Controlling VR with my mind: NextMind’s dev kit shows me a strange new world – CNET

nextmind-sensor

The NextMind band, or what it looks like from the side that rests against the back of your head.

Scott Stein/CNET
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

In my Oculus Quest VR headset, I was in a room surrounded by large-brained aliens. Their heads flashed, white and black. I turned to one, staring at it. Soon enough, its head exploded. I looked at the others, making their heads explode. Then I looked at a flashing portal marker across the room and was gone. I did this without eye tracking. A band on the back of my head was sensing my visual cortex with electrodes.

I felt like I was living some sort of real-life virtual version of the David Cronenberg film, Scanners. But in reality, I was trying a neural input device made by NextMind.

Now playing: Watch this: The future of mind-controlled tech is already here, sort...

14:21

Before holiday break, I received a large black box with a small package inside. A black disc, with a headband. The disc was covered in small rubber-footed pads. NextMind's $399 developer kit, announced a year ago at CES 2020, aims at something many companies are striving for: neural inputs. NextMind aims to read a brain's signals to track attention, control objects and maybe even more.

It's hard to understand the real potential and possibilities of neural input technology. Also, many of the startups in this space are doing different things. CTRL-Labs, a neurotechnology company acquired by Facebook in 2019, developed an armband that could send hand and finger inputs. Another company, Mudra, is making a wristband for Apple Watch later this year that also senses neural inputs on the wrist.

I wore an early version of the Mudra Band a year ago, and experienced how it could interpret my finger's movements, and even roughly measure how much pressure I was applying when I squeezed my fingers. Even more weirdly, Mudra's tech can work when you aren't moving your fingers at all. The applications could include assisting people who don't even have hands, like a prosthetic wearable.

NextMind's ambitions look to follow a similar assistive-tech path, while also aiming for a world where neural devices could possibly help improve accuracy with physical inputs -- or combine with a world of other peripherals. Facebook's AR/VR head, Andrew Bosworth, sees neural input tech emerging at Facebook within three to five years, where it could end up being combined with wearable devices like smart glasses.

nextmind-vr

Attaching the NextMind device onto an Oculus Quest 2 headband.

Scott Stein/CNET

My NextMind experience has been rough, but also mesmerizing. The dev kit has its own tutorial and included demos that can run on Windows or Mac, plus a Steam VR demo that I played back on the Oculus Quest with a USB-C cable. The compact Bluetooth plastic puck has a headband but can also unclip from that and attach directly onto the back of a VR headset strap with a little effort.

All of NextMind's experiences involve looking at large, subtly flashing areas of your screen, which can be "clicked" by focusing. Or staring. It was hard to tell how to make something activate, and I found myself trying to open my eyes more, or breathe, or concentrate. Eventually, sooner or later, the thing I was looking at would click. Out of a field of five or so on-screen flashing "buttons," this really did know what I was looking at. And again, there was no eye tracking involved at all, this just rested on the back of my head.

Did it make me feel uncomfortable? Uncertain? Oh, yes. And as my kid came in and saw me doing this, and I showed him what I was doing, he was as astonished as if I had performed a magic trick.

NextMind's dev kit isn't meant for consumer devices yet. The Mudra Band, while launching as an Apple Watch accessory via crowdfunding site Indiegogo, is also experimental. I have no doubt we'll see more technology like this. At this year's virtual CES, there was even a "neural mouse" glove that aimed to improve reaction times by sensing click inputs a hair faster than even the physical mouse could receive. I didn't try that glove, but the idea doesn't sound far off from what companies like NextMind are imagining, either.

Right now, neural inputs feel like an imperfect attempt at creating an input, like algorithms searching for a way to do something I'd probably just do with a keyboard, a mouse or touchscreen instead. But, that was how voice recognition felt, once. And hand tracking. Right now, NextMind's demos really do work. I'm just trying to imagine what happens next. Whatever it is, I hope more exploding heads won't be a part of it.

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Galaxy S21 vs. S20 vs. S20 FE vs. Note 20 specs compared: All of Samsung’s updates – CNET

screenshot-2021-01-14-at-6-52-11-pm.png

Samsung's new lineup (from left): the $800 Galaxy S21, $1,000 Galaxy S21 Plus and $1,200 Galaxy S21 Ultra. 

Drew Evans/CNET
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Samsung took to its virtual Unpacked stage last week to take the wraps off its next-gen Galaxy S21 lineup, consisting of the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra. All three are available to preorder now, and will ship on Jan. 29.

So it's a good time to revisit the company's now last-gen flagship phones, the Galaxy S20 family, to examine what the South Korean phone-maker has changed, especially in light of its lackluster sales performance. The short answer? Not a whole lot.

Although Samsung made tons of improvements to last year's Galaxy S20 series (including the addition of 5G and higher refresh rates, for instance), there are few salient changes in the Galaxy S21 lineup. For instance, the base S21's major features like the screen size (6.2 inches), battery (4,000 mAh) camera module, and display (120Hz), remain largely unchanged. 

To be clear, Samsung did make the usual upgrades to the phone's processor and the software it runs -- it's now on Android 11 with a Snapdragon 888 processor. It also improved the fingerprint sensor and 5G connectivity. Plus the highest-end S21 Ultra can now support a stylus known as the S Pen (sold separately), which is one of the more significant changes that blurs the line between the S series and the more pro Note series. There's also the revamped camera housing design, which accentuates the camera lenses on the phones' backs while linking them with their metal frames.

Now playing: Watch this: Our first look at the new Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus

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But the standout feature of the S21 isn't found in the device's hardware or software. It's its price tag. The S21 lineup has a starting price of $800 (£769, which is approximately AU$1,350), which is $200 less than last year's $1,000 Galaxy S20. According to CNET's Shara Tibken, it's also the "flagship device's biggest advantage in an increasingly crowded 5G phone market."

It's also important to note what Samsung removed from its S21 family to allow it to start at that lowered price. One of the most controversial changes is the lack of an in-box wall adapter and earphones. The South Korean company is pushing its customers to reuse older accessories in the name of the environment, just like Apple did with the iPhone 12 family. The S21 line also lost expandable local storage, joining last year's Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Z Flip foldables in ditching the microSD card slot because "usage has markedly decreased."

If you want more more information on the differences between Galaxy S21 versus the Galaxy S20, take a look at our chart below.

Samsung Galaxy S21 vs. S20 vs. S20 FE vs. Note 20 specs


Galaxy S21 Galaxy S20 Galaxy S20 FE Galaxy Note 20
Display size, resolution 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (2,400x1,080 pixels), 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X; (3,200 x 1440) 6.5-inch super AMOLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels 6.7-inch AMOLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 421ppi 563ppi 405ppi 393ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 2.80 x 5.97 x 0.31 in 2.72 x 5.97 x 0.311 in 6.29 x 2.97 x 0.33 inches 6.36 x 2.96 x 0.33 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 71.2 x 151.7 x 7.9 mm 69.1 x 151.7 x 7.9 mm 159.8 x 75.5 x 8.4 mm 161.6 x 75.2 x 8.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.03 oz; 171g 5.75 oz; 163g 6.70 oz; 190g 6.84 oz, 194g
Mobile software Android 11 Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide) 12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 8-megapixel (3x telephoto) 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 10-megapixel 32-megapixel 10-megapixel
Video capture 8K 8K 4K 8K
Processor Snapdragon 888 or 64-bit Octa-Core Processor 2.8GHz (Max 2.4GHz +1.8GHz) 64-bit octa-core processor (Max 2.7GHz + 2.5 GHz + 2.0 GHz) Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (5G) Samsung Exynos 990 (4G) Snapdragon 865+
Storage 128GB/256GB 128GB 128GB 128GB
RAM 8GB 12GB (5G), 8GB (LTE) 6GB 8GB
Expandable storage None Up to 1TB Up to 1TB None
Battery 4,000 mAh 4,000mAh 4,500mAh 4,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen In-screen
Headphone jack No No USB-C USB-C
Special features IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30X Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging 5G enabled; 120Hz refresh rate; water resistant (IP68) 120Hz screen refresh rate, support for 30W fast charging and 15W fast wireless charging S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; water resistant (IP68)
Price off-contract (USD) $800 (128GB) $999 $699 $1,000
Price (GBP) £769 £799, £899 (5G) £599 (4G) £699 (5G) £849 (4G) and £949 (5G)

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Galaxy S21 is more like the iPhone 12 in some of the worst ways – CNET

samsung-galaxy-s21-plus-ultra

Samsung's Galaxy S21 line no longer comes with a power adapter, headphones or microSD card slot. 

Drew Evans/CNET
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Samsung's Galaxy S21 line has plenty going for it. The displays have been improved, the processor has gotten faster and the cameras have been upgraded to take sharper photos and videos. And at a $200 cheaper starting price than the Galaxy S20, they are once again an enticing alternative to Apple's latest iPhones. 

But in seemingly taking a page out of Apple's playbook, Samsung is scaling back on a few things. There is once again no headphone jack, the microSD card slot is gone and a fast charger is no longer included in the box. For some, it's like Samsung is copying Apple in all the wrong ways.

Sure, some of these changes should no longer be a surprise. Last year's Galaxy S20 line didn't have a headphone jack, and most pricier phones have said goodbye to the port as companies push Bluetooth earbuds and headphones. (Samsung unsurprisingly unveiled its latest $200 Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds at Thursday's Unpacked event.) This year Samsung, like Apple with the iPhone 12, went a step further and also removed the included wired headphones, which makes sense as it clearly wants people to buy its wireless buds. 

It is, however, giving up to $200 in Samsung Credit for those who are preordering its new phones directly from Samsung.com. The credit can be used toward buying a pair of Buds Pro or other accessories, softening the blow for at least early adopters.  

The microSD card slot was also seemingly on borrowed time. Samsung already has dropped the expandable storage option on its foldable phones, and a number of other manufacturers have turned away or long ignored the capability. Apple and Google never supported microSD storage expansion for their phones, while OnePlus only has the option available for its more affordable Nord series. 

"Over time, SD card usage has markedly decreased on smartphones because we've expanded the options of storage available to consumers," the South Korean electronics giant said in a statement. The company notes that its phones come with at least 128GB of storage while also supporting 5G and Wi-Fi 6E for faster wireless transfers to and from cloud storage platforms like Microsoft's OneDrive and Google Drive

While I can understand why this is frustrating for some power users, the idea of losing the microSD card slot never really bothered me. I also do appreciate that the base storage option is 128GB across the board, not 64GB like on Apple's iPhone 12 and 12 Mini.

Now playing: Watch this: Our first look at the new Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus

8:10

So long, included fast charger 

screen-shot-2021-01-14-at-11-01-55-am-2.png

Samsung's following Apple's leading and dropping the charger from the box. 

Samsung

What I'll really miss, however, is the power adapter. 

Apple kicked this "trend" off last year when it announced that it would no longer be including a charging brick with its latest iPhones. Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, said at the time that removing the products from the box will be better for the environment because it cuts down on waste (though, as some analysts pointed out, there may have been a nice financial benefit on the side to cash in on accessory sales). 

Apple's 5-watt USB chargers that have been included with most iPhones for years are largely wasteful in 2021, ending up in a drawer or staying in the box. It would've been great for Apple to include a faster USB-C charger as it did with the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, but in ditching the slow charger the company could pretty easily claim it is helping the environment because so many people have the same charger from various other Apple products they've purchased over the years. 

Read moreSamsung's Galaxy S21 upgrades likely won't spell an end to Galaxy FE or Note lines. Yet

Samsung, like Apple, says it is dropping the included power brick to help the environment. Federico Casalegno, Samsung's senior vice president of experience planning and its design innovation center, explained during Thursday's virtual press conference that "many of our users prefer to reuse their current chargers and earphones and to leave the new ones in the box, unused." Just like Apple, Samsung is shrinking its packaging for the S21 line in a bid to reduce its footprint.

Unlike Apple's chargers, however, Samsung's chargers have been getting more useful to me over time as the company's included power bricks can fast-charge devices over USB-C. For the Galaxy S20, Samsung included a 25-watt fast charger which, well, is actually pretty great. 

The company says on its website for the S21 Ultra 5G that using that same type of power adapter can recharge the Ultra's 5,000-mAh battery in "about an hour." 

Now playing: Watch this: Galaxy S21 Ultra: Our first look at Samsung's new premium...

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Any effort to help the environment and solve the growing e-waste problem should be commended, but instead of dropping features, it would've been great to see Samsung take the lead and embrace new technologies such as gallium nitride for its chargers. This technology not only offers a fast way to charge but also is more energy-efficient, wasting less heat compared to traditional silicon chargers. 

If it coupled offering newer, faster chargers with the S21 with an incentive of an extra few bucks for people to trade in their older chargers with their phones, it could've flipped the conversation. By recycling plenty of older chargers and giving users a more energy-efficient way to power their fancy new phones, Samsung would still be helping the environment while not taking away a useful feature from consumers. 

And it's not like these new gallium nitride chargers are overly expensive. A new 30-watt USB-C GaN charger from AmazonBasics is available for less than $20, roughly the same price Samsung charges for a new 25-watt power adapter on its website. 

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Galaxy S21: Lower prices make the choice between the S21, Plus and Ultra even harder – CNET

samsung-galaxy-s21-plus-ultra-06177

All three Galaxy S21 series phones got a $200 price drop that will put them within the budgets of more people.

Drew Evans/CNET
This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Following its 2020 recipe, albeit with a few ingredient substitutions, Samsung virtually announced the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra at its Galaxy Unpacked event Thursday. The new S21 series brings a bunch of updates, refinements and new features, but overall it isn't a drastic change from the S20 series until you get to the price. Samsung trimmed the starting prices on all S21-series phones by $200. The Galaxy S21 starts at $800, the Galaxy S21 Plus at $1,000 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra at $1,200. 

Samsung said that it was able to lower prices partly because the components for the phones cost less. You could also argue that a portion of the $200 price difference between the S21 and S20 series comes from the S20 and S20 Plus being priced too high. This was likely a result of Samsung pushing the S20 series too far into premium territory. (The price difference is significantly less in the UK and Australia, where the S21 starts at £769 and AU$1,249, £30 and AU$100 less than the S20 did.)

For the S21 and S21 Plus, Samsung reined in features and specs and made smart trade-offs that pulled the phones off the top shelf and back down to reality. That doesn't mean every change is fair. Going from 12GB of RAM on the S20 and S20 Plus to 8GB on the S21 and S21 Plus will be a significant sting to some people. I don't think having 8GB of RAM will necessarily cause an obvious dip in performance, but it might affect how long you'd wait before wanting to replace either phone as apps will eventually get more demanding.

Now playing: Watch this: Our first look at the new Galaxy S21 and S21 Plus

8:10

Then there's the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Aside from the omission of a wall charger (none of the Galaxy S21 phones has a charger or wired headphones), it has either the same or improved specs and features over last year's S20 Ultra and still got a $200 price reduction. On paper, the S21 Ultra seems like a more refined version of the S20 Ultra. Again, perhaps this says less about the value of the S21 Ultra and more suggests that the previous model was grossly overpriced. 

However Samsung got here, these low prices reflect the reality that the world has been in a pandemic for over a year, which has caused millions of us to struggle financially. For many people, just knowing that the new S21 series is more affordable than the S20 family might be enough reason to upgrade.

A curious side effect of all of this is that the phones in the S21 series have more things to distinguish them from each other than the S20 family. And this is good for anyone who wants a range of choices and prices for their next phone. In terms of appeal and value, there's more distance between the S21 and the S21 Ultra than there was between the S20 and S20 Ultra.

samsung-galaxy-s21-06155

The Galaxy S21 in phantom pink.

Samsung

Should you buy the Galaxy S21?

Out of the three phones, the S21 has the biggest potential audience. If you have a tight budget, then it's probably the one for you. On paper, it's also the no-brainer "You're due for an upgrade" phone from your cellular provider. When you look at the three new phones, the S21 doesn't seem as complex or intimidating as the other two. And there are a lot of people out there who want a phone that's simple and straightforward. Looking at its specs and features, the S21 seems to be the good-value-for-the-money phone you'll keep until it's time for your next upgrade.

Should you buy the Galaxy S21 Plus?

A curious side effect of its lower price and spec changes is that the S21 Plus has a new appeal: It's not only for people who want an S21 but with a larger battery or bigger screen. It's also the "Goldilocks" phone for those who don't want a basic or entry-level device and at the same time aren't willing to consider a top-of-the-line model because the cost is too high.

The S21 Plus should also attract people who worry about dropping their phone or having it fall into the toilet. Unlike the plastic back on the S21, the Plus and Ultra have the durable and scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus on the back. And while we haven't yet tested whether the S21 Plus is more durable than the S21, that could be a selling point. CNET will soon run drop and scratch tests on the new Galaxy phones. I should also note that all three phones have a dust and water resistance rating of IP68 and can survive being submerged in 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes.

Should you buy the Galaxy S21 Ultra?

The S21 Ultra has several different types of people who will likely buy it. First are those who want the absolute best specs and features. Then, there are those who don't care as much about the features but just want it as a status symbol. Camera nerds like me will be drawn to the S21 Ultra because of the improvements and upgrades Samsung made to the camera system. And with the addition of S-Pen support (it's the first Galaxy S phone to get it) the S21 Ultra might catch the eye of Galaxy Note users looking for a different option.

What about the Galaxy S20 FE?

When I first saw the specs for the Galaxy S21, I thought, "Is this a Galaxy S21 Fan Edition?" Of course it wasn't. But because Samsung brought the S21 down in price, it's only $50-$100 more, depending on the carrier, than the Galaxy S20 FE. (The price delta is wider in the UK and Australia.) Obviously in terms of price, the S20 FE will save you more. It also comes in more color options and has a bigger battery and a microSD card slot for expandable storage that the S21 doesn't. On the other hand, the S21 has more RAM, a newer processor, slightly better specced cameras and a newer design. In a way the positives and negatives of the two cancel each other out. To break the tie, I'll remind you the S20 FE comes with a wall charger and the S21 doesn't. Both will appeal to people looking for a great value. But on paper, the S20 FE offers a bit more value for the dollar than the Galaxy S21.

On the whole, I think Samsung made a bunch of smart moves with the Galaxy S21 lineup. It gives more people more options for their next phone. But look, it's one thing to compare specs and features. I'm excited to get my hands on the phones and do a full review.

Galaxy S21 specs vs. Galaxy S21 Plus, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Galaxy S20 FE


Galaxy S21 Galaxy S21 Plus Galaxy S21 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Display size, resolution 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x, 2,400x1,080 pixels 6.7-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x, 2,400x1,080 pixels 6.8-inch Edge WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 3,200x1,440 pixels 6.5-inch super AMOLED; 2,400x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 421 ppi 394 ppi 515 ppi 405ppi
Dimensions (inches) 2.80x5.97x0.31 inches 2.97x6.35x0.3 inches 2.97x6.5x0.35 inches 6.29x2.97x0.33 inches
Dimensions (millimeters) 71.2x151.7x7.9mm 75.6x161.5x7.8mm 75.6x165.1x8.9mm 159.8x75.5x8.4mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6.03 oz; 171g 7.12 oz; 202g 8.07 oz; 229 g 6.7 oz; 190g
Mobile software Android 11 Android 11 Android 11 Android 10
Camera 64MP (telephoto), 12MP (wide-angle), 12MP (ultrawide) 64MP (telephoto), 12MP (wide-angle), 12MP (ultrawide) 108MP (wide-angle), 12MP (ultrawide), 10MP (3x telephoto), 10MP (10x telephoto) 12MP (standard), 12MP (ultrawide), 8MP (3x telephoto)
Front-facing camera 10MP 10MP 40MP 32MP
Video capture 8K 8K 8K 4K
Processor Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz+1.8GHz) Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz+1.8GHz) Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz+1.8GHz) Snapdragon 865 (5G) Samsung Exynos 990 (4G)
Storage 128GB/256GB 128GB/256GB 128GB/256GB, 512GB 128GB
RAM 8GB 8GB 12GB, 16GB 6GB
Expandable storage Up to 1TB Up to 1TB Up to 1TB Up to 1TB
Battery 4,000 mAh 4,800 mAh 5,000 mAh 4,500 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen In-screen
Headphone jack No No No No
Special features IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 100x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, 10x optical zoom IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30W fast charging, 15W fast wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $800 (128GB) $1,000 (128GB) $1,200 (128GB) $699
Price (GBP) £769 £949 £1,329 £599 (4G) £699 (5G)
Price (AUD) AU$1,249 AU$1,549 AU$1,849 AU$999

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Galaxy S21 Ultra has UWB. Here’s how ultra wideband tech will make your life easier – CNET

Apple UWB car patent

Apple has patented the use of UWB, or ultra wideband, to recognize when you're approaching your car, unlock its doors and govern when you can turn it on.

Apple via US PTO; Stephen Shankland/CNET

You've heard of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 5G. Now it's time to learn another wireless communications term: ultra wideband, or UWB. Smartphone leaders Apple and Samsung have built it into their high-end models, including the iPhone 11, iPhone 12, Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and now the Galaxy S21 Plus and S21 Ultra. The Apple Watch Series 6 also has UWB built in. The technology lets you pinpoint the exact location of phones, key fobs and tracking tags, helping you find lost dogs or automatically unlock your car.

UWB calculates locations to within less than a half inch by measuring how long it takes super-short radio pulses to travel between devices. It's well suited to Samsung's new SmartTags, which use Bluetooth to start but will get UWB support in the future, and Apple's long-expected AirTag trackers. Carmakers including Audi, BMW and Ford are also hot for UWB.

Right now UWB's uses are limited, but as it matures and spreads to more devices, UWB could lead to a world where just carrying your phone or wearing your watch helps log you into your laptop as you approach it or lock your house when you leave.

"Being able to determine precisely where you are in an environment is increasingly important," said ABI Research analyst Andrew Zignani, who expects shipments of UWB-enabled devices to surge from 150 million in 2020 to 1 billion in 2025. "Once a technology becomes embedded in a smartphone, that opens up very significant opportunities for wireless technology."

Here's a look at UWB and its uses.

What's UWB good for?

Satellite-based GPS is useful for finding yourself on a map but struggles with anything much more precise and indoors. UWB doesn't have those handicaps.

UWB could switch your TV from your child's Netflix profile to yours. Your smart speaker could give calendar alerts only for the people in the room. Your laptop could wake up when you enter the home office.

Imagine this scenario: You leave the office and as you near your car, receivers in its doors recognize your phone and unlock the vehicle for you. When you get out of the car at home, the receivers recognize you're no longer in the vehicle and lock the doors.

With UWB, your home could recognize that you're returning at night and illuminate your walkway. The technology could then automatically unlock your front door and turn on your home sound system, which follows you from room to room. "I'm walking in a sound and light cocoon in my house," said Lars Reger, chief technology officer of NXP Semiconductors, a UWB proponent whose chips are widely used in cars.

Bluetooth-based location sensing takes at least two seconds to get an accurate fix on your location, but UWB is a thousand times faster, Reger said.

UWB will add more than convenience, supporters say. Conventional key fobs have security problems in regard to remotely unlocking cars: criminals can use relay attacks that mimic car and key communications to steal a vehicle. UWB has cryptographic protections against that sort of problem.

Samsung promises UWB technology for precisely tracking your location will automatically unlock car doors with digital keys in your smartphone.

Samsung promises UWB technology for precisely tracking your location will automatically unlock car doors with digital keys in your smartphone.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

This same ability to track your movements has downsides, particularly if you don't like the idea of the government following your movements or coffee shops flooding your phone with coupons as you walk by. But with today's privacy push, it's likely phone makers won't let devices track your phone without your permission.

How is Samsung supporting UWB?

At its Galaxy S21 launch event Thursday, Samsung touted UWB as a wireless technology that'll bring new convenience to your life. That includes unlocking your house or car as you walk up to it.

"With Digital Key, you'll be able to open the door of your house with your mobile device," said Kevin Chung of Samsung's direct-to-consumer center during the launch event. "You'll be able to unlock your car door with your phone. The door will unlock when you reach it -- no sooner, no later."

You'll be able to send digital keys to friends or family members, and Samsung's AR finder app will point the direction to your car in a crowded parking lot. Samsung announced digital key partnerships with BMW, Audi, Ford and Hyundai's Genesis Motor.

Samsung will later offer UWB SmartTags, too.

How is Apple supporting UWB?

iPhones since the iPhone 11 family have Apple's new UWB chip, the U1. It joins a handful of other processors Apple has developed, including the A series that powers iPhones and iPads, the M1 at the heart of new Macs and the T series that handles Touch ID and other security duties on Macs.

Apple hopes UWB will help you find your dog, control your thermostat and unlock your front door.

Apple hopes UWB will help you find your dog, control your thermostat and unlock your front door.

Apple via US PTO

"The new Apple-designed U1 chip uses ultra wideband technology for spatial awareness -- allowing iPhone 11 Pro to precisely locate other U1-equipped Apple devices. It's like adding another sense to [the] iPhone," Apple said of the U1 chip when it arrived. "With U1 and iOS 13, you can point your iPhone toward someone else's, and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster. And that's just the beginning."

Apple only promises UWB links between its own devices for now. But UWB standardization should open up a world of other connections, and software tweaks should let Apple adapt as UWB standards mature.

Apple's years of UWB work are evident in several patents. That includes patents for shaping UWB pulses for more accuracy in distance measurements, using a phone, watch or key fob location to enter and start a car, calculating your path toward a car so your car can send your phone a request for biometric authentication, and letting Bluetooth and UWB cooperate to grant you access to your car.

Who else is interested in UWB?

Other companies involved with UWB include consumer electronics giants Samsung and Sony; chipmakers Decawave, Qualcomm, NXP and STMicroelectronics; carmakers Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Jaguar Land Rover; and car electronics powerhouse Bosch. Another notable player is Tile, which has sold tracking tags for years to help you find things like keychains and wallets.

Confusingly, those companies have banded together into two industry groups, the UWB Alliance formed in December 2018 and the FiRa Consortium (short for "fine ranging") that formed in August 2019. Samsung joined FiRa, Apple isn't listed as a member of either.

On top of that, there's the Car Connectivity Consortium that's working on digital key technology. The three groups have figured out who's doing what now to avoid stepping on each other's toes, Harrington said.

FiRa is working on standards to ensure UWB devices work together properly, while the UWB Alliance is trying to minimize UWB problems from the expansion of Wi-Fi into the 6GHz radio band that UWB also uses. For example, there are brief pauses in Wi-Fi signals sent in the 6GHz band, and UWB transmissions could sneak into those gaps, said UWB Alliance executive director Tim Harrington. 

How does UWB work?

The idea behind UWB has been around for decades -- indeed, the University of Southern California established an ultra wideband laboratory called UltRa in 1996. Some of the concepts date back to radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi, Harrington says.

UWB devices send lots of very short, low-power pulses of energy across an unusually wide spectrum of radio airwaves. UWB's frequency range spans at least 500MHz, compared with Wi-Fi channels about a tenth as wide. UWB's low-power signals cause little interference with other radio transmissions.

UWB sends up to 1 billion pulses per second -- that's 1 per nanosecond. By sending pulses in patterns, UWB encodes information. It takes between 32 and 128 pulses to encode a single bit of data, Harrington said, but given how fast the bits arrive, that enables data rates of 7 to 27 megabits per second.

apple-iphone-11-u1-chip

Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller touted the company's U1 chip for UWB in the iPhone 11.

Screenshot and illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) developed a UWB standard called 802.15.4 more than 15 years ago, but it didn't catch on for its original intended use, sending data fast.

But location sensing made UWB a hot topic again?

Companies like Spark Microsystems use UWB for data transfer, but most tech giants like it for measuring location precisely. Even though 802.15.4 flopped when first created years ago, UWB's renaissance is occurring because its super-short radio pulses let computers calculate distances very precisely.

Now UWB development is active again, for example with the 802.15.4z standard that bolsters security for key fobs and payments and improves location accuracy to less than a centimeter. Fixing today's relay attack problems, where someone with radio technology essentially copies and pastes radio communications of key fobs or smartphone unlocking systems, was a top priority for 802.15.4z. "With the precise timing you get off UWB and the ability to know exactly where you are, you can cut the man in the middle [relay] attack completely," Harrington said.

Another area of active development is improving how you can use your phone to make payments at a payment terminal.

Radio waves travel about 30 centimeters (1 foot) in a billionth of a second, but with short pulses, devices can calculate distances very exactly by measuring the "time of flight" of a radio signal to another device that responds with its own signal. With multiple antennas positioned in different spots, UWB radios can calculate the direction to another device, not just the distance.

UWB dovetails nicely with the internet of things, the networking of doorbells, speakers, lightbulbs and other devices.

It's already used for location sensing. NFL players have UWB transmitters in each shoulder pad, part of broadcast technology used for instant replay animations. A football's location is updated 2,000 times per second, according to Harrington.

Boeing uses UWB tags to track more than 10,000 tools, carts and other items on its vast factory floors.

UWB uses very little power. A sensor that sends a pulse once every second is expected to work for seven years off a single coin battery. 

Verizon has something called 5G Ultra Wideband. Is that the same thing?

No. Verizon uses the same words, but it's merely a branding label.

"5G Ultra Wideband is our brand name for our 5G service," said spokesman Kevin King. "It's not a technology."

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UFC 257 McGregor vs. Poirier: Press conference, start time, how to watch and full fight card – CNET

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McGregor takes on his first UFC fight in over a year on Jan. 23.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Conor McGregor is back! After fighting once last year -- mainly as a result of COVID-19 -- McGregor will enter the Octagon at UFC 257, against elite lightweight contender Dustin Poirier.

With current UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov all but officially retired, this contest is seen by many as a title eliminator. Most likely the winner will fight for the belt later down the track in 2021, potentially against Charles Oliveira. Depending on how talks between Nurmagomedov and UFC President Dana White go over the next week or so, there's a chance White lets Poirier and McGregor skip the queue, making this contest for the belt. 

The fight takes place on the UFC's Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

This isn't the first time this fight has taken place. McGregor defeated Poirier comfortably the last time they fought over six years ago at UFC 178, but Poirier has improved dramatically since then. He defeated Max Holloway for the UFC interim lightweight championship, and put up a decent showing against Nurmagomedov, the current lightweight king. The undefeated Nurmagomedov also defeated McGregor in 2018.

Despite Poirier's improvements, most oddsmakers have McGregor as a clear favorite in this bout. His destruction of Donald Cerrone in 2020, combined with the style matchup, has most people seeing this as a favorable fight for McGregor. Poirier is primarily a boxer and McGregor is still the sharpest striker at 155 pounds. 

McGregor also appears to be in phenomenal shape and, by most reports, is as motivated as he's been since his legendary first run at featherweight. We could be in for something special with this performance. McGregor has predicted he'll win this fight inside 60 seconds.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the UFC's Inside the Octagon series, which breaks down the match-up. The McGregor vs Poirier one is already online.

But outside of the blockbuster main event, UFC 257 runs deep. Michael Chandler is making his UFC debut against fight of the night machine Dan Hooker in a compelling co-main event and the undercard is dotted with names like Joanne Calderwood and Shane Burgos. There's a lot of great matchups in there.

Press conference

Conor McGregor is well known for his outlandish performances during UFC press conferences, and now we know that conference will take place this coming Thursday. You won't want to miss this.

The press conference will feature Conor McGregor alongside his opponent Dustin Poirier. Dan Hooker and Michael Chandler from the co-main event will also feature. Dana White will also be at the event. 

Here's the exact timing...

US

The press conference takes place at

  • Midday EST on Thursday, January 21.
  • 9am PST on Thursday, January 21.

UK

5pm on Thursday, January 21.

Australia

4am on Friday, January 22.

You'll be able to watch it live on the UFC's official YouTube channel. The UFC is also making it available on its social media channels and on its homepage. We'll also embed the livestream here, so you can watch it live on this very page.

How to watch UFC 257

This year the UFC entered into a new partnership with ESPN. That's great news for the UFC and the expansion of the sport of MMA, but bad news for consumer choice. Especially if you're one of the UFC fans who want to watch UFC live in the US.

It's worth noting, however, that the UFC has increased the price of PPVs starting with UFC 257.

In the US, if you want to know how to watch UFC 257, you'll only find the fight night on PPV through ESPN Plus. The cost structure is a bit confusing, but here are the options to watch UFC on ESPN, according to ESPN's site:

  • Existing yearly ESPN Plus subscribers can order the upcoming UFC fight for $70
  • Existing monthly ESPN Plus subscribers will be able to either upgrade to an annual plan and buy UFC PPV for $85 or purchase the ability to watch the UFC event on PPV for $70 by itself.
  • New ESPN Plus subscribers can buy a bundle of one UFC PPV event (streaming in HD) and an ESPN Plus annual recurring subscription for $90. This is a decent deal. The previous bundle gave a saving of 25% but this new bundle is a 35% saving. The ESPN Plus annual ESPN subscription will auto-renew after one year, at the price of an ESPN Plus annual subscription at the time of auto-renewal.

You can do all of the above at the link below.

MMA fans in the UK can watch UFC 257 exclusively through BT Sport. There are more options if you live in Australia. You can watch UFC 257 through Main Event on Foxtel. You can also watch on the UFC website or using its app. You can even order using your PlayStation or using the UFC app on your Xbox.

Start time

The card is not finalized, but based on previous UFC times, this is what we expect...

US

  • The main card starts Jan. 23, 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT).
  • The prelims start Jan. 23, 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT).
  • The early prelims start Jan. 23, 6.30 p.m. ET (3.30 p.m. PT).

UK

  • The main card starts Jan. 24, 3 a.m. GMT.
  • The prelims start Jan. 24, 1 a.m. GMT.
  • The early prelims start Jan 23, 11.30 p.m. GMT.

Australia

  • The main card starts Jan. 24, 2 p.m. AEDT.
  • The prelims start Jan. 24, 12 p.m. AEDT.
  • The early prelims start Jan. 24, 10.30 a.m. AEDT.

Fight Card

This one is far from finalized at this point. We'll update when more fights are announced.

  • Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier
  • Michael Chandler vs. Dan Hooker
  • Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood
  • Khalil Rounree Jr vs. Marcin Prachnio
  • Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas
  • Brad Tavares vs. Antonio Carlos Junior
  • Matt Frevola vs. Ottman Azaitar
  • Shane Burgos vs. Hakeem Dawodu
  • Andrew Sanchez vs. Andre Muniz

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Google Doodle offers historical parallel for Martin Luther King Day – CNET

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The fight for racial equality transcends generations.

Google

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired us to rise up against injustice 60 years ago and he's still inspiring hope for generations born decades later that racial equality is possible.

It's a goal that transcends generations and that's the message of this year's Martin Luther King Day Google Doodle honoring the civil rights pioneer. Monday's Doodle depicts parallel scenes from the 1960s and today, showing not only scenes of marches and protests for equality but also efforts to improve communities for everyone.

Born Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta, King began preaching as a Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954. His message of nonviolent civil disobedience and love, delivered through powerful speeches and writings, shaped the character of the movement.

He led the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott against the policy of racial segregation in the Alabama city's public transit system. In 1963, he delivered his iconic I Have a Dream speech, calling for an end to racism, during the March on Washington.

Perhaps the side-by-side scenes of Monday's invite reflection of how much progress we've made toward achieving King's dreams in the five decades since his assassination in 1968. Thankfully, we have time on Monday to invest serious effort into educating ourselves on understanding systemic racism and how to fight it.

The real anniversary of King's birthday was Friday, but a federal holiday signed into law in 1983 sets aside the third Monday of each January to observe his birthday. The holiday is typically marked each year in communities across the US by marches, speeches, lectures and musical programs highlighting King's brave leadership.

While this year's observance is expected to be dampened a bit due to COVID-19 restrictions against large gatherings, his message isn't muted. It's as loud and clear and as important as ever.

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Matt Damon officially joins Thor: Love and Thunder cast – CNET

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Marvel

As if starring Chris Hemsworth and Christian Bale wasn't enough, Thor: Love and Thunder has gotten an extra dose of star power. Matt Damon has joined the upcoming blockbuster's cast, having touched down in Sydney, Australia, where he'll quarantine for two weeks before filming begins. 

Co-stars Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Tessa Thompson are all also quarantining in Australia, while Natalie Portman has been in the country since September. Hemsworth, who plays the eponymous hero, lives in Byron Bay, a beachtown north of Sydney. 

"I'm so excited that my family and I will be able to call Australia home for the next few months," Damon said in a statement to local press. "Australian film crews are world-renowned for their professionalism and are a joy to work with so the 14 days of quarantine will be well worth it."

Damon had a cameo role in Thor: Ragnarok, Love and Thunder's predecessor, playing an actor who plays Loki in an Asgardian stage play. Love and Thunder, like Ragnarok, will be directed by Taika Waitit. It's being filmed in Australia thanks in part to a federal subsidy to the tune of AU$24 million, roughly $18 million.

Love and Thunder is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 4, and is slated for a May 6, 2022 release. There's a whole lot of Phase 4 between now and then though, as Love and Thunder will follow Black Widow (May 7, 2021), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (July 9, 2021), Eternals (Nov. 5, 2021), an untitled Spider-Man sequel (Dec. 17, 2021) and Doctor Strong in the Multiverse of Madness (March 25, 2022).

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Tinder and Bumble are kicking Capitol rioters off dating apps – CNET

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Saul Loeb/Getty

One of the men who stormed the Capitol Building in Washington on Jan. 6 bragged to Bloomberg that his Bumble account is "blowing up" thanks to pictures of him in the act. Well, not anymore pal. 

Bumble and Match Group, which owns Tinder, Hinge, OKCupid, Match and Plenty of Fish, are blocking the accounts of people known to have participated in the riot, reports the Washington Post

"Rest assured that we prohibit any content that promotes terrorism or racial hatred," a Bumble tweet reads, "and we've already removed any users that have been confirmed as participants in the attack of the US Capitol." A spokesperson for Match, which represents Tinder, told the Post, "We have, and will continue, to ban any users wanted by the FBI in connection with domestic terrorism from all of our brands, and we always cooperate with law enforcement in their investigations." 

It's a move that adds insult to injury: Of more pressing to concern to rioters is impending arrest. Over 70 people have been arrested in connection with the insurrection, in which five people were killed. 

Bumble and Tinder were contacted for comment but did not immediately respond. 

Capitol rioters being barred from datings apps is the latest in an ongoing fallout following the Jan. 6 incident, which caused President Donald Trump to be impeached for the second time. Trump, for his role in inciting the riot on Twitter and at a rally in Washington, was banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Parler, a social media platform that many Pro-Trump conservatives flocked too, was blocked by Apple, Google and Amazon.

Bumble and Match's decree comes after a viral movement of users to find Capitol rioters on these apps, confirm their identity and participation in the riot, and then report them to the FBI. Some women in Washington reported changing their political preference on Bumble to "conservative" for the specific purpose of finding and matching with the protesters -- enough that Bumble temporarily removed the political preferences filter to prevent "misuse". 

The move from these dating apps has precedent. In 2017, OKCupid banned for life a neo-Nazi who participated in the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, which led to the death of one woman.

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Best portable projector with battery power for 2021: BenQ, Anker, LG and more – CNET

How great would it be to have a big-screen movie experience without having to lug your TV into your backyard? How great would it be to have a projector in your backpack so you could watch a movie while camping? Portable projectors make it possible. These mini projectors are about the size of a large Bluetooth speaker, run on batteries and can stream Netflix and more.

The downside? The picture quality is not very bright, usually with a fraction of the brightness of a traditional home theater projector. That means the image will be pretty dim if you make the projector screen too big. Mini portable projectors are also generally lower resolution. Their batteries should last for a single movie, if you're careful, but that's it.

If you're never going to be far from an outlet, one of our home theater projector picks will get you a much bigger, brighter and better image. But if you want something that's tiny enough to fit just about anywhere, with all the possibilities battery power affords, these are the best options.

Read more: Projector setup tips: How to get the biggest, best image for movie night

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The Mars II Pro is easily the best compact projector option here, due to its light output, overall image quality, ease-of-use and overall solid design. It's a bit bigger than the others here and more expensive, but the extra money and size is worth it.

The built-in 12,500-mAh is good for about 3.5 hours, longer if you just run it as a Bluetooth speaker. There are apps built in, some of which consider the Mars II a portable device, meaning you can download content to its 8GB internal memory to watch offline. The faux-leather strap also makes carrying it around super easy. Read our Anker Nebula Mars II Pro review.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

I didn't like the M2 as much as the Anker above but it has one thing in its favor: more pixels. With 1080p resolution, compared to the Anker's 720p, you're less-likely to see pixel structure or a "screen door effect" when watching from close-up or with a really big image screen size. In most cases 720p is just fine, however, and the Anker's picture is as good or better in many ways. 

The Viewsonic is a bigger video projector than the others on this list and lacks a built-in battery, so you'll need to supply your own USB-C battery pack if you want to make it truly portable. It also doesn't have a handle and the speakers are worse than the Anker. Even so, if you want 1080p and portability, this is a good choice. Read our Viewsonic M2 review.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The PH30N is not only less expensive than the two above, it's also tiny. This mini projector fits in my hand, yet creates a 720p image. It has an HDMI cable input, plus a USB connection that might be able to run a streaming stick off the LG's internal battery.

The stick connection is important because the LG lacks built-in apps. Light output is about half that of the Anker Mars II Pro and M2, though their contrast ratios are roughly the same. The internal battery should last around 2 hours in the projector's dimmest mode. Less if you're also powering a streaming stick. 

It fits in places other projectors won't, however, making it, ahem, handy. Read our LG CineBeam PH30N review.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The GV1 has one of my favorite designs of any projector I've ever reviewed. To me this tiny projector is like something Pixar or Hayao Miyazaki would dream up. This mini projector is not much bigger than a can of Coke and has a tiltable head that makes it easy to place the projector where it fits or where it's needed.

Unfortunately, its beauty is largely skin deep. Its picture quality is not very bright, its contrast ratio is fairly low and it's only 480p. Those all can be excused given the size and price, but it's also rather difficult to use. The internal app store is frustrating, some apps crash or refuse to load correctly and its one input (USB-C with an included dongle for HDMI connectivity), negates the ability to run a streaming stick without external power.

It sure is adorable, however. Read our BenQ GV1 review.

More home theater recommendations


As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castlesairplane graveyards and more. 

You can follow his exploits on Instagram and YouTube, and on his travel blog, BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines, along with a sequel.

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