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Google’s Much-Hyped Pixel 6 Undercuts Its Peers at Just $599

Google’s Much-Hyped Pixel 6 Undercuts Its Peers at Just $599

I’ve been using the two for the past few days and can’t share much about them just yet—look for our review next week—but these Pixels feel just as high-end as most $1,000 phones. The Pro especially has shiny aluminum around the edges that give it a classy look, whereas the Pixel 6 sticks with a matte texture that’s more subdued. Both are wrapped in glass, with Gorilla Glass Victus protecting the Pro’s screen, and Gorilla Glass 6 protecting the standard Pixel 6. Victus is a year or so newer than 6, and supposedly more protective.

These are also two of the larger Pixels Google has produced. The Pixel 6 has a 6.4-inch screen and the Pro is a 6.7 incher, but they don’t feel drastically different in size. That’s because the Pixel 6 has thicker borders around the screen, and the Pro’s screen curves out to the edges to maximize screen space. 

Maxed Out Specs

They have pretty much any feature you’d want in a top-end Android phone, including OLED panels, stereo speakers, full 5G connectivity, speedy Wi-Fi 6E, IP68 water resistance, and wireless charging (a new Pixel Stand wireless charger is on the way too). Both also have fingerprint sensors baked into the display, a first for Google but a feature that’s become the norm on most high-end Android phones.

Like its competitors, the Pixel 6 range does not include charging adapters in the box, just a USB-C to USB-C cable and a USB-C to USB-A adapter. 

Google Pixel 6

Pixel 6 Pro

Photograph: Google

Here’s how they differ:

Pixel 6: There’s a 90-Hz screen refresh rate, just like on last year’s Pixel 5, and a 1,080 x 2,400-pixel resolution. The Tensor chip, which Google says delivers up to 80 percent faster performance over its Qualcomm-powered predecessor, is joined with 8 gigabytes of RAM. It has a 4,524-mAh battery cell, which Google says should last more than a day. Neither has a MicroSD card slot (nor a headphone jack), but on the Pixel 6, you can choose between 128 or 256 gigabyte storage options. 

Pixel 6 Pro: You get a higher 1,440 x 3,120-pixel resolution and a 120-Hz screen refresh rate, which Google says can dip as low as 10-Hz when there’s not much happening on the screen to save battery life. The bigger size means a bigger 4,905-mAh capacity, and you also get 12 gigabytes of RAM. And if you record a lot of video, there’s an additional 512 gigabyte storage option. The Pro has an exclusive ultra wideband (UWB) chip, which can help it pinpoint the location of other UWB devices, similar to how the new iPhone 13 can find the precise location of Apple AirTags. Google says it will roll out “several features” that utilize UWB in the coming months but we don’t yet know what those will be.

Camera Upgrade

Google Pixel 6

Pixel 6

Photograph: Google

Pixel phones are known for their stellar cameras, but their lead has waned. To combat this, Google is upgrading its imaging hardware. Both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro have the same main camera, a 50-megapixel large 1/1.31-inch sensor that can take in up to 150 percent more light than the Pixel 5. The camera uses a process called pixel binning, where pixels merge to absorb more light, so you end up with a 12.5-megapixel photo. 

Amazon’s Astro Is a Robot Without a Cause

Amazon’s Astro Is a Robot Without a Cause

What do you get when you mix Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant with an Echo Show tablet, give it a hefty dose of artificial intelligence, integrate it all with Ring’s home security system, and let it roll around your home autonomously? You get a robot for the sake of a robot.

Actually, you get Astro, Amazon’s long-rumored home robot. The company has been working on this for nearly four years, and it has plans for Astro. It’s just not quite sure exactly what those are yet, so it’s offering the robot by invitation only, hoping thousands of early customers can help define what it’s for. The 2-foot-tall, 20-pound robot has a 10-inch touchscreen; includes an array of sensors, cameras, and microphones; and can wheel, multi-directionally, around your home. It costs $1,000.

Astro underscores Amazon’s seriousness about robotics, an area the company has invested heavily in for years as part of its warehouse network. It also shows how serious Amazon is about getting its devices—and its services—into every corner of our homes. But Astro, as adorable as it is, is a robot without a cause, at least for now. Amazon’s hardware chief Dave Limp identified a few potential use cases in an interview with WIRED, including eldercare and home security. But ultimately, Limp says, the company wants to get it into customers’ hands so it can identify “unique use cases” for the bot. 

Robot Rock

Amazon Astro robot
Video: Amazon

The Astro bot is powered by two Qualcomm chips, with artificial intelligence processing built into the chipset. Its operating system is based on FireOS and Linux. It has five motors to give it some oomph, and it can carry a small payload on the back (anything that weighs less than 5 pounds).

Its face is a plain-looking tablet, but this is where you can swipe or tap your way through commands or video chats without having to rely on voice control. It’s also where you’ll find Astro’s eyes, which are meant to give it more life than the cold, glass screens we’re used to. Alexa is built into Astro too, so you can also dad-joke with it to your heart’s content.

Early reports have likened this to a robot vacuum cleaner, and they’re not wrong, minus the whole clean-your-house part. Astro is battery operated and, when it’s depleted, finds its way back to a fixed charging dock. Even more akin to a robot vacuum cleaner are the array of sensors in the bot: Astro is packed with “ultrasonic sensors, time-of-flight cameras, and other imaging tools that let the robot know what’s around it and where it’s going,” according to The Verge. It also has a periscope camera that extends from the top of the bot.

Everything Apple Announced Today: iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch

Everything Apple Announced Today: iPhones, iPads, Apple Watch

Somehow it’s September already, which means it’s time for new iPhones. Today, as it’s done for the past year and a half, Apple streamed a virtual launch event from its spaceship headquarters in Cupertino, California. (These remote functions could go on for a while, since Apple has pushed back its plan to make employees return to the office until next year.)

In addition to four new iPhone models, Apple also showed off some other glittering gadgets—including a new Apple Watch and a revamped iPad Mini—and gave updates about its growing services business and the software that runs on its many devices.

Here’s everything Apple announced.

Hello, iPhone 13

two apple iphones
Photograph: Apple

There are four versions of iPhone 13 to choose from. They range from the inexpensive Mini’s 5.4-inch screen to the chonky and feature-packed 6.7-inch Pro Max. Designwise, the visual differences on the new models are minor. At least the notorious notch is a teensy bit smaller.

Inside, each phone runs on Apple’s new A15 Bionic chip. It allows for enhanced features like live text analysis, advanced map animations, and instant visual identification of plants and animals, all of which is processed on the device with no help from the cloud. Storage options have gotten a boost too. All the new iPhones start with 128 GB of storage, but for the first time, the Pro phones can be maxed out to 1 terabyte of space.

You can read our report on the iPhone 13 for a full look at its new capabilities. The iPhone 13 Mini starts at $699, the regular iPhone is $799, the Pro is $999, and the Pro Max starts at $1,099. Preorders open up on Friday, and all phones will be available on September 24.

Apple only briefly touched on the privacy features of the new iPhones during today’s event, perhaps because it was eager to avoid wading into the recent photo-scanning controversy it’s found itself in.

Camera Tricks

Photograph: Apple

Perhaps the most eye-popping update of the whole event was Apple’s new video feature for iPhones called Cinematic Mode. It’s a sort of video portrait mode that automatically changes focus and blurs backgrounds for an adjustable bokeh effect. On Pro-model phones, you can adjust the depth of field and focus even after filming. There’s also the option to film in Apple’s high-quality ProRes format.

The iPhone Pro models received updates to their three lenses: telephoto, wide, and ultrawide. There are also some new advanced options for on-device color correcting and photo enhancements that automatically adjust the images based on the colors and skin tones of the subjects.

New iPad and iPad Mini

hand holding iPad mini
Photograph: Apple

The tiniest of iPads got a sizable update. Apple has brought the aesthetics of the iPad Mini more in line with its other recently redesigned tablets. It’s thinner, with more softly rounded corners. The screen is now slightly bigger, at 8.3 inches across. To accommodate this wider format, the Touch ID sensor has been moved to the outer rim. The home button is gone, and there is a USB-C port at the bottom now. It really looks like a giant iPhone!

Everything Samsung Announced at Its Unpacked Event

Everything Samsung Announced at Its Unpacked Event

The prices for both Samsung foldables have come down considerably, with the Fold3 going for $1,799 and the Flip3 starting at $1,000. If you preorder the Fold3, you’ll get $200 in Samsung Credit for Samsung.com, and it’s $150 if you snag the Flip3. 

Samsung Galaxy Watch4 and Watch4 Classic

Samsung watches

The Samsung Galaxy Watch4 (left, in blue) starts at $250. The Watch4 Classic (right, in white) starts at $350.

Photograph: Julian Chokkattu

Samsung is going in a new direction with its smartwatches. Rather than relying on its bespoke Tizen operating system and asking developers to create versions of their apps that only run on Samsung devices, it’s embracing Google’s Wear OS operating system. The company codeveloped the software alongside Fitbit, the Google-owned wearable maker. That means Samsung watch fans gain access to more useful apps, such as Google Maps. And, given the popularity of Samsung’s smartwatches, the move could potentially encourage more developers to build apps for Wear OS, something Google has always struggled with.

The new Galaxy Watch4 and Watch4 Classic have user interfaces that look and feel very much like previous Samsung smartwatches, but there are many changes under the hood and some subtle tweaks that make them easier to use. For example, tapping the button on the side of the watch lets you access recently-opened apps. Both watches are powered by a 5-nanometer Samsung processor, and they have higher-resolution screens, 16 gigs of storage, up to 40 hours of battery life, and wireless fast charging.

More importantly, Samsung’s BioActive smartwatch sensor has been redesigned to sit closer to the skin, thereby improving the health tracking abilities of the watches. The sensor can still measure electrocardiograms, blood pressure, and VO2 Max readings, but it’s faster at automatically recognizing workouts. It also offers more accurate calorie counts, and it now includes bioelectric impedance analysis, which lets you see granular body composition data such as skeletal muscle, body fat, and fat mass.

Samsung says sleep tracking on its watches has improved too. The watches work with Samsung’s Galaxy phones for snore detection (using the phone’s mics to pick up the sound of you sawing logs) while collecting blood oxygen data via the watch’s sensor once per minute for more detailed sleep analysis.

The base Galaxy Watch4 replaces Samsung’s previous Active line. The new watch doesn’t have a mechanical bezel, but rather a digital one. (You can slide your finger around the edge of the screen to scroll through the interface.) I think it’s better looking than the Classic, and it has a tantalizing price: It starts at $250 for the Bluetooth version but adding LTE connectivity costs $50 more. It comes in 40- or 44-mm sizes. 

Citizen’s New Service Helps Paying Users Summon the Cops

Citizen’s New Service Helps Paying Users Summon the Cops

Citizen, the app that tracks local crime and lets users film incidents as they happen, has launched a new subscription service. It’s called Protect, and it enables subscribers who pay the $20 monthly fee to contact Citizen’s team of virtual security agents for help whenever they feel threatened.

Tuesday’s update marks a significant change in Citizen’s business, which until now has involved sending smartphone alerts about nearby crimes and incidents to its users for free. With this paid service, the company is not only taking a step toward actively monitoring the safety of users who pony up the monthly fee, it is also expanding a service that privacy advocates have repeatedly decried as overreaching.

Protect works like a Life Alert button for your phone. If you’re in danger, the pitch goes, just touch the red Get Agent button inside the Citizen app and you’ll be connected to a video or text chat with a Protect agent. If you need assistance on the scene, the agent can call the police or other emergency services and guide them to your location. If you have emergency contacts who also have the Citizen app installed, an agent can contact those people in the event you’re incapacitated or just otherwise too busy dealing with your emergency to reach out yourself.

The feature has been available only to select beta testers since early 2021, and today it rolls out in an app update so any Citizen user can sign up.

The new version of the app can even listen for your screams. A feature available to subscribers called Distress Detection uses an algorithm to monitor your mobile handset’s microphone for sounds that “indicate trouble,” according to the company—Citizen cites a human scream as an example. The Distress Detection feature is available only on iOS, though Citizen says it plans to expand the feature to more devices.

“We really are just on this journey to evolve the public safety system and use technology to supercharge it,” says Citizen CEO Andrew Frame.

Citizen says that somewhere around 100,000 users have tried the service in beta. Last week, Citizen provided me with a free trial of the Protect service. In my week of testing, it worked as promised. Pressing the Get Agent button on the bottom of the home screen presented me with options to contact a Protect agent through either a video chat or text chat. In one of my tests, I connected with a Protect agent identified as Agent Aaron, who told me they could see my device’s location, battery level, and rate of travel—zero, since I was sitting still. The agent also said that if I had synced Protect with an Apple Watch, they would be able to see my heart rate. That extra layer of data would presumably let them know if I was panicking or physically exerting myself. (Citizen says it isn’t commenting on any health-sensor-related features at this time.)

On iOS, a setting called Protect Mode opens up access to the phone’s microphone to allow for the aforementioned scream alerts. It also unlocks a gesture option that lets you shake the phone to text an agent. They both worked when I tested them, though it took a few screams to get the app to send an alert. In practice, Citizen agents can then loop in emergency responders and notify them of your phone’s location. In the event of an official response, Citizen will also create a public alert for the incident that will notify nearby Citizen users.

Help on the Way

Protect is Citizen’s first subscription-based offering, and a paid product of any sort is long overdue. The company has hoovered up venture capital funding since it began in 2016, while only hinting at its plans for eventually building a profitable business. In early 2020, Frame said that Citizen planned to monetize that year. (“The VCs said that they won’t continue funding this until you figure that out,” Frame told me last year.) The pandemic may have destabilized that timeline a bit, but the company’s lack of profitability doesn’t seem to have fazed investors. Citizen raised $50 million this year alone in a Series C round.

Now, after a few months of beta testing, Protect is available to all of Citizen’s 8 million users. But it’s unclear whether customers will embrace a paid service offered by one of the most contentious tech companies.