Google may release a 'budget' Pixel phone

Through the looking glass: The Pixel 3 stands out in some meaningful ways, with possibly the best camera and software experience of any smartphone. New evidence has arisen that strongly suggests both those features will be coming to a new Google ‘Pixel 3 Lite’ which could come at around $400-$500 and arrive before the end of the year.

The same Russian blog who got their hands on the Pixel 3 XL two months before its release has got a Pixel 3 Lite in their claws, too. Based on their tests of the device, it has a Snapdragon 670 processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. The screen is 5.56” (about the same as the Pixel 3), uses IPS technology and has a resolution of 2220 x 1080 (18.5:9). It has the same 2915mAh battery as the regular Pixel 3, and possibly the same dimensions and thickness based on the images.

Probably the most exciting features are the cameras, which are the same 8MP front and 12MP rear lenses found on all the Pixel models. It doesn’t seem to have a second, wide angle selfie camera though. The headphone jack is still there.

There’s a bit of debate about how likely this device is to really exist. The Google “G” logo on the back of the phone is a “C” instead. Plus, it was only a year ago when Google’s head of hardware Rick Osterloh said that “Pixel stays premium.”

On the other hand, the device’s name according to the Geekbench app installed on it is “Google Sargo,” which was also the name of a mystery device referenced in a couple lines of code in Google’s ARCore app.

It’s worth considering that Apple has already gone down this path (sort of) with a less expensive iPhone XR and that Samsung is expected to release an S10 Lite early next year. Google’s known to be a bit of a follower in the handset industry, dropping the headphone jack and adding wireless charging and water resistance after the iPhone did. Google has declined to comment on the matter.

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Apple's shiny new iPad Pro has set a new low for durability

Facepalm: It’s weaker than the iPhone 6, it’s weaker than all other iPads before it, it’s weak enough to kill by accidentally sitting it. Sure, you’re unlikely to accidentally sit on your gigantic iPad, but if you did…

JerryRigEverything put the latest iPad Pro through his arduous stress test. Things like scratch resistance were all well and good, but when it came time to apply the bend test the device came apart in his hands. And the issue isn’t unique to him, users on several online forums have reported on similar experiences as well.

One such user on Macrumors found that his iPad Pro was slightly but noticeably bent after they’d been keeping it in a backpack for a week while travelling. What’s worse is that a lot of users are reporting that theirs were bent straight out of the box – and some users even found that their replacements were bent, too. Fortunately you can simply swap out your device if it’s within Apple’s two-week return period.

Despite his tweet, MKBHD isn’t concerned. “For the record, I don’t think it’s that much of a problem. This device will mostly live in backpacks and on tables, not accidentally bending in pockets.”

Cases have always been a necessity for iPad Pros; EverythingApplePro’s tests of previous-gen iPad Pros found that they could also be irreparably damaged barehandedly. While it would be annoying to find that your new iPad Pro had bent before you could get a case on it, as long as Apple is replacing them for free then it’s only a slight annoyance. At least Apple is one step closer to a foldable tablet (that keeps working afterwards).

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Samsung will reportedly implement a 14-day trial limit on free themes

It would seem that the high cost of Samsung’s latest flagship devices isn’t quite enough for the company. As reported by Droid Life, Samsung will soon be effectively wiping truly free themes from its store when it rolls out Android Pie to its devices next year. Samsung will begin informing users that they will only have 14 days to enjoy their free theme before it automatically reverts back to the default Android skin.

This is puzzling news, and we don’t know why Samsung is making this decision, but many have speculated that it’s an attempt to push customers to buy paid themes; which Samsung receives a cut of. “We ask for your understanding as we have changed the policy in order to help our designers continue to create high quality products and also to provide stable and satisfactory services for you,” Samsung wrote in a notification that’s being sent out to its users.

“…we have changed the policy in order to help our designers continue to create high quality products and also to provide stable and satisfactory services for you.”

It’s not entirely clear how preventing designers from offering their themes for free is going to “help” them create “high quality products,” but in the minds of users, this decision will probably come across as an overly-aggressive attempt to monetize what is ultimately a very minor part of the Samsung experience.

There may still be hope, though. While investigating this topic, I found an alternate theory from Droid Life user abqnm that seems reasonably credible. If it’s accurate, it would suggest this whole matter is just a miscommunication on Samsung’s part.

“There are people who were skirting the free trials of paid themes by disabling the theme store and its support apps to keep it from reverting after installing a trial, essentially stealing paid themes,” abqnm wrote. “So Samsung could be increasing the trial period to 2 weeks—but also making them revert automatically regardless of what you disable—so that people are less likely to refund a paid theme that they don’t like and they combat the trial abuse.”

We’ll let you decide what to believe, but for now, we’ll be erring on the side of caution by assuming Samsung means precisely what they wrote. If you want to see the full notification for yourself, we’ve posted an image of it below. We’ll update this article if the company clarifies its decision further.

Image courtesy Droid Life

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Nvidia stock takes a nosedive after disappointing earnings report

What just happened? Nvidia’s stock value has plummeted by nearly 19%, the worst one-day percentage drop in over ten years. The reason: Nvidia expects fourth-quarter earnings to be only $2.7 billion, substantially less than the $3.4 billion expected by analysts. This means the company has lost nearly $25 billion in market capitalization, more than AMD’s entire market cap of $21 billion.

It’s not all bad news, however. The third-quarter earnings themselves weren’t that bad, with Nvidia earning $3.18 billion, or $1.82 per share. While that is slightly less than the $3.24 billion that Wall Street was expecting, it’s still 2% better than last quarter and 21% better than the same period last year. In response, Nvidia increased dividends by 7% to $0.16 per share.

Their earnings report, released on Thursday, claim record profits in the data center, automotive and professional visualization (Quadro) sectors. It isn’t surprising to hear that Quadro RTX is going well, as ray-tracing innovations have had a much larger impact in the professional world compared to the gaming side.

Speaking of ray tracing, investment company Goldman Sachs says that GeForce RTX’s lackluster launch is one of the things that’s contributing to Nvidia’s low expectations of fourth-quarter earnings. Even worse, however, is Nvidia’s overstocked inventory.

“Our near-term results reflect excess channel inventory post the crypto-currency boom, which will be corrected. Our market position and growth opportunities are stronger than ever. During the quarter, we launched new platforms to extend our architecture into new growth markets – RAPIDS for machine learning, RTX Server for film rendering, and the T4 Cloud GPU for hyperscale and cloud.”

Nvidia was expecting the mining boom to continue for longer, so they manufactured more graphics cards than the market ended up requiring. And once the boom was over, there was even less demand for Nvidia’s cards than before, because of the large number of cheap high-end graphics cards that swamped the second-hand market.

As we reported yesterday, one consequence of this is that mid-range Turing cards could take another to six-plus months to arrive, potentially reducing Nvidia’s revenue in the meantime.

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Fallout 76 players built a tool to help decrypt nuke launch codes

Cutting corners: Fallout 76 has only been out for two days and players have already figured out how to cheat aspects of the endgame. Two days seems like not enough time for anybody to even get to a level powerful enough to fight through endgame enemies, but that has not stopped them from developing a brute-force method for decrypting nuke codes.

As you probably know from our previous coverage of Fallout 76, players can launch nukes that not only destroy the areas they strike but also create irradiated zones that spawn powerful beasts with just as powerful loot. The game mechanic, by Bethesda’s own words, was meant as an endgame feature to allow already leveled up players to get more powerful gear.

The process of launching a nuke is no simple task and is performed in several steps. First of all, each one has a launch code that is broken up into eight segments. Players can get these fragments of code by fighting and defeating high-level ghouls. Then they need to get a launch keycard. These are obtained by shooting down Enclave drop ships. Finally, they have to decipher the code.

According to Kotaku, the launch codes are encrypted using a keyword cipher. The keyword is changed every week and is revealed letter by letter throughout the week presumably to control the launching of nukes.

Impatient players have given the finger to this system of reveal by creating NukaCrypt — a website that will decipher the launch codes faster than if you were to simply apply guesswork. It’s pretty smart really, and the designers gave the site a Pip-Boy like aesthetic, which is a nice touch.

Is this a cheat that will ruin Fallout 76? Probably not. It is just meant to take the tedium out of what is otherwise a relatively simple, yet mundane and tiresomely repetitive puzzle. Players still have to fight very powerful bosses to get at the loot.

Will Bethesda change the launch process to foul up this ad hock utility? That remains to be seen. Either the developers will applaud the players for their creativity, letting them at least use NukaCrypt for a while, or they could throw a wrench into the scheme after the very first week by changing the way launch codes are given out.

Actually, I would not be surprised to see Bethesda run with it and make it a little side game of cat and mouse they can play with the players outside of the game world. Every couple of weeks they could come up with another method for players to figure out how to bypass.

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Neural networks can create synthetic fingerprints to fool biometric scanners

Bottom line: Biometric security is widely used on mobile devices for convenience sake. This method of identity validation is generally considered “secure enough” for most applications, despite researchers demonstrating time and again that such measures can be circumvented.

Most methods of thwarting biometric security involves replicating a specific user’s identity, like reproducing fingerprints from photographs or using pictures to fool facial recognition systems. Recently, however, researchers from New York University and Michigan State University demonstrated a far more startling tactic that uses neural networks to generate synthetic fingerprints.

The researchers trained the neural net using thousands of images of real fingerprints and used a “generator” to create synthetic prints. These prints were then fed into another neural network, a “discriminator,” which is designed to classify the fake print as real or generated, thus improving their authenticity through trial and error.

The resulting DeepMasterPrints (named after master keys that can open many different locks) can be used in dictionary-style attacks against fingerprint verification systems to varying degrees of success, depending on the security strength of the target system.

At the lowest level of security on capacitive tests, researchers were able to use a DeepMasterPrint to trick the system 76.67 percent of the time. The middle security tier was fooled 22.50 percent of the time while the top-tier security solution was only tricked 1.11 percent of the time.

Lead image via Andrey VP, Shutterstock

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Turn your love of gaming into a career

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Researchers create processor that can cut power usage while drastically boosting performance

In brief: It’s no secret that the tech industry has been pushing the limits of Moore’s Law for some time now – smartphones seem to have pretty much peaked in terms of battery life and performance capabilities. However, Princeton researchers may have discovered a breakthrough in chip technology that could significantly slash energy usage while boosting performance.

Specifically, scientists have developed a prototype chip that uses a technique called “in-memory computing” to reduce the load on a system’s processor. Instead of relying on the processor to continually fetch data from a device’s memory, in-memory computing allows those tasks to occur within the memory itself, paving the way for “greater speed and efficiency.” As a result, not only does the chip boast improved performance, it also consumes much less energy.

So, exactly how much faster is this new chip technology? The answer is a bit complicated. While lab test results have allowed researchers to reach performance levels that are “tens to hundreds” of times faster than other chips out there, their design is primarily intended for machine learning purposes; “deep learning inference,” in particular.

According to Knowridge, deep learning inference occurs when algorithms allow computers to “make decisions and perform complex tasks by learning from data sets.” Amazon’s facial recognition tech, appropriately dubbed “Rekognition,” is one example of this sort of AI in action.

Of course, that isn’t to say the hardware can’t be used for other purposes — on the contrary — but it will require individual applications to take advantage of its capabilities before any significant performance gains or energy reductions can be realized.

As fascinating as this new hardware research is, don’t expect to see it arrive in modern smartphones or other devices any time soon. Researchers will undoubtedly need to test their chip a lot more before it’s ready for prime time, so for now, it may be best to look at it as little more than an interesting experiment.

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Americans have too much faith in driver-assist systems

A hot potato: Driver-assist features can be a helpful asset but as some consumers have yet to learn, they aren’t designed to pilot a car by themselves. That’s coming, eventually, but today’s implementations simply aren’t that advanced yet. The question is, should manufacturers be doing a better job of informing customers about the limitations of their systems?

A recent survey from the American Automobile Association, or AAA, found that 40 percent of Americans expect driver-assist systems like Tesla’s Autopilot, Volvo’s Pilot Assist and Nissan’s ProPilot to have the ability to drive a vehicle by itself.

That belief was higher among Millennials (59 percent) and Generation X (40 percent) compared to Baby Boomers (27 percent), AAA found.

In hopes of better understanding the capabilities of such systems, AAA tested four vehicles with driver-assist features – the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, 2018 Nissan Rogue, 2017 Tesla Model S and 2019 Volvo XC40.

A variety of tests were conducted both on public roads and closed-courses. AAA notes that systems generally performed best on open freeways and those with stop and go traffic. Urban driving and freeways with moderate traffic presented more of a challenge for the systems.

In closed-course testing, systems were able to maintain lane position with little to no difficulty when they didn’t have a lead vehicle ahead of them. Three out of four vehicles were influenced by a simulated / distracted lead vehicle, AAA found, and three out of four also required driver intervention to deal with a simulated stationary target.

Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations, said that with today’s exciting advances in vehicle technology, there is a greater need for naming that clearly signals to a driver what the system does.

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Court documents suggest charges against Julian Assange may be coming

Rumor mill: According to several reports, Julian Assange is facing charges from prosecutors, but nobody seems to know what they are. The rumor stems from an unsealed court filing uncovered by the Washington Post.

Court documents relating to a sex crimes case were unsealed in September. The three-page filing lists Julian Assange in two places even though he is not the defendant in the case.

At one point the brief reads, “Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Further on it says, “[The charges would] need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

The reason that he is mentioned in someone else’s court documents is inexplicable. The filing was reportedly drafted by US Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer. The Washington Post claims that anonymous sources close to the case confirm that what the documents say about Assange are correct, but were unintentionally disclosed.

“The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”

“The court filing was made in error,” said US Attorney’s Office spokesperson Joshua Stueve. “That was not the intended name for this filing.”

The document was filed back in August in the Eastern District of Virginia. In September it was unsealed, and nobody seemed to notice the error until George Washington University faculty member Seamus Hughes happened to see the anomalous wording.

He thinks it amounts to nothing more than a “Freudian” slip.

“To be clear, seems Freudian, it’s for a different completely unrelated case, every other page is not related to him, EDVA just appears to have assange on the mind when filing motions to seal and used his name,” said Hughes.

WikiLeaks tweeted that it looks like a “copy-and-paste” error.

Mike Levine speculates that the US Attorney’s office may have been using a document meant for Assange as a template for another case and failed to replace his name in a couple of parts.

Regardless of how his name wound up on the filing, Assange’s attorney Barry Pollack doesn’t like the look of it one way or the other.

“The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed,” Pollack told The New York Times. “The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”

While the US Attorney’s Office did acknowledge the error, it did not confirm that charges against Assange were forthcoming. The FBI also declined comment.

So at this point, all we have is conjecture and anonymous sources. It would be wise to take the news with a dose of skepticism until something official is announced.

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