electronics

Bang & Olufsen’s latest Beoplay E8 fully wireless earbuds offer top sound and comfort

Posted by | AirPods, Android, Bang & Olufsen, Bluetooth, electronics, Gadgets, hardware, headphones, Headset, iPhone, mobile devices, qi, Reviews, smartphones, Sony, TC, wireless, wireless earbuds, wireless headphones | No Comments

Bang & Olufsen has an excellent reputation in home audio, and its original Beoplay E8 fully wireless headphones were a category leader when there was barely a category to lead. The company recently launched the third version of the E8, a new generation of hardware that comes with a number of improvements for better audio quality and convenience, including wireless charging, up to seven hours of continuous use on a single charge and the latest Bluetooth standards for improved audio quality, operating distance and latency.

B&O’s latest wireless headset is a must-have for sound quality enthusiasts as a result, providing all-day comfort and wearability, excellent passive sound isolation and rich, sophisticated audio performance that does a good job of rendering the low end but without sacrificing any detail at higher frequencies, either.

Design

The design of the actual Beoplay E8 buds hasn’t changed much since the original version — but in this case, that’s a very good thing, because the original design has remained one of my all-time favorites for fully wireless in-ear buds. You get a small, sleek bud with a rounded face and touch-sensitive surfaces for manual control.

However, B&O has made some minor updates to the design, including getting rid of an irregular nub that stuck out somewhat from the otherwise circular sides of the original, and on the black version I tested, what was once an inner silver-colored metallic accent band on the face now has a shiny black finish. The overall effect is to make them even more understated and attractive.

While the originals also offered great fit, in my use it seems like B&O has improved the physical design on that scale, too. Whereas before I would occasionally have to reseat one or the other of the buds to get a proper noise-isolating seal, the E8 3rd Gen seems to just fit properly once they’re in, no matter how long you wear them.

The last thing to mention regarding design is the case. It’s somehow both smaller and more pocketable than the case for the original, but also includes wireless charging so that you can set it down on any Qi-based wireless charging pad (the same kind that works with modern iPhones and Android devices) and have it charge both the case, which contains additional battery capacity for the buds (bringing total play time to up to 35 hours, per B&O), and the buds themselves. The case is wrapped in a pebbled leather finish that feels fantastic, and a magnetic clasp ensures it stays closed while in transit. Magnets also help you make sure your buds are properly seated in the case to charge.

Performance

The first point to make about the third-generation Beoplay E8 is that they sound fantastic. By just about every measure, they are the best-sounding wireless earbuds I’ve used, including the AirPods Pro and Sony’s WF-1000MX3, both popular options. The E8 manage sound separation and clarity that is sure to please even hardcore audiophiles, and they sound great regardless of what kind of music you’re listening to, but they excel with high-quality, lossless recording formats.

In terms of sound isolation, the Beoplay E8 are also outstanding performers. They don’t have active noise cancellation, but their passive blocking is extremely good at keeping out ambient noise. So much so that it’s good B&O included a transparency feature (accessible by tapping the left earbud) to pipe in ambient sound, which is great for when you want to be more aware of your surroundings. Sound isolation and comfort both get even better when you make use of the included Comply memory foam eartips that ship with the Beoplay E8, which is an excellent bonus because, generally speaking, Comply tips require an additional purchase for just about every other set of earbuds.

The E8 is also a great headset for making calls, thanks to onboard mics that provide clear vocals mostly free of background noise. And because they feature both aptX and use Bluetooth 5.1, they’re also excellent for watching video and taking video calls on both mobile devices and computers, without any real noticeable lag.

Bottom line

Bang & Olufsen make premium products, and they come with premium price tags — at $350, the Beoplay E8 3rd Gen is no exception. But for that money, you’re getting premium build quality, great aesthetics and class-leading sound. For those who want the best audio possible in fully wireless buds, these are the ones to get. They’re fantastic for all-day wear for a work-at-home lifestyle, and offer great portability and sound transparency for taking with you on the go, too.

Powered by WPeMatico

Rode’s new white Wireless GO and accessories extend the flexibility of the most versatile creator mic

Posted by | electronics, Gadgets, hardware, instagram, microphones, Reviews, RØDE, TC, telecommunications, usb, USB-C, wireless, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Sound industry leader Rode has done an amazing job keeping up with the needs of the fast-moving creator industry, supporting YouTubers, podcasters and Instagram and Tik Tok media mavens with a host of new products at impressive price points. The Rode Wireless GO mic system might be the most impressive of these, taking the quality you’d expect from a more expensive wireless mic pack system formerly reserved for broadcast pros and bringing it to the masses at a very compelling price point, with easy setup and use. Now, Rode has introduced a new white version of the Rode Wireless GO, along with new accessories that increase the flexibility of the already very flexible audio device.

I’ve been a fan of the Wireless GO since its launch, and previously used the original black version in a number of different capacities. The white version doesn’t mess with anything that was great about the original — it just gives you a light-colored option that is more suitable for use with light clothes when you’re shooting video. If you’re not already familiar with the Wireless GO, what you get in the box is a transmitter and a receiver (with built-in clips on the back for attachment to clothing), each of which charges via USB-C, along with wind filters, charging cables, a 3.5mm audio cable and a carrying case.

Out of the box, the receiver and transmitter are synced, so all you need to do is power them on to get started. The transmitter comes with a mic built-in, so you can immediately clip it to your collar to get started transmitting sound. The receiver pack can easily slide right into the cold shoe mount on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and the included standard audio cable can connect from it to the camera’s mic input for direct recording.

The Rode Wireless GO’s USB-C port acts as an audio output, too, so you can use either a USB-C headset or a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter to get direct audio monitoring from the pack, too. On the transmitter side, there’s a 3.5mm input so you can connect a lavalier (or any other) mic to up your audio game even further. Speaking of lavs, Rode also introduced a new white version of its own Lavalier GO lapel mic, which is also a fantastic, affordable option that produces very high-quality results. Below, you can hear both the sound direct from the GO itself, and a sample using the Lavalier GO attached to the transmitter.

The versatility of the Wireless GO means that they’re incredibly useful for a wide range of uses. For instance, I have them connected into a USB audio interface on my main work Mac for use during video calls — I just power them up when it comes time to conference, and no one has to deal with muffled or low-quality audio from my end in terms of clarity and ease of understanding. On the road, the Wireless GO is also a great option for podcasting, providing much better sound than what you can get out of wireless earbuds or built-in device mics. And they’re extremely portable, unlike most USB mics that would also provide a good alternative.

Rode has also debuted a couple of accessories alongside this launch that make them great for even more use cases. The Interview GO adapter, for instance, allows you to mount the transmitter on a handheld mic grip, turning it into a stick mic complete with foam filter to reduce wind sounds and plosives. That means one less mic to carry around when you’re doing on-camera interviews with passersby, or participating in a media scrum.

There’s also a new magnetic clip attachment that means you can easily adapt the Rode Wireless GO transmitter pack to clip anywhere on a subject’s clothing, rather than requiring that it clip to a collar or exposed seam. This is huge for placement flexibility with any outfit, and can help with hiding the pack, too, if you’re looking to get a clean video shot.

Rode’s Wireless GO can also perform some neat tricks that could help with other audio applications, including being able to act as a latency-free wireless converter for any set of headphones. You can connect any input to the 3.5mm port on the transmitter, and then connect a set of headphones to the receiver and get that input piped to you directly.

It’s hard to find any mic system that’s truly a jack-of-all-trades without also having to deal with significant trade-offs in one department or another, but the Rode Wireless GO is pretty near perfect for a range of use at a price point that’s hard to beat. The GO itself costs $199, while the Lavalier GO is $79. The MagClip magnet clip for the transmitter is $19, and the Interview GO handheld mic adapter is $29.

Powered by WPeMatico

European lawmakers propose a ‘right to repair’ for mobiles and laptops

Posted by | circular economy, e-waste, electronics, Environmentalism, EU parliament, Europe, european commission, european parliament, european union, food, Gadgets, GreenTech, mobile phones, plastics, recycling, reuse, sustainability, water conservation | No Comments

The European Commission has set out a plan to move towards a ‘right to repair’ for electronics devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

More generally it wants to restrict single-use products, tackle “premature obsolescence” and ban the destruction of unsold durable goods — in order to make sustainable products the norm.

The proposals are part of a circular economy action plan that’s intended to deliver on a Commission pledge to transition the bloc to carbon neutrality by 2050.

By extending the lifespan of products, via measures which target design and production to encourage repair, reuse and recycling, the policy push aims to reduce resource use and shrink the environmental impact of buying and selling stuff.

The Commission also wants to arm EU consumers with reliable information about reparability and durability — to empower them to make greener product choices.

“Today, our economy is still mostly linear, with only 12% of secondary materials and resources being brought back into the economy,” said EVP Frans Timmermans in a statement. “Many products break down too easily, cannot be reused, repaired or recycled, or are made for single use only. There is a huge potential to be exploited both for businesses and consumers. With today’s plan we launch action to transform the way products are made and empower consumers to make sustainable choices for their own benefit and that of the environment.”

The Commission said electronics and ICT will be a priority area for implementing a right to repair, via planned expansion of the Ecodesign Directive — which currently sets energy efficiency standards for devices such as washing machines.

Its action plan proposes setting up a ‘Circular Electronics Initiative’ to promote longer product lifetimes through reusability and reparability as well as “upgradeability” of components and software to avoid premature obsolescence.

The Commission is also planning new regulatory measures on chargers for mobile phones and similar devices. While an EU-wide take back scheme to return or sell back old mobile phones, tablets and chargers is being considered.

Back in January the EU Parliament voted overwhelmingly for tougher action to reduce e-waste, calling for the Commission to come up with beefed up rules by this summer.

In recent years MEPs have also pushed for the Ecodesign Direction to be expanded to include repairability.

The Commission proposals also include a new regulatory framework for batteries and vehicles — including measures to improve the collection and recycling rates of batteries and ensure the recovery of valuable materials. Plus there’s a proposal to revise the rules on end-of-life vehicles to improve recycling efficiency and waste oil treatment. 

It’s also planning measures to set targets to shrink the amount of packaging being produced, with the aim of making all packaging reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030.

Mandatory requirements on recycled content for plastics used in areas such as packaging, construction materials and vehicles is another proposal.

Other priority areas for promoting circularity and reducing high consumption rates include construction, textiles and food.

The Commission expects the circular economy to have net positive benefits in terms of GDP growth and jobs’ creation across the bloc — suggesting measures to boost sustainability will increase the EU’s GDP by an additional 0.5% by 2030 and create around 700,000 new jobs.

The backing of MEPs in the European Parliament and EU Member States will be necessary if the Commission proposals are to make it into pan-EU law.

Should they do so, Dutch social enterprise Fairphone shows a glimpse of what’s coming down the repairable pipe in future…

Powered by WPeMatico

EU lawmakers take fresh aim at Apple’s Lightning connector with latest e-waste push

Posted by | Apple, apple inc, charging, e-readers, e-waste, electronics, Europe, european parliament, european union, Gadgets, inductive charging, lightning, Mobile, mobile devices, TC, usb, wireless chargers | No Comments

The European parliament has voted overwhelmingly for tougher action to reduce e-waste, calling for the Commission to come up with beefed up rules by July 2020.

Specifically, the parliament wants the Commission to adopt the delegated act foreseen in the 2014 Radio Equipment Directive by that deadline — or else table a legislative measure by the same date, at the latest.

The resolution, which was approved by 582 votes to 40, points out that MEPs have been calling for a single charger for mobile devices for more than a decade now. But the Commission has repeatedly postponed taking steps to force an industry-wide shift. Subtext: We’re tired of the ongoing charging cable nightmare.

The parliament says there is now “an urgent need” for EU regulatory action on the issue — to shrink e-waste, empower consumers to make sustainable choices, and allow EU citizens to “fully participate in an efficient and well-functioning internal market”.

The resolution notes that around 50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated globally per year, with an average of more than 6 kg per person.

While, in Europe in 2016, the figure for total e-waste generated was 12.3 million metric tonnes, equivalent to 16.6 kg on average per inhabitant — with the parliament asserting this represents “an unnecessary environmental footprint that can be reduced”.

To date, the Commission’s approach to the charger e-waste issue has been to lean on industry to take voluntary steps to reduce unnecessary variety. Which has resulted in a reduction of the number of charger types on the market — down from 30+ in 2009 to just three today — but still no universal charger which works across brands and device types (phones, tablets, e-readers etc).

Most notably, Apple continues to use its own Lightning port charger standard — while other device makers have switched to USB-based charging (such as the newest, USB-C standard).

When news emerged earlier this month of the parliament’s intention to vote on tougher measures to standardize mobile chargers Apple attacked the plan — arguing that regulation would ‘stifle innovation’.

But the tech giant has had plenty of years to chew over clever ways to switch from the proprietary charging port only it uses to one of two USB standards used by everyone else. So the ‘innovation’ argument seems a pretty stale one.

Meanwhile Apple has worked around previous EU attempts to push device makers to standardize charging on Micro USB by expanding its revenue-generating dongle collection — and selling Europeans a Lighting to Micro USB adaptor. Thereby necessitating even more e-waste.

Perhaps picking up on Apple’s ‘innovation’ framing sidestep, i.e. to try to duck the e-waste issue, the parliament also writes:

… that the Commission, without hampering innovation, should ensure that the legislative framework for a common charger will be scrutinised regularly in order to take into account technical progress; reiterates the importance of research and innovation in this domain to improve existing technologies and come up with new ones;

It also wants the Commission to grapple with the issue of wireless chargers — and take steps to ensure interoperability there too, so that wireless chargers aren’t locked to only one brand or device type.

Consumers should not be obliged to buy new chargers with each new device, per the resolution, with the parliament calling on the Commission to introduce strategies to decouple the purchase of chargers from a new device alongside a common charger solution — while making sure any decoupling measures do not result in higher prices for consumers.

It also wants the Commission to look at legislative options for increasing the volume of cables and chargers that are collected and recycled in EU member states.

We’ve reached out to the Commission for comment.

Per Reuters, officials in the executive are in agreement that the voluntary approach is not working and have said they plan to introduce legislation for a common charger this year.

Powered by WPeMatico

Nvidia’s new 360Hz G-Sync displays are tailor-made for esports

Posted by | asus, CES 2020, electronics, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, Las Vegas, nvidia, refresh rate, TC, technology | No Comments

Nvidia has developed new technology that enables 360Hz refresh rates on PC displays, achieving unprecedented responsiveness that’s perfectly suited to esports, where any advances in terms of refresh speeds can translate to improved performance during play.

Nvidia’s new G-sync tech that delivers the 360Hz refresh speeds will be coming to market first through a partnership with Asus, via the Asus ROG Swift 360 monitor that’s debuting at this week’s annual CES show in Las Vegas. It works in combination with Nvidia’s RTX line of GPUs, and will provide refresh rates that translate to less than 3 milliseconds of input latency, all available on a 24.5-inch, fully 1080p HD gaming panel.

Nvidia’s G-Sync tech debuted in 2013, and works by introducing Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) that syncs up the refresh rate of the display (provided it’s G-sync certified) with the GPU’s frame rate, so that you get optimized performance. Since its debut, Nvidia has been especially focused on optimizing G-Sync and its features for use by esports players and professionals, to ensure best possible reaction times in genres like shooters where every millisecond counts when it comes to aiming at and actually hitting your target.

The Asus ROG Swift 360 monitor will be coming out sometime “later this year,” and pricing isn’t yet available but you can bet it’ll be more than your average gaming monitor, given its advanced performance features and esports target market.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Powered by WPeMatico

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is headed to Canada, with in-store pre-orders starting today

Posted by | brian, CAD, electronics, Gadgets, hardware, Mobile, mobile phones, oled, Samsung, Samsung Electronics, samsung galaxy, Samsung Galaxy Alpha, samsung galaxy fold, smartphone, smartphones, TC, technology, toronto, United States | No Comments

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a very unique smartphone, in more ways than one. The most obvious differentiator is that it folds out to expose a large, continuous 7.3″ display, hiding the seam thanks to a flexible OLED screen. It’s also at the very top end of the smartphone market price-wise, which could explain why it only debuted in a few limited markets at launch. Samsung says that customer interest has helped expand that initial pool of availability, however, which is why it’s launching pre-orders in Canada today.

There’s going to be some sticker shock for Canadians, however: The Fold starts at $2,599.99 CAD in its newest market. That’s the price you’d pay for a well-specced computer, but it’s actually right in line with the price of the phone in the U.S. when you account for currency conversion. Pre-orders are also going to be exclusively in-store, at Samsung’s Eaton Center, Sherway Gardens and Yorkdale locations, all of which are in Toronto. Retail sales, also exclusive to Samsung’s own retail operations, are starting December 6 but pre-order customers will be able to ensure a day one pickup.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold has had a bit of an uneven launch, with a first attempt cancelled in light of multiple reviewers experiencing issues with their devices. Samsung re-designed elements of the phone as a result, including adding caps to prevent dust entering the crucial hinge component that powers the folding actions, and embedding a necessary pre-installed protective screen covering under the phone’s bezels. Still, our own Brian Heater experienced a display hardware issue within a day with his redesigned review device.

Samsung is offering free “Fold Premiere Service” which includes discounted screen replacements and standard free repairs when an issue is not due to any misuse on a user’s part. Overall, the takeaway should be that this is a first-generation device, but also a totally unique piece of technology in today’s marketplace for those willing to risk it.

Powered by WPeMatico

Fairphone 3 is a normal smartphone with ethical shine

Posted by | Android, electronics, Europe, fair trade, Fairphone, Fairphone 3, Mobile, mobile phones, Modular Smartphone, Qualcomm, Reviews, smartphone, smartphone hardware, smartphones, TC | No Comments

How long have you been using your current smartphone? The answer for an increasing number of consumers is years, plural. After all, why upgrade every year when next year’s model is almost exactly the same as the device you’re holding in your hand?

Dutch social enterprise Fairphone sees this as an opportunity to sell sustainability. A chance to turn a conversation about ‘stalled smartphone innovation’ on its head by encouraging consumers to think more critically about the costs involved in pumping out the next shiny thing. And sell them on the savings — individual and collective — of holding their staple gadget steady.

Its latest smartphone, the Fairphone 3 — just released this week in Europe — represents the startup’s best chance yet of shrinking the convenience gap between the next hotly anticipated touchscreen gizmo and a fairer proposition that requires an altogether cooler head to appreciate.

On the surface Fairphone 3 looks like a fairly standard, if slightly thick (1cm), Android smartphone. But that’s essentially the point. This 4G phone could be your smartphone, is the intended message.

Fp3j

Specs wise, you’re getting mostly middling, rather than stand out stuff. There’s a 5.7in full HD display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 chipset, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (expandable via microSD), a 12MP rear lens and 8MP front-facing camera. There’s also NFC on board, a fingerprint reader, dual nano-SIM slots and a 3,000mAh battery that can be removed for easy replacement when it wears out.

There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack: The handy port that’s being erased at the premium smartphone tier,  killing off a bunch of wired accessories with it. So ‘slow replacement’ smartphone hardware demonstrably encourages less waste across the gadget ecosystem too.

But the real difference lies under the surface. Fairer here means supply chain innovation to source conflict-free minerals that go into making the devices; social incentive programs that top up the minimum wages of assembly workers who put the phones together; and repairable, modular handset design that’s intended to reduce environmental impact by supporting a longer lifespan. Repair, don’t replace is the mantra.

All the extra effort that goes into making a smartphone less ethically challenging to own is of course invisible to the naked eye. So the Fairphone 3 buyer largely has to take the company’s word on trust.

The only visual evidence is repairability. Flip the phone over and a semi-opaque plastic backing gives a glimpse of modular guts. A tiny screwdriver included in the box allows you take the phone to pieces so you can swap out individual modules (such as the display) in case they break or fail. Fairphone sells replacements via a spare parts section of its website.

Fp3sc

Despite this radically modular and novel design vs today’s hermetically sealed premium mobiles the Fairphone 3 feels extremely solid to hold.

It’s not designed to pop apart easily. Indeed, there’s a full thirteen screws holding the display module in place. Deconstruction takes work (and care not to lose any of the teeny screws). So this is modularity purely as occasional utility, not flashy party trick — as with Google’s doomed Ara Project.

For some that might be disappointing. Exactly because this modular phone feels so, well, boringly normal.

Visually the most stand out feature at a glance is the Fairphone logo picked out in metallic white lettering on the back. Those taking a second look will also spot a moralizing memo printed on the battery so it’s legible through the matte plastic — which reads: “Change is in your hands”. It may be a bit cringeworthy but if you’ve paid for an ethical premium you might as well flaunt it.

It’s fair to say design fans won’t be going wild over the Fairphone 3. But it feels almost intentionally dull. As if — in addition to shrinking manufacturing costs — the point is to impress on buyers that ethical internals are more than enough of a hipster fashion statement.

It’s also true that most smartphones are now much the same, hardware, features and performance wise. So — at this higher mid-tier price-point (€450/~$500) — why not flip the consumer smartphone sales pitch on its head to make it about shrinking rather than maximizing impact, via a dull but worthy standard?

That then pushes people to ask how sustainable is an expensive but valueless — and so, philosophically speaking, pointless — premium? That’s the question Fairphone 3 seems designed to pose.

Or, to put it another way, if normal can be ethical then shouldn’t ethical electronics be the norm?

Normal is what you get elsewhere with Fairphone 3. Purely judged as a smartphone its performance isn’t anything to write home about. It checks all the usual boxes of messaging, photos, apps and Internet browsing. You can say it gets the job done.

Sure, it’s not buttery smooth at every screen and app transition. And it can feel a little slow on the uptake at times. Notably the camera, while fairly responsive, isn’t lightning quick. Photo quality is not terrible — but not amazing either.

Testing the camera I found images prone to high acutance and over saturated colors. The software also struggles to handle mixed light and shade — meaning you may get a darker and less balanced shot that you hoped for. Low light performance isn’t great either.

That said, in good light the Fairphone 3 can take a perfectly acceptable selfie. Which is what most people will expect to be able to use the phone for.

Fairphone has said it’s done a lot of work to improve the camera vs the predecessor model. And it has succeeded in bringing photo performance up to workable standard — which is a great achievement at what’s also a slightly reduced handset price-point. Though, naturally, there’s still a big gap in photo quality vs the premium end of the smartphone market.

On the OS front, the phone runs a vanilla implementation of Android 9 out of the box — preloaded with the usual bundle of Google services and no added clutter so Android fans should feel right at home. (For those who want a Google-free alternative Fairphone says a future update will allow users to do a wipe and clean install of Android Open Source Project.)

Fp3f

In short, purely as a smartphone, the Fairphone 3 offers very little to shout about — so no screaming lack either. Again, if the point is to shrink the size of the compromise Fairphone is asking consumers to make in order to buy an ethically superior brand of electronics they are slowly succeeding in closing the gap.

It’s a project that’s clearly benefiting from the maturity of the smartphone market. While, on the cellular front, the transformative claims being made for 5G are clearly many years out — so there’s no issue with asking buyers to stick with a 4G phone for years to come.

Given where the market has now marched to, a ‘fairer’ smartphone that offers benchmark basics at a perfectly acceptable median but with the promise of reduced costs over the longer term — individual, societal and environmental — does seem like a proposition that could expand from what has so far been an exceptional niche into something rather larger and more mainstream.

Zooming out for a second, the Fairphone certainly makes an interesting contrast with some of the expensive chimeras struggling to be unfolded at the top end of the smartphone market right now.

Foldables like the Samsung Galaxy Fold — which clocks in at around 4x the price of a Fairphone and offers ~2x the screen real estate (when unfolded), plus a power bump. Whether the Fold’s lux package translates into mobile utility squared is a whole other question, though.

And where foldables will need to demonstrate a compelling use-case that goes above and beyond the Swiss Army utility of a normal smartphone to justify such a whopping price bump, Fairphone need only prick the consumer conscience — as it asks you pay a bit more and settle for a little less.

Neither of these sales pitches is challenge free, of course. And, for now, both foldables and fairer electronics remain curious niches.

But with the Fairphone 3 demonstrating that ethical can feel so normal it doesn’t seem beyond the pale to imagine demand for electronics that are average in performance yet pack an ethical punch scaling up to challenge the mainstream parade of copycat gadgets.

Powered by WPeMatico

Reliability concerns raised over pi-top’s STEM learning laptop

Posted by | computing, Cornell Tech, edtech, Education, electronics, Europe, Gadgets, Hambro Perks, hardware, hardware startup, learn to code, Pi, pi-top, pi-top 3, Raspberry Pi, Raspberry Pi Foundation, STEM, TC, United Kingdom | No Comments

TechCrunch has learned of a safety issue and a number of product reliability questions being raised about a modular computer made by a London edtech startup that’s intended for children to learn coding and electronics.

The product, called the pi-top 3, is a Raspberry Pi-powered laptop with a keyboard that slides out to access a rail for breadboarding electronics.

A student at a US school had to be attended by a nurse after touching a component in the device which had overheated, leaving them with redness to their finger.

A spokesperson for Cornell Tech confirmed the incident to us — which they said had happened in June. We’ve withheld the name of the school at their request.

In an internal pi-top email regarding this incident, which we’ve also reviewed, it describes the student being left with “a very nasty finger burn”.

Cornell Tech’s spokesperson told us it has stopped using the pi-top 3 — partly in response to this incident but also because of wider reliability issues with the device. They said some of their grad students will be working on a project with the K-12 team next semester with the aim of creating an alternative that’s more reliable, affordable and safe.

We have also been told of concerns about wider reliability issues with the pi-top 3 by a number of other sources.

We asked pi-top for comment on the safety incident at Cornell Tech and for details of how it responded. The company provided us with a statement in which it claims: “pitop incorporates all possible safeguards into our products to ensure they are safe.”

“As soon as we became aware of this incident we immediately investigated what had happened,” it went on. “We discovered that the incident was a one-in-a-million occurrence. The user dropped a piece of metal, with a specific size and shape, under the unit. This fell in such a way that it touched a particular pin and caused a linear regulator to heat up. They received a small minor burn to the tip of one finger when they tried to recover that piece of metal.”

“This is the only reported incident where a user has been hurt whilst using one of our products,” pi-top added.

It is not clear how many pi-top 3 laptops have been sold to schools at this stage because pi-top does not break out sales per product. Instead it provided us with a figure for the total number of devices sold since it was founded in 2014 — saying this amounts to “more than 200,000 devices in 4 years which have been used by more than half a million people”.

pi-top also says it has sold products to schools in 70 countries, saying “thousands” of schools have engaged with its products. (The bright green color of the laptop is easy to spot in promotional photos for school STEM programs and summer camps.)

The London-based DIY hardware startup began life around five years ago offering a ‘3D-print it yourself‘ laptop for makers via the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform before shifting its focus to the educational market — tapping into the momentum around STEM education that’s seen a plethora of ‘learn to code’ toys unboxed in recent years.

pi-top has raised more than $20M in VC funding to date and now sells a number of learning devices and plug-in components intended for schools to teach STEM — all of which build on the Raspberry Pi microprocessor.

pi-top adds its own layer of software to the Pi as well as hardware additions intended to expand the learning utility (such as a speaker for the pi-top 3 and an “inventors kit” with several electronics projects, including one that lets kids build and program a robot).

The pi-top 3 — its third device — was launched in October 2017, priced between $285-$320 per laptop (without or with a Raspberry Pi 3).

The distinctively bright green laptop is intended for use by students as young as eight years old.

Unusual failure mode

In the internal email discussing the “Cornell failure diagnosis” — which is dated July 16 — pi-top’s head of support and customer success, Preya Wylie, conveys the assessment of its VP of technology, Wil Bennett, that the “unusual failure mode was likely caused by an electrical short on the male 34-pin connector on the underside of the protoboard”.

She goes on to specify that the short would have been caused by the metal SD-card removal tool that’s bundled with the product — noting this was “reported to have been somewhere underneath the protoboard at the time”.

“[Bennett] has recreated the same conditions on his bench in China and has seen the pi-top enter similar failure modes, with an electrical short and subsequent overheating,” she writes.

An additional complication discussed in the email is that the component is designed to stay on at all times in order that the pi-top can respond to the power button being pressed when the unit is off. Wylie writes that this means, if shorted, the component remains “very hot” even when the pi-top has been shut down and unplugged — as heat is generated by the pi-top continuing to draw power from the battery.

Only once the battery has fully depleted will the component be able to cool down.

In the email — which was sent to pi-top’s founder and CEO Jesse Lozano and COO Paul Callaghan — she goes on to include a list of four “initial recommendations to ensure this does not happen again”, including that the company should inform teachers to remove the SD-card removal tool from all pi-top 3 laptops and to remove the SD card themselves rather than letting students do it; as well as advising teachers/users to turn the device off if they suspect something has got lost under the protoboard.

Another recommendation listed in the email is the possibility of creating a “simple plastic cover to go over the hub” to prevent the risk of users’ fingers coming into contact with hot components.

A final suggestion is a small modification to the board to cut off one of the pins to “greatly reduce the chance of this happening again”.

pi top 3

We asked pi-top to confirm what steps it has taken to mitigate the risk of pitop 3 components overheating and posing a safety risk via the same sort of shorting failure experienced by Cornell Tech — and to confirm whether it has informed existing users of the risk from this failure mode.

An internal pi-top sales document that we’ve also reviewed discusses a ‘back to school’ sales campaign — detailing a plan to use discounts to “dissolve as much pi-top [3] stock as we can over the next 8 weeks”.

This document says US schools will be targeted from mid August; UK schools/educators from early September; and International Schools Groups from early September. It also includes a strategy to go direct to US Private and Charter Schools — on account of “shorter decision making timelines and less seasonal budgets”.

It’s not clear if the document pre-dates the Cornell incident.

In response to our questions, pi-top told us it is now writing to pi-top 3 customers, suggesting it is acting on some of the initial recommendations set out in Wylie’s July 16 email after we raised concerns.

In a statement the company said: “Whilst it is highly unlikely that this would occur again, we are writing to customers to advise them to take a common-sense approach and switch off the unit if something has got lost inside it.  We are also advising customers to remove the SD card tool from the unit. These simple actions will make the remote possibility of a recurrence even less likely.”

In parallel, we have heard additional concerns about the wider reliability of the pi-top 3 product — in addition to the shorting incident experienced by Cornell.

One source, who identified themselves as a former pi-top employee, told us that a number of schools have experienced reliability issues with the device. One of the schools named, East Penn School District in the US, confirmed it had experienced problems with the model — telling us it had to return an entire order of 40 of the pi-top 3 laptops after experiencing “a large volume of issues”.

“We had initially purchased 40 pi-tops for middle level computers classes,” assistant superintendent Laura Witman told us. “I met one of the owners, Jesse, at a STEM conference. Conceptually the devices had promise, but functionally we experienced a large volume of issues. The company tried to remedy the situation and in the end refunded our monies. I would say it was learning experience for both our district and the company, but I appreciate how they handled things in the end.”

Witman did not recall any problems with pi-top 3 components overheating.

A US-based STEM summer camp provider that we also contacted to confirm whether it had experienced issues with the pi-top 3 — a device which features prominently in promotional materials for its program — declined to comment. A spokesman for iD Tech’s program told us he was not allowed to talk about the matter.

A separate source familiar with the pi-top 3 also told us the product has suffered from software reliability issues, including crashes and using a lot of processor power, as well as hardware problems related to its battery losing power quickly and/or not charging. This source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were not aware of any issues related to overheating.

Asked to respond to wider concerns about the pi-top 3’s reliability, pi-top sent us this statement:

pitop is a growing and dynamic company developing DIY computing tools which we believe can change the world for the better. In the past four and a half years we have shipped hundreds of thousands of products across our entire product range, and pitop hardware and software have become trusted assets to teachers and students in classrooms from America to Zimbabwe. pitop products are hard at work even in challenging environments such as the UN’s Kakuma refugee camp in Northern Kenya.

At the heart of our products is the idea that young makers can get inside our computers, learn how they work and build new and invaluable skills for the future. Part of what makes pitop special, and why kids who’ve never seen inside a computer before think it’s awesome, is that you have to build it yourself straight out of the box and then design, code and make electronic systems with it. We call this learning.

The nature of DIY computing and electronics means that, very occasionally, things can fail. If they do, pitop’s modular nature means they can be easily replaced. If customers encounter any issues with any of our products our excellent customer support team are always ready to help.

It is important to say that all electronic systems generate heat and Raspberry Pi is no exception. However, at pitop we do the very best to mitigate thanks to the cutting-edge design of our hardware. Faults on any of our products fall well below accepted thresholds. Although we are proud of this fact, this doesn’t make us complacent and we continually strive to do things better and provide our customers with world-class products that don’t compromise on safety.

Thousands of schools around the world recognise the fantastic benefits the pitop [3], pitop CEED, and pitop [1] brings as a Raspberry Pi-powered device. Our new flagship products, the pitop [4] and our learning platform, pitop Further, take coding education to the next level, as a programmable computing module for makers, creators and innovators everywhere. We are proud of our products and the enormous benefits they bring to schools, students and makers around the world.

Internal restructuring

We also recently broke the news that pi-top had laid off a number of staff after losing out on a large education contract. Our sources told us the company is restructuring to implement a new strategy. pi-top confirmed 12 job cuts at that stage. Our sources suggest more cuts are pending.

Some notable names departing pi-top’s payroll in recent weeks are its director of learning and research, William Rankin — formerly a director of learning at Apple — who writes on LinkedIn that he joined pi-top in March 2018 to “develop a constructionist learning framework to support pi-top’s maker computing platform”. Rankin left the business this month, per his LinkedIn profile.

pi-top’s chief education and product officer, Graham Brown-Martin — who joined the business in September 2017, with a remit to lead “learning, product design, brand development and communication strategy” to support growth of its “global education business, community and ecosystem” — also exited recently, leaving last month per his LinkedIn.

In another change this summer pi-top appointed a new executive chairman of its board: Stanley Buchesky, the founder of a US edtech seed fund who previously served in the Trump administration as an interim CFO for the US department for education under secretary of state, Betsy DeVos.

Buchesky’s fund, which is called The EdTech Fund, said it had made an investment in pi-top last month. The size of the investment has not been publicly disclosed.

Buchesky took over the chairman role from pi-top board member and investor Eric Wilkinson: A partner at its Series A investor, Hambro Perks. Wilkinson remains on the pi-top board but no longer as exec chairman.

The job cuts and restructuring could be intended to prepare pi-top for a trade sale to another STEM device maker, according to one of our sources.

Meanwhile pi-top’s latest device, the pi-top 4, represents something of a physical restructuring of its core edtech computing proposition which looks intended to expand the suggestive utility it offers teachers via multiple modular use-cases — from building drones and wheeled robots to enabling sensor-based IoT projects which could check science learning criteria, all powered by pi-top’s encased Raspberry Pi 4.

Out of the box, the pi-top 4 is a computer in a box, not a standalone laptop. (Though pi-top does plan to sell a range of accessories enabling it be plugged in to power a touchscreen tablet or a laptop, and more.)

pi top 4 4

pi-top is in the process of bringing the pi-top 4 to market after raising almost $200,000 on Kickstarter from more than 500 backers. Early backers have been told to expect it to ship in November.

While pi-top’s predecessor product is stuck with the compute power of the last-gen Raspberry Pi 3 (the pi-top 3 cannot be upgraded to the Raspberry Pi 4), the pi-top 4 will have the more powerful Pi 4 as its engine.

However the latter has encountered some heat management issues of its own.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation recently put out a firmware update that’s intended to reduce the microprocessor’s operating temperature after users had complained it ran hot.

Asked whether the Foundation has any advice on encasing the Raspberry Pi 4, in light of the heat issue, founder Eben Upton told us: “Putting the Pi in a case will tend to cause it to idle at a higher temperature than if it is left in the open. This means there’s less temperature ‘in reserve’, so the Pi will throttle more quickly during a period of sustained high-intensity operation.”

“In general, the advice is to choose a case which is appropriate to your use case, and to update firmware frequently to benefit from improvements to idle power consumption as they come through,” he added.

TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear contributed to this report

Powered by WPeMatico

The ClockworkPi GameShell is a super fun DIY spin on portable gaming

Posted by | Bluetooth, computing, electronics, Emulator, Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, linus torvalds, linux, microsoft windows, Nintendo Switch, open source software, operating systems, Reviews, Speaker, TC, vice, wi-fi | No Comments

Portable consoles are hardly new, and thanks to the Switch, they’re basically the most popular gaming devices in the world. But ClockworkPi’s GameShell is something totally unique, and entirely refreshing when it comes to gaming on the go. This clever DIY console kit provides everything you need to assemble your own pocket gaming machine at home, running Linux-based open-source software and using an open-source hardware design that welcomes future customization.

The GameShell is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, which began shipping to its backers last year and is now available to buy either direct from the company or from Amazon. The $159.99 ( on sale for $139.99 as of this writing) includes everything you need to build the console, like the ClockworkPi quad-core Cortex A7 motherboard with integrated Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 1GB of DDR3 RAM — but it comes unassembled.

GameShell Clockwork Pi 3

You won’t have to get out the soldering iron — the circuit boards come with all components attached. But you will be assembling screen, keypad, CPU, battery and speaker modules, connecting them with included cables and installing them in the slick, GameBoy-esque plastic shell. This might seem like an intimidating task, depending on your level of technical expertise: I know I found myself a bit apprehensive when I opened the various boxes and laid out all the parts in front of me.

But the included instructions, which are just illustrations, like those provided by Lego or Ikea, are super easy to follow and break down the task into very manageable tasks for people of all skill levels. All told, I had mine put together in less than an hour, and even though I did get in there with my teeth at one point (to remove a bit of plastic nubbin when assembling the optional Lightkey component, which adds extra function keys to the console), I never once felt overwhelmed or defeated. The time-lapse below chronicles my entire assembly process, start to finish.

What you get when you’re done is a fully functional portable gaming device, which runs Clockwork OS, a Linux-based open-source OS developed by the company. It includes Cave Story, one of the most celebrated indie games of the past couple of decades, and a number of built-in emulators (use of emulators is ethically and legally questionable, but it does provide an easy way to play some of those NES and SNES games you already own with more portability).

There’s a very active community around the GameShell that includes a number of indie games to play on the console, and tips and tricks for modifications and optimal use. It’s also designed to be a STEM educational resource, providing a great way for kids to see what’s actually happening behind the faceplate of the electronics they use everyday, and even getting started coding themselves to build software to run on the console. Loading software is easy, thanks to an included microSD storage card and the ability to easily connect via Wi-Fi to move over software from Windows and Mac computers.

Everything about the GameShell is programmable, and it features micro HDMI out, a built-in music player and Bluetooth support for headphone connection. It’s at once instantly accessible for people with very limited tech chops, and infinitely expandable and hackable for those who do want to go deeper and dig around with what else it has to offer.

Swappable face and backplates, plus open 3D models of each hardware component, mean that community-developed hardware add-ons and modifications are totally possible, too. The modular nature of the device means it can probably get even more powerful in the future too, with higher capacity battery modules and improved development boards.

I’ve definitely seen and used devices like the GameShell before, but few manage to be as accessible, powerful and customizable all at once. The GameShell is also fast, has great sound and an excellent display, and it seems to be very durable, with decent battery life of around three hours or slightly more of continuous use depending on things like whether you’re using Wi-Fi and screen brightness.

Powered by WPeMatico

DroneBase raises capital and partners with FLIR Systems to train pilots on thermal imaging tech

Posted by | dronebase, drones, electronics, Gadgets, hardware, Los Angeles, Media, targeting, TC, technology, telecommunications | No Comments

Publicly traded sensor technology developer FLIR Systems is investing in a strategic round of funding for the outsourced drone imaging company, DroneBase.

The two companies are also partnering to provide FLIR’s thermal imaging technology and training services to DroneBase’s stable of pilots.

Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

“Our investment in DroneBase helps expand the adoption of FLIR thermal imaging technology by putting it in the hands of more pilots who fly drones every day,” said Jim Cannon, the president and chief executive of FLIR, in a statement. “DroneBase’s enterprise pilot network will receive training by professional thermographers, enabling DroneBase to offer specialized thermal inspection services for customers on a wider scale, and creating an opportunity for FLIR to incorporate additional service offerings through DroneBase in the future.”

Los Angeles-based DroneBase has contracted pilots to complete more than 100,000 commercial missions in 70-plus countries for residential and commercial real estate, insurance, telecommunications, construction and media companies, according to a statement.

Through FLIR’s Infrared Training Center, FLIR and DroneBase will develop a specialized training program that will be certified exclusively by DroneBase.

“Through FLIR’s strategic investment in DroneBase, we are now able to offer scalable thermal solutions to enterprises of any size,” said Dan Burton, founder and chief executive of DroneBase, in a statement. “This access to valuable data will allow stakeholders to make better decisions about their most critical assets. Like myself, many DroneBase pilots relied on FLIR products when they served in the military. This integration will offer military veterans a chance to work with FLIR again and leverage their training in their civilian lives.”

Powered by WPeMatico