OnePlus 5T review: polished to a T

OnePlus is one of those beguiling companies that seem to promise impossibly wonderful things. Flagship products at budget prices. The assiduous elegance of an iPhone at the attainable cost of a mid-range Motorola. It’s a company that constantly flirts with the “too good to be true” label, sometimes delivering on its lofty claims and at other times failing to live up to its own hype.

I like the new OnePlus 5T for many of the same reasons that I like OnePlus itself. This device is full of all the right ideas — about hardware design, software responsiveness, and overall usability — and if I were tasked with the job of assembling a phone, my specification would read a lot like the OnePlus 5T does on paper. In practice, this phone isn’t the total fulfillment of every objective that OnePlus set for itself nor every promise the company has made. But it’s damn close. It takes the imperfect OnePlus 5 from five months ago and fixes much of what ailed it. This is the most refined OnePlus phone yet.

At a starting price of $499, the OnePlus 5T combines many of the most sought-after flagship features and specs of 2017 inside a design that’s as handsome and high-end as any Galaxy S or iPhone competitor. The cost is more than any OnePlus phone before it, but in the current era of $1,000 flagships from Samsung and Apple, it seems a very fair price.

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If you know me, you’ll know how long I’ve been writing phone reviews and how difficult it is for any new product to impress me. The OnePlus 5T is that rare device that made me pause and appreciate its premium feel as I was unboxing it. The packaging is perfectly standard for OnePlus, that’s not what did it; but the phone itself is so beautifully dominated by the 6-inch OLED display, with neatly symmetrical bezels at top and bottom just holding the thing together.

The sense evoked by the 5T’s design is one of efficiency and optimization, and comparing this new device against anything previous from OnePlus, even the five-month-old OnePlus 5, makes the older model feel inadequate. You’re free to disagree, and you might think I’m overreacting to the thin-bezel craze that OnePlus is now participating in — but I challenge you to think forward a few months. Thin-bezel phones are quickly going to take over the market, and anyone stuck with a fat-bezel device will feel behind the curve. This OnePlus 5T looks lovely today and I can be confident in saying it will still look modern and fresh a year from now.

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The move of the fingerprint sensor from the front to the back of the phone has been a total triumph. Covered by a smooth ceramic, the reader sits exactly where you’d find it on Google’s Pixels and LG’s G6 and V30: horizontally centered and a third of the way down. I find it perfectly usable and reliable, but for those situations where you might still want to access the phone without lifting it off a table to ID yourself, OnePlus has also added a new Face Unlock feature to the 5T. I’ve found Face Unlock both delightful and frustrating, like most other face-identification systems thus far, but more on that later. The important thing is that OnePlus has preempted a complaint while at the same time feature-matching The iPhone X’s FaceID.

After the LG V30, which I reviewed last month, the OnePlus 5T is the second phone I’ve had the pleasure of handling with a 6-inch screen crammed inside the frame of a 5.5-inch handset. The 5T is scarcely any larger than its predecessor OnePlus 5, which means it’s big, but not overwhelmingly so. Single-handed use of a 6-inch phone still sounds futuristic to me, but the V30, Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Plus, Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2, and now the OnePlus 5T have all accomplished it (even if the 18:9 aspect ratio breaks the screen size math a little bit).

One Plus phoneOne Plus phonePhoto by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

I have been using a Google Pixel 2 XL most recently, and coming from that hulking device to the leaner and smoother 5T makes a tangible difference. The 2 XL feels blocky without the tapered sides of the 5T, and the difference in heft seems bigger than it is — 175g on the Pixel, 162g on the 5T — because of the better weight distribution of the OnePlus device. Am I saying OnePlus has done a better design job than Google? Yes, absolutely.

My sole complaint about the OnePlus 5T’s industrial design is the camera bump. It’s taller than it was on the OnePlus 5, which the company explains as having been caused by the screen occupying more space inside the phone. The 5’s camera module was built into the space that sat behind bezel on the front, whereas the new camera system resides behind the screen, and so it protrudes a couple of millimeters more. I now find the bump just large enough to be noticeable and to irritate me, though I’m conscious that most people won’t be as nitpicky as I am, and many will put a case on the phone anyway. One thing I do know from the earlier OnePlus 5, though: the camera protrusion ends up collecting a ton of scratches and scuffs, so if you’re not a case person, prepare yourself mentally for some very rapid wear and tear there.

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Beside punching above its weight in design, the OnePlus 5T also happens to have one of the better displays on the market today. My initial reaction upon hearing that this device has a 6-inch 18:9 OLED screen was to fear it was another of those poor LG OLED panels that has plagued the V30 and Google’s Pixel 2 XL. It was an unfounded fear, however, as OnePlus wisely waited until it could secure a Samsung OLED screen, and I’ve been super satisfied with that choice.

On your first look, you might not even recognize this as an OLED display: it exhibits none of the telltale signs like lurid over-saturation or color-shifting (at anything but extreme viewing angles). It’s just a very good and reliable screen, and OnePlus has gone to the trouble of providing sRGB and DCI-P3 color calibration options for those among us who care. Knowing the company’s geeky target audience, there’ll be plenty of us who do make use of that facility, and I myself have opted for the sRGB option.

Reading Mode

The OnePlus 5 and 5T share a killer feature I haven’t seen elsewhere: a monochromatic Reading Mode. This can be enabled per app or via a quick toggle. It desaturates the screen and adjusts the sharpness and brightness to your environment so it essentially emulates a Kindle (which in itself tries to emulate real paper). It’s a huge relief from eye strain and really makes reading much easier. Short of having an actual E Ink screen, as the YotaPhone did, this is the closest any phone has yet gotten to recreating the Kindle reading experience.

The biggest advantage of this display over the majority of others is the slimness of its bezels, which OnePlus enhances with a thoughtful software tweak. The on-screen Android buttons, which are typically pervasive across all apps that don’t take over in full-screen mode, can be “minimized” on the 5T. You can choose to have them hidden until you want to use them, at which point you can bring them back with a swipe up from the bottom. That gives you the entire 6-inch screen to read tweets and compose emails on, freeing up yet more space. The OnePlus 5T can feel downright luxurious compared to other Android phones in an information-dense app like Gmail, Slack, or Kindle. That being said, I do find myself needing those Android keys a little too often in my daily use to keep them hidden; so this new change is beneficial, but only in circumstances where you don’t have to do much multitasking.

Another improvement from OnePlus with the 5T is a so-called Sunlight Display mode. It’s part of the company’s adaptive mode, and it kicks in when it detects you’re out in bright sunlight. Contrast and other screen parameters are automatically boosted when you set up to compose a photo or video, go into your gallery, or start a game. November in the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t provide the ideal conditions for testing outdoor visibility, and I’ve been highly satisfied with the 5T’s performance outside even without Sunlight Display on. Still, it’s good to know that automatic adjustment exists: trying to take photos in the summer with an OLED screen has often been a challenge, and OnePlus is ironing out that kink and showing it’s thinking about the ways its devices are used.

Reading Mode on the OnePlus 5

Marking a welcome return from the OnePlus 5 is the desaturated Reading Mode that I’ve enjoyed very much. True to its name, it makes reading on this phone a much easier and more pleasant tsk than on most. It is another novel departure from the typical smartphone experience that I very much appreciate. Plus, in typical OnePlus tradition, there’s a nice dark theme that flips all the menus and the app drawer into blackness.

The 2160 x 1080 resolution of the 5T isn’t the highest available, however with 401ppi pixel density, it’s ample for most people’s needs. The most apparent imperfection to this display is actually how it looks when it’s off: the 5T’s Samsung OLED panel isn’t quite as black as the bezels, it reflects a little more light, and so I can perceive its edges. Why does this matter? Well, a phone like the Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X, LG V30, or any of Samsung’s most recent flagships tends to look like a monolithic block of black awesomeness when off. Part of the charm of OLED screens is in that their blacks are pure and perfect, and thus anything displayed on the screen seems to float atop that darkness. The OnePlus 5T spoils the illusion that the entire front is a display.

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My OnePlus 5 review read a lot like this OnePlus 5T review up to this point: good design, good display, with a couple of small critiques. Then things unraveled with the camera. Well, let me say that the 5T has better design, a better display, and now a definitively better camera too. But it’s still mediocre by the standards of the wider phone market.

It’s arguably unfair that I keep comparing the OnePlus 5T to Samsung, Google, and LG flagships that cost dramatically more than the 5T. But OnePlus invites that comparison itself: the company actively wants to be considered alongside the giants of the Android world, and it definitely wants you to believe it has the best product. When it comes to the camera, I have to say that OnePlus flat out doesn’t have it. Yes, the 5T wins on design and display, but its biggest limitations are apparent with the quality of its images.

Having tried an iPhone-like dual-camera system with the 5 — one wide-angle lens and one telephoto — OnePlus is now switching things up again with an entirely new idea. Instead of different zoom levels, the two rear cameras on the 5T have different intended uses: the main one is unchanged from the OnePlus 5, but the secondary is now a dedicated low-light shooter. Both have a wide f/1.7 aperture, meaning they get plenty of light in, with the main sensor offering a 16-megapixel resolution (with 1.12μm pixels) and the secondary one coming in at 20 megapixels (with pixels measuring 1μm).

How can the second camera can be an improvement for low light when it has smaller pixels? Well, it uses pixel binning: combining the information of four pixels into one, and then re-interpolating back up to its full resolution. The trade-off is that you lose fine detail for the sake of lower image noise. OnePlus says that the system automatically switches to that second cam, but only in situations of less than 10 lux of light, which are quite rare. I’ve had a couple of reasonably good images in challenging lighting conditions with this phone, so I guess things are working as intended. I do like that these architectural changes are invisible to the end user: you still just point the camera at stuff and tap to shoot.

Two neat things about the OnePlus 5T’s camera interface: One is the ability to shoot by holding your finger on the fingerprint sensor on the back, ideal for people (like me) who prefer to shoot selfies with the rear camera. The other is the Pro Mode, which displays a histogram and gives access to manual ISO, white balance, and shutter speed adjustments. I’d be more enthusiastic about this latter part if I felt the camera had the potential to shoot photos that merit such finessing.

Ultimately, the OnePlus 5T’s camera lands in the territory of being serviceable. Decent, even. If you’re only looking at your photos on the phone itself, using them to Instagram a few sights or share moments with friends in a casual and unobsessive fashion, you’ll probably be just fine with the 5T. I have grown used to the higher standard of Google’s Pixel 2 camera, but that phone costs substantially more than this OnePlus device.

Portrait mode marks a return after a very poor debut on the OnePlus 5 and it’s much improved. OnePlus has scaled back the background-blurring effect, which helps to hide the errors when the camera miscalculates whether to blur or keep something in focus. But the system is a lot more robust now too: even in imperfect lighting, it usually identifies the face or object I’m trying to isolate from the background and it generally does the thing I want it to. As with all portrait modes, it’s still a work in progress that misses more than would be ideal, but at least now OnePlus has a respectable competitor rather than a poorly executed feature. Bonus points for not needing to zoom in to capture a portrait shot — as the iPhone does and the OnePlus 5 used to — with the new camera setup on the 5T.

A note of caution about the front-facing camera: it has the beautification filter on by default — which results in flattening and lightening of skin tone and softening of detail to the point of obliteration — and if you want to take even semi-realistic selfies, you’ll have to tone that stuff down. For a while, I didn’t realize where to disable the (supposed) beautification and my selfies were taken in a world where there are no skin pores, no wrinkles, and absolutely no photographic detail.

Internally, the OnePlus 5T is almost painfully familiar: a Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip with Adreno 540 graphics is flanked by either 6GB (good) or 8GB (entirely excessive) of RAM, with a corresponding 64GB or 128GB of storage. No expansion options available, but you get two nano-SIM card slots. I like that OnePlus is among the first to support Bluetooth 5, which together with support for AptX HD makes this phone a good candidate to serve as your source for wireless music listening. That being said, OnePlus is staying faithful to its users by also continuing to include a headphone jack.

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The battery hasn’t changed from the OnePlus 5, it still measures in at 3,300mAh, and the 5T’s highlight power technology is still Dash Charge, the rapid-charging solution that OnePlus says its users are delighted with. That’s all well and good, but you need to use the particular OnePlus charging cable and charger to get the benefit. If you’re like me and you travel a lot, have a billion cables, and prefer the convenience of charging both your laptop and phone with the same charger, all this Dash Charge action is kind of for naught. More to the point, people are starting to expect wireless charging from their flagship phones, and OnePlus, a company that prides itself on “only making flagships” is starting to fall behind on expectations. The right answer here is to just include both fast wired charging and wireless charging, as many of OnePlus’ competitors now do.

My experience with the OnePlus 5T extends the positive impression I’ve traditionally had of the battery life of OnePlus phones. The company makes a point of optimizing its software down to a lean and efficient state that’s not too demanding on system resources and power. The time that Samsung might spend thinking of spots to add more Bixby bloat, OnePlus uses to file away an extra layer of clutter. The 5T has impressed me with its endurance, comparing favorably to the Google Pixel 2 XL, LG V30, and HTC U11. I can’t give you a precise ranking of each of those phones — because of how varied the “typical” day’s smartphone usage is — but I can tell you that all of them will get you through a full day and usually deep into the next one on a single charge. No worries on this front.

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The best thing about the OnePlus 5T’s software is that the majority of its deviations from Google’s default Android settings are for the better. I’ve articulated a few of them already, including the more sophisticated and adjustment-rich camera software and the display enhancements. In terms of the Android UI, you can swipe down on the fingerprint reader to see your notifications, you can flip the order of your Android keys (or hide them entirely, as already mentioned), and you can double-tap the sleeping screen to activate it.

Face Unlock is the big discrete new feature in the latest software from OnePlus, using more than 100 identifiers to distinguish you from another person. (The company says it is different from the facial unlock features that have been in Android since version 4.0.) In all my testing, it never once gave a false positive of another person being able to log in to my phone with it. So that’s good. But it also let someone unlock the phone by merely flashing it at my face for a split second. That’s less good.

OnePlus warns that Face Unlock is not really a secure method to keep your phone locked down, and indeed the company only offers it for unlocking and doesn’t seek to exploit it for other things like payment authorization. In the constant struggle between convenience and security, this feature is firmly in the convenience section.

I find that Face Unlock usually works well, identifying me even in a perfectly dark room — the lock screen turns on, illuminates my face, and less than a second after that, I’m in — however it also has its struggles. In a club one night, the only way I could unlock the phone with my face was by having a friend point the flash on their phone at me. The 5T can handle the total lack of light, but it seems to be confounded by the cycling lights of an entertainment venue. Of course, unlike Apple’s “FaceID or bust” offering, the OnePlus 5T still has the fingerprint reader on its rear as a fallback biometric ID option.

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When it works, Face Unlock is stupidly fast and it combines nicely with the double-tap-to-wake gesture. I think a lot of people will use it, enjoy it, and feel like they’re losing out on nothing relative to iPhone X users with their vastly more sophisticated FaceID technology. My opinion of this tech would probably be warmer if I didn’t have to maintain a tighter grip on security than Face Unlock would allow. I think the people who find other forms of security too fiddly might well be attracted by the ease of use here. To an authorized user, a phone with Face Unlock is (almost) the same as an unlocked phone. Room for improvement definitely remains, but this isn’t just some cynical Apple-chasing gimmick.

I am also a fan of the new Parallel Apps feature that OnePlus has implemented. It lets you clone social apps so that you can run a second instance of, say, Twitter or Telegram. This is a nice convenience for anyone looking to keep private and professional messages separate. This, together with the aforementioned Reading Mode, a Gaming Mode that disables all visual notifications, an Extended Screenshot facility, and a few other tiny tweaks to how Android works makes using the OnePlus 5T feel like a better, more complete experience.

Having laid out all the things I like about OnePlus’ gentle alterations of Android, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bemoan the fact that the OnePlus 5T doesn’t run the latest Android. Instead of Android 8 Oreo, which has been officially available for more than three months, buyers of the 5T will get Android 7.1.1 Nougat. I’ve written more extensively on the subject of why this is a problem, but here it’s sufficient to say that it just doesn’t breathe confidence in me if a manufacturer isn’t able to implement a new version of the OS within the space of three months. It doesn’t bode for future updates down the line.

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The OnePlus 5T is a slightly great phone. In today’s world of superb mobile cameras, no phone can be truly great without having a great camera on board, and I don’t think the 5T has one of those. But pretty much everything else about this phone lives up to the aspiration of premium, flagship-tier quality. The 5T is a $499 phone doing admirable battle with devices sometimes twice its price. For anyone whose budget extends no further than this phone, I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

8Verge Score

Good Stuff

  • Minimalist, elegant design
  • Fits 6-inch display within the dimensions of a one-handed phone
  • Thoughtfully optimized software
  • Reading Mode

Bad Stuff

  • The main camera is still mediocre, while the selfie cam is a disaster
  • Shipping without the latest version of Android is not encouraging
  • Face Unlock grows frustratingly inconsistent in challenging light
  • Still not waterproof

Razer launches neon green Hammerhead USB-C earbuds

It’s hard to find USB-C earbuds despite so many Android phones — including Google’s Pixel 2 devices and the Razer Phone — making a switch to the new connector while getting rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack. Fortunately, there’s a new pair of USB-C buds just released called the Razer Hammerhead USB-C. They’re made to match the Razer Phone, but you can easily plug them into any other device that has a USB-C jack.

The earbuds are fitted with 10-mm drivers and acoustic chambers to deliver “deep, distortion-free bass,” according to the company.

Razer’s earbuds include an in-line remote and mic along a flat cable that should help reduce tangles. They’re also magnetic, so you can snap them together when not in use. The main problem with the earphones is the fact that they’re a garish neon green and black color, which fits with the Razer aesthetic favored by gamers and few others.

The Razer Hammerhead earbuds come with a custom carry case and are available for $79.99 from the Razer store, joining the Bluetooth and Lightning versions released earlier this year.

Germany bans smartwatches for kids and asks parents to destroy them

Germany’s telecommunication agency, the Bundesnetzagentur, has banned smartwatches for kids, and is asking parents to destroy them. According to Bleeping Computer, (via Gizmodo) the regulators have deemed smartwatches targeted at kids “prohibitive listening devices” and are asking parents to destroy any smartwatches their kids have and advising schools to pay closer attention to kids with them.

Germany is targeting the listening capabilities of smartwatches but strangely didn’t say anything about the European Consumer Organization’s (BEUC) announcement that smartwatches pose a security threat to kids’ privacy. The BEUC warned that GPS-tracking smartwatches could be hacked and attackers could track or spoof the GPS location of kids’ smartwatches.

If Europe’s crackdown on smartwatches continues, it will force manufacturers to step up their security protocols and improve the smartwatch market — which isn’t that great right now — for everyone.

In chatlogs, celebrated hacker and activist confesses countless sexual assaults

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

On a late night in March 2013, Lila* fell asleep on a hotel bed, over the covers, with her clothes still on, while her then-partner, Morgan Marquis-Boire was engrossed in a conversation with one of their friends. They were in Toronto for Cyber Dialogue, a conference organized in part by Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary group run out of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto that studies the internet and its impact on human rights.

Marquis-Boire was already a rising star in the privacy and digital rights world — a computer security hotshot working to protect vulnerable activists and whistleblowers against oppressive governments. After the summer of 2013, he would become closely identified with whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and the journalists who helped publish the Snowden documents, and he would eventually go to work for The Intercept as a technologist. In 2014, WIRED would publish a glowing profile that called him “the ex-Google hacker taking on the world’s spy agencies.” Google’s director of information security Heather Adkins described him as “in the top one percent of technical capability” of people she had hired. Ron Deibert, the director of Citizen Lab, praised him as “extraordinarily talented,” and added, “But what I very much appreciate about him is his passion for human rights.”

Marquis-Boire and the mutual friend were engaged in a high-level technical discussion, despite the fact that all three had been drinking heavily that night. Marquis-Boire had taken some pills — benzos, Lila thought, or common prescription tranquilizers. She didn’t take any. Several hours later, Lila became conscious of Marquis-Boire shaking her awake. Their friend had left. At first she thought Marquis-Boire was just rousing her so she could change her clothes and get into bed. But she tells The Verge that she was quickly disabused of the notion.

Marquis-Boire was still intoxicated, but enough hours had passed that Lila was stone-cold sober. According to Lila, as he began to initiate sex, she protested. She said stop. She said no. She even said their safeword.

At this point she’s told the story enough times that she can repeat it with a kind of brittle cheer, but her voice still quickens with anger when she gets to the end. “He ignored all of that,” she says, “while he fucked me in the ass.”

It was only much later that Lila would hear that this wasn’t the first time Marquis-Boire had forced himself on someone, or the first time he had anal sex with a woman without her consent. According to sources, he had been assaulting women for over a decade.

The Verge has corroborated six separate allegations of physical and sexual assault by Morgan Marquis-Boire, with four self-identified victims located in Marquis-Boire’s home country of New Zealand. We also spoke to others in New Zealand, including former friends of Morgan Marquis-Boire, who say that this pattern of behavior was well-known in their community.

This couldn’t be more different from how he was perceived by the wider public. Marquis-Boire was a prolific speaker at security and human rights conferences, including the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2016. He sometimes used his considerable public platform to talk about the larger social problem of violence against women, and even stated that it motivated his recent work at Citizen Lab researching “stalkerware” or “spouseware” — spyware deployed against abused partners by their abusers. (In April 2017, he told Motherboard that he thought spouseware should receive more attention because it was common and widespread, and “the victims are everyday people.”) Many of his best friends were women. He made casual, light-hearted jokes about misandry on Twitter.

In short, Marquis-Boire was supposed to be one of the good guys.

That was the Morgan Marquis-Boire that Dana* knew. Dana, a close friend of both Marquis-Boire and Lila, ran in the same San Francisco social circles. She was never in a relationship with Marquis-Boire, but they were very good friends, and his emotional support had become “a precious lifeline” to Dana. When Chloe Ann-King, a woman in Auckland, New Zealand, reached out to Dana via Facebook Messenger in September 2014 to warn her about Marquis-Boire, the ensuing conversation made her head spin. Ann-King alleged that Marquis-Boire had physically and sexually abused close friends of hers, including coercing anal sex from a woman too intoxicated to consent.

Dana knew that Morgan had substance abuse problems and that he was a “shitty boyfriend,” but struggled to accept the idea that he could be a serial rapist. But she believed the account, as difficult as that was. She just didn’t know what to do. “I wanted to believe that whatever fucked up shit he’d done in his early twenties was long over,” said Dana. “I fucking vouched for the guy. Pretty dumb, huh?” But it was Dana who would eventually become the bridge between New Zealand and the United States, bringing Morgan Marquis-Boire’s world crashing down around him.

Lila compartmentalized the assault, and she and Marquis-Boire continued dating for a year and a half. In 2015, after the relationship had ended, Lila told Dana for the first time about what had happened in the Toronto hotel room. In response, Dana recounted in broad strokes what Ann-King had told her via Facebook Messenger, but it was somewhat vague. “She gave no indication to me that she had been told Morgan had raped a bunch of women,” said Lila. In 2017, Dana showed Lila screencaps of her conversation with Ann-King and it was then that Lila learned that Ann-King had accused Marquis-Boire of anally penetrating other women without their consent. In interviews with The Verge, Dana expressed remorse that she hadn’t shown Lila the chat logs sooner.

Suddenly, Lila no longer saw what happened in Toronto as a singular, isolated incident on a drunken night, but one more data point in a decades-long pattern of sexual assault stretching from New Zealand to North America.

“The only thing I have ever wanted is for Morgan to stop hurting women,” Lila told me — a sentiment echoed by multiple women interviewed by The Verge.

The Verge spoke to several women in New Zealand who were only teenagers when they knew Marquis-Boire, and have corroborated several incidents of sexual and physical assault, including multiple accounts of forced anal sex. In 2008, Marquis-Boire left Auckland for a Google job in Zurich, Switzerland, and then later relocated to San Francisco. The women he left behind in New Zealand helplessly watched his star rise for well over a decade, unmarred by even a whisper of the wreckage he had left behind in his home country. Some of the victims buried their memories and tried to put the past behind them. Others, like Chloe Ann-King, tried to reach out to Marquis-Boire’s new friends and make this local open secret known abroad. But no one believed the women trying to blow the whistle on the man who protected whistleblowers.

Lila’s story closely echoed the stories The Verge uncovered in New Zealand. But Lila was different from these women: she, like her alleged rapist, was a hacker and a respected expert in the same field. Although Marquis-Boire’s reputation may have insulated him from accusations by other women, what Lila had to say about what happened in Toronto in 2013 would be believed.

Throughout The Verge’s investigation, sources expressed fear that Marquis-Boire, a lauded security expert, could hack them in retaliation. Corroborating electronic messages that could be used as evidence of his assault, one woman said, could not be found because he had been too careful with his operational security. One alleged victim told us that he had apologized to her, but had done it — either coincidentally or on purpose — through an ephemeral messaging app, one of the very technologies he had advocated for as an activist.

Lila, on the other hand, managed to out-maneuver him. She made him communicate with her in written electronic mediums, and when he was evasive, demanded that he describe his own behavior clearly and specifically. In the end, she was able to provide The Verge with both a chat log and a PGP signed and encrypted e-mail from Morgan Marquis-Boire. In the e-mail, he apologizes at great length for a terrible but unspecified wrong. And in the chat log, he explicitly confesses to raping and beating her in the hotel room in Toronto, and also confesses to raping multiple women in New Zealand and Australia.

“He had to have known what I was doing,” said Lila, sounding almost disgusted. Now that she had his confession in hand, she could go public if he did not take steps to stop harming women.

In early July, Lila laid down an ultimatum, one that included the requirement that he enter a rehab program and get clean. But after further conversations with Marquis-Boire, she came to the conclusion that that the scope of the assaults was far beyond anything she had imagined.

Although Lila had explicitly asked him how many women he had raped, in all of their conversations, he never gave her a precise tally. “I have drunkenly sexually assaulted or raped women – the exact number of which I am currently determining,” he admits in the chat log. In the PGP-encrypted e-mail, he never uses the word “rape,” but in referring to an “inventory of my sins,” he writes, “I don’t have a number for you yet, but it’s going to be worse than anything anyone has documented.”

Lila did not want to go public with her allegations, and was anxious to preserve her privacy. (She still expresses concern that if her identity becomes widely-known, the rape will draw unwanted attention). She told him to write a Facebook post announcing that he was going to get sober, and then made him rewrite it when it wasn’t specific enough. On July 12, Marquis-Boire posted on Facebook that his interest in alcohol had “reduced significantly,” only implying indirectly that he has quit drinking.

Morgan Marquis-Boire’s July 12 Facebook post

The Facebook post racked up over 500 likes and numerous encouraging comments, including one from Judith*, an activist who was close with both Marquis-Boire and Lila. When Lila saw the comment, she reached out to Judith via encrypted text message, explaining that there was more to the Facebook post than met the eye, and disclosing to her, for the first time, that she had been raped by Marquis-Boire.

Suddenly, Judith remembered a drunken night in 2014, when she and Marquis-Boire had gone home together. She’d drunk a little more than she should have, but she had gone home with Marquis-Boire and cuddled platonically with him a “million times” before, and felt perfectly safe. At his place, he began to snort something, and he offered her some. It wasn’t something she had done before, but she’d had “a particularly bad week” and snorted it too. He initiated sexual contact, and she consented, but then the drugs and alcohol made her black out.

When she got up in the morning, she found an anal toy in the bathroom sink. “It’s not something I would have ever consented to,” said Judith. But on the other hand, she had consented to doing a drug she’d never done before, right? And Marquis-Boire had been extremely intoxicated as well. It was just bad sex, she had thought at the time, not an assault.

But after Lila described her assault and told her about similar incidents in New Zealand, Judith began to see that night as part of a much larger and more terrifying pattern.

As the apparent enormity of his hidden abuse continued to sink in, Lila changed tactics. In late July, Lila told Marquis-Boire that she was going to petition to have him removed from his advisory positions at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. But he begged her for the chance to withdraw from Citizen Lab on his own, and to confess to the director Ron Deibert in his own words. She consented to this.

Marquis-Boire resigned from Citizen Lab in September, according to the organization. But when Lila followed up with Citizen Lab, she discovered that he had not in fact confessed to being a rapist. Deibert, Lila said, was furious when he heard the full story. He took further steps to make sure Citizen Lab was no longer working with Marquis-Boire in any capacity, either “formally or informally.”

Lila stayed quiet about what was happening, and asked the organizations she contacted to also stay quiet out of respect for her privacy. Marquis-Boire withdrew from upcoming speaking engagements. For conferences that did not publicly confirm that he had withdrawn, Lila asked her friends to call the organizers to request he be dropped. She told The Verge that she saw this as necessary to preventing future rapes. By September, she had effectively forced him out of his own sphere of influence.

In the meantime, he lashed out at both Lila and Dana for being unfair to him. In mid-August he called Dana, a call she described as “one of the most terrifying things that’s happened to me in a while.” He not only threatened suicide but also intimated that everything that was happening to him was Dana’s fault, while Dana sobbed and hyperventilated in fear. He also made vague threats towards Chloe Ann-King.

“I hadn’t told him Chloe was my contact,” said Dana.

Unlike other recent high-profile sexual assault allegations, where public disclosure has caused professional consequences, Marquis-Boire’s career was dead before news of his assaults was publicly reported.

Word of Marquis-Boire’s behavior began to circulate in the digital rights community, and soon, news of his fall from grace began to reach New Zealand. Chloe Ann-King began to watch for indications that he had been removed from the high-profile institutions he was affiliated with. On October 12, Chloe Ann-King tweeted to thank The Intercept for removing Morgan Marquis-Boire from their staff page, saying, “he raped two women I know.” In subsequent tweets, she mentioned that within the insular goth community of Auckland, New Zealand, he was known as “goth Morgan the rapist.”

First Look Media, The Intercept’s parent company, said it never received any reports of sexual misconduct by Marquis-Boire, either internally or, as was the case at Citizen Lab and other organizations, from an external source like Lila. First Look Media said that Marquis-Boire had actually left his position in September, but the update to the website had been slow in coming. But Ann-King’s public denunciation set off a chain effect anyways, when numerous reporters, including reporters at The Verge, contacted both her and the organizations that Marquis-Boire had been involved with.

On October 13, Citizen Lab released a statement explaining that they had definitively cut ties with Marquis-Boire after hearing from Lila — who is not identified in the statement, but has identified herself to The Verge — that she had been raped.

“I have expressed a desire to try to atone for my actions and I have started trying, starting with figure exactly everything that I need to atone for,” Marquis-Boire told Lila in the chat log from early July. He said he had various thoughts in “early stages,” that would involve flying back to New Zealand, to speak with people face-to-face.

“You will also have to go to Australia,” Lila replied.

“Makes sense,” he said. “I thought I would start with the greatest concentration.”

The Verge attempted to reach Morgan Marquis-Boire, but he did not reply to our requests for comment. As far as we are aware, he has not made any plans to return to New Zealand. In October, an ex-girlfriend in contact with him told us that he was thinking of going to the UK to get away from the “stress” of the situation.

Lila never planned on going public with her story. But his reluctance to take further concrete steps to make things right, despite the contrition he expressed, has forced her to take more drastic action, she says.

“I emphasized how important it was for him to stop doing damage,” she said to The Verge. “Before I went to anyone else, I wanted to give him the opportunity to stop. He spent a lot of time talking to me about how he wanted to get better, how he wanted to change, but he also tried to weasel out of any responsibility for what he did to other women. In the end he was not ready to face what he had done. And in the end, that is why I am doing this.”

Additional reporting by Russell Brandom and Laura Hudson.

The perfect holiday present: a kids’ book that teaches rocket science

To many, rocket science may seem like an impenetrable concept that’s just too difficult to understand, but a new book argues otherwise, aiming to break down the basic concepts behind spaceflight — to children.

The new book is appropriately titled Rocket Science, and it was written by Andrew Rader, an aerospace engineer at SpaceX, as well as an avid author and game designer. The story is complete with easy-to-follow descriptions and graphics of space travel, explaining what is needed to make rocket engines ignite, for instance, as well as how space vehicles explore our Solar System. The idea behind the book, Rader says, is to show kids that this type of science isn’t unreachable.

“The way things work in space is really just based on physics,” Rader tells The Verge. “Understanding how things work helps to keep kids interested and gives them the idea they can do it themselves.”

The book starts off with the basics: how rockets work and why they’re designed the way that they are. Rader also delves into the concept of rocket staging — the idea of stacking rockets on top of each other and then breaking them apart during launch to save on weight. His book also explains how rocket reusability works, too, showing how vehicles like SpaceX and Blue Origin’s rockets land after takeoff. “Because you shed that stuff during flight, it makes sense to get it back,” says Rader.

Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer

The second half of the book focuses on planetary exploration, detailing many of the different missions that have visited other worlds in our Solar System. It also delves into the various orbits spacecraft can take around Earth, as well as the paths vehicles travel to reach other planets.

Rader has written two previous children’s books on space before this one. His other stories featured animal characters going on missions and were mostly targeted toward younger kids, between the ages of five and six. Rader says this book is targeted to a slightly older crowd, between six and 10, in order to keep up with the readers of his other books as they got older.

“We wanted to catch that same group as they got older and keep them on that trajectory,” says Rader. “Little kids love space and they naturally are interested in it, but older kids, they lose interest between the ages of six and 10, and eventually by 11 or 12 they don’t think space is cool anymore. So we wanted to keep interest going in that critical time period.”

The titles of Rader’s previous books
Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer

But it’s not just kids that Rader hopes to reach. He thinks adults could benefit from the book, too. “We had a number of people read it who had no science background at all and made significant changes based on that,” he says.

To fund the book’s publication, Rader launched a Kickstarter campaign, which has already exceeded its target goal of $15,000. The book has already been sent off to print and once the campaign officially ends in the next couple of weeks, he plans to prepare shipments so that backers get their books by Christmas. So there’s still plenty of time to snag a book for the holidays.

Check out a few graphics from “Rocket Science” below:

The basics of how rockets work.
Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer
Explaining a star’s habitable zone, the place where temperatures are just right for liquid water to exist.
Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer
How we send vehicles to Mars.
Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer
The different parts of a rocket.
Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer
How one might land a rocket.
Image: Andrew Rader/Galen Frazer

How Amazon could create a nightmare future for filmmaking

Earlier this week, Amazon Studios revealed it was planning a prequel series to Lord of the Rings, a timid choice that passed over fresh fantasy literature in favor of a well-established and ever-expanding franchise. My colleague Andrew Liptak put forward an excellent argument for bringing new, lesser-known work into the spotlight. But since the announcement, I’ve realized that a company as powerful as Amazon could take that good advice to a level that’s downright dystopian.

Amazon has built a stable of services touching just about every part of the entertainment industry, from film and game development to ebook publishing and video streaming. It’s also built a retail empire on cheap piecemeal labor, free material generated by users, and an arcane system designed to connect people with things they want at the absolute maximum level of efficiency. So it’s not hard to imagine it — or a similarly large competitor — building a miniature film industry that looks a lot like an automated marketplace.

In Amazon’s case, the basic pieces exist already. Its Kindle Direct Publishing service would add an automatic, opt-out film or TV license — including the option for specific stipulations, like no R-rated adaptations or no character whitewashing. The synopsis would go to Amazon Studios, where aspiring directors or screenwriters could lease the rights for a production. They’d submit the final result to Amazon Studios, where a moderation team could approve it for Amazon Video.

This doesn’t actually sound bad. It combines ideas that are already in use on other web platforms — the fiction site Wattpad helps sell popular stories to studios, for example, and YouTube lets music labels automatically collect royalties from people using their songs. Ideally, the system encourages directors outside the existing film industry to build on the ideas of authors outside the bestseller lists, and give their work a place in a major streaming library. If a project is popular enough, a traditional studio could pick it up for wider release with a bigger budget, the way web series can become TV shows.

But the bigger platforms get, the scarier the idea becomes. Amazon has tremendous clout in the publishing industry, and a near-monopolistic version could make it very difficult for authors to refuse the company’s deal. It could also contractually make filmmakers’ work permanently exclusive to Amazon Video. Scammers and trolls would find ways to game a massive semi-automated catalog, just as they game Amazon’s retail marketplace. If Amazon keeps ultimate control over adaptation rights, it could even let studios pull a successful project out from under its independent creators, replacing them with a “safer,” better-known cast and crew.

And the same aversion to new work could creep into the process over time. Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, for instance, currently lets authors write tie-in stories for existing book series. Throw it (or a similar program) into the mix, you could end up with a franchise ouroboros: writers eternally churning out Amazon fan fiction for their favorite Amazon TV series, and directors processing it into spinoff after spinoff. To make things worse, it’s easier to get away with telling “fan writers” that they’re privileged simply to have their material picked up for a project, and they shouldn’t expect payment as well.

Entertainment is already being transformed by a combination of far-reaching platforms and an endless supply of free creative labor. This nightmare scenario is just the most elegantly Darwinian incarnation. It’s certainly not inevitable: even beyond the established entertainment industry, there’s a history of creative people designing systems that offer havens from exploitative platforms. When now-failed commercial fan fiction site FanLib angered a group of writers with its restrictive terms, they created Archive of our Own, a remarkably well-designed nonprofit option. The Creative Commons copyright system isn’t a discrete “platform,” but it’s a framework that lets artists operate outside the traditional copyright system without giving up all rights to their work.

Even so, if we’re talking about epic struggles for the fate of fantasy worlds, it’s worth keeping an eye on the powers that are shaping our own.

Forget the Roadster and the Semi — Tesla’s fate still hinges on the Model 3

There was a lot of pomp and circumstance at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters for the big Tesla Semi truck unveiling. There was even a surprise cameo from the ghost of Tesla’s Christmas past: the second generation of the Roadster. But at no point did CEO Elon Musk mention the car on which the fate of his entire company still hinges: the Model 3.

It’s not totally shocking. After all, the Model 3 had its own party earlier this year. But since then, Tesla’s first high-volume, mass-market vehicle has hit a number of snags.

When Musk launched the Model 3 in July, the company was anticipating a production rate of 20,000 cars a month by the end of December. In the last quarter, though, Tesla produced only 260 Model 3s — about three cars a day. That’s well behind a normal pace of about one car per minute. Earlier this month, Tesla pushed back its target for volume production on the Model 3 — widely seen as crucial to the company’s long-term future — by about three months to fix production bottlenecks.

In all likelihood, the unveiling of the Semi truck and the Roadster was meant to achieve two outcomes: distract investors and Wall Street analysts from the Model 3’s production woes, while also recapturing some of the excitement and magic that helped propel Tesla to its current heights as one of the most valuable automakers in the US.

“I do feel like the company needed to generate a little bit of excitement,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis at Edmunds. “[Musk] needed a shiny new object to wave in front of everyone’s faces.”

Photo: Tesla

Some analysts feared that the truck and the Roadster would prove to be an expensive distraction for the company, which has never posted a profit and currently describes itself as in “production hell” trying to get the Model 3 out the door. Production of the truck and the sports car are aimed at 2019 and 2020 releases, respectively.

Tesla spent $1.1 billion on its auto business in the most recent quarter, and it expects expenses of $1 billion in the current one. The company had about $3.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents as of September 30th. At the current cash-burn rate, Tesla would likely be down to about $1 billion in cash by the end of the first quarter of 2018. That’s not good, and the potential outcome of such an event helps explain the timing of the Roadster’s reveal.

“I feel there is a combination of throwing out a bright, shiny object for the media and fans to focus on and then using that as yet another way to raise capital,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst for Navigant. “Tesla is burning cash at an alarming rate and another share sale or sale of more junk bonds would be problematic.”

At the event, Musk said interested buyers could reserve a Tesla Roadster now, with a $50,000 deposit on its estimated $200,000 base price, or pick up one of the 1,000 more powerful Founders Series cars by paying the full $250,000 now. It was very clearly framed as a way for Tesla to raise a lot of money for its short-term commitments. If the company finds a thousand takers for the Founder’s series Roadsters, that’s $250 million added to Tesla’s cash balance.

“Essentially doing a Kickstarter for these cars strikes me as a cynical move by a company that is struggling to come to grips with the basics of mass manufacturing and making a profit,” Abuelsamid said. “That said, no one is holding a gun to anyone’s head and they are free to do spend their wealth however they please. There are many true believers beyond Elon himself and they want to keep funding the dream.”

For all the breathless coverage it seems to get (guilty!), it’s easy to forget how small Tesla’s impact on the automotive world really is. In the five years since Tesla started producing its Model S, the company has sold about 200,000 cars. The US has more than 250 million passenger cars on the road, making the impact of this, roughly, close to zero. Which is not to say that Tesla’s mission to liberate us from our addiction to fossil fuels isn’t noble. And the company’s ability to steer most of its competitors toward their own electrification plans is incredibly powerful and has helped solidify Tesla as a leader in sustainable transportation.

But if the company can’t get its shit together and start delivering the Model 3 in high volume, all of its efforts could be for naught. If the Model 3 fails to catch fire, demand for EVs could drop overall. States may start to reconsider tax credits and other incentives used to lure consumers to consider electric transportation. Plans to build more charging stations so people can assume a certain level of reliability may fall apart. The country could retreat further from the environmental standards and the oil and gas industry would sink its claws deeper into our institutions.

Okay, that all sounded bad. I’m not saying the future of sustainability relies on the Model 3. But in all honesty, maybe it does.

Y Combinator has quietly cut ties with Peter Thiel

Startup accelerator Y Combinator has parted ways with Peter Thiel, where he served as a part-time adviser since 2015. The company did not specify why the two have cut ties; a short statement at the top of a Y Combinator blog post introducing and welcoming Thiel two years ago reads “Peter Thiel is no longer affiliated with Y Combinator.”

The news comes a little over a year after Y Combinator was criticized for keeping Thiel on as an adviser following the VC’s public support of then-presidental candidate Donald Trump. At the time, Y Combinator president Sam Altman defended keeping Thiel onboard, tweeting that he was “not going to fire someone for supporting a major party nominee,” and that although they disagree politically, “Diversity of opinion is painful but critical to the health of a democratic society.”

Neither Thiel nor Y Combinator has responded to the press for comment, though Buzzfeedreports that the part-time adviser program that Thiel had been a part of was shut down last year. At the time Thiel joined Y Combinator, other part-time advisers included Groupon’s Andrew Mason, Stripe’s Patrick Collison, and Homejoy’s Adora Cheung.

One of gaming’s musical maestros just released his first solo album

Hirokazu Tanaka has a history most game composers can only dream of. As a young sound designer working at Nintendo in the 1980s, he crafted the soundtracks to classics like Metroid, Earthbound, Dr. Mario, and Tetris. Later on, he would write songs for the original Pokémon anime. Now, a few decades later, he’s releasing his first proper solo album, a collection called Django that fuses chiptunes with techno and reggae.

Tanaka — who is releasing the album under his stage name “Chip Tanaka” — describes the new collection as “the culmination of my harder side, the kind of game music you hear in EarthBoundʼs battle tracks.” The 13 songs jump around from genre to genre. The opening track, “Ringing Dub,” starts out as a thumping electronic track, before easing in some 8-bit bloops and a more breezy reggae sound. For the most part, the album is lighthearted; it can be loud and powerful, but it never feels dark or depressing. It’s part modern pop, part tribute to classic video games.

Keiji YamagishiKeiji YamagishiImage: Brave Wave

“Even 30 years later, it’s still something that’s quite special to me.” Keiji Yamagishi on composing the original Ninja Gaiden

The infusion of reggae shouldn’t be too surprising for Tanaka’s fans: the genre has been a steady influence on him throughout his career. At live shows he’s been known to mash up dub sounds with game classics like Balloon Fight. “During my 20s and 30s, I was a total reggae-head,” he told The Japan Times. “I had to cut down after a while, as I realized if I was only listening to reggae, I wouldn’t be able to make other kinds of music.”

With Django, Tanaka joins a growing list of Japanese game composers branching out into solo work. In 2015 Ninja Gaiden composer Keiji Yamagishi released the first half of his chiptune odyssey Retro-active, while Red Bull has hosted an ongoing radio series called “Diggin’ in the Carts” about Japanese game music, which included the launch of a new album this week. Meanwhile, Mega Man composer Manami Matsumae is also in the midst of working on her first solo album.

What these albums have in common is that they set these musicians free from the often restrictive world of game development. Tanaka has said that making music at Nintendo was more like a typical job than an artistic endeavor. With Django, he’s finally showing exactly what he’s capable of.

You can check out Django now on Bandcamp and iTunes.

Polaroid wants millions in royalty from Fujifilm for copying its trademarked white border film

Until this fall, Polaroid had not made instant cameras and film in about a decade and has instead branched out to licensing its name to other electronic products like televisions, tablets, and even drones. But despite all that, Polaroid is still trying to keep its brand synonymous with the square instant film look. So much so that it’s demanding millions of dollars in royalty payments from Fujifilm, which found continued success with its Instax line after Polaroid exited the instant photography industry in 2008.

This week, Fujifilm filed a formal complaint to a US District Court in New York, claiming that PLR IP, the brand licensor for Polaroid instant cameras, sent the company multiple letters requesting Fujifilm either pay millions in annual royality payments or remove its line of square-shaped Instax film from market. Previously, Fujifilm only sold instant film that were rectangular, with sizes ranging from a small postcard to a business card.

In the letter sent to Fujifilm, Polaroid claims that it owns the trademark to “square within a square” effect and that Fujifilm’s new line of film is “essentially identical” in terms of shape and border margins. Fujifilm has responded by saying that Polaroid is attempting to gain revenue from what remains of the company’s intellectual property portfolio after failing to profit from its own product sales.

The back and forth has been going on for months between the two companies since January, with things finally headed to court now that Fujifilm has submitted a complaint. Fujifilm is hoping the court will rule that its square Instax film do not violate Polaroid’s IP and cancel Polaroid’s trademarks.

Fujifilm isn’t the only company that has continued to product instant film since Polaroid dropped out of the business. After that announcement in 2008, a company called The Impossible Project was formed to continue manufacturing instant film (most of which were square-shaped) only for one of the investors to buy a huge stake in Polaroid and renaming the company Polaroid Originals in September 2017. It is remains unrelated to Polaroid Corporations.