “improve focus and low-light performance,” respectively.

The Liquid Z5 doesn’t have a revolutionary design, but at 8.8mm thick with a plastic unibody, it’s not horrible either. Debuting on the Z5, however, is Acer’s new Rapid button, which the Taiwanese firm expects to bring to other devices in the future. It sits conveniently under the camera on the back of the device (where your forefinger would rest), undoubtedly taking inspiration from LG’s array of rear buttons beginning with the G2. Pressing it once unlocks the device, and a second press will send you straight into whatever app or menu you assign it to. A long press boots the camera app. To further differentiate itself from phones of similar specifications or price point, Acer has added a couple of software features to the Z5’s Android 4.2 Jelly Bean build. These include the company’s answer to multitasking, called “float apps,” and various custom skins, including one that simplifies the entire Android experience for newcomers or dumbphone nostalgics. As is the fashion these days, there are white and grey peak covers to match the handset’s two color options, should you want to accessorize.

Its sub-par internals certainly show, as even unlocking the phone generated a little lag. This wouldn’t be a massive issue if the Z5 was priced accordingly, but it retails for around $230. It’s not destined for North America, mind, and will initially land in select European markets before heading to Asia, the Middle East and Africa in due course. It’s hard to come away feeling positive about this device. When Motorola’s offering the much more capable Moto G at a similar price point — and we expect direct competition in this ultra-affordable space soon — the Liquid Z5 already feels dead in the water.

Google acquires BitSpin, make its stylish Timely Android alarm app free to celebrate

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Bitspin is probably most well known for its swish Timely alarm app on Android, and it seems that Google likes how the Swiss team is doing it, because the search giant has acquired them.

Bitspin in its announcement post, adding that it will continue to “build new products”:

“For new and existing users, Timely will continue to work like it always has.”

The more immediate news, however, is that the premium version of the app, sans banner ads, went free in the process.

FX’s Chozen launched early, exclusively on Xbox One

Phil Spencer

 

Before Chozen launched on television on January 13, fans got an early look at its series premiere exclusively on the FXNOW app on Xbox One starting January 6th.

Chozen is an animated comedy about the title character, a gay white rapper fresh out of prison. Armed with a new message, Chozen is on a quest for redemption and to claim his rightful position as the world’s top rap artist. With a new world view shaped by his time in prison, Chozen’s music and lyrics take aim at the stereotypes of machismo and misogyny that are synonymous with rap music.

The voice cast features Bobby Moynihan, Michael Peña, Hannibal Buress, Nick Swardson, Kathryn Hahn and Cliff “Method Man” Smith. Grant Dekernion, who created Chozen, serves as the show’s writer and executive producer, and Tom Brady serves as the show’s executive producer/show runner. Danny McBride, Jody Hill, David Gordon Green and Brandon James from Rough House Pictures (Eastwood & Down) are Executive Producers. Adam Reed and Matt Thomson of Floyd County Productions (Archer) are executive producers with their company animating the series.

Samsung unveils new era of Smart Home at CES 2014

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Samsung announced Smart Home, which is a service that enables smart TVs, home appliances and smartphones to be connected and managed through a single integrated platform.

The Samsung Smart Home brand and product logo debuted at CES 2014 in Las Vegas, and the service will be commercially rolled out across Samsung devices and appliances in the first half of 2014. Pursuing its vision for a connected world, Samsung will also collaborate with third-party partners to make the Smart Home service extendible to their products and services, building the foundation for a rapidly-growing ecosystem of connected home services.

Wonpyo Hong, Samsung Electronics Media Solutions Center president:

“With Samsung Smart Home, we are bringing our capabilities as the world’s number-one manufacturer of smart devices to make the connected home a reality for consumers today. In the coming days, we will continue to roll out better home services to our consumers to roll out better home services to our consumers to enable them to keep enjoying a brand-new experience of ‘Smart Living and Beyond’.”

Samsung Smart Home’s unique functionality enables users to control and manage their home devices through a single application by connecting personal and home devices — from refrigerators and washing machines to Smart TVs, digital cameras, smartphones and even the Galaxy Gear (now just called Gear) line of wearable devices — through an integrated platform and server.

Samsung Smart Home will initially provide three main service features enabling users to connect with their devices from anywhere, anytime: Device Control, Home View and Smart Customer Service.

With Direct Control, users can use customized settings on their mobile devices or Smart TV to monitor or control home devices — turning on air conditioning or activating lighting, for example — while inside or outside the home, or even while traveling abroad. At the touch of a dedicated Smart Home app icon on their device, the service enables users to control one or multiple devices simultaneously no matter where they are.

Smart Home also offers a voice command function on all the controller devices. If a user says ‘going out’ to his Gear device, home lighting and selected appliances are turned off. If the user says ‘goodnight’ to their Smart TV remote control, the TV will be turned off and lights dimmed and gradually turned off in readiness for sleep. Users can also use chat control on their smartphone app as a fun, convenient way to communicate with their devices.

With the service’s Home View feature users can use their smartphone to get real-time views of the home via built-in appliance cameras; and Smart Home’s Smart Customer Service no time to service appliances or replace consumables, and provides assistance in after-sales servicing.

Initial deployment of Samsung Smart Home will focus on a range of Samsung Smart TVs, home appliances and smartphones. The service will gradually expand its coverage by including additional Samsung products as well as other manufacturers’ devices and appliances.

Samsung also plans to expand the Smart Home service to cover secure home access, health care, and eco home applications through the partnerships with third-party service providers in these sectors, helping foster joint commercial opportunities and grow the connected home service marketplace.

Footlogger activity tracker lives in your shoe’s insole

footlogger-lead

CES is still several days out, and we’ve already seen previews of a couple of fitness tracking devices. It’s far, far too early to start talking overall trends for the show, but it seems pretty safe to suggest that we’ll be seeing even more before the week is out. At the very least, Footlogger offers a bit of an alternative to the standard wristband devices. The insole-based gadget, arguably, has the potential to record even more detailed informations about things like foot strike position — as for how such a product would stand up to the stress of daily running, however, we certainly can’t say.

3L Labs is talking up a wide range of potential uses for Footlogger’s three-axis accelerometer and eight pressure sensors, including the standard activity tracking and sports recording fare. The company is also making some interesting healthcare claims here, including rehabilitation monitoring and even potential early disease prediction.

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