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Main article: Gadgets

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Hear THX’s new Deep Note right here

15:33 | 21 August

The THX Deep Note is changing and it can be heard here first. The iconic audio track has long proceeded movies certified by THX and features the now familiar crescendo that showcases the movie’s audio capability. This time around THX built the intro to feature 4k video as much as audio as it will be available to theaters that are THX Certified Cinema partners.

To make the trailer immersive online, THX utilized its THX Spatial Audio post-production mixing tools that enables online users to experience the multidimensional sound using headphones. It’s special. Don some headphones and turn up your volume before pressing play. THX says in a press release it “applied advanced objects and ambisonics-based engineering, essentially spherical harmonics, for full-sphere audio.” I’m not sure what that means, but the trailer sounds great.

The original THX Deep Note debuted at the premiere of Return of the Jedi in Los Angeles.

“Our aim with this piece is to extend the legacy that inspired us as young people in the movie theater,” said Ben Rosenblatt in a released statement, the trailer’s executive producer and co-founder of American Meme. “As a kid, I was blown away by the THX Deep Note trailer and would go back to the movie theater again and again just to see it, which inspired me to pursue the career I have in Hollywood today. We hope we’ve taken this a step beyond the originals to open up young minds and inspire an entirely new generation.”

 


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Xiaomi launches Mi A3 Android One smartphone with 48MP rear camera in India for $181

10:22 | 21 August

Google has found a committed partner for Android One in Xiaomi. The Chinese electronics giant today announced the launch of Mi A3, an Android One smartphone, in India as the company looks to expand its handset offering in its most important market.

The Mi A3, which is the third Android One handset from Xiaomi, features mid to high-end hardware modules at an affordable price point. It sports a 6.088-inch HD+ (1560X720 pixels) AMOLED display, a trio of 48MP, 8MP and 2MP camera sensors on the back to take detailed and sharp photos, and a 32MP selfie shooter.

The Mi A3 comes in two variants: one that bundles 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage that is priced at Rs 12,999 ($181). The second variant, which features 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage, is priced at Rs 15,999 ($223). Both of them are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 processor.

A lot about Android One’s future is riding on the Mi A3, which was first unveiled by Xiaomi in Spain last month. Xiaomi said the Mi A1 and Mi A2 handsets that it launched in last two years remain the most popular Android One handsets. For Android One, phone vendors work closely with Google to get faster software updates and offer a “stock” Android experience without the bells and whistles that phone makers and carriers pre-install on their handsets.

xiaomi androidone

Xiaomi has tried to not cut any corners to appease users, Manu Jain, the India head and Xiaomi VP of Global operations, said at a media conference today. The Xiaomi Mi A3 handset houses a fairly large 4030mAh battery, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and supports external microSD card should you need more storage. It also has incorporated a fingerprint sensor into the display to allow users to quickly unlock the phone. You can check rest of the specs here.

For Xiaomi, India has emerged as its most important market. The company has been the top smartphone in India for eight straight quarters.

 


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Waxed canvas bags from Waterfield, Manhattan Portage, Saddleback and more

23:27 | 20 August

It’s finally Bag Week again! the most wonderful week of the year at TechCrunch. Just in time for back to school, we’re bringing you reviews of bags of all varieties: from backpacks to rollers to messengers to fanny packs.

This year, like last year, I decided to focus on a specific niche in the bag community: waxed canvas. Last year I reviewed a handful of bags from Ona, Filson, and other purveyors of fine waxed goods. But there are many more to choose from, so I’ve collected a second handful and used them all for long enough to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses.

Waxed canvas is a wonderful material. The natural fibers infused with wax provide water resistance, structure, protection, and a great look that only gets better with time as you use it. It’s my favorite material and it should be yours too. Only trouble is it can be expensive. But keep in mind that these bags are the kind that you take with you for a decade or two.

For this post I focused on laptop bags, but later in the festivities I’ll have a couple more waxed bags more in the “messenger” style, so keep your eyes peeled.

Waterfield Bolt – $269

Pros:

  • Solid medium-weight material and construction
  • Good padding and leather protective layer
  • Surprising amount of space and pockets

Cons:

  • Somehow lacks panache
  • Leather thongs instead of metal zipper pulls not for everyone

Of all the bags I’ve looked at for this roundup, this one is perhaps the most straightforward, in that it isn’t convertible, super-heavy, super-light, blue, or anything like that. It’s just a solid all-purpose laptop bag made of waxed canvas and leather, and as such makes for a sort of baseline with which to compare everything else.

[gallery ids="1839091,1839097,1839088,1839093,1839096,1839095,1839094,1839092,1839090,1839087"]

The Bolt’s canvas isn’t as thick as that on other Waterfield bags, since it’s lined and padded on the inside. It still has a nice finish, though, and the leather base and trim are similarly high-quality. The strap is, like the other bags from the company, nylon, where I would prefer canvas, but the grippy leather shoulder pad included is among the most practical and comfortable I’ve used.

Where the Bolt excels is not in sheer space, since it’s rather a compact bag (you can choose a larger size if you prefer), but in feeling that space is used well. There are snap pockets in the front and a larger zip one as well for quick access, all protected by a small flap but still easy to get at. On the back is a flap pocket and luggage strap so it can sit safely atop your roller bag.

And opening up the main compartment through its weather-proof zipper, the bag accordions open pleasantly to reveal laptop, tablet, notebook, and other slots all easily accessible. I even like the color in there!

I only wish it inspired a little more love. It’s not a bad-looking bag by any means, but it feels very pedestrian — few stylistic choices seem to have been made. It’s practical but not individual. To some that won’t matter — this is a solid bag. But it lacks a certain je ne sais quois that the company has to spare in its other bags.

Waterfield Outback Solo – $159

Pros:

  • Great material and construction
  • Compact but not microscopic

Cons:

  • Awkward to carry without strap
  • Not a lot of room in there (by design, but still)

Sometimes you’re just going out with a tablet or laptop and book, and don’t feel like taking a whole messenger style bag or briefcase. This little guy is sort of halfway between a laptop sleeve and a bag, and if you don’t mind its purselike nature it’s a perfect companion for those more minimal trips.

The laptop compartment is snug and well-padded. The outside has a slip pocket with some nooks for pens and the like, big enough to fit a 8.5×11″ notebook or not-too-thick book. Just don’t try putting groceries or anything in there.

[gallery ids="1839103,1839102,1839101,1839100,1839099,1839098"]

Closure is a magnetic snap that feels secure enough but I’d just as soon have something a little more physical. I’d like to mention that the closure strap looks a little sloppy in the photos above, but it’s really not like that in general use and will wear in nicely. And although it feels great to carry this light little guy with the shoulder strap (which stows away decently well), carrying it like a sleeve or clutch isn’t so hot — a small handle or strap would make this much better.

I’d recommend this to anyone who has a larger bag for trips but doesn’t want to pack and unpack it every time they want to step out to the coffee shop. This would work well as a sub-bag or laptop sleeve if you have lots of room in the big one.

Joshu+Vela Zip Briefcase – $198

Pros:

  • Excellent lighter material that will age well
  • Straightforward style and solid straps
  • Great giant brass zippers

Cons:

  • Which side’s the front?
  • Unstructured interior can make stowage and retrieval annoying

Coming from a shop more known for totes and lightweight, fashionable gear for everyday urban living, this one is heavy duty for them but light compared with some others in this roundup. Its style is subtle and straightforward, but high quality.

The material is a lighter weight and color canvas with a crispy feel that will very quickly show patterns of use as, for example, one front pocket is habitually used for a book or keys. Empty it is possibly the lightest waxed bag I’ve used, which of course makes it good for anyone trying to stay minimal. The simple leather straps are sturdy and comfortable, though their springy, upright nature does mean they occasionally interfere with access.

[gallery ids="1839045,1839054,1839046,1839053,1839052,1839051,1839050,1839044,1839049,1839048,1839047"]

I love the huge brass zipper and pulls, though I could do without the leather bits (you can remove them). I didn’t like the plain natural canvas strap at first but it, like other aspects of the bag, has grown on me.

The simplicity of the design is good, but it also leads to some problems. Unless you look closely it can be hard to tell which side is the front — only the zipper flap and small label hint at it. Something to secure or differentiate the front or rear pockets, even as simple as removing the divider in the back, would be welcome.

Inside has three divisions, but the billowing, unstructured canvas plus the limited zip-top entrance can make stowage and retrieval a little awkward, more so than a flap-top bag anyway. A tighter compartment for a laptop or tablet would be great in here rather than having it swim in a big undifferentiated section. There’s also no padding, so I’d recommend keeping your device in its own case (this also helps it fill out the space).

Manhattan Portage Cortelyou – $365

Pros:

  • Classy messenger/briefcase crossover style
  • Lovely blue color
  • Great handle, closure, and straps

Cons:

  • Not particularly waxy or robust
  • Steel and brass? Sacrilege
  • Interior material not for everyone (also has a tacky watermark)

Waxed canvas is normally tan or brown, but that’s just tradition. I like the forest green of the Croots bag from last year or the Saddleback one below, but the rich navy blue of this Manhattan Portage Token bag is also excellent. The material is very light, with a fine weave and barely any wax. That means it probably won’t show the characteristic scuffs and patterns that give this type of bag its personality. (You can always wax it yourself.)

This bag, with its half-flap and top handle, straddles the line between laptop bag and briefcase. It’s not particularly thick but has lots of room for big documents, laptops, and other long items. Its structure means it’ll stay relatively svelte even when full — this won’t get lumpy.

[gallery ids="1839062,1839056,1839058,1839061,1839059,1839063,1839060,1839055,1839057"]

The leather straps and trim are a nice chocolate color and complement the blue well. It’s not heavy or stiff, and the shoulder strap in particular is very pliable — though so long I had to knot it to keep the extra out of the way (fortunately it looks cool that way). The snap closure can be a little tricky to get right by feel, but attaches solidly. The handle, which folds flat but pops up when you need it, is genius — probably the best handle of all the bags in this roundup, though not quite as robust as the Saddleback (but what is?).

The interior isn’t as to my liking. The red nylon watermarked with a branded pattern seems sort of gauche compared to the refined outside, and at the same time it feels like this choice of material should have allowed for more small pockets. It should help keep things dry, though, which is good considering the thinness of the waxed canvas layer.

Manhattan Portage Saratoga

Pros:

  • Convertible style makes it a good companion for conventions, business trips, etc
  • Plenty of handles and exterior pockets

Cons:

  • Not the best of both worlds (but not the worst either)
  • Straps make it feel bulky and lumpy if not stowed carefully

When I’m at CES or some other big show where I do a lot of walking but need to carry my basic loadout everywhere, I often wish I could transform my laptop bag into a backpack or vice versa. The Saratoga accomplishes this, and while it ends up compromising both forms as a result, it also fundamentally scratches an important itch.

The material is a soft-feeling canvas that doesn’t feel very rugged but is showing a nice wear pattern already. The weather-sealed zippers are good news for anyone who wants to take this out in the rain, but there are just too many of them. Six on the exterior, five visible on the front side! This thing jingles like a festive little elf.

[gallery ids="1839068,1839067,1839066,1839065,1839069"]

The back of the bag is a large pocket in which the pack straps sit, providing extra padding while they’re in there.  You pull them out and clip them onto some unobtrusive little D-rings, and boom, it’s a backpack. Doing the reverse is a little harder, as you need to make sure the straps don’t bunch up in their pouch.

I would have much preferred a more elegant pocket solution, not least because some of the pockets don’t make much sense while in one or the other configuration. And the leather bottom, while great in briefcase mode, makes it seem a little lopsided in backpack mode. Obviously these are drawbacks inherent to the switchable design, which brings its own benefits, but they’re worth considering. I might have liked a single big pocket on the front that can be opened from the side or top, and sub-pockets within.

The interior, while it’s the same watermarked red nylon as the one above, is populated with tons of little pockets and useful stashes that helpfully all close independently, meaning there’s no need to re-pack when you’re going from one mode to the other.

(I can’t seem to find this for sale any more – but keep your eyes open if you like it.)

Manhattan Portage Hewes – $265

Pros:

  • Pockets! So many pockets!!

Cons:

  • Maybe too many pockets

I’ll just say right off the bat that this one isn’t for me — I prefer a plainer exterior, and this thing does not have that. On the other hand, for the organized gadget fiend, this might be a fantastic match.

[gallery ids="1839072,1839075,1839074,1839073,1839070,1839071,1839076"]

The front side is just pocket after pocket. There are two big enough for a small phone, another good for a notebook, pens, or a power adapter, an a third with a removable divider that could hold all manner of things small and large. Nothing too bulky will fit in them, but any number of audio recorders, lens filters, earbuds, and so on will go in there.

Then there are two totally separate full-size compartments, one with more organizing space inside and both with plenty of padding. The simple strap is easy to release and stashes inside nicely.

Saddleback Leather Co Canvas Messenger – $439

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Pros:

  • Built like a waxed tank
  • Seriously, this thing is a beast
  • Spacious and handsome

Cons:

  • Also heavy as a tank
  • Very basic pockets and interior
  • Price reflects its “for life” nature

This bag came with a label on it sporting the company’s motto: “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.” And I’m inclined to believe it. This is definitely by far the heaviest-duty waxed canvas bag I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, which may or may not make it to your taste.

The olive-colored canvas is very thick and stiff, and waxed all the way through, not just in a layer on the outside. The stitching is industrial-grade and probably uses half a mile of thread. Quarter-inch-thick leather plates stiff as a board protect the back and bottom of the bag, and another serves to connect with the handle. The strap is a kind of folded-over canvas that feels even tougher than the leather. On top is a unique and practical thick leather handle that folds flat if necessary but feels very robust.

[gallery ids="1839078,1839081,1839083,1839082,1839084,1839086,1839085,1839080,1839079,1839077"]

The muscular materials and construction, however, preclude the inclusion of fine details like small pockets and pen sheaths. Instead there are two major exterior pockets that simply fold over themselves to close up, being held shut by the flap; there’s also room between them and the main compartment. Smaller side pockets under the massy strap hardware are good spots for flashlights but pens may disappear to the bottom.

This thing is also heavy as hell. Empty, it weighs as much as another bag with a light load. For some that weight will be reassuring but for others it’s just too much.

Inside the main compartment is plenty of room but little organization; there’s a single flap that will hold a laptop in place (my 13-inch MacBook Pro fits perfectly), and beyond that it’s just a big empty space. This is the only briefcase-style bag that rivals Filson’s (in my last roundup) for overnight capability. This one is definitely going to get your stuff waxy for the first few trips, though.

That’s all for today, but keep an eye out for more waxed canvas bags later in Bag Week as well!

 


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Starship Technologies raises $40M, crosses 100K deliveries and plans to expand to 100 new universities

16:00 | 20 August

Starship Technologies invented the category of rolling autonomous sidewalk delivery robots, and to date, the company has made over 100,000 commercial deliveries on behalf of customers. The milestone comes as Starship adds $40 million in Series A funding, bringing its total funding to $85 million. When it announced an additional $25 million in June 2018, Starship was also piloting its first university deployment – and now the company has a plan to expand to 100 university campuses over the next two years based on the strength of that pilot.

“When I came on board, I was testing a whole bunch of different go-to-market strategies,” explained Starship Technologies CEO Lex Bayer. “We were testing grocery delivery, university campuses, corporate campuses, industrial campuses, and we’ve actually seen tremendous traction on most of these environments. Our grocery business north of London, in Milton Keynes is going exceptionally […] But one of the experiments was to try university campuses. And I think, you know, as a company that’s a startup still, we have to always focus and have sequencing in terms of how we grow. And the university campus has just been pulling our business forward – not only our students pulling it, meaning there are more orders than the restaurant from the robots can keep up with that, sorry, we had to add restaurants and add hours. And so we’ve seen signal from the students, but we’ve also seen signal from universities reaching out to us, and from the food service providers.”

This vertical focus on post-secondary schools will see Starship robots deployed at the University of Pittsburgh today, and Purdue University in Indiana on September 9, with many more to follow. Starship’s ambitious goal is to deploy at 100 schools within the next two years, as mentioned, and it’s going to be using this funding in pursuit of that expansion. The market appetite is strong, as Bayer notes, and it’s a way to show that the robots can operate in all kinds of environments, in and among campuses that blend seamlessly with public city streets and sidewalks. Plus, the student population has proven the ideal initial customer base.

“I think, you know, starting with the younger generation is always great for that,” Bayer said. “Because so much of the way they see the world is the way the world can be; they’re not encumbered by all of the past and the way things were done before. And so when you present them with a better solution, they just use it and they say, ‘Oh, this is how things should be normally. This is the way things should be moving forward.'”

Pitt Student with StarshipAnd that perceived normalcy leads to high utilization: One of the robots serving one of the universities where Starship operates manages to drive the equivalent of the distance between San Francisco and New York City, which is quite an accomplishment when you consider that they only travel at a top speed of four miles per hour. Starship’s all-electric delivery robots have, in total racked up 350,000 miles across its delivery trips, and delivered 9,000 such rolls and 15,000 bananas, among various other grocery and food items.

“The first few years were really proving that this could be done, and that this technology is even possible,” Bayer explained. “And so it took us four years to get to the first 10,000 deliveries. And then it took us eight months ago from 10,000 deliveries to 50,000 deliveries, and now it’s taken us less than four months to get to 100,000. So that is a major milestone, and we’re the first autonomous vehicle company to do that. It’s something we’re obviously very proud of. But it really shows the sort of inflection that our company’s going through and how we’re really scaling up.”

Starship’s funding this round was led by Morpheus Ventures, and included existing investors Shasta Ventures, Matrix Partners, MetaPlanet Holdings and more, along with new investors TDK Ventures, Qu Ventures and others.

 


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Yubico launches its dual USB-C and Lightning two-factor security key

15:00 | 20 August

Almost two months after it was first announced, Yubico has launched the YubiKey 5Ci, a security key with dual support for both iPhones, Macs and other USB-C compatible devices.

Yubico’s latest Yubikey is the latest iteration of its security key built to support a newer range of devices, including Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and MacBooks in a single device. Announced in June, the company said the security keys would cater for cross-platform users — particularly Apple device owners.

These security keys may be small enough to sit on a keyring, but they contain the keys to your online line. Your Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook account all support these plug-in devices as a second-factor of authentication after your username and password — a far stronger mechanism than the simple code sent to your phone.

Security keys offer almost unbeatable security and can protect against a variety of threats, including nation-state attackers.

Jerrod Chong, Yubico’s chief solutions officer, said the new key would fill a “critical gap in the mobile authentication ecosystem,” particularly given how users are increasingly spending their time across a multitude of mobile devices.

The new key works with a range of apps, including password managers like 1Password and LastPass, and web browsers like Brave, which support security key authentication.

 


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RYU’s line of backpacks offer style and function for exploring the city or weekends away

23:58 | 19 August

Yes, it’s Bag Week, where we celebrate all the best bags of the year here at TechCrunch. And there is little more satisfying than finding a basic black one that’s functional, stylish and unique. Luckily, Canadian urban athletic apparel maker RYU makes three such bags, and while each one has its own particular appeal depending on what you’re looking for in a backpack, they’re also all winners that elevate the basic black backpack to new heights.

Quick Pack Lux 18L ($185)

RYU bags 3 Locker Pack 18LRYU’s ‘just right’ offering for me is the Quick Pack Lux 18L capacity bag that’s pretty much perfect as a general use day pack in terms of cargo space, and that can also serve well for a one or two-night trip, depending on how lightly you pack.

The RYU’s signature feature, and what makes it my favorite daypack in terms of everyday use around the city, is its profile – a silhouette which is made all the better because RYU uses an internal molded shell to ensure that it never flattens down or loses its shape, regardless of how full or empty the bag actually is. This is actually a huge selling point for me, and one that makes the RYU Quick Pack 18L almost certain to become my go-to daily bag. Inside, there are a few pockets, including a laptop sleeve that can fit up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro – another rarity in a daypack this low-profile.

In addition to the integrated frame, the Quick Pack Lux is kitted out with premium materials, like the leather accent patch on the top flap, leather shoulder straps, and a outer layer of poly-cotton blend that covers a wax-treated canvas, and nylon interior for water resistance and durability. The materials definitely feel premium, though the outermost layer resembles kind of a yoga pant material, and in my house definitely attracts and picks up my dog’s easily shed white hairs with reckless abandon. I’m more than happy to get out the lint roller once and a while as a trade-off for just how good looking the bag is, however.

[gallery ids="1870659,1870660,1870661"]

It wears slightly long, but tight to the back (for reference when sizing up the photos above, I’m 6’2″ and quite a bit of that is torso). The removable chest strap helps keeps the profile pretty seamless, and there’s a handle on top for easy carrying when not on the back.

Another unique feature of the Quick Pack Lux is that opens from the front, with the flap at the top unbuckling to reveal two zippers that run the length of the bag. Undo these, and you get basically a duffle-style cargo loading method, which is great for arranging your stuff without having to layer or dig down as you would in a top loading pack.

Locker Pack Lux 24L ($215)

RYU bags 2 Locker Pack 24L 1The Locker Pack Lux is the more spacious version of the Quick Pack Lux, with 6L extra volume for packing your gear. It’s designed more for those overnights or two day trips, and yet it doesn’t really add that much in the way of bulk if you’re looking for something that can serve flexibly as both day pack and weekender.

The Locker Pack Lux has the same materials combination as the Quick Pack, but is a bit longer and so is probably better suited for taller people. It still offers a very slim profile, and has the same internal structural components that mean it’ll keep its shape, but it has a bit more leeway for expansion, too, letting you pack in a surprising amount of stuff via the front-loading, double zipper stowage and packing flap.

[gallery ids="1870681,1870682,1870683,1870674"]

Unlike the Quick Pack Lux, you also get external access to the laptop compartment in the Locker Pack, which gives you an easy way to get at up to a 15-inch notebook. The leather-accented top flap closes down over this compartment, too, to give you some protection against the elements in the case of light showers (RYU also sells a dedicated rain hood separately).

Express Pack 15L ($90)

RYU bags 4 Express Pack 15L

The Express Pack is the smallest of these RYU backpacks in terms of packing volume, but it’s also probably the best option when it comes to an all-around city daypack that will fit you regardless of height and frame. The extremely minimal aesthetic is great for the city, especially with the polyurethane outer coating that wraps a middle canvas layer for the bag’s body.

This is a very lightweight bag, but the internal pocket can actually fit a lot of stuff when needed, and there’s a single woven pocket on one side of the exterior for stowing a water bottle. This adds an asymmetrical look which is also pretty cool looking. Inside, there’s a zippered mesh block and a fully zippered front pocket for separating your sweaty gym gear, plus a laptop compartment that can fit a full, 15-inch MacBook Pro without issue.

[gallery ids="1870704,1870710,1870711,1870697"]

The bag is comfortable to wear, but doesn’t have the internal structure of the other two, so if it’s empty it’ll hug a lot closer to the body. If there’s one thing I’d change about it, it’s the RYU branding – but it does actually recede to being barely visible in less direct lighting, and is more subtle overall than it looks here.

Overall, RYU’s bag lineup is impressive, and offers something for everyone. The Vancouver-based company has done a great job of delivering highly functional designs that also offer great style with pretty much universal appeal. The company also offers non-Lux versions of both the Quick Pack and the Locker Pack, which drop the leather accents and embedded waxed canvas, but which also offer some decent discounts if the prices above strike you as too high.

 


0

WP Standard’s Weekender leather duffle is built for life

22:59 | 19 August

Have you heard? It’s Bag Week! It’s the most wonderful week of the year at TechCrunch. Just in time for back to school, we’re bringing you reviews of bags of all varieties: from backpacks, to rollers to messengers to fanny packs.

WP Standard makes exceptional leather goods and the company’s new leather duffle is no different. It’s fantastic and my go-to travel bag. There are downsides — it’s heavy and the shoulder strap slips on my boney shoulders — but the good outweighs the bad.

I travel a lot. Airplanes, bikes, cars, and pretty much everything but trains — because I live in the midwest and not because I don’t like trains. A few years back I got a lovely, low-cost leather duffle from Amazon and started using it instead of a roller bag. It’s fun and forces me to pack smarter. Besides, the duffle always fits in overhead spaces, in taxi cabs and is easier to handle on a busy subway.

But you don’t care about my life. You’re here for this bag.

WP Standard built the Weekender duffle for people like me. It’s a great size and I have no issue packing away a bunch shirts, a few pairs of pants and an extra pair of shoes. This isn’t a bag built to hold suits, but rather a weekend’s worth of clothes — hence the name.

The full grain leather is thick and tough and has so far held up nicely to the riggers of travel. There are scratches and scuffs but those are souvenirs and badges of honor. It’s ridden in the back of my pickup in downpours and down dusty lanes. It’s survived several transatlantic flights and still looks like it has decades of life to give.

In the end this isn’t a Patagonia or The North Face duffle constructed out of space-age fabric designed to survive the tallest peaks or the deepest valleys. WP Standard doesn’t play that game. This company makes goods out of full grain leather that are naturally tough and will age gracefully.

The bag is constructed in a way to give the leather the best chance at survival. The hand straps wrap the bag to give it extra strength. The bottom is constructed out of two layers of stiff leather. The zipper is beefy. The shoulder strap is tough and hasn’t shown any sign of stretching.

A few years ago I reviewed WP Standard’s messenger bag. The Weekender duffle is just as lovely but these two bags share the same downside: The shoulder straps pad is too slippery. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing a t-shirt, jacket or parka, the shoulder strap doesn’t stay in place. To compensate, I often forgo using the pad and use the strap itself, which is thinner and can be uncomfortable after several minutes. To me, this isn’t a deal killer, but you, dear reader, should know about this downside.

The WP Standard Weekender costs $375. It’s a great price considering the thickness of the leather and quality of construction. Similar bags can be had from Wills, Shinola or Saddleback but for nearly twice the price. Pad and Quill makes quality leather goods and sells a leather duffle that’s similar to the Weekend for $545; it’s also worth a consideration.

 


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Sonos Bluetooth-enabled, battery-powered speaker leaks ahead of official launch

16:21 | 19 August

Sonos has an event coming up at the end of the month to reveal something new, but leaks have pretty much given away what’s likely to be the highlight announcement at the event: A new, Bluetooth-enabled speaker that has a built-in battery for portable power.

The speaker originally leaked earlier this month, with Dave Zatz showing off a Avery official looking image, and The Verge reporting some addition details including a toggle switch for moving between Bluetooth and Wifi modes, and a USB-C port for charging, along with rough dimensions that peg it as a little bit bigger than the existing Sonos One.

Now, another leak from Win Future has revealed yet more official-looking images, including a photo of the device with its apparent dock, which provides contact charging. The site also says the new speaker will be called the ‘Sonos Move,’ which makes a lot of sense, given it’ll be the only one that can actually move around and still maintain functionality while portable.

[gallery ids="1870393,1870392"]

Here’s TL;DR of what we know so far, across all the existing leaks:

  • Can stream via Wi-Fi (works with your Sonos network like other Sonos speakers) and Bluetooth (direct pairing with devices), with Bluetooth LE included for easier setup
  • USB-C port for power and Ethernet port for connectivity
  • Similar design to Sonos One, with more rounded corners, but wider and taller (likely to allow room for integrated battery)
  • Built in hand in the back for easier carrying
  • Contacts on bottom for docked charging (as alternative to USB-C)
  • Supports Alexa and Google Assistant and has integrated mic (neither available via Bluetooth mode, however)
  • Suports AirPlay 2
  • Offer ‘Auto Trueplay,’ which automatically tunes speaker sound to your place using onboard mic

No word yet on official availability or pricing, but it’s reasonable to expect that it’ll arrive sometime this fall, following that late August announcement.

 


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Minecraft to get big lighting, shadow and color upgrades through Nvidia ray tracing

14:22 | 19 August

Minecraft is getting a free update that brings much-improved lighting and color to the game’s blocky graphics using real-time ray tracing running on Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics hardware. The new look is a dramatic change in the atmospherics of the game, and manages to be eerily realistic while retaining Minecraft’s pixelated charm.

The ray tracing tech will be available via a free update to the game on Windows 10 PCs, but it’ll only be accessible to players using an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU, since that’s the only graphics hardware on the market that currently supports playing games with real-time ray tracing active.

It sounds like it’ll be an excellent addition to the experience for players who are equipped with the right hardware, however – including lighting effects not only from the sun, but also from in-game materials like glowstone and lava; both hard and soft shadows depending on transparency of material and angle of light refraction; and accurate reflections in surfaces that are supposed to be reflective (ie. gold blocks, for instance).

This is welcome news after Minecraft developer Mojang announced last week that it cancelled plans to release its Super Duper Graphics Pack, which was going to add a bunch of improved visuals to the game, because it wouldn’t work well across platforms. At the time, Mojang said it would be sharing news about graphics optimization for some platforms “very soon,” and it looks like this is what they had in mind.

Nvidia meanwhile is showing off a range of 2019 games with real-time ray tracing enabled at Gamescom 2019 in Cologne, Germany, including Dying Light 2, Cyperpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Watch Dogs: Legion.

[gallery ids="1870333,1870334,1870335"]

 


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Ikea doubles down on smart home tech with new business unit

18:25 | 17 August

Ikea’s smart home investments to date have been smart but scattered – now the Swedish home goods brand says it’s going to amp up its smart home bets with a brand new dedicated business unit.

The company’s smart home endeavors began in 2012, and focused on wireless charging and smart lighting. It’s iterated in both areas since, developing self-installed integrated wireless chargers for its furniture, as well as light/charger combos, and finally with a new partnership with Sonos that produced the Symfonisk line of wireless smart speakers.

Ikea also has its own ambitions in terms of being the hub for future smart home products, not only from a hardware perspective, but also via its Home smart app, which it rebranded from being more strictly focused on its Tradfri line of connected bulbs in June. During the Symfonisk launch, Ikea told me it has broader ambitions for the Home smart app as a central hub for connected home control for its customers.

“At IKEA we want to continue to offer products for a better life at home for the many people going forward. In order to do so we need to explore products and solutions beyond conventional home furnishing,” said Björn Block, Head of the new IKEA Home smart Business Unit at IKEA of Sweden, in a press release from the company.

Ikea also characterized this as its biggest new focus area in terms of the overall business and brand since it introduced its Children’s Ikea line.

The partnership between Sonos and Ikea that produced the Symfonisk line is a long-term one, and both companies told me to expect more products to come out of that team-up in future. But it sounds like Ikea intends to explore how smart home tech might touch all aspects of its business, so it’s fair to anticipate more partnerships and product categories to follow as a result of this new investment focus, too.

 


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