macOS Monterey is out now without SharePlay

Apple has at long last released the latest major version of its Mac operating system, macOS Monterey. While it's perhaps a more modest update than in previous years, there are some significant changes in some areas of the OS.

The redesigned Safari might be the most obvious transformation for many users. Apple initially planned to remove the tabs bar before it thankfully saw sense and decided to leave it as is in a later developer preview. The bar will match the color of the web page you're viewing, and there are some new features, such as Tab Groups.

Apple has overhauled FaceTime in macOS Monterey too. It works a little more like other conference calling software, in that you can start a call and then invite other people. This includes folks using Android or Windows devices through the new FaceTime web app. In addition, M1 Macs will support spatial audio for FaceTime and other features through AirPods and AirPods Max.

Elsewhere, macOS Monterey adds the Focus Modes seen in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Quick Notes, Shortcuts and a new-look Maps app. Live Text, Apple's answer to Google Lens, is another new tool at macOS users' disposal.

SharePlay, the feature that lets people sync streaming videos and music with friends, isn't available just yet on macOS, but Apple rolled it out on iPhone today as part of iOS 15.1. You'll also need to wait a little longer for Universal Control, which brings Mac and iPad together. You can move your cursor from one to the other and drag files between devices. SharePlay and Universal Control will arrive on macOS later this fall.

iOS 15.1 turns on SharePlay for Apple Fitness+

Apple said in September that it was launching a feature called Group Workouts on Fitness+ that would use iOS 15's SharePlay tool for exercise sessions over FaceTime. The company just announced that Group Workouts is available starting today, so you can get up to 32 friends together to follow along with the company's exercise or meditation videos. 

To use the new features, you'll need to update to iOS 15.1 or iPadOS 15.1, as well as watchOS 8.1, which also implies those are available today. Those who plan on watching the videos on their Apple TV will also need tvOS 15.1. To start a Group Workout, you'll need to first be on a FaceTime call, go to the Fitness app, then pick the video to follow. As you all sweat it out, Apple will display each person's metrics on their own screens. When someone moves ahead on the Burn Bar (which appears on specific workouts with more cardio activity) or closes their rings, everyone gets an alert so you can celebrate together. 

SharePlay wasn't available when iOS 15 launched earlier this year, and during our testing of the iOS 15 beta it was buggy and unstable. The company was expected to release iOS 15.1 this week, bringing the ability to SharePlay over FaceTime, so you can watch movies and videos with your friends or just show them what's on your iPhone. We've reached out to Apple for confirmation on whether iOS 15.1 and SharePlay elsewhere on the system is available today, and will update if we hear back.

Fitness+ is also expanding to 15 new countries. From Nov. 3rd, Austria, Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates will be able to access the service. In America, those on UnitedHealthcare insurance can get a year of Fitness+ on their plans at no additional cost, starting Nov. 1st. 

This Apple-inspired speakers features a parabolic design for a fun yet powerful gadget!

Deskpod is a speakers concept, created using Apple’s design language, that features bold colors and technical outfittings.

Apple’s design language has always been a source of inspiration for young designers. From new chargers to Airpod accessories, the innovation of new Apple-inspired concepts coming from young designers cannot be understated. Sasha Waxman, industrial designer, and robotics engineer designed a speakers concept using Apple’s design language called Deskpod to go along with the new 24-inch iMac.

Deskpod was born out of a one-hour study of Apple design language, taking to the iconic brand’s most modern designs to create a sleek, yet bold speakers concept. The new iMac from Apple maintains the classic aluminum look that has graced the surfaces of most Apple Macbooks and iMacs for years. It’s the accessories from Apple that are typically the standout pieces, bringing out deep forest greens and royal blues to accentuate the fresh look of a bare aluminum Macbook surface. Waxman’s Deskpod takes that one step further and wraps the rich scarlet red speaker with a gold band that functions as the device’s cradle and stand.

 

Stretching the speaker’s fabric around its curved frame, Waxman warped the fabric into a parabolic shape to maximize audio output. The unique design would pair nicely with most Apple products and bring a bold pop of color to every home office. Speaking on the design, Waxman describes, “The bold colors and simple geometry make the speakers pop off the background. The simplicity and high contrast of the speakers make them a bold addition to any space.”

Designer: Sasha Waxman

Xbox consoles can now access NVIDIA GeForce Now via Microsoft Edge

Although Xbox owners are waiting for Microsoft to switch on its own cloud gaming service on consoles, they have other ways to stream games. An update in September brought the Chromium-based Microsoft Edge browser to Xbox One and Series X/S consoles, allowing players to access Google Stadia. Starting today, they can fire up PC games via NVIDIA's GeForce Now as well.

GeForce Now is now available in beta on Edge, as The Verge notes, creating a pathway for Xbox users to play hundreds of games they might otherwise miss out on. GeForce Now is free for one-hour sessions though the resolution is limited to 1080p. NVIDIA just unveiled a new, more expensive plan that promises "desktop-class latency" and gameplay streaming in 1440p at up to 120 fps on PC and Mac and in 4K HDR at 60 fps on NVIDIA Shield TV.

Microsoft said it will bring Xbox Game Pass Ultimate's cloud gaming feature to consoles this holiday season. Even so, thanks to GeForce Now, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S players now have a gateway to some major PC exclusives, such as League of Legends and Dota 2, without the need for a gaming rig.

Microsoft shows off Halo Infinite’s campaign for the first time in over a year

With Halo Infinite’sDecember 8th release date fast approaching, Microsoft has shared a new six-minute trailer that offers an in-depth look at the game’s single-player component. The last time the company provided an extended preview of Infinite’s campaign was during its Xbox showcase in 2020. That trailer was poorly received, with most fans agreeing the game’s visuals looked dated. In the aftermath of that reveal, developer 343 Industries said they had work to do, and Microsoft subsequently delayed the game to 2021.

In this latest preview, you can see the visuals have gotten an update (look at Craig the Brute). But what hasn’t changed too much is the emphasis on sandbox gameplay. During a community Q&A back in March, 343 Industries said they were inspired by levels like The Silent Cartographer from Halo: Combat Evolved to design the game in a way that would allow players to accomplish objectives with creativity. 

You see that ethos on display in the second half of the trailer. Master Chief stumbles upon a Banished outpost he has to take out. You can use his grappling hook to move around the facility quickly and pull enemy weapons and explosives to augment your current arsenal. Vehicles play an important part in the overall gameplay loop, as do abilities you can purchase for Master Chief. 

All of the different gameplay elements come together to form something that looks like it will offer a classic but more open Halo experience. It’s just too bad you won’t be able to play the campaign with a friend, at least not at launch.

GoPro addresses Hero 10 overheating issues with new firmware

GoPro is issuing a firmware update that includes new "video performance modes." These aren't new creative tools, rather they're designed to prevent cameras shutting down through overheating when recording in certain situations. The company is also unveiling a new "Enduro" battery that should improve performance in cold weather.

Soon after the launch of the Hero 10, some reviews complained that their cameras were overheating and turning off after around 20 minutes of continuous recording. The problem didn't seem to be universal, in our review I performed such a test (before hearing of said complaints) and was able to get over an hour of footage. Other detailed tests also didn't initially bump into the issue. But enough users were having the problem that the company clearly had to take note.

Today, GoPro has confirmed that a new firmware update is coming with the aforementioned Video Performance Modes — Maximum Video Performance, Extended Battery and Tripod/Stationary. The first in that list sounds much like the current mode. Extended Battery, as the name suggests, provides optimal settings for longer battery life. The latter assumes that the camera will not be moving and thus removes things like GPS and HyperSmooth stabilization to, presumably, ease the load on the new processor in situations where there's no motion or airflow to cool the camera down.

According to GoPro, with the new firmware, a 5.3K recording at 60fps will run for 47 percent longer (an average of 29 minutes per clip). Alternatively, at 4K/60fps you can enjoy a 154 percent increase to an hour and three minutes total.

GoPro Hero 10 Enduro battery.
GoPro

As for the new Enduro battery ($29.99) GoPro states it will extend recording times to an average of 56 minutes of 5.3K/60 video at 14F/-10C. When used at moderate temperatures, 5.3K/60 shots should see a boost of 28 percent in duration while 4K/120 videos will enjoy a 40 percent improvement in record time. The new cell will be compatible with both the Hero 9 Black and the Hero 10 Black and thankfully comes in a different color so that you won't mix it up with your standard batteries.

GoPro stops short of saying what the new battery is doing beyond using "revolutionary technology." Either way, whatever your use case for the Hero 10, by the end of the month you'll be able to update your firmware for the new modes or you can pick up the new battery in late November.

Apple AirPods review (2021): Better in nearly every way

When you consider 2019’s second-generation AirPods were a modest update rather than a complete overhaul, Apple was way overdue for an all-new model. With this year’s third-gen version, the company has given us just that. The 2021 AirPods have a new design, complete with handy features from the company’s more expensive earbud and headphone models. The stick-bud look is still with us, and the overall fit will remain polarizing, but Apple has nonetheless massively improved its “regular” AirPods in nearly every way.

Design

Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Apple completely redesigned AirPods inside and out for this third-generation model. The new look is a blend of the original AirPods design and the AirPods Pro, with some modifications. Right off the bat you’ll notice the lack of the silicone eartips found on the Pro. The overall fit of the new model is similar to that of the first two AirPods, which means that there will be a good number of people who won’t care for it. That mixture of designs continues on the stem. Apple reduced the length of the component by a third versus the previous model, adding the force sensor from the AirPods Pro for the on-board controls.

For its new “contoured design,” Apple says it considered customer feedback on fit and comfort as well as thousands of ear scans, acoustic studies and heat map modeling to create the shape. The company explains that the design reduces weight and its tapered silhouette and angle increase comfort. Not to mention the updated earbud better directs sound into your ear. All of this turned out to be true, as the new model is more comfortable and the design helps deliver massive improvements to audio quality.

Despite a lot of people using AirPods at the gym or on a run, only the Pro model was sweat and water resistant. Apple has extended that protection to this third-gen unit as well as its charging case. You won’t want to try submerging either one, but the IPX4 rating should be enough to keep the earbuds safe during workouts or from an errant, albeit small, splash.

AirPods have had automatic pausing before now, but Apple changed in-ear detection for the 2021 edition. Instead of a simple optical sensor, Apple’s new version actually detects skin. Combined with the built-in accelerometer, AirPods can better determine when they’re in your ear, which Apple says makes pausing more accurate and can even extend battery life.

Software and features

Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality.
Billy Steele/Engadget

Like Apple’s other recent AirPods models, this new set is equipped with the company’s H1 chip. That component enables a lot of features, with the first one being one-touch fast pairing. Simply flip open the case near your iPhone and all you have to do is tap the pop-up to sync the two devices. It’s so quick and easy, and you’ll quickly realize how much time you wasted putting earbuds in pairing mode before swiping over to the Bluetooth menu. Those days are long gone and, quite frankly, good riddance.

The H1 chip also powers always-on Siri. As before, this allows you to summon the virtual assistant without having to reach for or be near your phone. H1 lends a hand with Adaptive EQ, spatial audio and dynamic head tracking as well, bringing features from the pricier Pro and Max models to a more affordable version of AirPods.

Similar to previous products, AirPods are equipped with automatic switching between Apple devices. When you’re listening to music on your MacBook Pro and get a call, you can automatically switch over. And when the call is finished, you can go back without re-pairing. Thanks to the latest version of iOS features like announce notifications with Siri and improved Find My are all available on the third-gen AirPods. The older audio sharing tool is back as well.

With the change to force sensor-driven controls, Apple has given AirPods the same actions as AirPods Pro. On the second-gen model, you had to tap the earbud and the options were very limited. Like the Pro version, you now have the ability to play/pause and accept calls (press once), skip tracks forward (press twice), skip tracks backwards (press three times) and activate Siri (press and hold). Once again, there’s no option for on-board volume control. The press-and-hold input on the AirPods Pro changes noise-cancelling mode, so it seems like Apple could’ve reassigned this action for volume — up on one side, down on the other. As it stands, using this for Siri seems redundant, especially as the hands-free assistant is a staple of its AirPods line.

Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality.

Sound quality

I don’t want to mince words here: the new AirPods sound so much better than the previous two versions. Like almost night and day better. Apple didn’t make any significant changes to sound quality from the first model to the 2019 version. But for gen three, Apple paired a custom driver with a high-dynamic-range amplifier to improve the audio chops. The company says that the duo work together to produce “rich consistent bass” and “crisp, clean” highs. From the moment I fired up the first song, this was all immediately evident. I don’t think I’ve ever audibly said “woah” with the first note from a guitar on any review unit, but given how average older AirPods sound, it was involuntary this time.

Overall, the sound is bigger and more immersive. It’s open and airy, instead of being compressed and downright boring like older AirPods. While greatly improved, the sound quality doesn’t match the absolute best I’ve tested: Sony’s WF-1000XM4, Master & Dynamic’s MW08 and Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 2. However, the new AirPods do sound better than the Galaxy Buds 2 and are comparable to Jabra’s Elite 75t — both of which offer active noise cancellation and are more in line with Apple’s latest in terms of price.

Even without spatial audio tracks, music feels dimensional with vocals, instruments and other sounds standing on their own. The performance is consistent across the bluegrass picking of Nickel Creek to the bluesy folk rock of Jason Isbell and the grungy metal of Every Time I Die. Sure, part of this is due to the new driver/amp combo, as the crisp treble and constant, but not overpowering, bass help create these soundscapes. Another reason is the new shape of the earbud that better directs sound into your ears.

Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality.
Billy Steele/Engadget

The third aspect is Adaptive EQ, a feature Apple first introduced on the AirPods Max. Using computational audio, the company’s H1 chip and the inward-facing mic, AirPods tune the music for how the earbuds fit in your ear. Adaptive EQ constantly monitors sound and adapts low- and mid-range frequencies in real time. All of these updates make the new AirPods something I actually wanted to listen to music with, rather than something that was just more convenient that other earbuds.

The new AirPods also support Apple’s spatial audio. This means you can listen to tracks that are available in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music with no issue. I can respect that spatial audio as a concept is divisive: some people like it while others don’t. I don’t care for it with the AirPods Max, but I think it sounds better with these new AirPods. Dolby Atmos seemed a bit too spacious at times with Apple over-ear headphones (Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour is a prime example), but that’s not the case with the supported earbuds. I’m not sure it will sway folks who don’t care for spatial audio currently, but that’s why you have the ability to disable it entirely.

Like the AirPods Pro, spatial audio here is also available with dynamic head tracking, which changes the position of the audio in your earbuds when you turn your head. iOS will allow you to switch between fixed spatial audio and dynamic head tracking via the volume slider in Control Center. There’s also a third option to disable the immersive sound entirely from here. I think head tracking has some benefits when you’re watching a movie or TV show, but when you’re listening to music, it’s not so great. Especially when you momentarily walk away from your computer or phone. For that reason, easy access to these controls is a great thing.

What you won’t find here is active noise cancellation (ANC) or a transparency mode. Apple has reserved both for the pricier AirPods Pro, and there’s a key reason why. The third-gen AirPods allow some outside sound in by design as they don’t completely seal off your ear canal. This would make an ANC setup difficult and means the AirPods are “transparent” by default. Much like the design, if you consider the features of the new AirPods as the middle ground between the base model and the Pro version, a lot of these decisions make sense.

Call quality

Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality.
Billy Steele/Engadget

As ever, Apple is hyping the voice quality on its latest AirPods. The company says new acoustic mesh covers for inset microphones help reduce wind noise. These earbuds also support the AAC-ELD codec, which Apple says enables “full-HD voice quality” to keep you sounding crisp and clear on FaceTime calls. What’s more, the AirPods support spatial audio in Group FaceTime calls to further simulate the feeling of being in the same room. Basically, the sound from the person who is talking comes from the direction they’re positioned on your screen. It’s not like speaking IRL, but it is an improvement. It makes calls more immersive, plus you can get an even better sense of directional audio when your device is in landscape mode.

Indeed, FaceTime calls are crisp and clear with the new AirPods. Phone calls are improved as well but not to the same degree. Voice quality is here better than most earbuds I’ve tested, but not by a ton. True to Apple’s claims, these AirPods do a decent job blocking background noise and focusing on your voice. It’s great when you’re talking, but the clamor resumes when you’re not speaking. Depending on how loud the noise is, it might be distracting for the person on the other end. There are improvements in regards to voice, but you’ll notice them most in FaceTime.

Battery life

Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality.
Billy Steele/Engadget

To accompany the redesign, Apple also increased battery life on the new AirPods. The company says you can expect up to six hours on the earbuds themselves and up to 30 hours total when you factor in the case. I actually managed just over seven hours during my tests, and that’s with fixed spatial audio on (but without dynamic head tracking). Since the second-gen version was rated at five hours, over seven is a significant upgrade for those who use headphones throughout their work day.

If you find yourself in a pinch, the new AirPods have the same quick-charge feature as the AirPods Pro: five minutes in the case gives you about an hour of use. Where the original AirPods Pro case supported wireless charging, now both it and the case for AirPods is equipped with MagSafe. The MagSafe case still works with Qi-certified pads, but Apple will sell you a magnetic charger for a better experience. Just remember: the second-gen model that Apple kept around for $129 doesn’t support wireless charging at all.

The competition

Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality.
Billy Steele/Engadget

There’s never been a doubt that AirPods are built for iPhone, iPad and Mac. Nearly every feature is meant to enhance or extend the tools available on those devices, including giving you the ability to access Siri and other things without reaching for an iPhone. By adding the third-gen AirPods in the middle of its lineup, Apple has replaced the 2019 model with a wireless charging case. That leaves its roster with the original design (second-generation) at $129, this model at $179 and the AirPods Pro at $249. The company now has a trio of options akin to what Samsung has offered for a while now: a range of choices with varied options and prices.

At this point, the only options that come close to the deep iOS integration AirPods offer are products like the Powerbeats Pro. A few models in the Beats lineup offer handy features like fast pairing and hands-free Siri since they’re powered by Apple’s H1 chip. The more affordable Studio Buds ($150) don’t have that component, but they still offer the ability to wake the assistant without reaching for your phone. The Beats Fit Pro leaked earlier this month and initial reports indicate they too will carry Apple’s powerful earbud tech, but we don’t know about price just yet. There are plenty of options that sound great and have handy features in their own right, but nothing without the H1 chip syncs as well with Apple’s devices.

If you want active noise cancellation or ambient sound in some tiny earbuds, the Galaxy Buds 2 are a solid bet. Unfortunately, Samsung scaled back its iOS integration a few models ago, but these still work well with iPhone and the like. If ANC, spatial audio or hands-free Siri aren’t things you need, Jabra’s Elite 3 earbuds are the best value right now. They’re tiny and comfy, but the sound is impressive and the battery life is good. Plus, they’re only $80.

Wrap-up

No modest update this time around. Apple totally overhauled AirPods for the third-generation version with the biggest changes coming in the design and audio quality. The company also expanded availability of key features like spatial audio and Adaptive EQ to a more affordable set of earbuds while keeping all of the convenience of AirPods intact. These earbuds still aren’t for everyone, but what they offer the Apple faithful can’t be found elsewhere and the company will do well to keep it that way.

Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro review: Solid phones, great software, perfect pricing

The Pixel 6 is the most intriguing phone Google has made in years. Not only is it a return to premium design with eye-catching colors and up to a 120Hz screen, it’s also powered by the company’s first mobile processor — Tensor. With it, Google is promising serious improvements in AI performance and photography, including better voice recognition and Assistant features.

Google also finally upgraded the Pixel’s camera hardware instead of just relying on its processing smarts. That’s not to say it’s overlooked software this year. The Pixel 6 is stuffed to the brim with special photography modes. The best thing about the Pixel 6 series, though, is the surprisingly low starting price, and it makes the few drawbacks easier to forgive.

Design

I'm torn over the Pixel 6's design. Compared to the last few generations, these are an arresting change of pace. The two-tone palette is pretty, especially on the smaller Pixel 6, which has more fun color options. It also has a flat screen with a matte finish on its sides while the Pro has pleasantly curved, shiny edges and feels a lot like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro held in mid-air with their screens facing the camera.
David Imel for Engadget

Google's horizontal camera bar here is polarizing. I don't mind it, but I know many people think it's hideous. In its defense, it not only houses larger sensors, but it also makes for a more symmetrical design than the corner camera bumps on every other flagship. And as a bonus, it doesn’t wobble when resting on a tabletop.

Aesthetics and style are all subjective, but no one can argue with hard numbers. At 207 grams (or 7.3 ounces), the Pixel 6 is heavier than the Galaxy S21 and the iPhone 13, though not by much. The Pixel does have a larger 6.4-inch screen, though, and I wish it was smaller since previous generations (and other companies) all offer a one-hand-friendly size. Meanwhile, the Pixel 6 Pro weighs 210 grams, which is much lighter than the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Display, audio and fingerprint sensor

Both the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have lovely OLED screens. The standard model has a 6.4-inch 1080p panel that runs at 90Hz, while the Pro uses a 6.7-inch display that goes between 10Hz and 120Hz depending on what you're doing.

Most flagship phones have adopted OLED by now, and in general offer excellent image quality. The new frontier for displays is refresh rate, and the Pixel 6 Pro’s 120Hz screen is as buttery as the iPhone 13 Pro and Galaxy S21 Ultra’s. Scrolling through Twitter, Instagram and articles on the internet is satisfyingly fast.

The Google Pixel 6 Pro held in mid-air with its screen facing the camera.
David Imel for Engadget

The Pixel 6’s 90Hz refresh rate does make it feel a little slower, but you won’t notice if you haven’t been spoiled by 120Hz screens. If you’re upgrading from an older phone, the 90Hz panel will be an obvious improvement. Plus, this thing costs just $600, so no gripes here, especially since the iPhone 13 is $200 more and runs at 60Hz.

I’m also not going to complain much about the Pixel 6’s speakers, which are decent. Vocals were clear in Steve Aoki and Jolin Tsai’s Equal in the Darkness, though the mix could sound messy at times and lacked bass. Lil Nas X’s Industry Baby held up a little better.

Under the Pixel 6’s display is a fingerprint sensor, and unfortunately it’s slow and finicky, especially compared to in-screen readers on recent Galaxy and OnePlus devices. You also can’t log in with your thumb when the screen is off, meaning unlocking your phone is a two-step process: Wake the screen, then scan your print. Google could stand to take notes from Samsung here. Place your finger on the screen of an S21 and you almost immediately see your home page.

A close up on the Pixel 6 Pro's in-display fingerprint sensor.
David Imel for Engadget

If you’re mad that the fingerprint sensor was relocated, Google said it was mainly to keep the phone’s rear looking uncluttered, while still offering some form of secure biometric authentication.

Android 12 and Assistant features

What truly defines the Pixel 6 experience is its software — an area Google has always excelled. With Android 12's new Material You UI, the Pixel 6s feel as pretty inside as they do outside. The most obvious flourish is its ability to theme the entire interface around a color palette it extracts from your wallpaper. We've discussed this many times in our previous coverage of the Android 12 beta, so I won't go on and on about it here, but it makes the OS feel more cohesive.

Android 12 offers many new features that we've already tested, like updated widgets, camera and mic privacy toggles, but the company has updates that are exclusive to Pixels as well. The most impactful of these are the upgraded speech recognition algorithms. Transcriptions are more accurate, translations are integrated in more parts of the OS and the keyboard is easier to use hands-free.

As someone who detests typing on a phone, I love the new voice keyboard. It’s better at understanding my rambling monologues and inserting punctuation. Now transcribed text looks more natural, rather than being a long block of words. The system will even retroactively add punctuation to previous sentences while you’re speaking. That said, Assistant still isn’t perfect, and often adds periods where they don’t belong. And maybe this is more of an indictment of the way I speak, but Google seems to think everything I say is a question.

In fact, here’s an example of the above paragraph as transcribed by the new voice keyboard:

“As someone who detest typing on a phone, I love the new voice keyboard. It's better at understanding my rambling monologues and inserting punctuation. Now transcribe text looks more natural rather than being a long block of words. The system will even retroactively add punctuation to previous sentences while you're speaking. That said, assistant still isn't perfect and often adds periods where they don't belong. And maybe this is more of an indictment of the way I speak, but Google seems to think everything I say is a question”

What makes hands-free typing even easier is the ability to say things like “Send,” “Clear,” “Delete” and “Undo.” I especially love that you can say “Hey Google, type” to trigger the speech keyboard, so there’s no need to touch the screen to reply to your friends. The Pixel 6 also helpfully suggests commands for things like jumping to the next field in a form or setting the subject of an email. Plus, you can add emoji by saying “smiley face emoji” or “peach emoji”.

The new keyboard also makes it easier to fix mistakes. You can’t do this hands-free unless you want to clear everything and start over, but at least you don’t have to exit voice typing mode to select a typo and then tap the speech button to start dictating again. The mic will remain on so you can repeat something with more careful enunciation, and you can use commands like “Delete” to get rid of stray words.

The improvements to voice commands are especially important for those with physical or motor disabilities, and this might make it easier to communicate if you have limited mobility.

Screenshots showing examples of the new voice keyboard on the Pixel 6, as well as the help page showing more commands that can be used, like
Cherlyn Low / Engadget

Google also expanded its Quick Phrases feature, which allowed you to say things like “Stop” or “Answer” in response to alarms or calls. This feature rolled out first on Google’s speakers and displays, and now on the Pixel 6 you can also say “Stop,” “Snooze,” “Answer” and “Decline.” I know it seems like a minor update, but I appreciate every little addition that makes hands-free interaction with my phone easier.

Another advantage Pixels have over other phones is Google’s time-saving features like Duplex and Call Screening. On the Pixel 6, Google is introducing new Wait Time and Direct My Call tools that tell you how long you’ll have to wait for a customer service rep and converts voice-based menus into on-screen options. Though it’s supposed to work with the top 5,000 toll-free US business numbers, I didn’t see wait times appear for Bank of America, though it showed up for Capital One, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and DoorDash.

The Pixel 6 accurately turned DoorDash’s menu into tappable buttons, too, though it only works in English. “Press 1 to continue in English” appeared, though “Para continuar en espanol, o prima dos” did not, nor did the option to continue “en Francais.”

The company has also integrated its translation engine into more parts of the Pixel 6, like Live Transcribe and the keyboard. You no longer have to use the app or search engine to translate what you need before copying and pasting it into a message.

When I opened a conversation with our video producer Brian, the phone detected that he had written in German and asked if I wanted it to translate. Once I agreed, Brian’s message of “ich liebe dich” was replaced with “I love you.” As I typed out my reply, a separate text field appeared above the keyboard with my words in English being translated into Deutsch. This also worked with the new voice typing, although sometimes it reverted to the old speech keyboard (the microphone icon looks different in the latest version).

Three screenshots showing the Pixel 6 offering to and translating a message from German to English, and the keyboard simultaneously converting English words to German.
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Only a few languages like German, Chinese (Simplified), Japanese, French, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Russian and English are supported at this time. Most chat apps are compatible, too, like WhatsApp, Signal, Line, Twitter, Google Chat, Snapchat and Android Messages. Though, Instagram messages weren’t working when I tried it.

Another area where translation is baked in is Live Captions, which provides subtitles for anything playing through your phone’s speakers. In general Google’s interpretations still aren’t very accurate and sentences come off stilted. In Interpreter Mode, Brian and I had a conversation where I spoke Chinese and he spoke Korean and simply couldn’t make sense of what the other was saying unless we told it to translate both languages to English instead. But it’s not like any other translation software is better.

The phone’s Tensor chip handles all these things quickly, and since it’s all done on-device you can use the features without an internet connection. Lens in particular was very fast at identifying Korean characters on a book and correctly capitalizing the author’s names. And, though it struggled with my handwritten Chinese characters, it was still fairly speedy at showing its English interpretation.

There are a lot of little software updates throughout Android 12 that I don’t have the time or space to go into here, but I’ll quickly shout out new security features like the Anti-Malware and Phishing tool. When someone sends you a suspicious message in WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, Google will throw up a warning page like it does in Chrome, reminding you not to transmit sensitive information online to people who might not be who you think they are. It won’t prevent these messages from reaching you, but it’s at least a reminder to be careful (and a great way to diss your friends). There’s also a new security hub that helps you identify what apps are using your personal data the most.

A focus shot of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro's camera bars.

Cameras

Google’s software has helped it make the most of the outdated cameras on its older Pixels, but this time around the company endowed its flagships with much better hardware. The Pixel 6 has a 50-megapixel main sensor that uses pixel-binning to achieve a resolution closer to 12 megapixels (that are bigger and let in more light). Accompanying this is a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera with a 114-degree field of view, and the Pro adds a 48-megapixel telephoto lens to the mix that has 4X optical zoom. It also has a 11.1-megapixel wide angle selfie camera that shoots in 4K, while the Pixel 6 has an 8-megapixel sensor that tops out at 1080p. These sensors aren’t just sharper, they’re also bigger with larger pixels, which makes for brighter, cleaner photos.

In almost every situation, the Pixel 6 Pro’s photos were basically on par with the iPhone 13 Pro, and the comparison here boils down to personal preference. They both produce crisp, colorful pictures. Apple tends to deliver more-saturated images with a green-yellow cast, while Google has a more neutral look. The iPhone struggles with fringing when shooting anything against a light source, but it also renders rosier skin tones compared to the Pixel, which washes my subjects out in low light.

That’s disappointing, by the way, given the Pixel 6 also features Google’s Real Tone processing. It’s part of the company’s Image Equity program, which is built on research and feedback from photographers and people of color to get more accurate exposure for different skin tones.

This isn’t a feature you can turn off, so it’s hard to see how effective it is. All I can say is: I’ve photographed people of varying skin tones in my testing and have yet to encounter any serious issues or obvious improvements.

In addition to baking Real Tone into its algorithms, Google also introduced a slew of special camera features, including Magic Eraser, Motion Mode, Face Unblur and Speech Enhancement for selfie videos.

Most of these are hit or miss, except Face Unblur, which uses images from both the wide and main cameras to stitch together photos with crisp faces every time. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed, but Face Unblur worked well. I fired the camera in rapid succession while Brian stood in front of me and vigorously shook his head from side to side. Every single shot had his face in perfect focus.

The rest of the updates, like Speech Enhancement, Magic Eraser, Long Exposure and Action Pan in Motion Mode, only work in the right circumstances. Magic Eraser doesn’t always identify photobombers or perfectly remove them. But in some cases, like my picture of a stream framed by trees, it accurately highlighted two people on the bank and seamlessly replaced them with foliage.

Pixel 6 camera mode samples. A composite showing a picture of a stream before and after Google's Magic Eraser removed two people sitting on the bank.
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

I’m also a fan of Action Pan and Long Exposure, which add a motion blur effect to your fast-moving subject and let you capture light trails. When they work, the results are eye-catching. But while they’re easy to use and don’t require you to hold still for too long, Action Pan can’t handle anything faster than a cyclist and the blur can be exaggerated. Long Exposure delivered some nice shots of cars going down a roundabout, but doesn’t offer enough controls for experienced photographers.

Finally, while speech enhancement mode does muffle some ambient noise in videos shot with the front camera, my voice wasn’t all that much clearer than without the mode on.

Generally, much like Google’s astrophotography mode, these features are only helpful in specific situations that most people won’t encounter often. The tools that have a greater impact on your photos are Magic Eraser and Face Unblur, and despite some quirks they’re both quite effective.

Performance and battery life

Despite Tensor being Google’s first mobile chip, its performance is surprisingly good. I barely noticed a difference between the Pixel 6 and Apple and Samsung’s latest flagships, and it handled League of Legends: Wild Rift while screen recording without issue. According to Geekbench 5’s CPU benchmarks, though, the iPhone 13 Pro with its 3.2GHz A15 Bionic chip was way faster than the Pixel 6 (which is clocked at 2.8Ghz), notching a multi-core score of 4,809 over Google’s 2,802. The Surface Duo 2, with a Snapdragon 888 processor (2.84GHz), came in at 3,485.

Side view of the Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro standing face to face, focusing on their camera bars.
David Imel for Engadget

With two ARM X1 “Prime” cores, two big cores and four little high-efficiency cores, Tensor’s design is similar to Qualcomm’s high-end Snapdragon 888, though with an additional X1 core. But the draw here is Google’sTPU, or Tensor Processing Unit, which is a scaled down version of what the company uses in its data centers, and it’s designed to speed up AI tasks. To be fair, Apple and Qualcomm offer similar coprocessors: the Neural Engine and Hexagon, respectively. But Google has much more experience in the field of AI than its competitors, and while we don’t have hard numbers to back it up, anecdotally Tensor seems to outclass the competition in this field.

On-device Assistant requests, voice typing and translating foreign characters in Lens all happened in an instant. I was especially impressed that I could see the effects of Google’s noise reduction through the viewfinder in low light without having to wait for processing after taking the shot.

I encountered some odd delays every once in a while, like the camera struggling to load sometimes. I received several updates throughout my testing (as recently as yesterday) and may still not have the final version of the app, which could bring more stable performance.

Both the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro last incredibly long. On our video rundown test, the Pixel 6 clocked 20 and a half hours, while the Pro managed 17 hours and 13 minutes. That puts them among the longest-lasting phones we've tested all year. In real world use, too, the Pixel 6 Pro typically stuck around longer than a day and I never stopped to think about charging it.

The Google Pixel 6 and 6 Pro held up in mid-air with their camera bars facing out.
David Imel for Engadget

Pixel 6 or 6 Pro?

Though it’s still difficult to choose between the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, the decision this year boils down to one key factor: price. In the past, Google's phones came in regular and XL versions, and they were obviously different in size. With the Pixel 6 though, the standard model isn't that much smaller. That's disappointing for anyone with daintier hands that have a hard time reaching across the screen. But it does mean you don’t have to choose between size or premium features — just go for the Pro if you want the top-of-the-line edition.

The main reason to get the Pixel 6 instead of the Pro is to save $300. You'll only be missing out on the 120Hz screen, telephoto camera and slight design differences. Yes, the Pro has an ultra wideband chip for spatial location and ranging, but this won’t matter much to most people.

Wrap-up

Whichever version you’re considering, the Pixel 6 series is a superb return to form. Google is clearly aware that its strengths lay in smart software and excellent photography, and those are the areas where the Pixel 6s deliver most. The company also didn’t neglect basics like battery life and display, and though I wish the fingerprint sensor was faster, there’s little to complain about. Best of all, Google is offering you all these flagship features for hundreds less than the competition.

Key specs

SpecPixel 6Pixel 6 Pro
Display6.4-inch 2,400 x 1,080 (20:9) OLED. 411ppi, up to 90Hz6.7-inch 3,120 x 1,440 LTPO OLED. 512ppi, up to 120Hz
Dimensions
6.2 x 2.9 x 0.4 inches / 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9 mm;7.3 oz / 207 grams
6.5 x 3.0 x 0.4 inches / 163.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm;7.41 oz / 210 grams
Processor, RAM and Storage
Google Tensor with Titan M2 security coprocessor;8GB LDDR5 RAM;128GB / 256GB UFS 3.1
Google Tensor with Titan M2 security coprocessor;12GB LDDR5 RAM;128GB / 256GB / 512GB UFS 3.1
Rear cameras
50MP octa PD Quad Bayer camera, 1.2-micron pixels, 1/1.31" sensor and f/1.85 aperture12MP ultrawide camera, 1.25-micron pixels, 114-degree FOV and f/2.2
50MP octa PD Quad Bayer camera, 1.2-micron pixels, 1/1.31" sensor and f/1.85 aperture12MP ultrawide camera, 1.25-micron pixels, 114-degree FOV and f/2.248MP telephoto camera, 4x optical zoom, 0.8-micron pixels, f/3.5
Front camera8MP, 1.12-micron pixels, f/2.0, 84-degree FOV11.1MP, 1.22-micron pixels, f/2.2, 94-degree FOV
Battery
4,614 mAh, fast-charging with included Google 30W USB-C chargerQi-certified, fast wireless charging, battery share
5,003 mAh, fast-charging with included Google 30W USB-C chargerQi-certified, fast wireless charging, battery share
Sensors and connectivityUnder-display fingerprint sensor, dual-SIM (one nano and one eSIM), NFC, WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2Under-display fingerprint sensor, dual-SIM (one nano and one eSIM), NFC, WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, Ultra-wideband chip
Water resistanceIP68IP68

Photos by David Imel (@DurvidImel)

Microsoft says SolarWinds hackers may have breached 14 more companies

Microsoft has shared more details about a recent cyberattack campaign orchestrated by the Russian state-sponsored group blamed for last year's devastating SolarWinds hack. The company's cybersecurity experts warned that Nobelium is once again trying to access government and corporate networks around the world, despite President Joe Biden sanctioning Russia over previous cyberattacks.

According to Microsoft, the group is using the same strategy it employed in the successful SolarWinds attack — targeting companies whose products form core parts of global IT systems. In this campaign, Microsoft says, Nobelium has focused on a different aspect of the IT supply chain, namely resellers and service suppliers that provide cloud services and other tech.

The company says it has informed more than 140 providers and resellers that the group has targeted them. It believes Nobelium breached up to 14 of these companies' networks. However, Microsoft says it detected the campaign in its early stages in May, which should help mitigate the fallout.

Microsoft notes these hack attempts are part of a huge series of attacks conducted by Nobelium over the last few months. Between July 1st and October 19th, it told 609 of its customers that Nobelium had attempted to hack them on 22,868 occasions, with fewer than 10 successes. In the three years prior to July 1st, Microsoft told its customers about 20,500 attacks from all nation-state actors — not just Nobelium.

"This latest activity shares the hallmarks of Nobelium’s compromise-one-to-compromise-many approach and use of a diverse and dynamic toolkit that includes sophisticated malware, password sprays, supply chain attacks, token theft, API abuse [and] spear phishing," Microsoft's security intelligence division wrote in a tweet. Nobelium has also been known as Cozy Bear and APT29.

In 2020, hackers created a backdoor in a SolarWinds product called Orion, which was used by around 30,000 customers in the public and private sector. Nobelium is said to have carried out further hacks on the systems of nine US agencies and around 100 companies. Other hackers piggybacked onto the backdoor to facilitate their own attacks. The US sanctioned six Russian companies and 32 individuals and entities in April over alleged misconduct connected to the SolarWinds attack and attempts to interfere with the 2020 presidential election.

"This recent activity is another indicator that Russia is trying to gain long-term, systematic access to a variety of points in the technology supply chain and establish a mechanism for surveilling — now or in the future — targets of interest to the Russian government," Tom Burt, Microsoft's corporate vice president of customer security and trust, wrote in a blog post.

The new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros are already discounted at Amazon

Apple's latest pro-level notebooks are barely one week old and they've already received a discount on Amazon. Both the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros with M1 Pro CPUs are $50 off right now — that means you can grab the 512GB 14-inch model for $1,950 or the 512GB 16-inch version for $2,450. Is it a huge discount? No, but it's notable for Apple's newest laptops for which price might be a big barrier to entry for some. Both laptops will ship starting tomorrow.

Pre-order 14-inch MacBook Pro at Amazon - $1,950Pre-order 16-inch MacBook Pro at Amazon - $2,450

Despite being announced just last week, we managed to check out the latest MacBook Pros and gave them a score of 92. Apple addressed a lot of complaints people had with its high-end laptops here, namely their lack of ports. Both machines have three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI connector, a MagSafe power port, a headphone jack and an SD card reader. The only thing missing is a USB-A port, but that's a small sacrifice to make when you have so many connectivity options that you didn't have on previous MacBook Pros.

To house these bevy of ports, the new MacBook Pros are thicker and slightly heavier than previous editions, but they remain portable (the 14-inch a bit more so than the 16-inch). They also have lovely Liquid Retina XDR displays capable of reaching 1,600 nits of brightness thanks to their Mini-LED backlighting. They also support 120Hz refresh rates with ProMotion, which will help prevent your eyes from getting fatigued after hours of scrolling through documents and web pages. The webcam notch is a noticeable difference as well, albeit one that might frustrate some, but at least the 1080p webcam is a big upgrade from the 720p camera in previous models.

Unsurprisingly, the new MacBook Pros have stellar performance. While the M1 chipset in last year's laptops fell a bit short when it came to heavy duty creative work, the M1 Pro processors remedy that and we found the SSDs in these Pros to be speedy as well. While those who need serious power for 3D renderings and similar tasks may still want to consider machines with dedicated GPUs, others will find the power provided in the new MacBook Pros to be more than sufficient. And they last long, too — the 14-inch model survived over 12.5 hours in our testing, while the 16-inch machine lasted over 16.5 hours. If you knew during Apple's event last week that the latest MacBook Pro was the laptop for you, now's a good time to grab one while you can save a few dollars in the process.

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