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Microsoft Edge tries to one-up Chrome with instant video calls and more

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Microsoft Edge‘s move to Chromium was arguably an essential one if it wanted to remain competitive against Chrome, but in doing so it lost some of its uniqueness. As of right now, the browsers offer a very similar set of features.

But now Microsoft is trying to differentiate its browser a bit by adding a few features you won’t find in Chrome without adding extensions, including a quick video call feature, a nifty new screenshotting tool, and built-in price comparisons.

The video-calling tool, Meet Now, might be the coolest new feature. You’ll see the Meet Now button right on the new tab page. Tap on Meet Now and you’ll be able to quickly create a link to start a video call with up to 50 people — no special software required from anyone.

While just a year ago, the idea of having an instant video-calling button in your browser might’ve seemed excessive, it could be a useful tool during, you know, these uncertain times. The feature is rolling out to Edge “this month,” and will arrive to Outlook on the Web and the Windows 10 taskbar “in the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, the screenshot tool not only allows you to select the specific part of a website you want to capture, but also scroll down the website to capture an extra-long image. Windows Insiders also gain early access to one of the features I most miss about the old Edge, the ability to easily annotate websites with inking capability.

The price comparison feature allows you to build a catalog of products using Edge’s ‘Collection’ tool — basically a built-in version of Pinterest — and then tap on a new “compare price to other retailers” button to do just that. It’s pretty barebones, but the point is having the convenience built-in.

Speaking of Pinterest, Microsoft is also rolling out deeper Pinterest integration widely, making it easy to find related products to those in your collection. If you enable the Collections + Pinterest feature, you’ll then be able to be redirected to Pinterest from your items list to find related content.

For these and more features arriving in Edge, you can check out Microsoft’s blog post here.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published October 8, 2020 — 22:32 UTC

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Xbox chief hints at TV streaming sticks for xCloud

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Microsoft’s head of gaming and Xbox, Phil Spencer, has hinted that the company is planning TV streaming sticks for its xCloud cloud gaming service. In an interview with Stratechery, Spencer discusses the potential for additional tiers of Xbox Game Pass, which could include a free bundled TV stick to play xCloud games.

“I think you’re going to see lower priced hardware as part of our ecosystem when you think about streaming sticks and other things that somebody might want to just go plug into their TV and go play via xCloud,” says Spencer. “You could imagine us even having something that we just included in the Game Pass subscription that gave you an ability to stream xCloud games to your television and buying the controller.”

Spencer also teases the potential for an “Xbox Game Pass Platinum” with guaranteed access to new Xbox hardware. Microsoft has been bundling Xbox subscriptions and hardware together in something called Xbox All Access, which includes access to Xbox Game Pass and the latest Xbox Series X and Series X consoles. It’s a bundle that Spencer is obviously keen to experiment with in the future.

Microsoft’s xCloud service.
Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

The idea of an Xbox game streaming TV stick isn’t a new one for Microsoft. The software giant was preparing lightweight Xbox streaming devices back in 2016, but it canceled the hardware. Microsoft has been investigating steaming sticks and hardware ever since the company originally demonstrated Halo 4 streaming from the cloud to Windows and Windows Phones all the way back in 2013.

Spencer’s first public mention of Xbox streaming TV sticks implies the hardware could be ready soon, though. Microsoft has so far only bundled xCloud game streaming with its highest Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier ($14.99 per month). There’s certainly room for additional tiers, and easier access to the service beyond just Android devices.

Microsoft partnered with Samsung earlier this year for xCloud, and it’s only a matter of time before we see the company’s game streaming service appear on Samsung TVs. 2021 could be an interesting year for xCloud, especially as Microsoft is planning to upgrade its server blades to the more capable Xbox Series X hardware. We should also start to see xCloud appear on Facebook Gaming next year.

Microsoft is also working on a web-based iOS solution for xCloud that will debut in early 2021. Spencer confirms our recent report on this iOS workaround in the Stratechery interview, but warns that not being in the App Store is still a challenge for xCloud. “We have a good solution on iOS that I think it’ll be coming kind of early next year, I feel good about the solution that we have,” says Spencer.

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There’s no need to worry about your EV battery degrading over time

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Are you worried about buying an EV and in a few years time it not being able to travel as far on a charge as it did when it was new? Well, you probably don’t need to be all that concerned.

UK-based consumer reviews magazine Which? has surveyed over 1,000 EV owners to find out just how much the average EV battery degrades over the first few years of its life. By the looks of things, EV batteries don’t degrade as much as some skeptics would claim.

According to the 1,016 electric car owners surveyed between December 2019 and February 2020, EVs that are up to three years old showed only a 2% decline in battery capacity. Cars that are six years old showed a degradation of up to 8%.

[Read: What audience intelligence data tells us about the 2020 US presidential election]

So, let’s put that through an example to make the real world of such decline in battery performance clear.

Take the undeniably popular — according to sales figures — European EV, the Renault Zoë, for example. It has a standard range of 245 miles per full charge. By the time that car is three years old it would have lost 4.9 miles of range.

At the six-year mark, it would have lost 19.6 miles. In the grand scheme of things, less than 10% degradation over six years is really nothing to be concerned about. Generally speaking, people don’t even keep cars for that long these days.

What’s more, most new cars are sold on lease deals which run for between one and four years. Meaning that drivers have the option of giving their old car back and getting a new one long before battery degradation ever becomes a problem.

That said, if you’re one of the few that pays the final lease payment and plans to keep it for a long time, you might still be worried about how the battery will fare after six years.

Most EV manufacturers guarantee their batteries and motors for up to eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. It’s also worth noting the average life of a car is about 10 years. It’s likely that other things will go wrong — as they could with any car — before the battery becomes an issue.

While battery degradation is a reality, it seems that it’s becoming a non-issue for new EV buyers.

Bear in mind, cars in the survey that are six years old use old battery technology. Many popular EVs from back then, like the Nissan Leaf, used passively cooled packs which have been shown to be less effective than actively cooled ones at protecting the operational lifespan of  EV batteries.

In short, if you’re buying a new EV today, you don’t need to worry about its battery degrading.


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Published October 23, 2020 — 09:43 UTC

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Here’s how Apple imagined AirTags would work one year ago

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As well as letting you find lost items, Apple has considered allowing its unannounced, but heavily leaked AirTags to do everything from measuring your posture to helping your phone display information relevant to the building you’re in. The details have emerged in a pair of patent applications that were filed a year ago and were found by Patently Apple after they were made public yesterday.

Since there have been so many leaks about Apple’s Tile-like tracking pucks, we already have a good idea about their features, which involve helping you to keep track of your belongings. So what’s most interesting in these patent applications is the other use cases Apple has been thinking about. One series of diagrams shows how the trackers could be stuck on your body and used to track your posture, or even control a character onscreen.

One diagram shows the trackers being used to control an onscreen character
Image: Apple / USPTO

Another shows the trackers used to track posture.
Image: Apple / USPTO

Another pointed out by MacRumors describes how the tags could be mounted in a building, and used to prompt your phone to display helpful information like a map when it senses you’re close.

Beyond these alternative use cases, Apple’s patent applications for a “Mounting base for a wirelessly locatable tag” and a “Fastener with a constrained retention ring” don’t contain many surprises about the AirTags core functionality. The tags themselves are described as being small and easily attached to items like “keys, purses, or wallets, to help an owner find lost, misplaced, or stolen objects” and are likely to be waterproof and drop-proof. Here are a couple of diagrams from the patents showing how the tags could attach to accessories like a watch strap.

The tags could be embedded in a watch strap…
Image: Apple / USPTO

… to help you find a watch.
Image: Apple / USPTO

When you need to find the device they’re attached to, Apple describes how the tags’ ultra wideband technology could help your phone locate them within an accuracy of a couple of feet or less, and the tags themselves “can produce audible and/or haptic outputs” to help you find them. Or, if you’re not close enough, the device can transmit data through any other people’s devices who are around, a feature that seems likely to tie into Apple’s Find My app.

AirTags have been rumored for so long now that it seems like only a matter of time before they’re announced. Reports indicate that they entered production last month, and a recent rumor suggests we could see an announcement soon.

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