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The consumer version of BBM is shutting down on May 31

Posted by | Android, apple-app-store, BBM, BlackBerry, computing, emtek, encryption, Google Play Store, imessage, Instant Messaging, messaging apps, Messenger, microsoft windows, Mobile, operating systems, private, research-in-motion, smartphone, smartphones, SMS, technology, WhatsApp, Windows Live Messenger | No Comments

It might be time to move on from BBM. The consumer version of the BlackBerry Messenger will shut down on May 31. Emtek, the Indonesia-based company that partnered with BlackBerry in 2016, just announced the closure. It’s important to note, BBM will still exist and BlackBerry today revealed a plan to open its enterprise-version of BBM to general consumers.

Starting today, BBM Enterprise will be available through the Google Play Store and eventually from the Apple App Store. The service will be free for one year and after that, $2.49 for six months of service. This version of the software, like the consumer version, still features group chats, voice and video calls and the ability to edit and retract messages.

As explained by BlackBerry, BBMe features end-to-end encryption:

BBMe can be downloaded on any device that uses Android, iOS, Windows or MAC operating systems. The sender and recipient each have unique public/private encryption and signing keys. These keys are generated on the device by a FIPS 140-2 certified cryptographic library and are not controlled by BlackBerry. Each message uses a new symmetric key for message encryption. Additionally, TLS encryption between the device and BlackBerry’s infrastructure protects BBMe messages from eavesdropping or manipulation.

BBM is one of the oldest smartphone messaging services. Research in Motion, BlackBerry’s original name, released the messenger in 2005. It quickly became a selling point for BlackBerry devices. BBM wasn’t perfect and occasionally crashed, but it was a robust, feature-filled messaging app when most of the world was still using SMS. Eventually, with the downfall of RIM and eventually BlackBerry, BBM fell behind iMessage, WhatsApp and other independent messaging platforms. Emtek’s partnership with BlackBerry was supposed to bring the service into the current age, but some say the consumer version ended up bloated with games, channels and ads. BlackBerry’s BBMe lacks a lot of those extra features, so consumers might find it a better platform for communicating.

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Review: The $199 Echo Link turns the fidelity up to 11

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Echo, amazon music unlimited, computing, echo, Echo Link, Gadgets, Google, google home, hardware, microsoft windows, operating systems, Pandora, smart speakers, Sonos, Spotify, streaming services | No Comments

The Echo Link takes streaming music and makes it sound better. Just wirelessly connect it to an Echo device and plug it into a set of nice speakers. It’s the missing link.

The Link bridges the gap between streaming music and a nice audio system. Instead of settling for the analog connection of an Echo Dot, the Echo Link serves audio over a digital connection and it makes just enough of a difference to justify the $200 price.

I plugged the Eco Link into the audio system in my office and was pleased with the results. This is the Echo device I’ve been waiting for.

In my case, the Echo Link took Spotfiy’s 320 kbps stream and opened it up. The Link creates a wider soundstage and makes the music a bit more full and expansive. The bass hits a touch harder and the highs now have a newfound crispness. Lyrics are clearer and easier to pick apart. The differences are subtle. Everything is just slightly improved over the sound quality found when using an Echo Dot’s 3.5mm output.

Don’t have a set of nice speakers? That’s okay; Amazon also just released the Echo Link Amp, which features a built-in amplifier capable of powering a set of small speakers.

Here’s the thing: I’m surprised Amazon is making the Echo Link. The device caters to what must be a small demographic of Echo owners looking to improve the quality of Pandora or Spotify when using an audio system. And yet, without support for local or streaming high-resolution audio, it’s not good enough for audiophiles. This is for wannabe audiophiles. Hey, that’s me.

Review

There are Echo’s scattered throughout my house. The devices provide a fantastic way to access music and NPR. The tiny Echo Link is perfect for the system in my office where I have a pair of Definitive Technology bookshelf speakers powered by an Onkyo receiver and amp. I have a turntable and SACD player connected to the receiver, but those are a hassle when I’m at my desk. The majority of the time I listen to Spotify through the Amazon Echo Input.

I added the Onkyo amplifier to the system last year and it made a huge difference to the quality. The music suddenly had more power. The two-channel amp pushes harder than the receiver, and resulted in audio that was more expansive and clear. And at any volume, too. I didn’t know what I was missing. That’s the trick with audio. Most of the time the audio sounds great until it suddenly sounds better. The Echo Link provided me with the same feeling of discovery.

To be clear, the $200 Echo Link does not provide a night and day difference in my audio quality. It’s a slight upgrade over the audio outputted by a $20 Echo Input — and don’t forget, an Echo device (like the $20 Echo Input) is required to make the Echo Link work.

The Echo Link provides the extra juice lacking from the Echo Input or Dot. Those less-expensive options output audio to an audio system, but only through an analog connection. The Echo Link offers a digital connection through Toslink or Digital Coax. It has analog outputs that’s powered by a DAC with a superior dynamic range and total harmonic distortion found in the Input or Dot. It’s an easy way to improve the quality of music from streaming services.

The Echo Link, and Echo Link Amp, also feature a headphone amp. It’s an interesting detail. With this jack, someone could have the Echo Link on their desk and use it to power a set of headphones without any loss of quality.

I set up a simple A/B test to spot the differences between a Link and a Dot. First, I connected the Echo Link with a Toslink connection to my receiver and an Echo Input. I also connected an Echo Dot through its 3.5mm analog connection to the receiver. I created a group in the Alexa app of the devices. This allowed each of the devices to play the same source simultaneously. Then, as needed, I was able to switch between the Dot and Link with just a touch of a button, providing an easy and quick way to test the differences.

I’ll leave it up to you to justify the cost. To me, as someone who has invested money into a quality audio system, the extra cost of the Echo Link is worth it. But to others, an Echo Dot could be enough.

It’s important to note that the Echo Link works a bit differently than other Echo devices connected to an audio system. When, say, a Dot is connected to an audio system, the internal speakers are turned off and all of the audio is sent to the system. The Echo Link doesn’t have to override the companion Echo. When an Echo Link is connected to an Echo device, the Echo still responds through its internal speakers; only music is sent to the Echo Link. For example, when the Echo is asked about the weather, the forecast is played back through the speakers in the Echo and not the audio system connected to the Echo Link. In most cases, this allows the owner to turn off the high-power speakers and still have access to voice commands on the Echo.

The Echo Link takes streaming music and instantly improves the quality. In my case, the improvements were slight but noticeable. It works with all the streaming services supported by Echo devices, but it’s important to note it does not work with Tidal’s high-res Master Audio tracks. The best the Echo Link can do is 320 kbps from Spotify or Tidal. This is a limiting factor and it’s not surprising. If the Echo Link supported Tidal’s Master Tracks, I would likely sign up for that service, and that is not in the best interest of Amazon, which hopes I sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited.

I spoke to Amazon about the Echo Link’s lack of support for Tidal Master Tracks and they indicated they’re interested in hearing how customers will use the device before committing to adding support.

The Link is interesting. Google doesn’t have anything similar in its Google Home Line. The Sonos Amp is similar, but with a built-in amplifier, it’s a closer competitor to the Echo Link Amp. Several high-end audio companies sell components that can stream audio over digital connections, yet none are as easy to use or as inexpensive as the Echo Link. The Echo Link is the easiest way to improve the sound of streaming music services.

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Microsoft Edge on mobile now includes a built-in fake news detector

Posted by | Apps, disinformation, fake news, Jessica Lessin, Michael Hayden, Microsoft, Microsoft Edge, microsoft windows, Mobile, TC, the wall street journal | No Comments

In 2019, we still don’t really know what to do about fake news. With nothing to disincentivize viral hyperpartisan headlines and other exercises in confirmation bias, online misinformation seems to run as rampant as ever. It’s a tricky problem, particularly because it’s one that requires the readers most drawn to too outrageous to be true news to challenge their beliefs. In other words, without some kind of technical solution or massive cultural shift, the fake news dilemma won’t be solving itself any time soon.

That being said, Microsoft’s mobile Edge browser is taking a modest swing at it. On Android and iOS, the Microsoft Edge app now installs with a built-in fake news detector called NewsGuard. The partnership is an extension of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy program, and NewsGuard for Edge was first announced earlier this month.

While NewsGuard isn’t on by default, anyone using Edge can enable it with a simple toggle in the settings menu. When I downloaded the app to test it, Edge actually nudged me to the Settings menu and then to an option called News Rating (this enables NewsGuard) with a small blue dot. The dot wasn’t an alarm-red notification but would probably be notable enough to pique my interest and point me to the setting, even if I wasn’t writing this story.

For now, NewsGuard’s ratings concentrate on U.S.-based websites, but major sites abroad are included too. TechCrunch received a healthy green check on NewsGuard, indicating that we maintain “basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” Clicking the green badge next to the address bar presented an option to review TechCrunch’s full “nutrition label” — a rundown of pertinent information like our ownership and financing, content and credibility. The information was pretty nuanced, right down to the insight that “opinion pieces are not always clearly labeled,” which is fair enough. It even included an example of a corrected story and how we handled it. As The Guardian noted, the Daily Mail didn’t fare quite so well.

The editorial deep-dives that influence NewsGuard’s ratings are impressive, though they do exemplify another issue that makes fighting fake news particularly tricky. Even if news sources are evaluated across a matrix of factors, there’s still some degree of subjective assessment necessary to make these decisions. While there are plenty of entities that could be making these calls, how do we reach a consensus on who should be doing it?

NewsGuard is co-led by Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and Steven Brill. Like other editorially minded news experiments, NewsGuard relies on a human team instead of algorithms. The company counts former CIA director General Michael Hayden and The Information founder Jessica Lessin among its advisors.

Edge isn’t a very popular browser, but it still makes an interesting case study in the intractable war against low-quality information online. It also illustrates the central Catch 22 of the fake news era: The users who need a fake news detector the most are the least likely to use one. Microsoft’s Edge experiment with NewsGuard isn’t a solution to that issue, but baking some kind of news verification tool right into the browser does feel like a step in a compelling direction.

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The annual PornHub year in review tells us what we’re really looking at online

Posted by | Android, Apps, arkansas, Australia, chrome os, Germany, india, microsoft windows, Mississippi, Nintendo, pornhub, pornography, South Carolina, Startups, TC, United Kingdom, United States, video hosting, world wide web | No Comments

PornHub, a popular site that features people in various stages of undress, saw 33.5 billion visits in 2018. There are currently 7.53 billion people on Earth.

Y’all have been busy.

The company, which owns most of the major porn sites online, produces a yearly report that aggregates user behavior on the site. Of particular interest, aside from the fact that all of us are horndogs, is that the U.S., Germany and India are in the top spots for porn browsing and that the company transferred 4,000 petabytes of data, or about 500 MB, per person on the planet.

We ignore this data at our peril. While it doesn’t seem important at first glance, the fact that these porn sites are doing more traffic than most major news organizations is deeply telling. Further, like the meme worlds of Twitter and Facebook, Stormy Daniels and Fortnite made the top searches, which points to the spread of politics and culture into the heart of our desires. TV manufacturers should note that 4K searchers are rising in popularity, which suggests that consumer electronics manufacturers should start getting read for a shift (although it should be noted that there is sadly little free 4K content on these sites, a discovery I just made while researching this brief.)

Need more frightening/enlightening data? Here you go.

Just as ‘1080p’ searches had been a defining term in 2017, now ‘4k’ ultra-hd has seen a significant increase in popularity through-out 2018. The popularity of ‘Romantic’ videos more than doubled, and remained twice as popular with female visitors when compared to men.

Searches referring to the dating app ‘Tinder’ grew by 161% among women, 113% among men and 131% by visitors aged 35 to 44. It was also a top trending term in many countries including the United Kingdom and Australia. The number of Tinder themed fantasy date videos on the site is now more than 3500.

Life imitates art, and eventually porn imitates everything, so perhaps it’s no surprise to see that ‘Bowsette’ also made our list of searches that defined 2018. After the original Nintendo fan-art went viral, searches for Bowsette exceeded 3 million in just one week and resulted in the release of a live-action Bowsette themed porn parody (NSFW) with more than 720,000 views.

Bowsette. Good. Moving on.

The Bible Belt represented well in the showings, with Mississippi, South Carolina and Arkansas spending the most time looking at porn. Kansas spent the least. Phones got the most use as porn distribution devices and iOS and Android nearly tied in terms of platform popularity.

Windows traffic fell considerably this year, while Chrome OS became decidedly more popular in 2018. Chrome was popular when it came to browsers used, while the PlayStation was the biggest deliverer of flicks to the console user.

Porn is a the canary in the tech coal mine, and where it goes the rest of tech follows. All of these data points, taken together, paint a fascinating picture of a world on the cusp of a fairly unique shift from desktop to mobile and from HD to 4K video. Further, given that these sites are delivering so much data on a daily basis, it’s clear that all of us are sneaking a peek now and again… even if we refuse to admit it.

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The Windows 10 October 2018 Update is now available

Posted by | Android, computing, Microsoft, microsoft windows, New York, smartphones, TC, Windows 10, Windows Phone, windows phone 8.1, Windows Update | No Comments

Microsoft today announced that the Windows 10 October 2018 update is now available. The company made the announcement at a small press event in New York, though it’s obviously no surprise that Microsoft decided to roll out the October update in the month that gave it its name.

As usual, these rollouts take a while. You can force the update now, but for those who want to wait, Microsoft will start the automatic updates on October 9.

Like most recent Windows updates, the October release isn’t going to blow you away with a new interface or crazy new features. Most of these updates now are incremental, but overall, the new release offers a number of interesting new features.

The most interesting of these is probably the new “Your Phone” app, which allows you to text from your PC using an Android phone that also runs Microsoft’s mobile companion app. In later iterations, that app will also sync notifications to your desktop, but for now, that’s not an option. There also are tools for continuing your workflow as you switch from your phone to PC (or vice versa). These features work for iOS users, too.

As far as syncing between devices goes, it’s worth noting that the update also will allow you to share your clipboard between PCs.

Since everybody likes a dark mode these days, the Windows 10 File Explorer now also includes a dark theme. There’s also a revamped search experience, as well as a new screenshot tool.

While the release includes plenty of other tweaks, both in terms of functionality and design, the most anticipated feature, Sets, didn’t make it into this release. Sets is probably the biggest change to the overall Windows user experience since the release of Windows 10, so maybe it’s no surprise that Microsoft is trying to perfect this. And perfection takes a while.

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The SteelSeries Arctis Pro lineup is a new high-water mark in comfort and quality

Posted by | Bluetooth, Computer Hardware, computing, controller, dts, Gadgets, Gaming, Headset, mac, microsoft windows, oled, player, PlayStation 4, Reviews, sound cards, SteelSeries, TC, Turtle Beach, wireless, Xbox One | No Comments

SteelSeries has two new Arctis Pro gaming headsets out, and they pack a lot of tech and versatility into a comfortable, visually attractive package. The SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless and Arctis Pro + GameDAC are both incredibly capable headsets that deliver terrific sound, and depending on your system needs, should probably be your first choice when looking for new gaming audio gear.

The Arctis Pro Wireless is, true to its name, wire-free, but also promises lossless 2.4GHz transmission to ensure lag-free audio, too – a must for competitive gaming. The combination of the wireless functionality, the long-wearing comfort of the suspension system headband and the included transmitter base that can hold and charge a swappable battery as well as display all key information on an OLED readout makes this a standout choice.

There are some limitations, however – compatibility is limited to either PS4 or PC for this one, for instance. The wired Arctis Pro (without GameDAC) is compatible with the Xbox One, but both the wireless version and the version that connected to the wired DAC will only work with either Sony’s latest consoles or with a Windows or Mac-based gaming PC.

I’m a bit saddened by that since I’m a big fan of PUBG on Xbox, and also lately of Sea of Thieves, but I also do regularly play PS4 and PC games, and the Arctis Pro Wireless is my weapon of choice now when using either, either for multiplayer or single player games. The wearability and sound quality (which includes DTS X 7.1 surround on PC) is so good that I’ll often opt to use them in place of my actual 5.1 physical surround system, even when I don’t need to chat with anyone.

Other options, like the Turtle Beach Elite Pro Tournament Headset, offer different advantages including more easily accessible fine-tune control over soundscape, balance of chat and game audio and other features, but the SteelSeries offers a less complicated out-of-box experience, and better all-day wearability thanks to taking cues from athletic wear for its materials and design.

The GameDAC option additionally has Hi-Res Audio certificate, which is good if you’re looking to stream FLAC files or high-res audio from services like Tidal. The DAC itself also makes all audio sound better overall, and gives you more equalization options from the physical controller .

The main thing to consider with the Arctis Pro + DAC ($249.99) and the Arctis Pro Wireless ($329.99) is the cost. They’re both quite expensive relative to the overall SteelSeries lineup and those of competitors, too. But in this case, cost really is reflective of quality – channel separation and surround virtualization is excellent on these headsets, and the mic sounds great to other players I talked to as well. Plus, the Pro Wireless can connect to both Bluetooth and the 2.4GHz transmitter simultaneously, so you can use it with your phone as well as your console, and the retractable mic keeps things looking fairly stylish, too.

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8bitdo’s wireless adapter adds flexibility to Xbox, PlayStation and Switch controllers

Posted by | Amazon, Android, computing, controller, DualShock, Gadgets, game controller, Gaming, hardware, microsoft windows, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, playstation, TC, video gaming, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Game controller compatibility is a labyrinthine nightmare most of the time: Some controllers work with some platforms some of the time, but it’s very hard to keep track of how and when. 8bitdo’s latest accessory adds some simplicity to the mix, enabling use of Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch controllers with Switch, Windows and macOS systems quickly and easily.

Yes, that means you can play your PC or Mac games with your favorite Xbox One X/S or DualShock 3/4 controller, or even use a Joy-Con. It also means that you can use a DualShock controller to play Breath of the Wild on the Switch, if that’s what you want to do.

The USB dongle also works with Android TV hardware, and with Raspberry Pi-based devices. It supports DualShock 4 vibration and 6-axis motion control on Switch, and it works lag-free for low latency gaming requirements. It’s also a tiny bit smaller than either the dedicated Xbox or PlayStation dedicated PC wireless controller USB adapters (and supports a broader range of platforms).

Oh, and it’s also just $20 from Amazon. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now and it performs exactly as advertised. If you’re looking to cut down your controller clutter or just have a strong preference for once design over another, this is definitely a smart buy.

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Microsoft and Xiaomi to collaborate on AI, cloud computing and hardware

Posted by | artificial intelligence, Asia, computing, Cortana, Home Automation, Microsoft, microsoft windows, Mobile, smartphones, TC, technology, Windows 10, Windows Phone, Xiaomi | No Comments

 After Microsoft signed a deal to test Windows 10 on Xiaomi devices in 2015 and then Xiaomi bought a trove of patents to help run other Microsoft services on its devices in 2016, today the two companies announced another chapter in its collaboration. Xiaomi and Microsoft have signed a Strategic Framework Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work more closely in the areas of cloud computing,… Read More

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Microsoft expands HoloLens headsets to 29 new markets, now up to 39

Posted by | AR, augmented reality, Computer Hardware, computing, Europe, Gadgets, head-mounted displays, Headset, Microsoft, Microsoft HoloLens, microsoft windows, mixed reality, TC, VR, Windows 10 | No Comments

 Nearly three years on from Microsoft unveiling its HoloLens augmented reality headsets, the company today announced a major expansion of its availability: 29 more markets in Europe, nearly tripling the total number of countries where you can buy the device up to 39. The news shows that while we don’t have a firm number of how many units have been sold, we do know that Microsoft is… Read More

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Microsoft debug policy leak could make Windows Phones useful again

Posted by | Android, linux, Microsoft, microsoft windows, Mobile, mobile phones, Security, smartphones, tablet computer, TC, Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows Phone, windows rt | No Comments

Image (1) wp7ballmer.jpg for post 181362 Microsoft looks to have inadvertently made some of its own orphaned devices useful again, after accidentally leaking a debug policy that could allow owners of Windows powered hardware such as earlier iterations of Windows Phones smartphones or ARM-powered Windows RT tablets to install alternative operating systems like Android and Linux. Read More

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