Toyota mystery car reveal: Watch the debut live – Roadshow

Big things are happening in Japan on Monday with Toyota and Subaru. For those of us in the US, that means we're in for something this Sunday. What is it? We don't know yet for sure, but the joint announcement from the two Japanese automakers makes us believe a new Toyota 86 sports car is nigh.

The two companies will unveil a jointly developed car on April 4 at 9 p.m. PT. Specifically, Gazoo Racing will be running the show on the Toyota side of things, which is pretty good evidence this is a new sports car. We do know both companies are also working on an electric SUV, but it seems unlikely the GR arm would have a hand in that.

If we do get a new 86, it will compliment the 2022 Subaru BRZ, which we first saw last year. Expect the new 86 to mostly twin with the BRZ once again, though we heard a delay on Toyota's end is meant to draw more contrasts between the two. How much different the two will be remains to be seen.

Stick around and tune in at 9 p.m. PT when the show kicks off in Japan.

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How good is SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet? I tried it out – CNET

Back in October, SpaceX announced it would be recruiting beta testers for its satellite broadband offshoot Starlink's "Better Than Nothing" service. As soon as the announcement was made, I signed up to be notified when a spot opened up in my area -- Walnut Creek, about 30 minutes east of San Francisco. Fast-forward to February and I forked over $594.30 (tax, shipping and one month of service included) to see what it's like using Starlink

The beta starter kit that arrived in a 30-pound box at my door included the Starlink antenna dish, a Wi-Fi router, a power adapter, cables and a mounting tripod. For $99 a month, you can expect to see data speeds anywhere between 50 to 150 megabits per second, at a latency (the time it takes to get a response to information sent) of around 20-40 milliseconds. The real kicker is there are no data caps. 

Triple-digit download speeds and latency less than 40ms are both basically unheard of in the satellite internet industry. But note that Starlink is catered toward those who live in remote or rural communities that have limited access to internet service providers. Those who live in more urban areas, like me, tend to have more ISP choices, so Starlink would likely not be the first that comes to mind.

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My Starlink dish, sitting on top of Mount Diablo.

John Kim/CNET

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted in February that Starlink expects to double speeds by the end of 2021 as the company continues to launch more satellites. As of March, SpaceX has launched 1,300 satellites out of 12,000 planned.

So what's it like using Starlink? Setting up is actually quite easy, it's pretty much plug and play. As long as the antenna has a clear view of the sky, the dish will automatically align itself with satellites overhead and you should be connected to the internet. Sounds pretty simple, right? That first week, Starlink was going through an intermittent service outage in my area, which meant I did not have a consistent internet connection. 

I checked the Starlink subreddit, and it seemed like a wider issue affecting customers in multiple regions. My internet connection kept dropping out to a point where it was unusable. It took about four days for the outage to clear in my case, and when it did, Starlink worked flawlessly. My average download speeds hovered at around 78Mbps at a latency of 36ms. The download speeds and latency looked very promising. Watch the video on this page for more of my experience using Starlink (click here if it doesn't play).

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The Best Electric Toothbrushes for Your Pearly Whites

It’s time I came clean: I hate brushing my teeth. I do it because I have to, but it’s a time-consuming, uncomfortable process—two minutes standing in front of the mirror can feel like an eternity. My dentist says I brush too harshly as well. And don’t even get me started on flossing.

Electric toothbrushes make the whole experience easier. Their vibrations and oscillations can more effectively get rid of plaque on your teeth and gums, and most brush models have a timer that encourages you to brush for the full two minutes. We’ve tested several types, from the most basic models to the fancy ones with oscillating brushes and everything in between. We found that a good brush doesn’t need to cost you more than a few Hamiltons. Listed below are the best electric toothbrushes you can buy. We also have eco-friendly nonelectric options if you don’t want to own yet another device that you have to recharge between uses.

Christopher Null’s reporting contributed to this guide.

Updated March 2021: We’ve added notes on the Autobrush, and updated prices and details throughout.

Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.

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Save $105 on the popular Ninja Foodi Pro 5-in-1 Indoor Grill – CNET

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Ninja

Ninja seems to rule the roost when it comes to multifunction cookers, and the Ninja 5-in-1 Indoor Cooker is an unqualified favorite -- on Amazon, for example, it has 4.8 stars with more than 4,000 ratings, and that's backed up with a solid B from Fakespot. This grill can also fry, roast, bake and dehydrate, and it usually sells for $285. But right now you can get the Ninja Foodi 5-in-1 Indoor Electric Grill for $180 when you apply promo code CNETNJA at checkout. That's a savings of 36%.

The Foodi 5-in-1 is refurbished, comes with a 30-day warranty and will arrive in bulk packaging. But if you're OK with that, you're primed to save a substantial amount on the wildly popular cooker. Ninja describes its convection feature as "cyclonic grilling technology." The tech circulates 500-degree air around the interior, which is sized to accommodate as many as four steaks at once. 

The front panel has a set of touch controls for setting the grilling intensity, cooking mode, temperature and cook time, and the grill includes a temperature probe that plugs in to the front panel as well. It's not as elegant as a fully wireless meat thermometer, but you could always grab the Meater 4-probe set for $35 off if you were so inclined. 

This article was first published last week. 


CNET's deal team scours the web for great deals on tech products and much more. Find more great buys on the CNET Deals page and check out our CNET Coupons page for the latest promo codes from Best BuyWalmartAmazon and more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page.

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I Didn’t Like the Bunch Cargo Bike. Too Bad My Kids Loved It

Even with Bunch’s new “anti-tip” technology, it took me about three blocks to adjust and stop running into the curb. This also meant that when my family was on board, I had to develop a type of Mad Max: Fury Road riding style, leaning heavily towards the center of the street to counteract the drift, especially through corners. And without shocks on such a big, awkward bike, every bump and pothole was bone-rattling.

It’s so heavy that the 48-volt Samsung battery (generally a reliable brand) only lasted two days on our hills. There’s no option to attach a double battery, unlike on some similarly large bikes such as the R&M Load

Finally, this is a minor complaint, but if you’re going to get this bike, and you have small children, you should opt for the cargo box with a front door. After watching my 6-year-old climb in and out, my 3-year-old wouldn’t let me help him. Eventually, I put his helmet on him before we approached the bike, as every time he clambered over the top, he’d tumble over onto his head. 

An optional (and expensive) front door attachment solves this problem but also means that you have to take out a set of seats and halve the passenger capacity.

Speed Is Overrated

Bunch the Original Review An Awkward Cargo Electric Bike
Photograph: Bunch Bikes

Every other time I’ve reviewed an electric cargo bike, I hop on board and bike it across freeways and streets, going up to 20 miles per hour across town for testing. As I grumbled and pedaled around our neighborhood, I thought often about how long that would’ve taken me on the Original.

Still, there’s no denying the fact that my husband and children love this bike. The box’s walls are high, and I can’t ride it very fast. I recall my kids screaming as I swerved around potholes when riding the Urban Arrow, but on the Original, they happily piled the box up with blankets and snuggled in. My daughter even took a nap, something she’s never been relaxed enough to do.

The shifting is awkward, but my husband loves how powerful the throttle is. Eventually, he just stopped pedaling completely, which probably contributed to the rapidly depleted battery. The dual-wheel front configuration makes it much more stable to turn in tight corners and while going up steep hills. The heavy-duty hydraulic brakes stopped us on the steepest hills. And if you’re only biking in parks or along riverside promenades, you don’t have to deal with cambered roads at all.

The Original from Bunch isn’t my first choice for a family cargo bike, especially if you’re a bike rider who values rideability and the ability to cover ground efficiently. But many of us aren’t like that. If you’re staying within a mile or two of your house and want a safe ride that your children, and maybe your dog, will absolutely love, it’s a pretty good pick. 

Just not for me, as I keep saying to the 3-year-old. Along with potty training, he’ll get it someday.

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The UK Is Trying to Stop Facebook’s End-to-End Encryption

The UK is planning a new attack on end-to-end encryption, with the Home Office set to spearhead efforts designed to discourage Facebook from further rolling out the technology to its messaging apps.

Home Secretary Priti Patel is planning to deliver a keynote speech at a child protection charity’s event focused on exposing the perceived ills of end-to-end encryption and asking for stricter regulation of the technology. At the same time a new report will say that technology companies need to do more to protect children online.

Patel will headline an April 19 roundtable organized by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), according to a draft invitation seen by WIRED. The event is set to be deeply critical of the encryption standard, which makes it harder for investigators and technology companies to monitor communications between people and detect child grooming or illicit content, including terror or child abuse imagery.

End-to-end encryption works by securing communications between those involved in them—only the sender and receiver of messages can see what they say and platforms providing the technology cannot access the content of messages. The tech has been increasingly made standard in recent years with WhatsApp and Signal using end-to-end encryption by default to protect people’s privacy.

The Home Office’s move comes as Facebook plans to roll out end-to-end encryption across all its messaging platforms—including Messenger and Instagram—which has sparked a fierce debate in the UK and elsewhere over the supposed risks the technology poses to children.

During the event, the NSPCC will unveil a report on end-to-end encryption by PA Consulting, a UK firm that has advised the UK’s Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) on the forthcoming Online Safety regulation. An early draft of the report, seen by WIRED, says that increased usage of end-to-end encryption would protect adults’ privacy at the expense of children’s safety, and that any strategy adopted by technology companies to mitigate the effect of end-to-end encryption will “almost certainly be less effective than the current ability to scan for harmful content.”

The report also suggests that the government devise regulation “expressly targeting encryption”, in order to prevent technology companies from “engineer[ing] away” their ability to police illegal communications. It recommends that the upcoming Online Safety Bill—which will impose a duty of care on online platforms—make it compulsory for tech companies to share data about online child abuse, as opposed to voluntary.

The Online Safety Bill is expected to require companies whose services use end-to-end encryption to show how effectively they are tackling the spread of harmful content on their platforms—or risk being slapped with fines by communication authority Ofcom, which will be in charge of enforcing the rules. As a last resort, Ofcom could demand that a company use automated systems to winnow out illegal content from their services.

The NSPCC says that this set-up does not go far enough in reining in encryption: in a statement released last week, the charity urged the digital secretary, Oliver Dowden, to strengthen the proposed regulation, preventing platforms from rolling out end-to-end encryption until they can demonstrate that they can safeguard children’s safety. Facebook currently tackles the circulation of child sex abuse content on WhatsApp by removing accounts displaying forbidden images in their profile pictures, or groups whose names suggest an illegal activity. WhatsApp says it bans more than 300,000 accounts per month that it suspects of sharing child sexual abuse material.

“Ofcom will have to meet a series of tests before it could take action on a regulated platform,” says Andy Burrows, NSPCC’s head of child safety online policy. “That is about being able to require evidence of serious and sustained abuse, which is going to be practically very difficult to do because of end-to-end encryption will take away a significant amount of the reporting flow.”

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The Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Birthed Today’s Rainforests

Colombia’s rainforest looked very different 66 million years ago. At present, the humid and biodiverse ecosystem is jam-packed with plants and is covered in a thick, light-blocking canopy of leaves and branches. Notably, there are no dinosaurs. But prior to the dinosaurs going away with the Chicxulub impact, signaling the end of the Cretaceous period, things looked very different. The area’s plant coverage was relatively sparse, and a bevy of conifers called it home.

Using the fossilized remains of plants, a team of researchers studied the past of the rainforest and how the asteroid gave rise to the rainforests of today. The study, published in Science on April 1, was led by scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and supported by scientists at the Negaunee Institute for Plant Conservation Science and Action at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“Forests disappeared because of the ecological catastrophe… and then, the returning vegetation was mostly dominated by flowering plants,” said Mónica Carvalho, first author and joint postdoctoral fellow at STRI and at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia, in an interview with Ars.

The research began 20 years ago, with parts of the team collecting and analyzing 6,000 leaf and 50,000 pollen fossils from Colombia. Looking at these fossils allowed the team to get a sense of the types of plants present both before and after the asteroid struck the planet. This sequence represents the region’s biodiversity between 72 million and 58 million years ago, covering both before and after the impact. “It took us a long time to gather enough data that we could have a clear picture of what was going on during the extinction,” Carvalho told Ars.

While the study deals with Colombian fossils, Carvalho said the researchers can get a fair idea of what happened in rainforests elsewhere in Central and South America, though the effects of the asteroid’s impact are somewhat variable from region to region. “It’s a little bit variable. We still don’t know why some places were affected more than others,” she said.

After the asteroid hit the Earth, nearly half of the plant species in Colombia perished—the pollen fossils for those species stopped appearing past that point. The rainforest began to be taken over by ferns and flowering plants that, while present pre-impact, were less common than they are today. The coniferous trees, by comparison, effectively died out.

Beyond the presence of conifers, the rainforests of the past were likely much sparser than their modern counterparts. Current rainforests have thick canopies, and the plants within them are spaced closely together, meaning more plants are transpiring water into the atmosphere. This leads to higher levels of humidity and cloud coverage. According to Carvalho, the relative lack of humidity in earlier forests means that the regions were likely much less productive than they are today.

But the lower-productivity forest remained in place until the asteroid hit. “It was only after the impact that we see the forests change their structure,” she said.

The researchers have some hypotheses about how this change occurred. The first is that the demise of the dinosaurs caused the forests to grow more dense—there could have been fewer animals consuming the plants or stomping through the brush, allowing foliage to grow relatively unchecked. The second idea is that, shortly after the asteroid collided with the planet, there was a selective extinction of conifers in the tropics—they could have simply fared less well than their flowering peers post-impact.

The third is that the aftermath of the catastrophe could have fertilized the soil. Tsunami events that occurred after the impact could have carried debris and sediment from carbon-rich, shallow marine areas nearby. Burning wildfires could have sent ash into the atmosphere, and when it finally settled on the ground, it could have acted as a kind of fertilizer. Flowering plants tend to grow better than conifers in high-nutrient soils, Carvalho said. She also noted that all of these hypotheses, or any two of them, could simultaneously be true.

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iPhone wallpaper need a refresh? These are the 5 best sites to find free options – CNET

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Angela Lang/CNET

We spend so much time looking at our cell phone screens these days, it's no wonder it's become so popular to make your iPhone "aesthetic" in iOS 14. Changing your iPhone wallpaper is one of the easiest ways to spruce up your phone and inject some personality into it. And, as silly as it might sound, giving your iPhone a makeover with some new wallpaper (live wallpaper or static), is a small but not insignificant way to get a virtual refresh, akin to that post-spring cleaning feeling.

A phone background could feature cute animals, lovely sunsets, a goofy meme, something related to your favorite fandom and everything in between. You might even liken setting your phone's wallpaper as the photo of a loved one to keeping their photo in a locket or wallet. 

If you're bored of your iPhone's stock images, here are five places to find some new backgrounds for your phone, and how to change your wallpaper in the first place.

Now playing: Watch this: iPhone 13 rumor roundup

5:31

How to change your wallpaper 

Changing your iPhone's wallpaper is pretty easy and there's more than one way to do it. 

1. Go to Settings on your iPhone.

2. Tap Wallpaper.

3. Tap Choose New Wallpaper.

4. Choose an image. Newer iPhones include stock wallpaper that moves as well as regular still Dynamic, Stills, Live or one of your photos. New stock wallpaper often comes with OS updates. 

5. Once you choose an image, you can adjust it to fit the screen how you like.

6. You can choose where you want the wallpaper to appear as well -- home screen only, lock screen only or both. 

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The iPhone 12 Pro Max has the largest display on an iPhone to date. It also has a revamped camera system.

Patrick Holland/CNET

You can also change your wallpaper directly in the Photos app.

1. Select the image you want from a folder or your camera roll.
2. Tap the share button in the bottom left.
3. Scroll down and choose Use as Wallpaper.
4. Once you choose an image, you can adjust it to fit the screen how you like.
5. You can choose where you want the wallpaper to appear as well -- home screen only, lock screen only or both. 

If you're looking for something new, here are five sites to help you find the perfect iPhone wallpaper for any mood or occasion. 

Read more: iPhone 13 rumors so far: Release date, specs, price and everything else we're hearing

1. Pexels

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A look at one of the stunning free iPhone wallpaper options on Pexels.

Pexels

The Pexels website has over 1,000 free iPhone backgrounds, and more are added every day. You can scroll for ages through landscapes, fruit, surreal art, cityscapes and more. Simply search iPhone wallpaper on the site and apply any filters you'd like -- orientations, sizes and color schemes. It's free to download images, but if you want to favorite or collect images on the site, you'll need to create a free account.

When you find an image you like, tap it to view it closer and select Free Download. Pexels will download it directly to your phone -- choose Files, and the image should be in Recent. If you like the photographer, Pexel will also provide their Twitter and Instagram information.

Read more: The best ways to sell or trade in your old iPhone for 2021

2. Pixabay

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Wallpaper example from Pixabay contributor Candid_Shots.

Candid_Shots/Pixabay

Pixabay is another option for iPhone wallpaper. Similar to Pexels, simply search iPhone wallpaper in Pixabay to find a background you like. You can also filter photos, vector graphics, illustrations and more. Once you find an image, tap Free Download and choose the dimensions that best fit your phone. 

You can make a free account on the site to favorite images, but it's not mandatory to download an image. Again, the image should go straight to Files in the Recent folder. Pixabay has a social media feel, and you can check out the photographer's page to send them a message or follow them. 

3. Unsplash

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Wallpaper example from Unsplash contributor Zetong Li.

Zetong Li/Unsplash

Similarly to Pixabay and Pexels, Unsplash has thousands of free images to search for the perfect iPhone wallpaper. The site has an Instagram-like feel where you can follow the photographers and artists, as well as like and collect images. Its more social features like collecting, favoriting and following artists require that you make an account. 

Once you find an image you like, just tap Download and you'll find the image in your Recent folder. 

4. Pinterest

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You can find endless images to use as your phone background on Pinterest. 

Screenshot by Katie Conner/CNET

Pinterest is one of my favorite places to find phone wallpaper that matches my personality. It's not difficult to become familiar (or obsessed!) with the photo-sharing site. Simply download the free app and make an account -- also free. 

Search any image you like -- or more specifically iPhone wallpaper -- and tap to open it. You'll see a Read It button (opens corresponding articles that the image appears in) and Save (which lets you "pin" the image to a board.) Tap the three-dot Settings button for more options and choose Download Image. 

If you'd rather not commit to the app, you can open Pinterest in your mobile browser. You can search Pinterest images in Google. Tap on the image from there, tap the three-dot Settings button for more options and choose Download Image. 

5. Tumblr

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Tumblr is still a safe space for many internet users as well as an easy place to find iPhone wallpaper.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Remember the blogging site Tumblr? It's still out there and is a fun place to find new wallpaper for your phone. You'll need an account to explore the app to the fullest, but like Pinterest, you can search images from Tumblr through Google. To save a photo -- in the app or through a Google search -- tap the photo and then long-press. You'll be able to find the new image in your Camera Roll. For dedicated wallpaper, you can search "iPhone Wallpaper." 

For more, check out the five best emoji keyboards for Android and iOS and everything we know so far about iOS 15.

Rad more: Best iPhone 2021: Apple currently sells 7 different models. Here's how to pick one

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Oculus Rift review, revisited: The dream’s real now – CNET

My eyes aren't here anymore. They're somewhere else. Once the eyepiece is over my face, I'm gone. Like looking through a window into another world.

It's a city that's in front of me. Trees sway gently. I know they're not real, but I look closely at them. I lift my head, I see sky. Blue like you'd rarely really see. I look down. My legs are gone. I see wings. And a beak.

I wrote that five years ago, to try to explain a VR headset that was arriving with promises almost impossible to conceive. The Oculus Rift, arriving at the end of March 2016, felt like a dream coming alive. Partially.

VR had shown its possibilities for years before. In phone headsets, like the Samsung Gear VR. In little folding boxes like the Google Cardboard that turned your iPhone and Android phone into a makeshift VR headset. And peppered across CESes, E3s, conferences in Barcelona. So many demos. The entire last decade for me was full of headsets and wearables. But Oculus threaded itself through almost all of it.

The little jaunts on holodecks, carefully prepared by on-site staff, with special blank rooms laid out just right -- these little visits were incredible pieces of tech theater. They became the things I remembered most, and looked forward to most. From 2013 to 2016, I saw VR in iterations all over the place. And the best experiences were simply stunning. CNET's Dan Ackerman tried the Oculus Rift way back in 2012. My first Oculus Rift demo I ever had, after that, will stick with me my whole life.

In Las Vegas, January 2013 at CES, a hotel suite was waiting for me, and a chair and a table beckoned with a PC and a headset. That was it. All I did was put it on and look around a medieval village that I seemed to glide through. That's all I remember, at least. It was enough. Other colleagues tried it too (check out Geoffrey Morrison's story). We were all excited to dive in.

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My Vegas demo, 2013.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Another demo in 2015 (again, at CES) let me walk around a bit, on a little square mat. It was like a mini world. I kneeled, leaned, got disoriented. But 2015 had a lot of VR announcements coming out of the woodwork. In March, Valve and HTC showed an even more expansive VR demo on the Vive in Barcelona (and with Portal references, too).

Then, at a wild E3 that also had the first demos of Sony's PlayStation VR headset and Microsoft's HoloLens, Oculus reupped with another Rift demo, this time letting me play with virtual objects using my hands and these wild controllers called the Oculus Touch, while someone else in another room guided me through, in VR. The person I tried the demo with? Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.

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E3, 2015. Oculus Touch. So many photos like this.

Josh Miller/CNET

The hype was pretty massive. What could 2016 do to top it?

I'm looking back because the Oculus Rift is five years old, and we're now in a year when virtual and augmented reality look poised to vault in a lot of different directions at once. Apple headset? Facebook neural wristbands? Pokemon Go glasses? Snapchat and Qualcomm and Microsoft and so many companies at once, all pushing forward. And meanwhile, the Oculus Quest 2 is my little everyday immersive home gadget that reminds me how far things have come since 2016.

But back in 2016, we said, "Companies from Facebook to Google to Microsoft know that VR is likely the next step up from phones, tablets and computer screens. Now, they're all jockeying to dominate the next big computing platform." In that sense, things are very much still the same. 

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The Oculus Rift: Here's what came in that first box. Note the Xbox controller.

Scott Stein/CNET

Our 2016 review of the Rift, written by Sean Hollister and me, had a bold design (lost to time, sadly, but the text at least is preserved in that link), and split the idea of "Dream" versus "Reality" apart. That's because the dream of VR didn't match the reality of what was being delivered at that moment.

The Oculus Rift didn't arrive in finished form. The $600 original retail box only had the headset, one camera sensor-on-a-stick that needed to be plugged into a PC and... an Xbox controller. Oculus actually included the official Xbox One controller in-box, because those wild Touch controllers weren't ready yet. They arrived in December, for an extra $200 (and another camera stand). The total all-in cost was $800, plus you needed a gaming PC with compatible graphics cards.

Plugging it in and snaking those camera sensors to your PC meant that you needed a dedicated "PC VR zone" in your home, something preferably around 5 feet square. It didn't feel like something I'd be sharing with a lot of people.

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I remember setting up the HTC Vive in our office, and creating a whole holodeck area. The Oculus Rift couldn't do this yet in spring 2016.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best VR holodeck experience at that time wasn't the Oculus Rift, it was the HTC Vive. The Vive provided the whole package, a full-room walkaround experience. The Vive felt like that crazy future right now, with areas so large I could wander around and forget where I was. Except, of course, for that giant cable connecting me to the PC.

On the flip side, there were plenty of cheap and easy VR goggles for phones by then that could turn Samsung and Android phones (or iPhones, if you used Google Cardboard, which was basically free) into decent enough little 3D novelties. That was the stuff I reached for when I wanted to show my family a cool 360-degree video, or a weird VR game. PC VR was for me, whenever I had patience to boot it up.

It took years for Oculus to catch up to that freedom with in-headset camera-based tracking on the Oculus Rift S, and eventually a fully untethered standalone Oculus Quest in 2019, a device that would have blown me away if I had seen it in 2016. It still amazes me now.

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2019: Oculus Rift S, and Oculus Quest. Facebook was already making moves to mobile, the lines starting to blur.

John Kim/CNET

It's a dream I've had since I was a child, that I've read about in science fiction books. To cast myself somewhere else. To open a magic door. It's the closest I've been to that dream.

As I spend more time here, I lose track of where the rest of my real body is.

The original Oculus Rift review was divided into five sections: The Eyes, The Hands, The Room, The Doors, The Future. For the most part, these corresponded to the different parts of what make up a VR experience. The visuals (displays), hand interfaces, room tracking, software and then a conclusion looking at what comes next.

The divisions of those sections ended up evolving into the CNET subcategories which we used to review VR and AR headsets after that, which is still a work in progress. How do we consider "immersiveness," for instance? Or the quality of a display? In VR, one well-made piece of sensory input can make up for others. A crisp sound that feels like it's speaking to you can make a confusing interface make sense. Clever animations can be better than hyperreal graphics.

I remember spending an entire day playing Oculus games with Sean before the Rift launch, at an event in San Francisco where we felt woozy and happy and tired. Our faces had lines on them, marking where the headsets touched our faces. We dipped in and out of dozens of worlds, drifted from room to room. We got excited about the possibilities. We saw the future science-fiction dreams coming alive. But beyond some "wow" moments, how would it play out as a home device? We still had no idea.

VR has gone through fits and spurts since then: Gear VR and the phone versions are gone. The PlayStation VR has hung in there, and is rebooting with new hardware as soon as next year. Microsoft developed its own VR ecosystem and mixed reality app store, and is trying to blend AR and VR together, and Valve made its own VR headset. AR glasses seem to loom as the next wave of devices beyond VR. Along the way, VR headsets will bring AR into the experience. I've already seen some that do this.

Oculus Quest 2

Oculus Quest 2, 2020: At this point, VR is totally self-contained and portable. This was what I imagined the Rift being.

Scott Stein/CNET

I look at the Oculus Quest 2 compared to the Rift, and I see a completely different type of device. It's far less expensive, and it doesn't need a PC. It has similar controllers to the Rift's Touch ones, but then the similarities end. The Quest has hand tracking, and instantly starts up. I can use it for fitness. It launches quick social meetings with friends. It reminds me more of a prototype for the glasses of tomorrow: something you throw on fast and dive into. Like the Microsoft HoloLens, but for play and home. I don't spend hours in it at a time, but I drop in for lots of small sessions. It sits near me during the day more often than I'd ever expect.

Sometimes I want to stay in one place. Sometimes I want to leave. Sometimes I want to talk to people. Sometimes I don't want to be seen. Dozens of theater performances. Or games. Or films. Or experiences. Or dreams. One at a time, like experiential channel-surfing. How many doors can I go through before I feel like I should take a break?

When the Rift Touch controllers arrived, we gave a more normal, straightforward review of the whole package. Verdict: really good, mostly for those controllers, but not necessarily the best (the Vive felt more like a full holodeck) and crazy expensive.

"What I really want is VR that's as affordable as the PSVR, with the room-tracking of the Vive and Oculus Touch controllers," I said back then. I got a lot more than that. The totally self-contained Quest and what it represents feel more like the doorway to the untethered reality-blending I dreamed about back in 2016... and before.

I also said then, "Oculus used to be the one singular name in VR. Now it isn't. The competition is growing, and the Rift headset is a high-quality player in a fast, ever-moving game." While there's nothing else like the Quest 2 right now, there are lots of other players moving in fast. And that upcoming future still makes me think of how I dreamed things would be in 2016, a dream that's still not entirely here, but it's a lot closer than ever. And the world around VR has gotten muddled and strange, too: AI-generated art, deepfakes, NFTs, meme warfare, gaming metaverses, instant social apps everywhere. The virtual is everywhere, now. The hardware just needs to catch up.

In these glasses. Just glasses. I can open them up, or close them down. Let the real world in, or close it out. Allow the dreams to creep in just a bit, or all the way. In virtual reality, you can't see the wires. So why do they have to exist at all? In the real world, it can all disappear. Eventually, even the real world will seem like a dream. A blend, of the real world and the other. I can't even see the tech anymore. There are so many places to go, things to pick from. More experiences than stars in the sky. I'll never try them all. Just like regular life. But at least it knows what I like. A small flick of my fingers, a blink of my eyes, and I'm gone.

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These are the baby apps that helped me survive being a new mom – CNET

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Sally Anscombe/Getty Images

One of the first things I did after bringing my newborn home from the hospital last winter was download an app. Specifically, the appropriately named Baby Tracker app for iPhone and Android, which allows parents to log their baby's diaper changes, feedings and sleep (among many, many other things).

Soon, I was downloading BabySparks and Huckleberry and White Noise Baby Sleep Sounds, apps that promised to help my son reach his developmental milestones, suggest optimal nap schedules and "wake windows," and simulate the soothing ambiance of a running hair dryer, respectively.

The pressure to focus on my baby's needs to the detriment of everything else quickly came to feel Sisyphean, and my smartphone apps allowed me to outsource a lot of the mental load -- the guilt, the stress, the uncertainty. I became enamored with all the ways my phone could optimize and organize the disorienting experience of taking care of a newborn.  

The Wonder Weeks app, for example, helped me better understand the baby's developmental "leaps" and warned me via push notification when he was about to enter a stormy period. During the "witching hour" era I began consulting Wonder Weeks during particularly rough evenings the same way I used to consult the Clue app for vindication for my own witching hours. "Oh, he's leaping," I'd tell my spouse. "He'll be nice to us again in about five days."

The What to Expect app, my erstwhile go-to source for weekly "your baby now has earlobes!"-style pregnancy videos, became a veritable life raft postpartum when I joined the message board for other parents of February babies. Here is where I discovered nursing tips, birth announcement ideas, frank discussions of postpartum depression, pros and cons of the infamous Snoo (with its own attendant smartphone app) and a rabbit hole of Instagram baby experts dispensing advice on baby sleep, baby food, baby milestones and baby sign language.

How many times did I make a (literally decade-stale) "there's an app for that" joke during my baby's first year? Well, new parents actually molt their sense of humor and irony with sleep deprivation, so you can imagine I said it quite a few times.

Some of the best apps for the new-mom life were actually the ones I already had installed on my phone: My Fitbit app motivated me to take more stroller walks (though I had to push one-handed to get credit for my steps). Spotify ended up superseding any of the white noise apps I tried, and it also accompanied me during my nightly Norah Jones acoustic bedtime sets. And I wouldn't have completed my 2020 Goodreads challenge without Kindle and Libby, which allowed me to read in the dark while waiting for the baby to drift off, too scared of waking him with a creaking door to sneak out.

A single nursing session during the post-maternity leave/pre-reopening of child care centers period had me Slack messaging coworkers, scheduling a Target curbside diaper pickup, reorganizing my to-do list, and posting a cute Instagram story of the baby wiggling his limbs to the beat of Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage," all from my phone.

And when I wanted a secondhand Sit-Me-Up chair or Kick 'n Play Piano to occupy the baby when I "went back" to work? There's an app for that. (Sorry.) 

Lonely, but not alone

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Google Photos can help you collect and share your baby photos with family.

Sarah Tew/CNET

My son is now a year old, and I've slowly begun to shed the many trappings of new-parenthood. After a year of tracking every diaper, every ounce of every bottle, every minute of every nap, I even said goodbye to the beloved Baby Tracker app. I don't need it anymore, because I've gone all the way around the sun with this little boy -- who now tries to eat my phone whenever he can wrestle it away from me -- and, "optimized" or not, I know a thing or two now about how to take care of him.

Most evenings after putting my son to bed, I scroll through the Google Photos app and peruse the pictures and videos I took earlier in the day, uploading the best ones to an album shared with all of his grandparents and aunts and uncles. The app sends me delightful little collages and animations of him every once in a while, and lately, "one year ago today" slideshows featuring my bygone fuzzy-headed newborn. I discovered months after the fact that the very first photos of me holding my baby were in fact captured as Motion Photos, and I could rewatch the tremble in my hand as I stroked the back of his head, on loop.

We talk a lot these days about phone addiction and limiting screen time, and I worry often about how my brain is being rewired by my increasingly virtual existence. Smartphone usage was trending up 20% last year over the previous year, by some accounts, to an embarrassing 27% of waking hours. And maybe if there were an app for outsourcing this anxiety, I'd download that, too. (Oh wait, looks like there is.) 

But then I think of what a lifeline smartphones have become to new parents -- especially new mothers -- in the dark loneliness of those 3 a.m. feedings, the isolation of a pandemic-era maternity leave, the utter tumult of those first few unstructured days. I would have felt so much more adrift. 

One night, 10 days after I gave birth, I was up feeding my son, idly scrolling through Instagram, wondering when I'd ever sleep again. My cousin messaged me -- she was up with a baby, scrolling through Instagram, too. She'd shared a post with me, a drawing by artist Paula Kuka of a woman nursing a baby, looking out a window at darkness. "The nights might feel lonely," it said, zooming out in each panel, showing other mothers in other houses, nursing other babies behind other windows, zooming out until each window became a single speck of light seen from space, the whole world lit up with mothers and babies, "but you are not alone."

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