Amazon and Kohl’s are expanding their partnership that allows customers of the former to return their items to the latter’s retail stores. Beginning in July, Kohl’s will take back items you’ve ordered from Amazon and want to return for a refund. You don’t need to pack them up in a box, either; the retailer will handle all aspects of shipping and get the items back to one of Amazon’s return centers on your behalf. And everything is completely free. Kohl’s has been offering this convenience since 2017 at around 100 of its stores, but in July, it’ll be available at every location.
Kohl’s says it will take all “eligible” Amazon purchases. I’ve asked the company what items would be considered ineligible under the program, but I’d guess it’s mainly oversized items or other illogical things to push onto a store. Also, you’ll likely be out of luck if your item came from a third-party Amazon marketplace seller.
“I think the returns initiative is one where we can really leverage each other’s strengths. I think one of the benefits of being in brick and mortar and having an online business is to accommodate easy returns,” Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass told CNBC in an interview, noting that “80 percent of America lives within 10 miles of a Kohl’s.”
What does Kohl’s get out of being the middleman between you and Amazon? The possibility that you’ll buy something from them when making the trip, of course. “If we go forward, it really does need to be a win-win for both of us,” Gass said when discussing the earlier pilot with Amazon. Apparently, it has proven to be exactly that.
To return something from Amazon with Kohl’s, you actually start the process on Amazon’s website and then choose Kohl’s drop-off as your preferred return method. Amazon makes online shopping returns plenty easy, whether you want a prepaid shipping label to mail it back yourself or you prefer to just drop something off at an Amazon Locker location. But this option might prove popular with people who prefer just getting it done in person — assuming you can put up with waiting in the customer service line at your local Kohl’s. At least parking should be easier: the retailer installed dedicated parking spaces for customers who are making Amazon returns at some of its stores during the pilot phase.
I am about to do something we rarely do at The Verge — get excited for an audio product I’ve never actually touched, let alone listened to. But that’s because when it comes to wireless gaming headsets for an Xbox One, the bar is so very, very low that I can’t help thinking SteelSeries’ new dual-wireless Arctis 9X, announced today, will be a better option than what’s out there right now.
What do I mean about a low bar? Well, very few manufacturers even bother to sell Xbox-compatible wireless headsets, and those that have tried to implement Microsoft’s official Xbox Wireless to communicate directly with an Xbox (instead of requiring a dongle) have pretty much bombed for me. Each of them — the Turtle Beach Stealth 600 and 700, the Razer Thresher for Xbox, and the LucidSound LS35x — have had some trouble staying connected to my Xbox One, sometimes blasting my ears with noisy pops and clicks. Only the LucidSound had audio quality I’d consider describing as “good,” anyhow.
But SteelSeries, which produces two of the best wireless gaming headsets on the market (ask me how I know) says it’s “created the highest quality implementation of the Xbox Wireless connection seen on an Xbox headset to date” with the Arctis 9X — which could still be shorthand for “it’s better, but it still sucks,” I suppose.
The Arctis 9X also claims to have 20 hours of battery life — low battery life was a sticking point for other Xbox Wireless headsets — lets you balance game and chat volume natively, and perhaps best of all, has integrated Bluetooth so you can use it with another device (probably your phone) simultaneously, or pull double duty as a set of headphones on the go.
I’m not passing judgement just yet, but it’s piqued my curiosity enough that I’ll be trying it out for myself. If you can’t wait for our impressions, it’s available now for $199.99.
Aurora CEO Chris Urmson stopped by The Vergecast to discuss the future of self-driving cars with Nilay Patel and Andrew Hawkins. They explore how the industry has evolved over the years and how long it will take before self-driving cars are commonly used on the road.
You can listen to the discussion in its entirety on The Vergecast right now. Below is a lightly edited excerpt from this interview regarding some of Urmson’s ideas about how he expects driverless cars to be rolled out in the coming years.
Nilay Patel: So you want to be one of many, many suppliers in the emerging driverless car / automotive industry?
Chris Urmson: Well, we don’t think there’ll be many, many people who can do this. We think actually building the driver is really hard. We imagine what’s now around 100 companies working in this space will probably consolidate down to a handful, and we expect to be one of those companies.
Why? Is there a technology reason you think it’s going to consolidate? Is it a capital reason?
Yes, it’s all of them. It’s really hard. It’s a very complicated problem and one of the more complicated engineering problems, if not the most complicated engineering problem we’re trying to solve right now. The number of people who have deep experience in this is relatively small.
Ultimately, the technology, once we start to get it really deployed and served… people talk about there being self-driving cars today, but there aren’t. They’re not really out there yet. Once we start to see commercial scale happening, there will be evidence that the system works well and serving people well, and that will start to build a bit of a flywheel.
The question I ask every person who comes on our show to discuss self-driving cars is: is this going to happen. Is this real?
Yes, it can happen. I think you’re going to see small-scale deployments in the next five years, and then it’s going to phase in over the next 30 to 50 years.
Do you think it will be rolled out in stages, like after adaption tools get better, or are you taking the steering wheel out right away?
So we’re not taking the steering wheel out necessarily right away. But no, I don’t think it’s a continuum. I think that this Level 2 driver assistance capability is great. That’s making people’s lives a little bit better. But it’s very different than self-driving capability and driverless vehicles. That’s what we’re focused on because we look at all the big players in the automotive space, and they know how to do driver assistance, and it’s really a problem of “is the product compelling enough that the consumer wants to buy it for the price they can sell it at?”
When we think about driverless vehicles that are self-driving vehicles as, you know, the Levels 4 and 5, that’s where we see a transformation. That’s where you can sleep in the car. That’s where the vehicle can be deployed as part of a transportation service, and give you a ride and give me a ride, and we can share the benefit of that together. I think that’s where the economics swing, and that’s where we see the biggest social good for the for cities like New York and San Francisco.
Google Voice is one of those services of which people tend to say, “Is that still around? Does anyone still use it?” But don’t be fooled by its longevity: people do still use it — and it’s possible that you may want to as well.
Originally called GrandCentral before it was bought by Google in 2009 and only intermittently updated since, Voice is a telecommunications service that works in conjunction with your existing phone service and offers a free secondary phone number with voicemail, SMS capabilities, and other services. Once your number is assigned (you are given a variety to choose from), you can associate it with one or several cellular or landline phone numbers.
When I first signed up for Google Voice in 2009, phone carriers were still making it unnecessarily difficult to move your phone number if you were changing carriers, so having a phone number that easily moved to whatever device you wanted to use made life a lot easier. That’s no longer the case; but over the years, I’ve found Voice immensely helpful in a number of other ways.
For example, it’s useful if you have more than one phone, and want to make sure that the important people in your life can easily find you; if they call your Voice number, you can set Voice to ring all of your phones. You can create a separate business number on your personal phone. It’s helpful if you occasionally use temporary phones (for example, I found it very handy when I was reviewing phones and wanted to carry one around with me for a couple of weeks). You can have a number to give to vendors and organizations that you want to keep in touch with, but which might sell the number to spam callers. And so on.
Google Voice is, of course, not the only service that offers additional numbers for your phone; there are other services out there as well, such as Hushed and Burner. Although Voice’s interface is a bit old-fashioned (despite a relatively recent update), and (this being Google) there is always the chance that the company will suddenly decide to get rid of it, it’s a very good alternative.
You can sign up for Google Voice either on the web or by downloading the Google Voice app from Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store. I found it slightly easier to do the initial sign-up via the web; however, the process is nearly identical on a mobile phone.
Sign up for Google Voice
Choose your Google Voice number. Google will give you a choice of several locations in your region. If you don’t like the first few numbers, you can keep clicking on “Show More” until you find one you like. (Not ad infinitum, of course; eventually, you do run out.) Click on “Verify.” Verify what? Well, once you’ve selected your number, you have to verify that you have an existing phone number to associate with the Google Voice number.
Note: you can only associate a single phone number with a Voice number. However, if you’ve already got a Google Voice number associated with your current number and you want another, there is a way around it — use another virtual number. For example, I was able to create a Google Voice number using a Hushed number, and you should be able to use a Skype number as well.
You’ll be asked to enter your existing phone number so you can be texted a six-number code (if you don’t want to text, you can opt to receive a phone call). Once you’ve got the code, enter it where indicated.
That’s it! You’ve linked your new Google Voice number to your existing number.
So what now?
Adjust Voice to suit your needs
Well, there are a number of adjustments you can make, depending on how you want to use the service. A few are described below. These were tested using the mobile app on an Android phone; the interface for iOS devices is similar.
All of the following tweaks are available in the Settings section of the app. If you’re using the Android app, reach them by tapping on the three parallel lines on the top left of the home screen, and then choosing Settings from the resulting menu.
Use Voice to make calls
Scroll down to and tap on “Calls started from this device’s phone app.”
Choose whether you want to make calls using your Google Voice number or your phone’s number. You can also choose which you want to use each time you make a call, or just use Voice for international calls. (Domestic calls through Google Voice are free, while international calls do have a fee. The fee for international calls is likely less than your carrier’s, however.)
Receive incoming calls using Voice
Scroll down to and tap on “Call forwarding.”
You’ll see a list of all the devices you’ve registered with Voice. Toggle “on” those that you want to use to receive Voice calls.
Change your voicemail greeting
Scroll down to and tap on “Voicemail greeting.”
You can use a general “The Google subscriber you have called is not available. Please leave a message after the tone,” or a slightly more personalized “ is not available. Please leave a message after the tone.” Or you can record your own.
Choose how you are notified when you have a message or miss a call.
Scroll down to and tap on “Message notifications” or “Missed call notifications.” There are a variety of options you have here; the choices are basically the same in both cases. Options include:
Toggle notifications on and off.
Display your notifications in the status bar.
Use lock screen notifications.
Choose a ringtone for a notification and / or vibrate the phone when a message comes in.
There are even more features available in the Google Voice settings menu. Besides those already mentioned, you can toggle “Do not disturb” on or off, so that all calls are sent immediately to voicemail; record all incoming calls; get transcripts of your voicemail via texts or email; hide your caller ID; and screen calls by hearing a caller’s name when you pick up.
Try Legacy Google Voice
Google revamped the web version of Google Voice in 2017, simplifying the interface so that it worked with the company’s Material Design. However, some users still prefer the older interface (especially since, despite the more crowded UI, you can more easily tweak some of the aspects of the service).
It’s worth checking out. To access the Legacy version of Google Voice:
On the upper left corner of the window, click on the three parallel lines. This will open up the side menu (which before only showed a few icons) and will add an icon and label for Legacy Google Voice. Click on that.
Take a look at your settings by clicking on the gear icon on the upper right corner.
Messaging with Google Voice
Any description of Voice would be incomplete if messaging wasn’t included. As with the phone number that comes with your phone’s SIM, you can use your Google Voice app to text to any number that uses SMS; the app will use your Voice number.
Unfortunately, however, Google’s other apps aren’t all that friendly to Voice messaging. While you can call others using Voice and they will see your Voice phone number, if you text to someone using an app other than Voice (say, Google’s Messages app), the recipient will see the text as coming from the number of your phone’s SIM rather than your Voice number.
Google Voice has not experienced any dramatic changes over the past ten years. But it can be very useful if you want a flexible phone number to use — and unlike some other Google products, it seems to have staying power. It’s certainly worth a try.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.
In February, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly announced his decision to run for the US Senate in Arizona — a move that he had been thinking about for the last couple of months. As the husband of former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Kelly is no stranger to politics. If elected, he will join a very small group of astronauts who have transitioned from an orbital office to one on Capitol Hill.
The Verge spoke to Kelly about his path from astronaut to Senate candidate and how he plans to incorporate his scientific experience into politics.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
My experience with astronauts at NASA is that you remain very apolitical while you’re at the agency. What has the transition been like going from a NASA employee where you don’t really enter the political fray to becoming a more political figure and then ultimately running for office?
As a federal government employee, you’re restricted in political activities because of the Hatch Act. And for people in the military — which is, by the way, about half the astronaut office — there are added restrictions.
I was in a little bit of a different situation being married to a member of Congress. So I was involved in political stuff, but I certainly always followed all of those restrictions as somebody who is an astronaut at NASA and on active duty of the US military. But I always cared about what was going on in the world, domestic policy, national security issues, and what our government is doing with regards to space and science and engineering.
After Gabby was injured [Note: Giffords was shot at a campaign event in 2011] and she left government, I left our space program, and I left the military. Then we had to start figuring out what we were going to do next and what our lives would look like. Some unfortunate events after I left NASA, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, shaped what the next several years looked like for us. I learned from that experience — and also being married to Gabby — the value of smart public policy that’s really rooted in real science data and engineering facts.
And I think I have something to offer. There are not a lot of engineers in the United States Senate.
There are not a lot of astronauts who have run for office, either. The most notable candidate was John Glenn, who served as a senator for 25 years. How do you think your experience, either flying the Space Shuttle or working as an engineer at NASA, will be helpful if you are elected?
A space mission is a really hard thing to accomplish. It takes a big team of people — thousands of people working together, trying to accomplish something very technically and operationally difficult. It requires a tremendous amount of collaboration, and it requires having a strong grasp of data and facts.
I think that’s probably a unique perspective for somebody who is serving in the United States Congress, especially in the Senate. So I think — and I hope — that my experience is a benefit to my future colleagues if I’m elected.
Everyone talks about that overview effect that astronauts experience, a shift in perspective that some people have when they see the curvature of Earth from space. Did that change your perspective on life and shape how you feel about certain policies?
Well, it certainly changes your perspective of our situation here in the Universe — that we all pretty much live on an island in our Solar System. This is our planet. We have no place else to go. Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that someday we’re all moving Mars. That is not happening, at least not in any time frame that matters.
I don’t want to speak for all astronauts, but I think a common theme among people who have seen our planet from space is a couple of things: we’re all in this together, and we have a very fragile planet that we live on. People often look up, and you think you have this big, giant atmosphere that protects us from the radiation and from the vacuum of space. And it’s really not as big as people think. When you’re in orbit looking at the planet, our atmosphere looks like a contact lens on an eyeball. It is very thin, and half the atmosphere is at 10,000 feet and below. So you get a sense that we not only have to protect the planet and life on the planet, but we have to protect our atmosphere because it’s protecting us.
Of course, you’ve been very closely tied to the political arena because of Gabby. What has she taught you about what you might expect if you were to be elected?
We were married for her entire service in Congress, and she taught me how hard you have to work to be successful at that job, and I’m ready to do that. She taught me how you have to bring people together and how you have to work across the aisle. It’s not true for everybody, but a lot of folks that are currently in office, they tend to get into their corner — whether it’s all the way on the right or all the way on the left. That makes it very difficult for the folks we elect to accomplish things. So working across the aisle, and having some sense of independence from a political party is a very important aspect of serving at that level.
You’re making science a very central theme of your campaign. What are some policies you’ll be focusing on if you are elected?
Science affects everything. It’s health care. The increases in costs we’ve seen over the decades in health care is somewhat rooted in science. Science and data is at the root of most of the issues that we have to deal with, whether it’s border security, health care, climate, gun violence. I mean, you could continue to go down a list.
You’re being endorsed by 314 Action. I would love some specifics on some of the ways that you can use science to approach decision-making.
I think it starts with finding people who are going to serve, and that’s what 314 Action does. They want to support candidates that, first, fundamentally believe in science. We sometimes elect people who don’t, who have beliefs that are just not true and are not rooted in reality and facts. Sometimes these people even serve on the science committee, which I find a bit puzzling.
When you are trying to make these hard decisions, it’s important to look at the data. I used to be a test pilot. We would make decisions based on the data the airplane systems are telling us.
Our government is doing a really good job of screwing some things up. And I think often what we find is that the people we elect are making decisions based on politics and partisanship, and not really looking at the underlying reasons. How did we come to these conclusions and these options?
Definitely, data is very important to have to back up what decisions you’re making, but what about making sure that you have the right data and parsing when something may not be a good conclusion? What do you think are good ways to make sure that you have the right facts and the right data to back up your claim?
Make sure the person who has done the research is from a reputable organization. This study that I’m looking at, is it from an accredited research university? Is this from the CDC? Is this from the NIH? Are these numbers and this analysis from the CBO or the Pentagon? Or are they from some organization you never heard of that has a partisan agenda? I think that’s kind of the first step in trying to make a decision: are you getting unbiased information? I think it helps to have a little background in science and engineering to be able to do that — and then also to evaluate options.
What about matters that people might not necessarily consider very “scientific”? Are there ways that science could benefit policies that might be considered more political in nature than scientific in nature?
I don’t know, everything seems political in nature, right? There always seems to be somebody lined up on one side of an issue or the other based solely on profit. Corporations are certainly involved in a lot of the decision-making that we see at the highest level. That’s one of the reasons why, by the way, I’m not going to take any corporate PAC money in this election or any others, for that matter. To try to get elected, I’m going to focus on people because then that’s going to help me. I’m going to vote in a way that’s in the best interests of the people of Arizona and this country, and not what’s in the best interest of some corporation.
What are some of the issues that you’ve found are at the top of people’s minds in Arizona?
Health care, wage growth, the environment, border security. I would say those are things that are at the top of the list.
And, of course, climate change, when you live in the desert. If we don’t do something on this issue, the planet’s going to be seven degrees hotter in the year 2100. That’ll be devastating for people here in Arizona.
Climate change is such a global issue. What are some of the ways that you hope to make change from the state of Arizona?
We have 350 days of sunshine a year, and if we can continue to move from fossil fuels to more renewables, it’s a benefit to our state. It means jobs and lower energy costs, hopefully. We’ve got to spend more on energy research and development to try to drive down the cost of renewable energy, solar, wind, hydroelectric. If we do that, we will allow consumers to make decisions that not only are good for the environment, but are good for them financially. What that means here in Arizona, as we can continue to drive down the cost of solar, is that it becomes a very easy decision to add solar panels to your house or even maybe get an electric car. Those things just make a lot more sense. And more people will do it. It’s going to not only benefit them but it will benefit the environment.
What has the reaction been like as you have met people and campaigned? How do people respond to having someone with a science background running for office?
I think that resonates with people. I think they look at that as a positive thing. That’s been my experience so far. Diversity is always good, right? This is what I always liked on the Space Shuttle. I always had people on the Space Shuttle from different countries. When you have diverse people or a diverse workforce, they look at problems differently and offer solutions that a homogeneous group of people might not come up with. I think that’s important in the United States Senate as well — to have somewhat of a diverse background of people. That’s typically not the case.