VW is building an electric racecar to try and break a record

Intent on becoming a major producer of electric vehicles in the next decade, Volkswagen is already plotting to show off its abilities in the field by trying to break a racing record.

VW said on Thursday that it will build an electric racecar with the hopes of besting the record time for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2018 near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The all-wheel drive vehicle is being developed by Volkswagen Motorsport in Germany, the first time the company’s racing division has produced an electric vehicle. It will also mark the first time in 31 years VW has competed in the hill climb.

“The Pikes Peak hill climb is one of the world’s most renowned car races,” Dr. Frank Welsch, VW board member responsible for development, said Thursday in a news release. “It poses an enormous challenge and is therefore perfectly suited to proving the capabilities of upcoming technologies.”

Welsch said lessons learned through the Pikes Peak program and race will be incorporated into the electric vehicles that are eventually sold by all VW brands. That includes a revival of the iconic Microbus as an EV passenger and commercial van in 2022 and a production EV crossover in 2020.

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has been held annually since 1916 in the Rocky Mountains. The race course is 12.4 miles long, climbing 4,700 feet to the summit at just over 14,000 feet above sea level. The current Pikes Peak hill climb record for a modified electric vehicle was set in 2016 by an e0 PP100 driven by Rhys Millen, completing the run in eight minutes and 57.118 seconds. A Tesla Model S set the record for a production car the same year, at 11 minutes and 48.264 seconds.

The 2018 race will be held on June 24th.

Watch this autonomous bulldozer excavate dirt without a human operator

We have self-driving cars, self-driving trucks, self-driving boats, and self-driving buses, so it was only a matter of time before we got self-driving bulldozers.

Built Robotics is a new company coming out of stealth today that aims to disrupt the $130 billion excavation industry with its fleet of autonomous earth movers. Rather than sit in the dusty cab all day, operators can program the coordinates for the size hole that needs digging, then stand off to the side and watch the vehicle do all the work. The startup just raised $15 million to hire engineers and get the product to market.

And much like the self-driving vehicles operated by companies like Waymo and GM, these robot bulldozers and back hoes use sensors like LIDAR and GPS to “see” the world around them. But unlike any of the autonomous cars driving around California or Arizona these days, these heavy movers use specially designed sensors to withstand the massive amounts of vibrations involved in excavation.

Built Robotics is headquartered on almost an entire acre of dirt-filled construction space in a nondescript, fenced-off area in the Dogpatch on the east side of San Francisco, where the robotic construction equipment is refined and tested. Noah Ready-Campbell, CEO and founder, was coming off of several years at Google and then eBay when he decided to leverage his early years watching his contractor father on construction sites into a new business.

“I would spend most summers working for him, painting, scrapping, digging up trash,” Ready-Campbell says. “At the time I hated it, and thought, ‘I’m never going to do this.’”

And in some sense, he still won’t be because his robot bulldozers will be doing all the digging and scrapping. And to those who are concerned about jobs that could be lost to automation, his main argument is safety and productivity. Fatal injuries among construction and extraction occupations rose by 2 percent to 924 cases in 2015, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics — the highest level since 2008. Meanwhile, 70 percent of construction firms lack skilled workers, potentially stalling commercial and home building projects.

“It can be boring, too,” Ready-Campbell says. “It’s monotonous work. There are safety issues. It’s easy to zone out, make mistakes, and over excavate a site… I’ve talked to a lot of operators and owners, and most say this is great.”

Self-driving cars are programed to be accurate down to the centimeter, but with autonomous construction equipment, operating within a confined, geofenced space without variables like pedestrians and bicyclists, the software that powers the machines can be much less precise. “We actually need [our machinery] to excavate with dirt and collide with the environment and do its job,” Ready-Campbell says. “You’d never want a self-driving car to collide with its environment.”

His contractor father still took a little convincing. “When I first told dad, he reacted pretty negatively. He was like, ‘Why do you want to steal these guys’ jobs?’” Ready-Campbell says. But after watching the machines in operation, “He’s come around on it.”

Saber is a rugged portable battery that can fully charge a laptop twice

A relatively new commercial battery company with expats from Tesla, SpaceX, Amazon, and Faraday Future wants to put an end to searching for wall outlets with a new power brick called Saber. Saber is a 2.2-pound portable lithium-ion battery with 86 watt-hours of power (roughly 23,000mAh), meaning it can fully charge a laptop twice, a phone up to 10 times, and can easily handle things like drone or DSLR batteries. It’s available for preorder starting today for $199, and will retail for $299 starting in November.

The Saber battery, which is about the size and shape of a water bottle, has outlets on each end of its rectangular form. On one side there’s a USB Type-C and two regular USB ports (one 2.1A/10.5W, one 1A/5W). On the other is a variable AC outlet with a universal port, meaning you can plug into this just like you were plugging into a regular wall outlet. The whole thing charges back up in two hours. And it is just under the limit on capacity to still be allowed on a plane.

Romeo Power is also aiming to have it rated IP67 dust and waterproof, though the company admitted it hasn’t finished certification yet. But it’s supposed to be very rugged; the company says Saber has survived at least dozens of serious drops onto concrete with little to no damage.

Of course, it’s 2017, so Saber’s also got Bluetooth. It helps the battery connect to a smartphone app, which can show how much juice is left, and can send you a notification when things are fully charged (including the battery itself).

Romeo Power, which is based in Los Angeles, has until now been publicly focused on commercial partnerships for larger battery systems. It buys batteries from the biggest makers (like LG or Panasonic) and repackages them into systems that can be used in everything from drones and robotics, to golf carts and electric vehicles. And the team thinks that knowledge can go a long way to making consumer batteries like Saber better, but also safer.

Dion Isselhardt, Romeo’s chief product officer, says the team decided not to use vents to keep the battery cool, since they could let in moisture and dust. Instead, he says the company’s knowledge of material science, thermal management, and the chemistry of the cells being used will keep everything in check. “If something comes up, it’ll do the proper things.” (The team wouldn’t go into exact detail, but implied that it dissipates some heat out each end cap to keep things cool.)

If something goes really wrong, which it shouldn’t, Isselhardt says there are two software and two hardware “gates” that should prevent the Saber from overheating. The battery has a built-in inverter, the battery management system’s software will also keep things in check, and then if those should fail, he says, there are two resistors that will pop to stop any thermal runaways. “These have a lot of energy stored in them, and you need to build them properly so they’re safe for users to use,” Isselhardt says.

“A lot of the principles that go into the design of a [bigger] battery pack, like the different materials, the lightweightedness, the energy density, the battery management system… it really translates from one product to the other quite well,” CEO Mike Patterson says. “And this is the reason we formed this company, for this particular product.”

Tragedy Girls is a lazy attempt at horror satire, redeemed only by how weird it is

This fall, The Verge is making a choice. The choice is fear! We’ve decided to embrace the season by taking in as many new horror movies as possible and reporting back on which ones are worth your time. We’re calling this series Hold My Hand, as we look at films you might want to watch with a supportive viewing partner. Get comfortable, put the kettle on, check the closet for ghosts, then find a hand to squeeze until the bones pop.

Sadie and McKayla do everything together: homework, prom, cheerleading practice, after-school smoothies, dissing ex-boyfriends, murdering some people to get more followers on their joint Twitter account, etc. They tweet together from the handle @tragedygirls, posing as sweet and innocent — but simultaneously knowledgable and calm — bystanders of the gore plaguing their hometown.

When we meet them, they’re bopping around to Cults’ “Always Forever” and kidnapping a serial killer. Their hope is that he’ll teach them his methods, and that they can blame a rash of murders they’re planning on him if it ever comes down to it. He sets the tone of the movie, struggling against the ropes on his wrists and hissing a number of threats too vulgar to repeat, including, and this is one of his more mild ideas, “I’m gonna skull-fuck your severed heads while your parents watch.” They find him hilarious and charming, telling him, “We’re your biggest fans, dude.” Then they lock him in a warehouse on the outskirts of town and bounce home to join their parents for dinner.

Tragedy Girls is a weak piece of satire, but it is exactly this weird for 96 minutes. If your ideal Halloween-time film is “perfect rom-com length, splash of glitter, ocean of blood, no real reason to exist,” then this could be a solid option for you. It also features two extremely good prom dresses and a cameo from The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson, who plays an odd combination of biker dude, “free love” hippie guy, and “hi, I’m Josh Hutcherson, you might know me from The Hunger Games.”

Is it scary?

That depends — do you live near a high school? Tragedy Girls is gory, and there’s one scene in a high school wood shop classroom that made me feel a little weak behind the knees and elbows and eye sockets. The movie is meant as a dark comedy, and it succeeds at being, if not scary, then at least utterly jarring once every five minutes. Though, for me, the “can you believe two pretty teen girls are saying this stuff?” shtick got a little bit old after the first 20 minutes. Are you scared of young women in general? Maybe this movie will be scary to you, in that case.

Will I care about the characters?

No. Sadie (Deadpool’sBrianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) are basically undifferentiable characters with the same sense of humor and the same lust for blood. There’s not much else to say about them beyond… they have really strong stomachs?

The only possible exception is the girls’ video editor Jordan (The Hunger Games’ Jack Quaid), who is also the sheriff’s son. He has a crippling crush on Sadie, who’s nice-ish to him even while making him complicit in a bunch of murders. He’s not especially interesting and I understand why Sadie is not sold on the idea of a romance with such a vanilla person, but I relate to his unfortunate position of being emotionally obsessed with a sociopath and was therefore able to feel some sympathy for him. He’s just your typical teen, editing videos of murder for the girl he loves, quietly convincing himself that she is stumbling upon all these murders in shock and is not involved in them in any way. A classic human experience!

tragedy girlstragedy girlsImage: Gunpowder & Sky

Is it visually impressive?

Tragedy Girls looks exactly like a Disney Channel movie about high school, except you have to watch and hear a knife miss its mark and get lodged in a breast bone three times in a row. I wouldn’t call it impressive, although there are some loopy, kaleidoscope moments near the Carrie-inspired climax that seem like a callback to that movie’s famous dance sequence. But if a hat-tip to Carrie is what you’re in the mood for, you only have dozens of other options — maybe Never Been Kissed or Superstar would be more fun?

What’s lurking beneath the surface?

Tragedy Girls is supposed to be satire of a subculture of young women trying to get famous online. Sadie and McKayla are obsessed with their follower counts and retweets (although the one time they show a “retweet” it’s actually a mention), and they’ll do anything to get on TV. It’s hard to imagine anything less in need of a feature-length satirization than the sentiment that young women are narcissistic and grossly dedicated to hollow benchmarks of success and admiration.

Tragedy Girls would be basically pointless if it weren’t also so deeply weird. There are a handful of great throwaway lines like “To make an omelette, you have to kill some ex-boyfriends,” and “How did that prissy bitch get so good at wood shop?” and McKayla’s weight room spat with local hero Big Al (Craig Robinson) is strange enough to be actually funny. Their neon murder masks are a cool aesthetic touch, though the way our teen murderers are shot in them —with the lens looking up from the floor — gives off the impression that the filmmakers watched Spring Breakers and thought, “What if we did that, but emptier?”

At least when Ashley Benson stood over a dead body in a hot-pink ski mask (with a unicorn appliqué!) she had spent two hours turning into a murderer, and the driving force was a confluence of growing up vain, bored, and class envious in a culture obsessed with beauty and violence. Her nihilistic hedonism made sense in 2012, two months before the proposed end of the world, and though her femininity was certainly crucial to the events of the film, it wasn’t portrayed as her first and biggest crime.

The girls in Tragedy Girls have an entirely stupid murder-team-origin-story that’s revealed only in the film’s final minutes. But their obsession with social media fame is never explained, implying that it doesn’t have to be — girls just are this way. At one point, when the Sadie and McKayla are feigning terror that the town serial killer will come for them next, someone suggests that they stop posting their locations online. “I’d rather die,” Sadie exclaims, in the only true burst of emotion she shows during the entire film. Suit yourself, but I prefer not to spend my hours at the movies squirming against the instinct to hiss “Okay, I get it, Dad” at whoever’s nearby.

tragedy girlstragedy girlsImage: Gunpowder & Sky

And if you’re going to make a movie about teen girls without moral compasses, the least you can do is include a good dance number.

How can I watch it?

Tragedy Girls opens in limited release on October 20th.

Is it a hand-holding movie?

As the column is called Hold My Hand, I suppose this is the only metric that really matters. Yes, Tragedy Girls is a hand-holding movie. You can hold a hand — very lightly — to reassure its owner that you aren’t going to remove it from their body with a circular saw. Go ahead and hold a hand as a nice way to say “I am not deceiving you. I like you and I haven’t implicated you in any major crimes. Here we are: at the movies, having an okay time, refraining from tweeting.” Hold a hand, smile, drop your phone into a 32-ounce Pepsi, tell someone “I’m your biggest fan, dude.”

August’s third-generation smart lock is uncomplicated and cheap

Much like Nest did a few weeks ago with its Thermostat E, August has begun offering a cheaper version of its flagship product with a fresh design. August’s new third-generation Smart Lock has moved away from the circular design that it was known for (which can still be found on the Smart Lock Pro) to a more elongated look with a physical turn key.

The first thing you’ll notice (or won’t) about the new Smart Lock is that it won’t confound your friends or family members who haven’t seen a smart lock before. It looks rather normal, and in the few weeks I’ve been using it, no one has even mentioned it. That’s a drastic shift from the circular design, which was a talking point every time someone laid eyes on it.

But that’s what smart home products should do: blend in with your home without calling attention to themselves. It took three generations, but August has finally accomplished that.

Photo: August

The Smart Lock has been pretty much flawless for me. I’ve locked myself out of my house twice and was able to get back in, thanks to the fact that the app connects to the Smart Lock over Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi. That made me reconsider which smart device one should start building their smart home with. In my experience, most people start with light bulbs or a smart speaker, but maybe we should start with a smart lock? It can save you in a pinch, especially if you get locked out late at night, and help avoid a costly call to a locksmith (or an embarrassing one to your landlord).

As usual with August products, the installation was pretty simple: you don’t have to swap out your deadbolt so you can keep your keys, and the entire process took about 15 minutes. Although Nest went with the strategy of building the same product with different materials at a cheaper price with its Thermostat E, August’s new Smart Lock is lacking a number of features compared to the Smart Lock Pro.

There’s no Z-Wave Plus or Apple HomeKit support, and without the $79 August Connect bridge, you can’t use Alexa or Google Assistant, or remotely control your lock away from your home either. Those are notable missing features, but it makes the price gap — $279 for the Pro and $149 for the standard Smart Lock — a bit more understandable, and August won’t cannibalize its product line like Nest may have done.

Photo: August

You can still use the Auto-Unlock features, track who is coming and going, and send guest keys to visitors for easy access. It also comes with DoorSense, which will alert you if your door is unlocked, and double the battery life of its predecessor. But if you want to use voice controls, you’ll need the Connect bridge or the Smart Lock Pro.

So which August Smart Lock should you buy? If your main desire is to be able to unlock or lock your door with your voice, or you have a smart home system based on Z-Wave Plus, you should probably get the Pro. But if you just want to keep from getting locked out and you’re willing to live with people who will be confused or irritated by the round design of the Pro, the third-generation Smart Lock is probably the best choice. You get the smart features without drastic aesthetic changes, and that should be the goal for every smart device right now. It’s no wonder August just got bought by the biggest lock maker in the world.

The August Smart Lock is available in silver and dark gray for $149 from August.com and on Amazon.

Pokémon Go’s Halloween update introduces new monsters from Ruby and Sapphire

Pokémon Go is getting a new batch of monsters to collect, and it starts this Halloween. As part of its in-game event, which kicks off on October 20th, Pokémon Go will introduce a handful of new creatures, including Sableye, Banette, and what developer Niantic describes as “a few other ghost-type pokémon.” But the Halloween event is just the start. The developer says that the wave of additions will continue starting in December, with brand-new creatures pulled from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire.

The Halloween event, which ends on November 2nd, will also include a handful of other new, temporary additions. Certain pokémon, particularly ghosts like Gastly, will be more abundant, and you’ll be able to catch a Pikachu wearing a witch’s hat. You’ll also be able to get a Mimikyu-themed hat to dress up your trainer.

The news comes a year after Pokémon Go introduced in-game events with its first Halloween celebration. Since then, the augmented reality game has continued to grow and expand in an attempt to keep players coming back. In the summer Niantic debuted new co-operative raids, and the developer has also added hard-to-catch legendary pokémon like Mewtwo to the game.

Other long-promised features are also still in the works, according to the studio. Back in July Niantic boss John Hanke told The Verge that there are “things we still want to have, like player-versus-player and trading.”

Pixel vs. Pixel 2: the five biggest changes

It’s no secret around these parts that I’ve been deeply enamored with Google’s Pixel. That Android smartphone came almost out of nowhere last year to claim the crown of best mobile camera, and in the process it swept me up as a loyal fan as well. Sure, Google had previously dabbled in the mobile hardware business with its Nexus line, but the first Pixel phones were immediately recognizable as much more serious business. Over the past week I’ve been getting to grips with the Pixel’s successor, the Pixel 2 — both of them in their “regular” 5-inch versions — and trying to decide if enough has changed to merit spending a fresh $650 on the newer model.

At first glance, the two phones appear to be almost identical. The screen size is the same, the Pixel 2 is marginally taller, a tiny bit wider, and slightly thinner than the Pixel, but the overall sense of the two phones’ dimensions is the same. They even weigh the same. And I could only tell you about the small measurement differences because I looked them up. Power button, volume rocker, camera lens, and fingerprint sensor all remain in the same positions on the Pixel 2 as on the Pixel. And yes, the bezels are still vast slabs framing the display’s top and bottom. You’d be forgiven for being underwhelmed, but I’m here to tell you that plenty has actually changed. And the one word to tie it all together is “refinement.”

The design

Looking identical isn’t the same as being identical. In spite of all the similarities between these two phones, the new Pixel 2 feels superior to the older model. Both use an aluminum exterior, but the matte coating that Google has applied to the Pixel 2 is grippier and more pleasant to the touch. The Pixel tends to grow cold and unfriendly in these autumnal months, but the Pixel 2 has a more consistent surface temperature to go with its less metallic finish.

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

The massive chamfer that runs all along the rear edge of the 2016 Pixel has simply disappeared from the more straight-line Pixel 2. I like this change. The blockier shape and rougher texture of the Pixel 2 allow me to handle it with greater assurance than the original. It’s also nice to see the glass window on the back of the device has been shrunken down and moved above the fingerprint sensor. That doesn’t really alter the phone’s ergonomics, but it does mean I feel less glass and more metal in my hand, and it also reduces the area exposed to scratches and scuffs. I’ve been through more than one Google Pixel device, and each of them has scratched horribly on that glass area. After a week of constant use, the new one isn’t exhibiting any cosmetic flaws at all.

One of the most requested design features, from all mobile manufacturers, is water resistance, and Google has heeded the call by making the Pixel 2 water-resistant. I never had water ingress problems with the original Pixel, but a touch of waterproofing is the sort of thing you don’t really appreciate until you really, really need it.

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

If you want a downside to the new design, it’s the camera lens protrusion. I can’t really call it a bump, because it’s such a tiny extension from the phone’s body, but the annoyance it causes is that dust gathers really easily around it. It’s almost like it’s magnetized to attract little particles. This tarnishes an otherwise refined, utilitarian look.

The speakers

I know what you’re thinking. How could I comment on the design without addressing the elephant-sized bezels in the room? Well, before you rush to judge Google for sticking with the large frames around its Pixel 2 display, I’d say it’s essential for you to hear the device’s speakers first. The front-firing stereo pair of speakers is a delight. 2017 hasn’t been a rich year for excellent speakers, as companies have increasingly prioritized thinner display bezels and other minimalist design optimizations, but Google is really delivering some wonderful sound with speakers on the Pixel 2.

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

The way I see it, the original Pixel had big bezels, but no excuse for them. Loudspeaker output from that phone has only ever been so-so: nothing particularly great, nothing particularly offensive. The Pixel 2 keeps the bezels, but now it makes them home to beautiful audio. I can live with that trade-off. And lest you think Google could have kept the speakers while shrinking the bezels, I encourage you to take a look at the display the company used in the Pixel 2 XL, which is a compromised mess. I’d rather have this display, which has the same resolution as on the original Pixel, and its bigger bezels over another that forces me to accept inferior quality.

The camera

I was skeptical about what Google could do to improve on the Pixel’s camera, but the Mountain View company has made a litany of incremental improvements that really make the new camera even better. First among them is the addition of optical image stabilization. It’s not a feature that’s strictly necessary for the way Google takes photos — The Pixels shoot a series of up to 10 fast exposures and then stack them for a cleaner, brighter image with the help of some algorithmic wizardry — but it still helps to minimize motion blur from an unsteady hand. The Pixel 2’s aperture has also been opened wider, now at f/1.8, which should make up for the slight reduction in pixel size in the imaging sensor.

The Pixel Visual Core that was just announced this week is another major feather in the new phone’s hat. That’s a dedicated image-processing chip that will make the Pixel 2 vastly faster and more efficient at doing the math involved in Google’s special HDR+ mode. With the OG Pixel, I’d grown accustomed to waiting for a circle to fill up after I’ve captured a photo. That was almost part of its charm, though I obviously won’t miss it on the Pixel 2 when the Pixel Visual Core comes into action. Processing delays are barely in evidence now, even while the Snapdragon 835 chip is the main thing powering the Pixel 2 camera.

Pixel 2 photos. pic.twitter.com/HksmBqGhbL

— Vlad Savov (@vladsavov) October 17, 2017

As far as image quality goes, the biggest upgrade between the Pixel and Pixel 2 is in the removal of the halo effect from the original. There was a sort of lens flare that would show up on the Pixel when photographing brightly lit scenes or shooting into a light source, and I can happily report that’s entirely gone now. Google even tells me the new Pixel 2 has a custom-built lens array. I can’t tell you that the Pixel 2 is manifestly and consistently superior to the Pixel: in truly low-light conditions, I get the sense that a steadily held Pixel might outdo a Pixel 2. But with OIS on board, all of Google’s camera algorithm improvements, and the upcoming Pixel Visual Core upgrades, I think this camera is definitely one worthy of being called a generational upgrade.

The Bluetooth

Funny, right? Talking about Bluetooth when discussing major architectural changes to a new phone. Well, this matters because the original Pixel had something I could only describe as a Bluetooth death grip. Every time I put it into or pulled it out of my pocket, I’d interrupt the connection to my wireless headphones. That glass window seemed like the only opening for wireless signals to get out through, and it was super annoying on a daily basis.

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

With the Pixel 2, I have to work to make it lose signal to a connected Bluetooth peripheral. I’ve had no accidental degradation in signal quality or stability, and it’s only when I really occlude the entire rear window with a close (and unnatural) grip in my palm that I can disconnect the Pixel 2. This, like the small but appreciable upgrades to the camera and design, really makes the new Pixel feel like the evolved and refined version of its predecessor. I used to love the Pixel in spite of its hardware and design foibles, now I just love the Pixel (2017 edition, of course).

The jack

Not every change with the Pixel 2 is positive, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss Google scything off the 3.5mm headphone jack. I don’t think it’s a big deal, and I’ll tell you why. The original Pixel’s headphone audio was awful: it made everything sound tinny and uninspiring, no matter what headphones I plugged into it. That’s to be expected, because the audio hardware Google was using was just whatever Qualcomm was providing as part of its Snapdragon system-on-a-chip. Pardon me for sounding callous, but I just can’t get worked up for the loss of an already meh feature. If it isn’t good, why are you putting it in your device?

Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

The other way to look at this, of course, is from the perspective of sheer practicality. And I have much sympathy for that. Most people just want a device compatible with all the stuff they already have, and in case of emergency, they want to be able to plug in some random pair of headphones to listen to some music or carry out a call. Google is making that minimal-effort life impossible now, failing to even include a set of compatible earphones in the box and forcing us to use dongles for something that used to come as a free inclusion with the phone. Maybe if the Pixel 2 had a more aggressively styled design or thinner bezels, we could accept the headphone jack’s demise with more mirth.

As things stand today, Google is taking away a useful thing for the vast majority of people, and the company’s replacement is only the offer of expensive in-ear buds that customers can buy instead. I’ve long ago abandoned hope of being satisfied by the output from the Pixel’s headphone jack, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is ready to jump aboard the wireless bandwagon just yet. Google could probably have kept this feature and still delivered the Pixel 2 in much the same form it is now.

Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

Looking at the two 5-inch Pixels, the one from yesteryear and the one from today, I see as many similarities as I do differences. I’m not among the people who bash the Pixel 2 for its resemblance to the original, and I don’t think it looks retrograde or unattractive. I think new phone is fast, responsive, ergonomic, and still a leader in mobile imaging. You just have to dig a little deeper to identify the upgrades, but they’re definitely there.

I would, of course, have liked to see more progress being made by Google. The battery life has been practically unchanged between the Pixels, and I don’t think that was a strength of the original. The display on the new phone is also still the same 1080p Samsung panel, although with a slightly more muted, reined-in color saturation (which I favor; none of the issues with the Pixel 2 XL screen are relevant here).

Whether or not the step up from the Pixel to the Pixel 2 is enough to justify a $650 expenditure, I leave up to you. I can confidently say that this is a fine upgrade over the original, very much in the vein of an Apple S-edition iPhone. The Pixel 2 doesn’t look much different, and it doesn’t act much different, but it’s a clear and definite improvement.

Nintendo Switch update lets you capture video and transfer saves to a new console

The latest version of the Nintendo Switch firmware (version 4.0.0) is now available to download. It delivers some much-needed features, including the ability to transfer user profiles and saved data to a new console, and capture gameplay video. But, unfortunately, there are limitations to these functions which will leave some fans a little annoyed.

For a start, video capture only works with four games for now: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, and Splatoon 2. The feature automatically captures 30 seconds of gameplay, storing the video in the system’s album. From there you can trim the clips and share them using Facebook or Twitter. No other share options seem to be available.

Data transfers are a little more exciting (to stretch the meaning of the word) but still limited. Switch users who download the update will be able to move user profiles and saved game data from one console to another, with the original data wiped in the process. As Nintendo says: “Once the process is complete, the user information, the associated save data, and the software purchased with the user account that is transferred will no longer be available on the source console.”

This is useful, but it’s not the same as being able to freely back up data onto an external memory card — something that fans have been asking for. Data transfers alone aren’t any good if you lose your console. Let’s hope another update will deliver this functionality some time in the future.

The new UE Blast may be the first great portable Alexa speaker

It’s starting to feel like the biggest threat to Google Assistant establishing a presence around the home is simply being crowded out by a swarm of Alexa gadgets. Today, Ultimate Ears — maker of the very popular Boom line of Bluetooth speakers — announced a new series, the UE Blast, with far-field microphones for Amazon’s Alexa built right in. Both the Blast and its larger, louder sibling the Megablast will begin shipping in late October for $229.99 and $299.99 respectively. Those prices are significantly higher than the mainstream Boom products, which will remain available for consumers who simply want a take-anywhere Bluetooth speaker.

From the outside, the Blast and Megablast each look basically identical to the Booms before them. But there are some key hardware differences; they’re just not obvious. For one, both Blast speakers have Wi-Fi chips inside, and that’s how they’re able to get online and connect with Alexa. Also, each has multiple microphones running around the speaker underneath the fabric. And the Megablast is able to crank 40 percent louder than Megaboom, making it the most powerful speaker that Ultimate Ears has ever produced. In the US, both speakers will come in graphite (black), blizzard (white), merlot (red), or blue.

UE Blast and MegablastUE Blast and Megablast
The light on top illuminates when you say “Alexa.”
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

You can still connect to either of them via Bluetooth, and they both have the same water and drop resistance as the Boom devices. But Ultimate Ears thinks that Alexa will add an extra layer of convenience when you’re listening around the house. The biggest convenience is that playing music over Wi-Fi (with Alexa) means that it won’t get interrupted when someone calls you.

Unfortunately, Spotify support won’t be available through Alexa at launch (just like Sonos), and it sounds like UE will need a few months to make that happen. I wouldn’t bet on it happening before the holidays, but we’ll see. You’ve always got the option of simply using Bluetooth for Spotify, though — and any other service that doesn’t work with Alexa voice commands.

Ultimate Ears

The services that will support Alexa out of the box are Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. That’s a pretty small list if you’re not subscribing to Amazon’s premium, on-demand music option. Pandora and Deezer will be added “in the future.”

UE Blast and MegablastUE Blast and MegablastPhoto by Chris Welch / The Verge

Alongside the two speakers, UE is also launching a charging station it’s calling the Power Up. The white puck is large enough to support both Blast sizes and will cost $39.99. Having something to just drop your Blast onto for a constant charge makes a lot of sense since some people will want this to function as an always-on Alexa device. Portable battery life is claimed as “up to 12 hours” on a charge.

I’m pretty excited about these speakers. If nothing else, you could view them as more durable and portable versions of the Echo. They’ll offer Alexa’s usual assistance and most skills such as control over your smart home devices. (Alexa phone calls won’t work here, nor are they available on the Sonos One.) UE already added Alexa to the Boom 2 speakers, but that was a post-release firmware update and can’t match the convenience and integration of these new products. The Blast and Megablast are always listening for “Alexa,” whereas you’ve got to manually activate the future on the Boom.

You definitely can’t do this with an Echo.
Ultimate Ears

But those prices, though. These are some expensive speakers. They cost more than the Sonos One, and I’d hesitate to predict even the Megablast sounding better than a Sonos. For $150, the Blast would be a must-have holiday gift and maybe the ideal portable speaker. Going over $200 takes something away from that appeal.

Let’s see how long it takes for a price cut.

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the scientist who revealed how stars die

Similar to a living organism, a star has its own life cycle: it’s born out of clumps of gas and dust, it evolves and changes over millions or billions of years, and then it dies, leaving behind a stellar remnant of the object it once was. It’s a process that is central to the study of astrophysics, and a lot of what we know about this cycle stems from the work of today’s Google doodle honoree, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Chandrasekhar, better known as Chandra, was an Indian-born astrophysicist who developed his most famous finding before he was 20 years old. While traveling to England to study at Cambridge, Chandra came up with what is now known as the Chandrasekhar limit, a concept that details what happens to stars after they use up all of their fuel and die. If a star is less than 1.4 times the mass of our Sun, it will collapse into something called a white dwarf — the extremely hot and dense leftover stellar core. But if a star is more than 1.4 times the mass of our Sun, it won’t form a white dwarf but instead explode in a supernova or collapse into a black hole.

It wasn’t the most popular theory at first, and Chandra’s limit was infamously ridiculed by Sir Arthur Eddington, one of the leading astrophysicists at the time, during a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1935. But eventually, Chandra’s work would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983. Chandra’s name was also given to one of NASA’s space telescopes, which observes X-ray emission from hot parts of the Universe.

Chandra died in 1995, four years before that satellite launched bearing his name. If he were alive today, though, he’d be 107 years old.