News & Updates

NEW YORK CITY—Samsung is back with its second flagship for 2016, the Galaxy Note 7. It’s basically a bigger Galaxy S7 with a stylus, but this year Samsung is adding an Iris scanner and finally upgrading to USB Type C.

Like Microsoft before it, Samsung’s marketing department has had a bit of trouble counting this year. After the Galaxy Note 5 in 2015, the company has totally skipped the Galaxy Note 6 and advanced to the Galaxy Note 7. The idea is that the Galaxy Note line will now line up with the Galaxy S line—this year we’re getting the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7. (A word of warning for next year: don’t confuse the Galaxy Note 8 with the Galaxy Note 8.0, a Samsung tablet from 2013.)

This doubles as likely the best way to think of the Galaxy Note 7: it’s a Galaxy S7, but a bit bigger. The design and materials are very close to the S7—the Note 7 is a glass-backed device with a metal frame, sporting the typical Samsung look. The specs are about the same, too, with a Snapdragon 820 (not the new 821), 4GB of RAM, and a 5.7-inch 2560×1440 AMOLED display. The Snapdragon is for the US market. Internationally, Samsung is again using an Exynos chip.

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The bugged courthouse. Redwood City, California. (credit: Jimmy Emerson)

The FBI violated the Fourth Amendment by recording more than 200 hours of conversation at the entrance to a county courthouse in the Bay Area, a federal judge has ruled.

Federal agents planted the concealed microphones around the San Mateo County Courthouse in 2009 and 2010 as part of an investigation into alleged bid-rigging at public auctions for foreclosed homes. In November, lawyers representing five defendants filed a motion arguing that the tactic was unconstitutional, since the Fourth Amendment bans unreasonable searches.

“[T]he government utterly failed to justify a warrantless electronic surveillance that recorded private conversations spoken in hushed tones by judges, attorneys, and court staff entering and exiting a courthouse,” US District Judge Charles Breyer wrote in an order (PDF) published yesterday. “Even putting aside the sensitive nature of the location here, Defendants have established that they believed their conversations were private and they took reasonable steps to thwart eavesdroppers.”

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Is my smartphone battery leaking details about me?

Unfortunately, YES!

Forget about supercookies, apps, and malware; your smartphone battery status is enough to monitor your online activity, according to a new report.

In 2015, researchers from Stanford University demonstrated a way to track users’ locations – with up to 90 percent accuracy – by measuring the battery usage of the phone over


(credit: AACC)

Late Monday afternoon, a few thousand clinical chemists packed into a cavernous convention hall in Philadelphia to hear a presentation by Elizabeth Holmes, the embattled CEO and founder of blood testing company Theranos. Her presentation, given in a controversial session of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s annual conference, was expected by many to be an opportunity for Holmes to finally reveal data that could back up the company’s lofty claims about its blood testing technology—technology now mired in scandal.

Last month, federal regulators revoked the company’s license to perform those blood tests, saying Theranos posed “immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety.” The company now faces lawsuits from ex-patients and a criminal probe for allegedly misleading investors on claims about its technology’s performance. Federal regulators have banned Holmes from owning or operating a lab.

Yesterday’s presentation could have been the data-driven turning point Holmes has been promising. And the conference attendees—experts in clinical testing—gathered anxiously to hear the results.

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Alone in the Mojave desert, the tiny rocket stood barely as tall as a basketball goal backboard. Launch control was a laptop inside a nearby bunker, and the small gathering of aerospace engineers and investors seemed almost like a rocket hobby club as they watched the vehicle soar to about 5,000 feet before parachuting back to Earth. But this scene may have represented something much more than that. With its small-scale test Saturday, the company Vector Space Systems took another step toward upending the rapidly expanding small satellite launch market.

Not since the Germans and their V-2 rockets during World War II has anyone launched more than a few dozen of the same rockets per year. Now, within about five years Vector intends to launch as many as 100 of its 13-meter tall Wolverine vehicles annually, with a capability to put a 50kg satellite into low-Earth orbit. The company aims to fill a niche below current generation of launchers being developed by companies such as RocketLab and Virgin Galactic, with rockets capable of delivering 200 to 250kg satellites to low-Earth orbit.

So far, it seems like a good bet. On Tuesday morning, Vector announced that it has acquired its first customer, Finnish-based Iceye, to conduct 21 launches of the company’s commercial synthetic aperture radar satellite constellation. “Getting your satellite into orbit is one of the biggest challenges for new-space companies, but there just isn’t the launch capacity right now,” Iceye chief executive Rafal Modrzewski said in a news release.

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(credit: Alpha six)

Cloud backup and storage provider Backblaze has published its latest batch of drive reliability data. The release covers failure information for the 70,000 disks that the company uses to store some 250PB of data.

This is the first quarter that Backblaze has been using a reasonable number of new 8TB disks: 45 from HGST and 2720 from Seagate. Drives from both companies are showing comparable annualized failure rates: 3.2 percent for HGST, 3.3 percent for Seagate. While the smaller HGST drives show better reliability, with annualized failure rates below one percent for the company’s 4TB drives, the figures are typical for Seagate, which Backblaze continues to prefer over other alternatives due to Seagate’s combination of price and availability.

Annualized failure rates for all of Backblaze's drives.

Annualized failure rates for all of Backblaze’s drives. (credit: Backblaze)

But it’s still early days for the 8TB drives. While evidence for the phenomenon is inconclusive, hard drive reliability is widely assumed to experience a “bathtub curve” when plotting its failure rate against time: failure rates are high when the drives are new (due to “infant mortality” caused by drives that contain manufacturing defects) and when the drives reach their expected lifetime (due to the accumulated effects of wear and tear), with a period of several years of low failure rates in the middle. If the bathtub theory is correct, Backblaze’s assortment of 8TB drives should suffer fewer failures in the future.

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What boosts does the Xbox One S hide? According to Digital Foundry, quite a few. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

The Xbox One S is out, and our review discusses at length some of the system’s major changes, including a total visual refresh and a test of its 4K content. Turns out we missed one thing: the system launched with an unadvertised boost to some older games’ visuals!

The frame rate-analysis wizards at Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry confirmed the good news after testing older Xbox One games. Many titles won’t seen any boost at all—which is what we found in cursory testing of 15 games, both for the normal system and for its backwards-compatibility library. However, if an older game runs on Xbox One S using either unlocked frame rates (meaning, not tied to v-sync) or dynamic resolution (meaning, it can scale down from 1080p on the fly to improve performance), players might see the a boost by as much as nine frames per second.

That maximum boost was measured in Project CARS, a graphics-intensive driving sim whose rain-soaked racetrack variants can bring frame rates hurtling downward on the normal Xbox One. Other games that enjoyed noticeable boosts included a remaster of Capcom’s Resident Evil 5 and the latest game in the Hitman series.

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The world’s first broadcast using 8K TV technology has begun on Japan’s public channel NHK. With a resolution of 7680×4320, “Super Hi-Vision” as the company calls it—don’t worry, the name won’t catch on—has about four times the detail of a 4K broadcast, or 16 times what you’re probably watching at home (normal HD, 1920×1080).

The 8K broadcast will be tested over the next five days, and from August 6 it will be used to broadcast parts of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which are being filmed in 8K by special NHK cameras.

Of course, viewing an 8K broadcast will be rather difficult even in Japan, as none of the equipment required to receive and display the 8K signal has yet been commercially released. Instead, NHK has set up two special 8K viewing theatres in Tokyo and Osaka for the duration of the trial. For really determined home users, Sharp apparently sells an 85-inch 8K TV for about £120,000, but I couldn’t find it in stock anywhere.

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