Facebook’s VR AR visionary on what comes after the Oculus Quest 2 – CNET

Egocentric. It's a weird word. To Facebook, regarding AR and VR, it means a world where computers start processing the world as you perceive it. It's a cornerstone of a strange future we seem to already be heading towards, where assistants and notifications and social media meet us where we're already looking. Or where we seem to be looking.

Virtual reality is already stellar at making us feel like we're somewhere else, and Facebook's Oculus Quest 2 has refined that ability. But augmented reality is a stranger beast. Facebook is planning smart glasses for next year, but is already kicking off field tests of world-scanning AR tech that could take years more. According to Michael Abrash, Chief Scientist of Facebook Reality Labs (Facebook's AR/VR division), the future interface needed hasn't been cracked yet.

At Facebook's virtual Connect conference, a VR and AR event normally held in a convention center, the company looked ahead to new neural interfaces (armbands developed by CTRL-Labs, an acquisition made last year) and eyewear that will build 3D world maps and explore how AI can be developed to learn from our attention.

The idea of combining smart glasses with an assistant made me think of William Gibson's last book, Agency, or Tim Maughan's Infinite Detail: It sounds weird, it sounds scary, it sounds wild too. I spoke with Abrash virtually (over video chat, not VR) to discuss what could come next. This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Project Aria on a tester: It's a pair of thick glasses containing lots of sensors and cameras.

Facebook

True AR glasses sound like they're further off, but Facebook smart glasses are coming soon. What do you see as the difference between smart glasses and AR glasses, and what features do you think might be included or added over time?

Conversations about AR glasses are often kind of split personality. Everybody sees that AR glasses are the things that come after phones. There's this progression that goes: desktop, laptop, smartphone, AR glasses. And in each case, when those things appeared, they did exactly the same things the predecessor did, and actually did them worse. They just made them more available ... really, you think about that first iPhone and it did what a phone could do: It did internet badly and it did music. All those things you could already do.

That is going to be an important part of why people start to put smart glasses on their face and what true AR glasses will do in the long run, for sure. How do you do messages? How do you get navigation? Definitely valuable.

Then there's the analogy to the first computer when it first came out. The first personal computer didn't implement anything that you used to do. It actually was a qualitative change in how you interacted with the world. I mean, you could say a spreadsheet is like using a calculator, but it's not like using a calculator. And even a word processor is not like using a typewriter. 

There are two things that really are unique about AR. One is you have shared virtual persistent objects. The fact that you have those is a radical change. It makes the world basically an index for all sorts of things that makes it a sharing environment. That's the obvious one. The less obvious one is an assistant that really becomes an extension of you.

I have no idea, 40 years from now, what people are really going to be doing in AR and VR. For collaboration in VR, people say, how close can it be to real-world collaboration? I think the answer is really, how much better can it get? 

Those two things -- shareable virtual persistent objects, which becomes an index of the world, and this personalized assistant -- if you look back the day you retire, and you've covered this whole revolution, and you think what really matters, what changed the world, it won't be the things people think today ... It's like how social media has changed the world. Online, retailing. We can't see what it will be, but it will be.

An exploded view of the Project Aria research glasses, being worn by testers to collect environmental data and explore how world-sensing could function in AR.

Facebook

Which leads me to a question: I know this vision for Facebook with 3D mapping is also a vision for a couple of other companies, to map space. It makes me think about where we're at with different OS versions and different apps. How do you see that resolving in AR? Is that a competition where you have different operating systems or apps? Is it channels? Do you see interoperability? 

I personally think of it more like the internet, except that it's going to be internet times a few orders of magnitude in terms of the amount of data. So it has to be something that's OS agnostic, right? You would be crazy to say, well, you can only use the internet using Windows. I view it as something that is not platform dependent and can't be platform dependent. And you know how these things always go: Reaching standards takes a long time, settling on where you want this to be. Ultimately, I think that that's what will happen.

Well, I think about the internet. The way it was built versus all the companies pursuing world-mapping now. Right now, in VR, Oculus doesn't interconnect with phone apps on iOS and Android. Do you see that we'll start having a flow between them?

That's really more what I would call the product side consideration. You know, I really am the person who thinks about what the future is going to be like. So really, the way I look at that one is, the big trick is get it to work, get it started getting bootstrapped, and that's what we're trying to do. Then where it goes from there is kind of out of my hands. So I would say stay tuned, we'll see this is going to take years.

I'm curious how you see the gap bridging for AR and VR over the next few years? Obviously, there are going to be multiple devices, and smart glasses are coming in some form next year. Do you see VR being a way to bridge a lot of those AR tools? Will smart glasses kind of meet and handshake over time?

I think it will be a bit before there's real bridging there. Because I look at VR and I say you have infrastructure, you have thermals, you have power. I mean, you have much more capability there. It doesn't mean you couldn't potentially do some of those things in AR. But for example, you want to sit in a meeting in VR, you've got a field of view of, say, 100 degrees, that means you can actually see people sitting around a virtual table. You do that in AR, and you can see the person you're looking at, but you have no peripheral awareness. And those little details add up to so much difference in the experience.

FRL Research's wrist interface navigating with a VR headset: an electromyography (EMG) wristband can sense motor neurons that signal intended finger movement.

Facebook

VR can draw black because it controls every pixel. AR can't actually draw black; it's additive blending. You don't get as much crispness out of things. So what I think you'll see is this ubiquity thing with AR where those glasses are basically offering less rich experiences, but in a way that can spread across much more of your life and many more people, while VR is delivering what I'll call rich heavyweight experiences that have high value, but are limited in terms of who will use them and where they can use them.

You can have a VR headset with mixed reality that you could just wear all the time, hypothetically. And you could have very good control over the experience. But not socially acceptable, not light enough to be wearable all the time. I mean, there are these other problems you run into. I've always felt like AR and VR are like a water balloon ... when you try to get all the axes exactly where you want them, you can't squeeze every one of them in there. And so the big divide really is, are you location-based with infrastructure and power and thermals, or are you part of every moment in your life potentially? Those two things are not yet capable of being joined. 

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Could the Oculus Quest 2 and its improved chip and cameras do some of that world scanning and AR work, like hand tracking now?

I'll be honest with you, I actually don't really know what the plans are there. what the possibilities are. My job is really to think five years from now what lands in a product that is, like, an integer multiplier on that. I don't mean to downplay that work. I mean, the polish that has been done really going all the way back to [Oculus] DK2 -- think about where we were with DK2 and where we are now and it's pretty astonishing how much better it is at doing those things. But I'm thinking, well, OK, now how do we change that experience? What happens if you get depth of focus? What happens if you get haptics, because I've talked about haptic gloves in the past. What happens if your audio is perfectly spatialized? Just saying that [regarding Quest 2], not that I don't value it, it's just not where my mind tends to be.

The CTRL-Labs work with neural inputs is really fascinating. I think about things even like health sensors or other biometrics and how they can be part of the equation. What role do you see with that?

There's certainly potential for that -- there's a separate team that looks at that -- that has been discussed. I have this specific vision about building a platform. And then something like that is one of the things that platform enables. So how do we make it so that you're wearing those glasses? You woke up this morning, you put your glasses on. They stay on your face until you go to sleep tonight, exactly like me, right? And the question is, how do we get the glasses to be there? And once they're there, all these other things will come along with that, but you won't get people to wear the glasses for those reasons you're talking about.

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Facebook Reality Lab's AR audio research is using prototype glasses frames with directional microphones for focusing attention.

Facebook

I'm also thinking about that egocentric idea: eye tracking, and spatial audio. Attention seems part of the picture. It's something that now seems to meet you as much as you're going to it. That's definitely like a different dance than VR where it feels more like I'm kind of moving to make things happen. While AR is reading your information in order to help you navigate what's a much wider open field?

I love it because it means that my talk actually got the message across. You just got right to the heart of it. The way I think of it, AR glasses, in particular, can basically just be an extension of you because they're going to be tightly coupled to your perceptions and your actions. The hearing thing says, this is how you would hear if you could engineer yourself to hear. You're not telling it, "do this for me, do that for me." It just automatically brings the information to you. You can also imagine contrast enhancement for people who don't see well in low light, like my family tends not to. And it can also help you remember things because it understands your context.

Think of it as, it's nothing that you wouldn't do yourself, if only you worked better. If your memory was better, if your eyes were better if your ears were better. So it really is an extension of you and an enhancement of you, which is very different than saying it's a device that you manipulate to do things that you want to do. Which is how it works today. 

I read a book about AR by Helen Papagiannis a couple of years ago, Augmented Human, that changed my mind thinking about AR away from visuals and towards other senses. Like spatial audio. It's almost like an ambient thing where your sensory awareness could take many forms. It's an all pervasive thing?

People always think of the visuals because we're visual creatures, right? It's the sizzle. Audio, people very much underestimate how powerful it is. And one of the things I really regretted about the recent spatial audio event we did was that, because of the coronavirus, we couldn't do demos. There is one specific demo where they record binaural audio in your ears as actions happen around you, and then they play it back perfectly. And not only can't you tell the difference, but there's a point at which the person comes close to you, using scissors around your head. And you can actually feel the heat of their body being there, even though they're not there. And people do not understand how powerful truly great audio is because they've never experienced it. It's much more tractable than the visual part. Building a new display system is hugely difficult, building a new display system that can sit on your head within a very tight weight and thermal budget is just insanely difficult. Audio, there's nothing about it where a miracle needs to occur. 

But then there's the other part you were talking about, which is just pure sensory input. Really what you want is you want more valuable information coming to you. And that doesn't just mean sensory input. It means your context and awareness of other things. Audio can be text, like the assistant is trying to make your world a place that serves your needs better, and only part of that is perceptual.

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FRL's prototype in-ear monitors for creating spatial audio.

Facebook

Audio seems like a possible starting place for AR glasses because of the achievability. Like audio is first cue and then the visuals come after. Companies have already been looking at audio and smart glasses a little bit, could that be [Facebook's] starting point?

You could build glasses that were audio based. I think, though, that everyone has in their head this picture of what glasses are going to do for you. The question is, when do we get that true AR imagery imagery? Sure, there could always be intermediate things that pop up. Did you ever hear of smart typewriters? In the '70s, as microprocessors were developed, they started to make typewriters where you could have a little LCD window that would let you edit the last few lines. When you made a mistake, you could actually go back and fix it. And that was a big business. The reason I bring it up is that smart typewriters were successful, they were a big business category, and no one has ever even heard of them these days. Those intermediate things, people will do them. Focals by North was a good example of someone doing what I would call an intermediate product of limited capability. But I want to get to that thing where you see it, and you go off and you write the articles that say I've seen the future. You'll know when it happens. It's kind of like the first time you put on a VR headset, you said, this is not like anything I've ever done. It wasn't like, "oh, this is interesting," or this is a better version. It was like, no, this is a new thing. And that's what I'm trying to build here.

With everything this year, the pandemic and the way people have changed, has it changed your philosophy? A lot of things this year seem to have reinforced these ideas, like working at home. But some things about VR work, some things don't. Things have failures.

The thing that made the personal computer was VisiCalc. If you look at Apple II sales, the knee of the curve was VisiCalc. And if you look at PC sales, the knee of the curve was the IBM PC. It was really about personal computers making it so that businesses could be more productive. Now, virtual collaboration seems even more powerful than that to me. This year, for all these horrible aspects -- I'm looking out my window at smoke and an air quality index of 200, for the ninth straight day, it has been a pretty bad year -- the silver lining for me is that suddenly the entire world understands that we need better ways of working remotely. And if we had the remote collaboration environment and VR that I have been talking about for five years, it would be the most valuable thing on the face of the Earth today except the vaccine. I mean really, you'd be using it. We'd be doing this in it, everybody would be more productive. And so now we're never going to stop thinking that, right? Because you never know if there will be another pandemic, you never know what might happen. And companies are moving towards working more remotely. Mark said that for us, but I mean, companies now see it can work, but it can work so much better. So, to me, it was just like this was the year of validation of that. My only regret was that we didn't have five more years, because by five years from now, maybe we could have been there.

I do believe that there is no reason why, over time, this can't happen. No miracles need to occur, just a huge amount of research and work. But I'm very confident about that.

I'd love to know what you've been reading, what's obsessing you lately.

For me, it's been fiction. Not very much of it, but when I have, it triggers me to say, "I see how that could work, I see how that could be real." Ready Player One, when I read it, I came out of it and I'm like, easily 80% of that seemed feasible, maybe all of it in the long run. For AR, Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End is really the only thing that I've ever read where I say, I still don't think [AR] contacts are going to be a thing for a very long time, but even the twitching in your clothing for the interface, it's like he has actually tried to do how you would interact, rather than just saying we're going to do exactly what we've been doing for years. Those two really are the most seminal. Most science fiction tends to be more like, "oh, it's VR, we can do whatever we want." That's kind of what the Ready Player movie one movie was: Hey, you know, it's just a complete blank slate. We can do anything.

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8th generation iPad hands-on: Apple’s new ‘good enough’ tablet has one key improvement – CNET

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The entry-level iPad gets better with a faster processor. It's a solid package (Pencil not included).

Scott Stein/CNET

Don't spend a lot. Get something that works. Screens for the kids. Another Zoom window. I'm juggling that stuff all the time, and the everyday iPad, which Apple just calls the "iPad," has served that role for years.

The iPad has been the "good enough" iPad for forever, while the Pro and Air have offered fancier features and better performance. This year, the iPad Air is getting a major revamp with a new processor, big display and USB-C that looks very much like an iPad Pro for less. But that new iPad Air starts at $599 (£579, AU$899). The eighth-gen iPad I've been using, available Friday, starts at $329 (£329, AU$499). Most stores will probably drop that to $300, and holiday sales could even bring it down to $250, if past years are any indication. 

There's not a lot to say about this new 10.2-inch iPad. It's the same device as last year with one key improvement: Now it has an A12 processor instead of last year's A10. That's a big difference, and makes this a great time to consider the upgrade if you have an iPad that's several years old. Last year's basic iPad increased screen size and added a smart connector on the side, but didn't change the processor. Between the two years, it's a major overhaul.

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The great news

The A12 is as good as last year's iPad Air. For comparison, the 2019 iPad Air had an A12. Now it feels like the basic eighth-gen iPad is the Air, essentially.

The screen still looks great. The 2,160x1,620 display isn't 120Hz and it isn't quite as vivid as the iPad Pro, but you won't notice. Seriously.

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A faster charger comes included.

Scott Stein/CNET

There's a better charger in the box. The 20-watt charger is more powerful and charges faster. That's a nice pack-in, considering Apple normally doesn't upgrade chargers. This iPad still has Lightning instead of USB-C, but the charge cable's other end is USB-C now, so it plugs into newer MacBooks more easily.

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Apple Pencil still goes in the Lightning port to charge.

Scott Stein/CNET

The not-so-great news

This iPad still doesn't have USB-C. The other iPads now do, and USB-C is more compatible with other chargers and accessories. Oh well. There are still Lightning adapters for a lot of dongle needs like HDMI, but it's a hassle.

It's compatible with the older Apple Pencil and keyboard cases, not newer ones. While the iPad Air and Pro get to use fancy side-connecting Pencils, this one still uses the old rolly Pencil that jabs into the Lightning port to charge. It works with a few smart keyboard cases, too, but not Apple's new and expensive Magic Keyboard.

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The smart keyboard case and Apple Pencil work with this iPad, but they cost extra...and aren't the most recent versions.

Scott Stein/CNET

Those accessories aren't included. All you get in the box is the iPad and charger. If you want the Pencil ($100) and keyboard cases (varying prices), you're going to start driving up the total price fast.

$329 only includes 32GB of storage. You really want the 128GB version, which costs $429.

The camera placement is still weird. Come on, Apple. Most people use Zoom and similar video calling apps with the iPad in landscape mode, which rotates the camera to a weird off-center placement and leaving your face off-angle. iPads should shift their camera placement to the long side edge. Who's with me?

Cellular costs extra, and you don't need it. If you want to get a cellular iPad, you can... for $130 more. Plus data fees. Tether with your phone instead or just use Wi-Fi.

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iPadOS 14 is here now, and you might want to eventually try it on your existing iPad first before upgrading iPads.

Scott Stein/CNET


Should you wait for the iPad Air?

Apple's fancy iPad is still a few weeks off. Do you wait for that? It depends on whether you're willing to spend more and you think you'll need the extra processing oomph. The new Air may have a sharper design and could be the best all-around iPad, but it's hard to beat what's essentially last year's iPad Air right in front of me for just $329. 

Now playing: Watch this: Apple's newest iPads: Making sense of iPad Air 4 and...

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I haven't spent more than a day with the new iPad, so more impressions to come. But there's nothing I've seen so far that changes my previous advice. For most people, this is the iPad to buy. 

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Microsoft Surface Duo review: Cool design, janky performance – CNET

Phones are like lifeboats, now. iPads ($270 at Back Market) and Chromebooks are classrooms. VR is my escape pod. Every device in my house has taken on a special purpose, connecting to schools, work, and everywhere else in some sort of insane clockwork dance. I pick my tools carefully. Experimentation happens, of course, but things need to work. This is the life of gadgets in our overburdened virtualized world, 2020.

The Microsoft Surface Duo seems at first like the perfect little device for this new work-from-home world. Two screens instead of one. Extra space, more apps. A phone that becomes a tablet. (And yes, it's a real phone with a SIM card and everything.) And it costs $1,400 (about £1,070 or AU$1,960). This is encouraging. While I've never found dual-screen phones appealing, the Surface Duo arrived promising a well-thought-out argument for being useful.

From the outside it looked promising. I like the feel, the hinge. But if only the experience was as good on the inside. My time using the Surface Duo has been a rough ride through what feels like not-fully-baked software, and so far it most definitely has not convinced me of the value of dual screens. In particular, the sense of flow that the Duo aspires to -- that feel of things working well together, the device not getting in the way -- hasn't been there for me.

Like

  • Beautiful thin design
  • Sturdy hinge can bend and stay in any orientation
  • Sharp OLED screens are good for documents and reading
  • Supports Microsoft Pen

Don't Like

  • Laggy, buggy software
  • Few apps support cross-screen multitasking
  • Not great for full-screen movie watching
  • Just one not-good camera
  • No 5G

There are some things the Duo does do well: Its feel and shape are compelling. It can stand up at multiple angles, which normal phones can't do. The bonus screen can come in handy as an extra help at times, although I found I needed it less than I'd expected. (Scanning something like Twitter or Slack is helpful, but multitasking with keyboard input can get weird.) And if the dual screen stuff gets frustrating, well, it can be folded over and used as a single-screen phone. It's perfectly fine at that -- but that's not why you'd get a Surface Duo, is it?

And, this Duo is arriving alongside the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, a more expensive $2,000 (£1,799 or about AU$3,270) phone that's thicker, but has a nearly seamless folding display (rather than two hinged displays), multiple cameras, 5G, a better processor, and more RAM. I haven't used the Z Fold 2, but my colleague Jessica Dolcourt did, and she loved it. I don't know if I'd like the Z Fold 2 any better than the Surface Duo, but The Z Fold 2 is Samsung's second-year effort on folding phones. The Surface Duo ends up seeming, by comparison, like an idea that could still use another year of fleshing out. But even if the Z Fold 2 never existed, I'd still feel dissatisfied with aspects of the Surface Duo.

Here is a summary of my psychological state with this product: the Five Stages of Duo Acceptance.

Stage 1: What a pretty design

All glass, metal, a wonderful smooth hinge. The Surface Duo's shape won me over and got me thinking, hey, maybe this dual-screen-folding-device future could work. It's not necessarily futuristic, but oddly practical? It seems like a book, or a mini laptop. Or a Nintendo 3DS. The dimensions seem proper and promising.

The displays are nice: 5.6-inch, 1,800x1,350-pixel AMOLED, crisp and well-matched. Together they're 8.1 inches diagonally, like an iPad Mini ($259 at Back Market).

I already wonder how I'm going to hold this, or protect it. There's a bumper in the box. It's strips of rubber. I don't want to put it on, but I know I should. It will help with sliding around. I'm worried it'll glide right out of my pocket and crash to the floor. (But once I put that bumper on, it stays on.)

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Dual-screen reading via the Surface Duo's Kindle app is a high point, provided you're not outside in bright light (lots of glare).

Scott Stein/CNET

Stage 2: Whoa, why is nothing working smoothly?

New devices need special guidance, magical assistance and amazing tutorials. I think about the Nintendo Switch, the original iPhone and the Oculus Quest: These are things that push you out of your comfort zone, but reach out with magical tools and software and lure you in. I enjoyed every step of the journey with those devices. I felt like I was being transported. And that made me feel comfortable learning the new tools needed to adapt.

Microsoft's Surface Duo needs those tools, that unique software, that special touch. I don't see it here yet. I get a brief tutorial explaining the swipes and gestures to move around, and there are two sets of sign-ins: one for my Microsoft app ecosystem, the other for Google and Android. This boots up like an Android phone, because it is an Android phone. Not all of the Android parts feel ready for the Microsoft Surface Duo parts.

The early software on the Duo review unit I've been using was sometimes so frustrating, I wanted to stop using it. A more recent update prerelease has fixed a lot of the totally broken issues, but there's a persistent lagginess and problem with screen orientation that's throwing off the whole experience for me. And again, when all I want to do is open an app, or throw one app to another screen, or close it up again and make it single-screen, the Duo can't keep up with me.

It could be that it's still evolving to a new interface. Or I am. By trying to seem like an everyday phone times two, the Duo ends up ducking some of the bigger interface questions I still have, but it doesn't really solve them.

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The soft keyboard is not great. It's often not in the place I want it to be.

Scott Stein/CNET

Stage 3: How do you use this, exactly?

I get the idea of a bigger screen you can unfold or tuck into your pocket: That's the promise of a Galaxy Fold ($1,980 at Best Buy) or Z Flip. Two different screens suggest you'll find ways of making apps work together, and there aren't many that play nicely like this. Really, it's just Microsoft's suite of apps, some of which need a Microsoft 365 subscription to unlock all the features.

The laggy feel of my review Duo and its early software, plus the weird interface, make navigation a serious challenge. I try Slack and Gmail, which work together fine... until I get hamstrung by popping the keyboard up in one window or another and trying to either thumb-swipe or flip the phone and type.

Zoom works, and Zoom plus a browser or window to read things in is OK. But again, any attempt to type makes the keyboard fly up and either take over one app completely or interrupt the flow.

I keep coming back to the keyboard because that's my main way of being productive: writing and taking notes. It's just plain weird on the Surface Duo at the moment.

Some of the multitasking flow reminds me of multiple apps on the iPad, using a little handle on the bottom to move an app to one screen or another, or holding it over both to expand it out. A quick-launch dock of six apps on the bottom of the screen is meant to help, but I want more than six apps at the ready. Finding others in Android's app drawers isn't as convenient.

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The Surface Duo can play games across both screens, like Minescraft, but they're not optimized and can get a little weird. (Comparison here next to the Nintendo 3DS XL)

Scott Stein/CNET

New devices demand new software: new games or apps made specifically for that platform that then let you see how it works and what makes it exciting. The Surface Duo lacks those system-selling apps. Microsoft's core apps still feel buggy and weird on the Duo, and too limiting. I can drag text across apps, but not images. I can jot down notes with a Surface Pen (which isn't included, but should be), but it doesn't feel like a universal annotation tool on Android. Apps don't always resize automatically. The shift from single to dual screen hasn't been magical at all. It's been a struggle.

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The Surface Pen magnetically snaps onto the side of the Surface Duo, but doesn't come included with the phone.

Scott Stein/CNET

If the Duo came with a smaller Surface Pen that slotted in somewhere, like the Note, it could feel more like a little notebook. If it could handle Google's core productivity apps the same way as Microsoft's and helped manage both equally, it could feel like a bridge between Windows and Android. If it had better and more versatile cameras, it could be a next-gen videoconferencing tool for work and chat. But the Duo in its current form is none of these things. I also think it's a shame it can't turn into one seamless, massive screen. If it did that, I could watch movies on it. Video viewing on the Duo means accepting a big bar in the middle, or large bezels on each half of the glass. That's one area where a single folding screen has an advantage. 

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The camera app and camera on the Surface Duo are really frustrating and slow, too.

Scott Stein/CNET

Stage 4: I miss my old comfy phone

When new devices are this tough to use, you stop using them. The first Apple Watch was so slow at opening apps that I just went back to the iPhone instead. If the Duo makes email and Slack and Zoom weirder, I'd just reach for a normal-feeling smartphone or tablet or laptop instead -- which is what I've been doing.

Phones are good at what they do. Most new phones have amazing cameras, optimized apps for nearly everything and they can zip between tasks at speeds we take for granted. I appreciate them again after seeing the hiccups on the Surface Duo. If the Surface Duo worked at the same speed, I'd love it. Maybe some of that is software that still needs work. Maybe it's because Google hasn't made Android truly dual-screen optimized yet or Microsoft is still figuring out how it wants to tackle dual-screen for its ecosystem. I think it's all of these. I'm finding it hard to adapt, and the Duo isn't helping.

I wonder what the Duo would have been like with more RAM or a faster processor. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and 6GB of RAM seems underpowered for dual high-res displays, and it shows. I also wonder about 5G, especially in a year where most major flagship phones are going that way. It's unclear how the Duo can be a future phone when it leaves out the future's network.

But bleeding-edge tech isn't always the path to comfort. I use the devices I use because they work and I understand them. Or, because they're so amazing at what they do (like the Oculus Quest) that I want to dive in and use them over and over.

The camera on the Surface Duo (and there's only one) is fine. Definitely not great. It's been serviceable for Zoom, and has created some photos and video clips that aren't as good as what I've come to expect. Image stabilization for video seems particularly jittery. Also, the corner-oriented camera, while trying to serve all Duo positions, is too off-center for comfortable Zooming while it's propped up -- I always seem like I'm staring off to the side. 

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I want the Surface Duo to be more like a magic book. It's not there yet.

Scott Stein/CNET

Stage 5: Accepting a slow road to the future

Phones are clearly evolving. They're already overpowered-everything machines that have outstripped their size. But rebuilding the phone isn't easy. I see some logic to the book-tablet design Microsoft is going for here. The form and shape make sense, but the speed and implementation and features don't. Yeah, this is $600 less than a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, but it's also left parts off that probably should have been here.

The perfect folding and dual-screen devices may be coming later. Google hasn't solved for all of this in Android. Microsoft's going to take another shot at figuring it out on the Windows-based Surface Neo next year. The idea isn't going away, and just like the first big wave of smartphones, there will be plenty more experiments.

Microsoft is striving for something that just hasn't come together on this first Duo. Maybe it will with the next one. Or maybe, like experimental wearables that have fallen by the wayside, this will be a moment in time as well. I love the idea of experimentation, but I don't like using experiments that don't feel good. And right now, I don't see who the Duo is for. But in a year, it might well be a better solution. I was convinced by my conversations with Microsoft and it would be nice if that ended up happening. But it's not yet here on the Surface Duo.

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btw, Microsoft's Solitaire app seems to do well with dual-screen.

Scott Stein/CNET

Other notes

Yeah, it's also a phone

I didn't even get into phone testing here because... well, I'm at home all the time. Seeing how the Duo makes phone calls isn't my focus when I'm already struggling with the interface. Calls seemed fine, but I can't yet comment on cellular strength and lack of 5G, since I'm at home. There's 4x4 MIMO for greater strength, plus a physical SIM and eSIM. I have a test AT&T SIM I'm using.

Battery life seems to last for the day

The 3,577-mAh dual battery is rated for 15.5 hours of video playback, and an 18-watt USB-C fast charger comes in the box. So far, it seems to hang in there for my needs. I'm not sure what a full commuting train ride away from home would be like, because I'm always at home now.

It doesn't have Wi-Fi 6

So, it doesn't have next-gen cellular or Wi-Fi. Still, the Wi-Fi seemed OK but sometimes fell out of my home's range faster than my iPhone or laptop did. I got speeds that match my 100-megabit budget FiOS connection.

It comes in 2 storage configurtions 

One at $1,400 with 128GB, and one at $1,500 with 256GB. There's no expandable storage.

Some apps seem to hang, maybe because apps need to be updated 

Most Android apps functioned, but occasionally Minecraft, Netflix, and a few others had issues that either caused playback weirdness or a situation where I couldn't swipe out of apps. Sometimes it seems like app touch zones and the OS' swipe-away navigation caused conflict.

I like the rubber bumper

It's ugly, but I'd want to use it to protect the Duo. It adds grippiness and prevents it from sliding around.

Now playing: Watch this: Microsoft Surface Duo unboxing: What's inside

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What Apple’s next iPad could bring – CNET

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The iPad, iPad Air and iPad Pro lineup last year. Smaller bezels and USB-C could be on tap next.

Sarah Tew/CNET
This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

The scramble for getting the perfect computer and tablet for your remote learning or work-from-home setup started almost six months ago. You probably already have a system that works for you, but Apple's upcoming Sept. 15 event could still deliver a new iPad (or iPads) to the mix. If you're shopping for an iPad, wait at least until later today.

Apple's event is coming up later today. and you can get the details for how to watch it live right here.  We're expecting new iPads and Apple Watches, among other things.  

The newest iPad before this was the expensive iPad Pro update in March, which added depth-sensing lidar sensors to the back and an optional new keyboard and trackpad case. Will Apple make an improved entry-level iPad? Will iPads shift to USB-C? Will better keyboard cases come with them? Well, maybe. 

Here's what we expect (and I want). And, I wish these had arrived, like, a month ago.

A new iPad Air could look a lot like the iPad Pro

The most likely iPad seems to be a redesigned Air that adds the Pro's look and feel. Mark Gurman's most recent Bloomberg report points to a new iPad Air debuting alongside new Apple Watches. Expect a larger, less bezel-filled display with more screen real estate. Also, a processor upgrade (probably an A13, or maybe something else). The newer Air could shift to USB-C for charging instead of Lightning, which would be a huge help for buying standard chargers and other accessories. The Air is expected to still have Touch ID instead of Face ID, however, which could be located in a side button -- and it probably won't have the Pro's depth-sensing lidar sensors.

Could there be an entry level iPad with a spec bump?

The $300-ish basic 10.2-inch iPad currently has an A10 processor, which is pretty old. The 10.2 model could just get a new processor (A12 or better) and instantly be a better device. Hopefully, for app compatibility and performance, this will happen.

Sanho HyperDrive USB-C Hub for iPad Pro

The Sanho HyperDrive USB-C Hub on an iPad Pro. Imagine doing this to all your iPads.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

USB-C across the board would be nice

Lightning is a weird format now for iPads, especially with all the MacBooks using USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. The entire line should shift over, like the iPad Pro, although that would still leave iPhones in the Lightning camp (for now). 

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iPad Air (2019), sitting in the Logitech Combo Touch. Will Apple make its own unique case for the new Air?

Scott Stein/CNET

A new keyboard case would help, too

Apple's expensive Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro is pretty fantastic, with a keyboard and trackpad that feel like a laptop. Maybe Apple could create some more affordable options for the new Air, especially since iPadOS makes full use of trackpads.

AR and iPad: Possible evolution?

Apple's augmented reality aspirations have always been driven by apps and services, and education has been an AR goal on the iPad for years. The Sept. 15 event invite has a hidden AR easter egg, suggesting that some AR news could be coming. An upgraded processor on an iPad Air could help enable Apple's latest ARKit features, and a larger screen could take advantage of some of the bigger-canvas ideas that exist now on the iPad Pro. It's unlikely that a new Air would have the Pro's fancy depth-sensing Lidar sensor, but Apple could make this a moment to introduce more AR software to a larger audience.

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iPad and Zoom are a mixed bag because of camera placement.

Scott Stein/CNET

Unlikely: A more centered camera for video chat

Zooming and video chats are annoying on iPads. Even though they sport great cameras, the front-facing cameras are only centered on portrait-mode shots. Tilt it to landscape (where all everyday work is usually done) and it makes faces look like they're staring off into the distance. I'd love it if iPads shifted its cameras, although iOS 14 does some eye correction in FaceTime. Odds on this are slim.

We'll know soon enough. Apple's event is scheduled for Sept. 15, streaming at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET). For now, stick with the iPad you have, especially if you've been thinking about a midrange Air.

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Unboxing Microsoft’s Surface Duo: Here’s what comes with the dual-screen phone – CNET

The Microsoft Surface Duo may be one of Microsoft's most unusual experiments. It's a dual-screened Android phone. And I have one. But for now, I'm just looking inside the box. A full review of the Duo is coming soon, but in the meantime I opened it up to see what's inside. I got a look at a see-through version of the Duo to peek at its circuits a few weeks ago, but didn't have the retail boxed device. We don't know the international price of the Duo yet, but its $1,399 price tag converts to about £1,070 or AU$1,960.

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The Surface Duo comes with the Duo (of course), USB-C charger, and rubber bumper. No Surface Pen.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Duo comes with a USB-C charger and a weird rubber bumper that sticks onto the Duo to protect it. Microsoft claims the Gorilla Glass-covered Duo is sturdy, but I have no idea how well it will survive a drop. The bumper is a sign that maybe you should treat it with care.

One thing the Duo doesn't have is a pen stylus. The Duo is Microsoft Pen compatible, but Microsoft doesn't include a pen in the box. I would have preferred one over a USB-C charger.

Because I have a Duo and the see-through special model, I thought I'd compare.

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Duo, meet Duo. (The one on the right is a special demonstration version with glass to see the internals.)

Scott Stein/CNET

Sure enough, they feel identical. The hinge is extremely smooth and stable-feeling at most angles, and the sleek book-like design is even better in person... to hold, at least.

Will the Duo live up to its promise of being a dual-screen productivity savior for phones? I can't say yet. But I'll let you know as soon as I can.

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Fitbit Sense: We got the insider scoop from Fitbit on temperature tracking, ECG and more – CNET

The Fitbit Sense is the company's first major watch update since the Fitbit Versa in 2018, and it adds a variety of new sensors: an ECG similar to the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, stress sensing via an electro dermal activity skin response sensor, and temperature sensing similar to the Oura ring.   

I haven't tested the Fitbit Sense yet because the Fitbit Sense I was sent isn't set up to pair with Fitbit's app yet, but I'm holding the $329 (£300, AU$500) watch in my hands. While I can't say how all those sensors will work in everyday use, I can say the watch's build has some improvements over the previous Fitbit Versas. The curved watch shape is a similar thickness to the $199 Versa 2, but has more metal and glass in the finish.  

The side button for starting workouts and calling up Amazon Alexa (or now, Google Assistant) has been replaced with an indented touch area that vibrates when pressed, like the Fitbit Charge 3 and 4 have (will this be better when one is sweaty? I don't know). There's a speaker now, for voice assistant and phone calls. The Sense wrist straps detach a lot more easily than the Versa's ever did (which also means: new custom watch straps). The charger is also new, a magnetic snap-on that's more similar to what the Apple Watch has and is supposed to fully charge in about 15 minutes. It's better than the alligator-clip-charger Fitbit Versa had before.

There are other overdue additions too, like GPS, a redesigned optical heart-rate sensor that promises better accuracy when running and sleeping, and maybe richer data collection for future health research (optical heart rate is already where blood oxygen, heart rate, respiration are drawn from; Samsung's already exploring blood pressure possibilities, too). Fitbit's newest software updates add specific SpO2 blood oxygen readings to Fitbit watches, and a daily "stress readiness" score that will add measurements like respiratory rate to the mix, which are also part of a new step-down model being introduced Tuesday, too, the $230 Fitbit Versa 3. 

Now playing: Watch this: Let's make sense of Fitbit Sense's three new sensors:...

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But the Sense's ambitious triple-add of new sensors points towards Fitbit's striving for new data to analyze and add to a growing machine-learning health picture, which makes this look like Fitbit's closest attempt to a health-and-wellness super-wearable. I'd welcome the idea of something on my wrist that can help me understand how I'm doing on a daily basis, even beyond how much I'm walking around and exercising.

I've seen ideas around a health super-wearable come and go over years. Will Fitbit Sense be that device? Since I haven't reviewed it yet, the answer for now is a strong maybe. And Fitbit looks to be leaning on its premium subscription health service, launched last year, more than ever to make the most of Sense's data (more details on that below).

There are a few reasons to wait and see. New sensors on wearables are always a bit of an unknown. Maybe Fitbit is breaking through to a whole new territory here. Or, maybe not. I remember other wearables' promising new sensor tech before (the Jawbone Up 3 had bio-impedance; the Microsoft Band 2 had UV sensing, and then there was the sensor-studded research-focused Samsung SimBand), and some of these never did anything to live up to their concepts. Will EDA make as much of a difference on a watch as Fitbit promises? I'm extremely curious to find out. Temperature sensing is still pretty unique. ECG is becoming a common standard on fitness watches.

But how will these all interconnect? For that, I talked with Fitbit's Shelten Yuen, head of research, and lead research scientist Conor Heneghan about what these sensors are aiming to do.

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The Fitbit Sense's temperature sensing will happen nightly and show relative changes over time instead of a specific reading.

Richard Peterson/CNET

Temperature: Not like a thermometer, but a nightly relative baseline 

Temperature on wearables started getting a lot of attention after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the world this year. The possibility of detecting symptoms of illness through a watch or ring with temperature scanning, or pulse oxygen readings, began to feel like a promise of wellness forecasting. 

"The origin of this was prepandemic," Fitbit's Yuen tolds me over a Zoom call. "A while ago, we had this hypothesis that with a wearable device, the temperature sensor could be used to detect a fever and even predict a fever was going to occur."

The $300 Oura ring has become the most recognized temperature wearable, but there aren't many others. The Fitbit Sense seems to work in a similar way, collecting skin temperature while sleeping and delivering results the next morning to show relative change.

It doesn't do an instant temperature scan, and it won't give specific standard body temperatures to show if you're 98.6 or 100.3, for instance. But it will show relative temperature changes on a daily basis. That's because skin temperature readings on a wrist are different. I haven't tested the Sense yet, but I wore an Oura ring for months to check my temperature, and it was mostly a graph of gently fluctuating relative scores. (I wasn't sick during that time, so it's hard to judge.) The temperature awareness is more like one more data point in a set of points that Fitbit's using for its daily stress score calculations.

What's really wild is Fitbit acknowledging that existing Versa watches already have a temperature sensor that is used for device battery management. Those sensors helped the  company prepare for what the Sense could do. "We have some data from that to direct where this could go in the future," Heneghan says.

Those other temperature sensors are not as skin-focused as the Sense's temperature sensor, and may not be as accurate. But it could help turn a bunch of Fitbit Versa devices into temperature-aware wearables, adding a lot of devices into the mix fast for possible Fitbit research. It sounds like the Sense's temperature sensor is more fine-tuned for the job.

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The Sense's rear sensors and metal rim on the face measure temperature, ECG, and galvanic skin response for stress measurements.

Fitbit

Stress sensing happens in a whole new app

The Sense's electrodermal activity, or EDA, sensor uses the metal outer rim of the Sense to conduct and get a reading when the palm of your hand is pressed against it. Fitbit has a new EDA app that will take a reading over time and sense your overall stress. But this will be a different app than the heart rate-based Relax app that currently calculates heart rate variability and also encourages mindfulness. Fitbit's also launching a new set of mindfulness and meditation features into its Premium subscription service that specifically uses the EDA sensor.

"Your body's sympathetic nervous system is sending little signals to your sweat glands all the time," Heneghan says of the EDA sensor. "That creates a tiny bit of extra moisture to your skin, and that changes the conductivity of your skin."

The two-minute stress scan in the app would require you to hold your hand over the watch the whole time, as would any meditation features using EDA.

"You put your hand over the device, and basically it is a very, very small microcurrent that's going through the palm of your hand. And we can pick up the individual spikes of nerve sympathetic nervous system activity" adds Heneghan. "In the EDA scan app, we're going to count up the number of spikes we see every 30 seconds and report that back to you."

ECG, but no background arrhythmia scanning yet 

The Sense's one-lead electrocardiogram sensor, which Fitbit and Apple call ECG, but is the same as what doctors call EKG, works by finger-pinching the metal bezel on the edges of the watch face to complete a circuit. It takes a reading that scans for possible atrial fibrillation much like the Apple Watch, recent Samsung watches or other devices such as the Withings Move. Like other watch ECG features, the Sense won't detect heart attacks or other conditions that more advanced ECG readings could pick up. Also, the ECG feature is still waiting for FDA clearance, a process that's expected to be finished this year.

And the Fitbit Sense won't continuously scan heart rate for signs of arrhythmia -- at least not yet. The Apple Watch already does this, and Fitbit says it's working on it. The company announced its larger-scale atrial fibrillation study in May. 

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The redesigned optical heart rate sensors on the back measure light through different areas at once.

Scott Stein/CNET

More accurate heart-rate readings could open other measurements

It's always hard to cast forward and expect too much of sensor platforms, because it's unclear where results will land. For instance: Fitbit's long touted sleep apnea detection still hasn't arrived, despite promises for years. "We are kind of engaging with the regulatory process, and the real challenge is just getting enough volume of data to prove out what we already have," Fitbit's Heneghan says to me about progress on detecting sleep apnea.

Meanwhile, research initiatives with the Fitbit Sense's new sensors could explore wellness forecasting through temperature and SpO2, but no specific plans are in place yet with any studies. "In the future, we hope to develop a regulated SpO2 feature that could help with illness detection and may be an indicator of potential chronic respiratory conditions, like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or acute illness like COVID-19," Fitbit CEO James Park tells me in email answer to my questions.

Fitbit's current COVID-19 symptom detection research has been focused on heart-rate variability, resting heart rate and breathing rate as metrics, which CTO Eric Friedman says "can detect 50% of COVID-19 cases a day before onset of symptoms with 70% specificity." Fitbit will be adding sleep data, temperature and SpO2 blood oxygen measurements into further studies.

The heart-rate reading improvements at the moment seem to be about helping accuracy while running and sleeping, to prevent gaps in data. But it could still open up other channels too: Samsung and Valencell are trying to crack blood-pressure readings through PPG. Fitbit isn't looking at that yet, but Park says, "When it comes to heart conditions, we continue to explore additional metrics like pulse arrival time – a metric that might signal that your blood vessels are getting stiffer, which could be an indication of heart disease or high blood pressure." 

But when it comes to other readings pulled from heart rate, Yuen adds: "We're hoping to explore this data set and then maybe unlock its potential in the future. I don't want to overpromise. But are we interested in things like this? Absolutely."

Fitbit is really leaning on you paying for Premium

A lot of the daily metrics and tools Fitbit discussed with me rely on Fitbit's $9.99-a-month Premium subscription service, which launched last year and now has over 500,000 subscribers. Some measurements like a specific SpO2 measurement will be available through a free watch face and in more limited sets of readings on the free app, but longer history and analysis comes with the premium service. 

That Premium service is an extra cost, and also an extra lock-in. Fitbit's data doesn't flow into Google Fit or Apple Health like some other wearables do, and it means staying in a channel that can feel limiting, especially since most people have an increasing flow of health data from other sources.

Fitbit includes a six-month free trial of Premium with the Sense (and a year with its lower-cost Inspire 2), but sooner or later that's going to be an extra fee. Google and Apple don't have any similar subscription health/fitness service yet, but there are plenty of coaching and fitness apps that do.

Premium doesn't seem necessary, but for a lot of what the Sense offers, it may be the way you'd want to get the most out of the device.

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The Fitbit Sense looks ambitious. How will it dovetail with future Google wearable plans?

Richard Peterson/CNET

What does this all mean with Google?

Fitbit's pending acquisition by Google has been underway since November, and Fitbit's subscriber base and data archive could become a launchpad for a new generation of Google health wearables. But the Fitbit Sense has no added hook-ins to Google's ecosystem, other than added Google Assistant voice support in addition to support for Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. Park wouldn't comment on Google. "As you know, the merger is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals," he says. "Until the transaction closes, we continue to operate independently and are focused on continuing to create exciting, innovative devices and services for our users."

The Fitbit Sense might be the last new Fitbit under the Fitbit brand. Or, maybe it's the blueprint for a new generation of future devices. Clearly, these new sensors are where Fitbit wants to head next. But what we don't know is how much Fitbit's future will look like its present once Google enters the picture.

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Amazon Halo fitness tracker sounds awesome, but also like a Black Mirror episode – CNET

halo-app-and-halo-band

Amazon has entered the health and fitness world with Halo, a subscription service and accompanying fitness band that unlocks an array of health metrics, including activity, sleep, body fat and tone of voice analysis, to determine how you sound to others. Amazon's entry into the fitness space is odd indeed, and ambitious. And we're just getting our minds wrapped around it. 

The band itself looks a lot like a screenless Fitbit tracker, but with a few different elements: It has temperature sensing, much like Fitbit's newest smartwatch, the Fitbit Sense, and a microphone that continually scans a wearer's voice to determine emotional tone. Yes, it's a lot to take in. And the service is immediately available for early access. We haven't even had a chance to try it out yet. 

The membership part will start at $65 for the first six months ($100 once the early access deal is over) and then $3.99 a month after that. (International prices aren't currently available, but $65 converts to about £50 or AU$90.) The subscription to Halo includes the basic fitness band that has one button, no screen and tracks your heart rate, steps and temperature. The lack of screen means you'll have to rely on the mobile app to see all your data, but it does a lot more than just count your steps and log your weight. 

A tone-analyzing, Amazon health band that also lets you scan your body fat may sound like Black Mirror incarnate, but it's also opening up some ideas in fitness that we've never seen before.

Now playing: Watch this: Amazon's Halo takes fitness tracking to new and uncomfortable...

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Body fat analysis with a smartphone camera 

Amazon thinks the concept of weight loss is flawed, and that body fat is a much better predictor of health.

Most of us have been conditioned to obsess over our weight. The entire diet industry was built on it with programs, apps and devices that revolve around ways to lose pounds. 

But weight can fluctuate daily based on factors including humidity, medication, menstrual cycle and illness. Plus muscle is more dense than fat, and a scale can't tell the difference between the two. You could literally work your ass off building muscle and burning fat, and not see the numbers on the scale go down.

Rather than relying on weight, Halo focuses on body fat percentage, which is less volatile and takes a lot more time and work to change. 

The gold standard in the medical world for body composition analysis is a DEXA scan (dual-energy absorptiometry), which can cost up to $100 at a lab. The Halo app does it all using your smartphone camera. Once you take your photos, the app automatically eliminates everything else in the background, calculates body fat percent based on body indicators, and then creates a 3D model of your body, which is both cool and terrifying. The app requires you to wear minimal form-fitting clothing and trust Amazon to take a picture of you wearing it. The entire process takes seconds. 

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Amazon's Halo app makes a 3D render of your body to analyze body fat, while the fitness band keeps tabs on sleep and activity. 

Amazon

If you're feeling uncomfortable, that's not surprising: The idea of body-scanning with a camera is already an awkward proposition. Amazon doing this on a health platform makes it feel more so. The sample body-scan images Amazon showed me look very personal -- not necessarily something I'd ever want anyone else to see.

That's why Amazon promises that the finished body scans stay on your phone and won't be shared with anybody, including the company, unless you opt into that. According to Amazon, "the images are processed in the cloud, but encrypted in transit and processed within seconds, after which they're automatically deleted from Amazon's systems and databases. All scan images are fully deleted within 12 hours. The scan images aren't viewed by anyone at Amazon and aren't used for machine learning optimizations."

Watch that tone! 

Halo also offers a Tone analysis, which has nothing to do with body tone, but rather analyzes the nuances of your voice to paint a picture of how you sound to others. It can let you know when you've sounded out of line, weirdly enough. 

The fitness band has two built-in mics to capture audio and it listens for emotional cues. The company says it's not intended to analyze the content of your conversation, just the tone of your delivery. It takes periodic samples of your speech throughout the day if you opt in to the feature. You enable the microphones by tapping the side button and you'll know when the mic is off when a red LED lights up on the band. 

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Amazon

The voice scanning pulls out the wearer's specific voice in conversations and delivers analysis with related emotional-tone words (like "happy," or "concerned" in the Halo app). The idea, according to Amazon, is to help guide you to deliver better tones of voice and speaking styles, like a vocal form of good posture. It isn't intended as a form of psychological analysis, but it seems awfully hard to draw the line on a concept like this. 

Amazon's been exploring the idea of emotional tone-sensing since at least 2018, but this is the first time it's approached the idea in any device. And according to Amazon, the Tone feature is only available on the Halo band for now. It will be limited to the band's microphone, but Amazon sounds open to exploring the idea on other devices, depending on how the early access response goes from first-wave wearers. It's a very odd thing to put on a fitness band, and we have no idea what this is like to use yet.

Amazon promises that Tone voice samples are encrypted and stored only on a wearer's phone (shared from the band via Bluetooth with the encrypted key), are deleted after analysis and won't be shared to the cloud or used to build machine-learning models.

Sleep analysis with temperature tracking

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The sleep analysis includes a body temperature to detect variations that may impact sleep. 

Amazon

The app provides a comprehensive sleep analysis with a breakdown of the different stages of sleep and overall sleep score, much like other fitness trackers. It also goes beyond the basics by keeping track of your overall body temperature during sleep and creating a baseline for each person. It then charts your average temperature each night relative to your baseline to help you identify variations that could affect your health and the quality of your sleep. 

The Halo band won't provide a specific body temperature, similar to the way other temperature wearable devices like the Oura Ring already work.

Temperature has become a trending wearable metric in the COVID-19 era: The Oura Ring has one and Fitbit's newest Sense watch has one too. Amazon's Halo team is pursuing research for COVID-19 symptom detection on its wearables, much like other health wearable companies, but no specific studies or plans have been laid out yet.

Activity tracking: A week at a glance 

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The activity app is based on a weekly point system. 

Amazon

Halo also does basic fitness tracking based on the information from the band. It can automatically track walks and runs, but you'll have to go into the app and tag any other workouts manually. 

It rewards you for any type of movement or activity, but gives more points for more intense workouts and subtracts points for sedentary time. And it doesn't keep a daily tally of your activity, your score is based on the points you accrued during the entire week. The entire picture of exercise, sedentary time and active time is combined into one tally.

Amazon's sleep and activity scores and other AI tools will require an Amazon Halo subscription; otherwise, the band will default to more basic tracking data. Much like Fitbit and its Premium service, this looks to be continuing a trend of fitness devices that expect a subscription model as part of the package.

A lot of labs and partners, but no Google or Apple integration

A Labs section of Amazon Halo looks similar to what's on Fitbit's Premium service, with a lot of multiweek health and fitness goals to opt into, and partners lined up from OrangeTheory to Weight Watchers. Amazon promises these challenges are scientifically vetted, but it also sounds like these challenges will keep being added to over time. 

But at least at launch, Halo will not tie in to Apple's HealthKit or Google's Fit App which puts it at a disadvantage with people who are already deeply invested in either for health tracking. Amazon is leaning on Weight Watchers, John Hancock Vitality wellness program, and a few others that will be able to hook into Amazon Halo health data.

The looming privacy question

There's a lot of process in terms of features, and while some seem interesting and innovative, the biggest barrier to entry is privacy. Sharing any kind of health data (let alone unflattering seminudes) requires next-level trust, and you might not be prepared to give Amazon that trust. The company doesn't exactly have the most pristine track record when it comes to keeping user data private. Alexa-enabled devices have been in the hot seat for storing private conversations "for machine learning purposes." And Amazon's Ring doorbell has had a series of privacy dust-ups. 

Halo puts privacy in your hands by allowing you to opt out of data sharing with Amazon and third-party apps as well as disable the microphone on the band, but it's still going to be an uphill battle. That is unless its features prove to be earth-shattering and worth the privacy risk, which remains to be seen.

Amazon is late on arrival

The lack of connection to Apple or Google is telling. Amazon's making a play in the health and fitness data space, and with Google, Fitbit and Apple already deep in, it's a big question as to how Amazon will make waves. Or, where Amazon Halo will go next. It's a platform as much as a wearable, and it sounds like Halo's early-access experiment may just be the tip of the iceberg.

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Facebook removes Oculus name from its annual VR conference, renames its AR/VR business – CNET

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Testing out hand-tracking at Facebook's headquarters before last year's Oculus Connect. This year's show will be completely virtual and free.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook's AR and VR businesses are about to sound a lot more Facebookish. The company's annual Oculus Connect VR conference is happening Sept. 16, as a free online event. But the name is changed: it's Facebook Connect now, and it'll be focused on a wider range of VR and AR experiences. Facebook's also officially renamed its AR/VR division to Facebook Reality Labs, according to a post from Facebook hardware head Andrew Bosworth. 

Facebook Reality Labs was already a division at Facebook focused on next-gen VR and AR research, but the name change is meant to acknowledge Facebook's larger-scale umbrella of AR tech as well as VR, which expands into flat-screen devices too (Facebook Portal, and Instagram's Spark AR).

FRL's mission is to build tools that help people feel connected, anytime, anywhere. We enable depth of connection through social presence — the feeling that you're right there with another person and sharing the same space, regardless of physical distance," Bosworth says in the post. "Moving forward, our annual AR/VR event will be called Facebook Connect to better reflect its broader scope, and we look forward to sharing even more news that represents the work happening across the entire Facebook Reality Labs team." 

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The new Facebook Connect logo.

Facebook

Since Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014, the VR division has transformed over time, with most of the key Oculus executives from the acquisition now gone (CTO John Carmack stepped down in 2019). The renaming of Facebook Connect looks like another step in that transformation.

Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg already laid out clear plans for AR and VR to merge for Facebook, while the company focused on Oculus Quest to explore introducing emerging technologies like hand tracking.

This news comes after Facebook has already announced that new Oculus devices will now have to log in using Facebook accounts starting in October, and existing users will have to merge their accounts by 2023 or lose them. 

The Oculus name will survive for products and services, Facebook confirms. The Oculus Quest and Rift, for instance, still exist. But with future VR software like Facebook Horizon already ditching the Oculus name, it's unclear how long Facebook will keep using the Oculus brand down the road if the company's vision for immersive reality evolves beyond just VR.

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Microsoft Surface Duo’s dual-screen hinge design is already winning me over – CNET

Product reviews are weird in 2020, and no device I've seen this year has been weirder than the Microsoft Surface Duo. Microsoft's return to phones takes the form of a dual-screen, hinged, foldable Android device that looks like two tiny iPads bonded together. Its two 5.6-inch OLED screens form an 8.1-inch display, bound together by a unique hinge that Microsoft says has been in the works for years. It's 9.9 millimeters thick when closed, 4.8mm when open, weighs 8.8 ounces (250 grams) and costs $1,399 for the starting configuration, with 128GB of storage. Microsoft started preorders and will ship it Sept. 10. International prices aren't yet available, but $1,399 converts to about £1,070 or AU$1,960.

Read more: Unboxing Microsoft's Surface Duo: Here's what comes with the dual-screen phone

I've been skeptical about dual-screen devices, and I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the Surface Duo. Wannabe version of Samsung's possibly even more expensive Galaxy Z Fold 2? (Here's how the Surface Duo compares to the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Motorola Razr.) Weird tiny dual-screened version of the Microsoft Surface tablet? Something more? 

Inside a little white box in front of me is a gadget that looks like a little book. The Microsoft Windows logo is embossed on top. I open it, bending it a few times. I feel like I'm holding a small Moleskine notebook, made of glass and metal. Inside? No displays. Just circuitry through glass. This isn't a working version of the Microsoft Surface Duo being unveiled today. This is a special see-through prototype sent to me in advance just so I can see the circuits and feel how the hinge works. 

Now playing: Watch this: Inside the Microsoft Surface Duo: We didn't use it, but...

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I haven't had a chance to use an actual working device yet. Instead, I got this specially made, see-through prototype. Kind of ridiculous. And yet, even holding it, I'm already falling in love with the feel of the thing. 

This feeling isn't new.

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The see-through Surface Duo next to a Nintendo 3DS XL, a dual-screen device my family has used a lot.

Scott Stein/CNET

I've been wrong on dual-screen devices before

Back in 2004, I remember opening up an absurd two-screen device that I felt was sure to fail. It had a stylus. It promised twice the viewing area for whole new experiences. I thought it was insane. It was the Nintendo DS, and I soon realized it was a lot more amazing than I expected.

I think about that Nintendo DS whenever I see a product with dual screens or folding screens. But I think about it the most when holding a nonworking shell of the Surface Duo for the first time. I've seen the Galaxy Fold, and the Moto Razr, and all the other dual-screen laptops and tablets that seem to be sprouting up like weeds. The Duo seems a lot more like a Nintendo DS or some sort of magic Moleskine. It's tiny. But not that tiny. It depends on whether you're perceiving it as a tablet, a phone or a funky digital book.

Microsoft promised to reinvent the idea of dual-screen computing with the Surface Duo and Neo a year ago. The Surface Neo, which will boast two 9-inch screens, has been delayed until 2021. But the Duo is arriving in a few weeks, sooner than expected, maybe right alongside Samsung's new Galaxy Fold update, in the middle of a pandemic year where everyone's budget has collapsed and their need for gadgets has become a lot more practical.

The Duo is a phone, but Microsoft clearly doesn't want to call it a phone. Maybe what Panos Panay, head of Microsoft's devices business, told me and CNET editor Ian Sherr last week will turn out to be true. Maybe it really is a new device category. 

Skeptical? Heck yes

I told my kids I was going to review a dual-screened, phone-slash-tablet thing from Microsoft. My oldest son looked at the folding nonworking device and said, "That's weird." But my youngest son was totally into it. "Whoa, does that mean you can play two games at the same time?"

My oldest son says his younger brother is an optimist while he's more of a realist. It's also interesting to hear how two kids who never saw a dual-screen thing besides the Nintendo 3DS react to the idea in the first place. 

Microsoft's goal, here, is clearly to make the whole idea make sense from a multitasking perspective, helping to solve problems on phones that are already overburdened. I'll say this much: Being stuck at home on infinite Zooms while trying to work has made me more aware of the need for multidisplays than ever before.

Here's what Microsoft's proposition could mean for transforming the foldable device space -- a space that clearly hasn't taken hold yet, but which Google, Microsoft and a lot of other companies are trying to compete in, using physical folding devices and even wearable virtual ones. Will an extra screen solve Microsoft's phone problems, or will it evolve phones into something many people might not even need? Or is Microsoft's work on functioning, practical dual-screen apps the sort of necessary work these devices needed in the first place?

Microsoft Surface Duo

The Duo feels great to hold, even without screens.

Richard Peterson/CNET

2 screens: Are they better than 1?

"As it turns out, it might feel familiar, because there's this thing, it's called Windows," Panay says about using the two-screened Duo. "The idea where I can now formally put two windows next to each other." That's what the Duo experience should be, according to Panay: familiar, not strange. Or that's the hope.

Of course, the Surface Duo is running Google's Android software, not Windows. 

I listen to this over a Microsoft Teams interview done remotely, where I also get a tour of a showroom inside Microsoft's Building 87 -- the same building where the Microsoft HoloLens was developed, and which I visited in person a year ago.

Microsoft's Duo team operates from research that says two screens are more productive than one, so Microsoft treats the dual screens like a portable pair of monitors. But that's been the pitch we've heard from every other dual-screen phone- and tablet-maker. Microsoft's angle is aiming to get those screens looking as work-friendly as possible, and make the whole thing feel easy and comfortable to use. The displays are separate rather than folding. That's to allow for more durable glass and to work with Microsoft Pen without denting the screen, according to Microsoft Technical Fellow Steven Bathiche.

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The two 4:3 displays have some significant top and bottom bezels.

Microsoft

The 4:3 aspect ratio on the two 5.6-inch OLED displays is meant to handle the work-friendly part. The idea is to make web pages and documents look readable without weird reformatting, and compare to the same work being done on a laptop or tablet. 

The two 5.6-inch displays combine for an effective 8.1 inches -- I say effective because those two displays are still split by a little seam in the middle. Panay says that size is amazing for web browsing, but the clear seam in the middle means it won't be ideal for big videos, necessarily. For that reason, viewing big movies isn't part of Microsoft's Duo pitch, although looking at videos on one screen while doing something on the other definitely is. 

One thing I find interesting about Duo is that it can stand up easily at a ton of angles: At least, the nonworking model I held in my hands does. It feels like a device I might use to watch something on in one screen and take notes on in another. Again, kind of 3DS-like. But that really depends whether the final product feels useful or awkward.

Microsoft Surface Duo

Each half of the Duo has an accelerometer, gyroscope and proximity sensor to sense position and hand apps off from screen to screen.

Richard Peterson/CNET

Apps will work, but not all be dual-screen optimized

Microsoft's core productivity apps -- including Outlook, Word and OneNote -- work in dual-display modes and can recognize each other to allow information to be easily thrown between apps. That's similar to the sort of drag-and-drop ideas that are being worked into the iPad's dual-app multitasking modes. But other Android apps won't immediately get that extra level of detail.

Google's core apps, which include Gmail and Drive, will hopefully be optimized for the Duo soon, but it's unclear when. A few other third party apps are being courted to make Duo-optimized dual-screen Android versions, most notably Amazon's Kindle app, which will have two-page reading. "The reading experience is crazy," Panay boasts. "It's like picking up a book -- you turn a page, it goes from the right to the left, and you just fall into it. You fall in love."

How many others app-makers will come aboard? That's the challenge with a new form and an operating system Microsoft didn't even create. The Duo, running Android 10, is a sort of living concept car for future dual-screen apps and devices.

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It's unclear how many apps will optimize to use both displays (seen here).

Microsoft

The dual-screen ideas and the way Microsoft handles them in apps will influence where the Surface Neo goes next year. And it may affect what future devices choose to focus on, too. "When we construct those [dual-screen] APIs for developers, we don't just want them on Duo," Panay says. "When dual screens come, even on folding screens, we want those APIs to flow into Android so developers can build for every dual-screen phone." 

It's unclear, though, whether Google's plans for dual-screened devices will be in sync with Microsoft's, or if this is a momentary marriage of convenience before the relatively small group of dual-screened and folding phones maybe expands to a larger scale next year.

"I can't tell you what Google's working on," Panay adds, "But I do believe that if companies want to pick up dual-screen or move forward, we're setting groundwork foundationally for applications to expand, to rotate the right way, to span those screens to use both screens."

Microsoft Surface Duo

There's a lot of stuff under the hood in a really thin design on the Surface Duo. There's a split battery and custom processors, but no 5G.

Scott Stein/CNET

No 5G, large bezels: Sacrifices to get to size

I also get a clear message from Microsoft that size, for the Surface Duo, has been everything. Getting the Duo to a comfy and compact form has meant leaving some features off. There's no 5G or Wi-Fi 6, because according to Pavan Davaluri, a 16-year Microsoft veteran and Surface engineer we spoke to, the battery performance isn't currently there for the size of the Duo. "There's some fundamental things in 5G that would have to come to life to be able to fit into a 4.8mm design," Davaluri says. "That kind of tech is not there yet. It's something we're actively working on." 

Similarly, the larger bezels on the top and bottom of the Surface Duo displays, which clearly aren't as edge-to-edge as other phones, don't seem ideal either. It's less screen real estate for the size. Davaluri admits this was part of a compromise to fit the Duo's battery and components into such a thin design. Microsoft focused on display quality, hinge mechanisms, device size and battery life over bezels and 5G. "Bezel optimization and 5G, for example, in the grand scheme, I think are solvable problems," Davaluri adds.

Microsoft Surface Duo

Thinnest dual-screen folding device we've seen? Maybe.

Richard Peterson/CNET

The Surface Duo really does feel thin. The nonworking device I held is thinner, when opened, than an iPhone 11 Pro, which is 0.32 inches (8.1mm). Closed, it's thicker, but it doesn't feel nearly as bulky as a folded-up Samsung Galaxy Fold, which is 17.1mm thick when closed. And it doesn't feel like two phones glued together, either. It's more book-like in its dimensions.

The all-glass front and back of the Duo look sharp, but the design was chosen to improve antenna reception. Will the Duo be durable enough? The device uses Corning's Gorilla Glass 5 all over, but Microsoft wouldn't give any claims on drop test reliability. And as for the smooth, sturdy-feeling dual hinges, we're told to expect "years" of use, but not a specific number of folds it can survive. "The Surface Duo hinge is designed and tested to function well beyond the lifespan of the product," Microsoft promises us.

It better be good, and it better last, because a device like this isn't cheap. Starting at $1,399, it's not far off from other premium phones -- and more approachable than the Galaxy Fold was at $2,000. But it's a lot of money in a world where you could also buy a phone and laptop combined for considerably less.

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There are a lot of wires running through those hinges.

Scott Stein/CNET

2 screens, but just 1 camera

The Surface Duo doesn't seem to be about its camera, which is a surprise when just about every other phone has many of them. There's a single 11-megapixel camera on the inside, which can become an external camera if the Duo displays are flipped around. The f2.0 camera has some AI and a portrait mode, and can shoot 4K video at 30 and 60fps with HDR and slow-motion video. It doesn't have optical image stabilization or any of the other step-up zoom and focus features you find in other phones. 

I don't know what the camera will be like, but Microsoft is clearly downplaying it as a core feature on the Surface Duo. And in a world that's more camera-focused than ever, that seems like weird timing.

CNET

A specific tool in the toolbox

Microsoft isn't going for a one-gadget-that-does-everything approach here. Instead it suggests that this is a device that will suit some, but it's not necessarily for everyone. The idea of specialized gadgets isn't new: Our lives are already flooded with smart speakers, smartwatches, modular game consoles and tablets that often slide somewhere between phones and laptops. 

Panay seemed hesitant to call the Duo a new device category, because it really isn't. It's an Android phone. Or, a tablet. "It really is five years of invention ... we just have a belief that there's a new category here," Panay adds. 

Microsoft's argument makes sense, though, especially as a software developer who lives among devices ranging from iPads to game consoles to VR headsets. I'm reminded, holding the Surface Duo, of the first wearables before smartwatches became a thing, or the first smartphones before the iPhone, or early VR headsets before Oculus. Dual screen devices need to nail down their identity, still.

Microsoft Surface Duo

Notebook, game console, phone, PC: how will the Duo be perceived and used?

Scott Stein/CNET

I also wonder: In a world where screens may be everywhere and increasingly virtual through VR and AR headsets and glasses (or TVs and displays that can sync seamlessly with your phone), what is the purpose of a dual-screen pocket device?

Steven Bathiche, a Microsoft Technical Fellow who heads the Applied Sciences Group, has a farther-ranging view of where devices like Surface Duo fit. "Everything is the best for something and the worst for something else," he told me from a space that looked like his home.

"I see a world where we'll just have more and more fundamentally specialized tools to help you get stuff done," Bathiche says. "But they're going to be connected by software and through the cloud to make them feel like they work as one."

For a company that also pushes into expensive professional tools such as Microsoft's $3,500 HoloLens mixed reality headset, it's unclear which customers will be first to pick up a Surface Duo. But as a concept car to test-drive apps and build out a road where other devices will follow, it makes perfect sense. I just don't know, yet, if I'm going to want to hop aboard.

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Inside the Microsoft Surface Duo – CNET

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We got to look at a see-through version of the Duo and peek at the circuits inside.
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