I rode in Faraday Future’s FF91, the electric car powered by hubris

Sitting in the passenger seat of Faraday Future’s mythical FF91, I found myself clinging to the red strap that doubled as the door handle to keep from flying out the window. The car kicked up dust as it rail-gunned down the length of the giant tent where FF set up shop during CES in Las Vegas. As the electrically powered propulsion pushed me back into the bucket seat, I couldn’t help but let out an involuntary squeal as my brain tried and failed to process the speed. Holy shit, was that fast.

Earlier in the week, FF finally pulled the rabbit out of the hat. The FF91 took the stage Tuesday night to rapturous applause from hundreds of people gathered to witness the ambitious-but-troubled startup’s big CES reveal. The FF91 has plenty of sleek design cues like a retractable LIDAR sensor in the hood and whiz-bang technology like self-parking via smartphone. But FF still needs to prove that it is a real company that could produce a real car for people to own. The CES presentation bought Faraday Future a bit more time to do that.

The weeks leading up to CES were fraught with bad news for the California-based electric car startup. Construction on its $1 billion factory in North Las Vegas had stalled. Suppliers were suing for unpaid bills. And several investigations, including one by The Verge, exposed new details about the company’s financial difficulties. Several top executives resigned. The bad press threatened to overshadow FF’s much-hyped event.

But then the FF91 emerged on the CES stage, and it looked like Faraday Future’s critics had gotten it wrong. Executives attempted to show the vehicle’s self-parking feature (one attempt was successful, one not) and then the company showed the FF91 in a mock-drag race among a trio of ultra-fast rivals. The car had a real engine! And it was fast! At the end of the event, chief engineer Nick Sampson sounded a defiant note: “I can say now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, despite all the naysayers and skeptics, we will carry on and make the impossible possible.”

But in a Q&A with reporters following the theatrical press conference, Sampson was less convincing, though he attempted to strike a positive note. “Everything we’ve achieved,” he said, “we’ve achieved at a faster pace and in a different way than the conventional industry.”

The stalled construction on the $1 billion factory in North Las Vegas? “We’ll start very early in the new year,” Sampson said. (During the event, FF played a video that showed close-ups of dirt moving along a conveyor belt, but no foundation or additional construction.)

The loss of some of the company’s most high-profile executives? “A company like FF… is a difficult company to work with, in terms of the environment, the culture,” he said. “It doesn’t suit every individual.” Lead designer Richard Kim, who also was present, chimed in: “It’s not a nine-to-fiver.”

The lawsuits from suppliers for unpaid bills? “We will be [paying our suppliers],” Sampson said. Will be paying or are paying? “A combination. Both.” Sampson also said the FF91 will be sold in the US market, dismissing claims that the company will soon be purchased by its main Chinese investor, LeEco founder Jia Yueting. “We’re a US-based company,” he said.

Faraday Future FF 91 press imagesFaraday Future FF 91 press images

This claim contradicts reports that Jia has practically taken the reins of FF in an attempt to steer it through its launch and financial difficulties. Analysts and former employees who were watching FF’s event in the hopes of seeing signs that the company could turn its fortunes expressed disappointment. “The public will love the futuristic design and likely accept their vision for the future… but I believe there will be some head scratching,” one former executive told me. “Primarily around the sheer size of the vehicle, all of the screens and the wine cellar. And if price gets mentioned, the public will freak.” (The company says the car comes with an optional refrigerator in the back.)

Price wasn’t mentioned, but rumors place it somewhere between $100,000-$120,000, the same price range as a loaded Model S. This strategy is clearly to capture luxury customers, and use that as a springboard to build a more mass-market vehicle. FF claims to have collected 64,124 reservations in the 36 hours since the FF91 was unveiled. Some of those reservations include a $5,000 refundable deposit, but FF won’t say how much it raked in.

“I don’t think they addressed any of the concerns about viability,” said Sam Abuelsamid, senior research analyst at Navigant. “They refused to discuss finances or even pricing of the car and frankly the video of moving dirt may have been counter productive because it showed they really haven’t done anything on the factory. Unless they can raise some serious cash soon, they are in trouble.”

Let’s be clear: outside of in-the-know car enthusiasts most people haven’t heard of Faraday Future. And those who have heard of Faraday Future have probably also heard about the multitude of problems. There is long history of beautiful cars made by failed car startups. In fact, more car companies fail than succeed.

FF still has hundreds of engineers, including a half-dozen top executives with long histories in the automotive and racing worlds. But the odds against it are huge, and it will take more than a pretty car on a stage to convince people its a company worth investing in.

After my test ride, I spoke to Sampson about his company’s ongoing challenges. “In some ways, there’s nothing you can do to make the skeptics believe,” he said. “The skeptics moaned last year that we brought out the Batmobile as so many called it. They said you’re not serious, it’s vaporware, it’s bullshit. We said trust us, believe us, we know what we’re doing. And we were back this year with a car.”

This year, FF demonstrated three “virtues,” Sampson said: beauty, brains, and brawn. The car is certainly not hard on the eyes. Sure, it parks itself, so it has smarts. And it slays on the track. But Sampson forgot the fourth virtue: humility. FF needs to stop making larger-than-life promises, and start delivering.

This post was originally published on January 6th and has been updated to include video.

The Populele taught me how to play ukelele in 15 minutes

Full confession: I’ve held a ukelele before, tuned one, and learned a few chords, all of which I’ve since forgotten. Compared to a guitar, it’s a really easy instrument. There are only four strings, and they’re so easy to press! But, like any stringed instrument, learning chords is a bit of a pain. If you have someone teaching you there’s that awkward moment where they grab it from you and show you something and then you take it back and try to replicate their hand shape. Or they try to tell you what to do verbally:

“Okay, put your first finger on the first string, second fret. No, first string from the bottom… Now put your second finger on the second string, third fret…”

If you try to learn chords from looking at the chord shapes on your phone, you have to do the mental gymnastics of mirroring that image and translating it to finger positions. It’s not impossible, and I learned guitar like this, but it’s a bit of a grind.

We can solve this with technology. The Populele U1 is a smart ukelele with a light-up fret board and a companion app that pairs over Bluetooth. If you want to learn a chord, you tap that chord in the app and the finger positions light up. This doesn’t just help you play the chord that one time, but gives you a mental picture of the chord that made it easier for me to remember. After learning G, C, and F, I hopped into a play-along song mode. And I was playing! The song had an Am in it I hadn’t learned yet, but the chord lit up on the fret board and it was a super easy one, so now I knew Am and hardly missed a strum.

The Populele isn’t an amazing ukelele. I tried out the guitar version, Poputar, and found it kind of annoyingly bad as an instrument. I typically tell anyone looking to learn an instrument not to get an ultra cheap one, because it could sound so bad and be so hard to play that it’ll put you off learning. But a ukelele doesn’t have to be as high quality to be playable, and I think the Populele strikes a nice balance of price and quality — it’ll launch for around $150 in February.

Conan O’Brien won’t host the Clueless Gamer spinoff series

TBS is making a spinoff series based on the popular Conan sketch “Clueless Gamer,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Clueless Gamer” has been a part of Conan O’Brien’s late-night show on TBS since 2012. O’Brien will be an executive producer on the show but he won’t host it, and a host has yet to be announced.

That decision might seem odd to fans of the long-running sketch, in which O’Brien (who doesn’t know anything about video games) plays video games with celebrities and cracks jokes about his ineptitude. The segment is pretty funny, but it’s weird to imagine someone else hosting it, and even weirder to imagine it running longer than a YouTube video.

In a comment to The Hollywood Reporter, TBS president Kevin Relly explained the decision to adapt “Clueless Gamer,” saying “we’ve gotten to the point where video game companies are sending us their new product for us to play and make fun of because it’s been such a huge success.”

“Clueless Gamer” isn’t the first late-night sketch to be adapted into its own TV show, though. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’s “Lip Sync Battle” was turned into a ratings bonanza for Spike last year, ABC’s Big Fan (premiering Monday) is based on the recurring Jimmy Kimmel bit “Who Knows?,” and a show based on James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” skit has been picked up by Apple and set to air exclusively on Apple Music.

Displays are the secret superstars of CES

Before the tech industry started putting AI and Alexa into everything, the clearest route to making a frumpy old device “smart” was to put a screen on it. How can fridges ever hope to be smart without a crisp copy of Windows 10 running on a 29-inch touchscreen? And what’s a smartwatch without a full-color readout of all your fitness triumphs and disasters? Even virtual reality, which untethers you from the desktop screen, relies heavily on advanced optics and display technologies to deliver the most immersive escapism possible.

Displays are, in my judgment, the central pillar underlying this entire whirlwind of new technology that we know as CES. They’re so obvious, so numerous, that we don’t stop to notice them — even while we’re constantly staring at them. So this is me stopping, for just a moment, and giving displays their due appreciation.

LG’s new flagship 4K OLED TV

This new LG TV is as thin as a credit card.

Posted by The Verge on Wednesday, January 4, 2017

One of the novelties of CES 2017 for me is how amazing the “average” TV has become. Half a decade ago, a 50-inch 1080p TV would have been an aspirational item, whereas today we are walking through a thicket of even larger 4K TVs strewn across the Las Vegas Convention Center. We used to photograph the sides of TVs next to smartphones and be in awe of their thinness, now we pretty much take 4mm-thick TVs as a given. Oh, and bezels? They’ve been almost deleted from the face of the Earth, courtesy of Sony, Samsung, LG, and now even Xiaomi. We’re all at least a little bit guilty of taking these innovations, and the steady rate of constant progress driving them, for granted.

But my heart resides in the gaming realm of technology, and there we’ve seen a fresh wave of better, faster — want a 200Hz refresh rate? Acer has you covered — and larger monitors designed to make the most of your beefy graphics card. LG recently increased the size of the largest curved monitor to 38 inches, and after I got a chance to play on its 34-inch version, I’m already sold on the glories and benefits of curved screens for gaming. Curved monitors are terrible for working on spreadsheets, and curved TVs have been pretty much rejected by the world at this point, but purely for the purposes of gaming, they are my new pinnacle for the best experience to be had.

As ridiculous as Acer’s Predator 21 X “laptop” may be, it too deserves kudos for being the first curved-screen portable gaming machine in the world. It doesn’t embody the best design choices in the world, but it most certainly represents advanced engineering and deserves our respect as a technical feat, if not as a product for the rational consumer.

Professional content creators have much to look forward to in 2017 as well, with LG bringing a new 4K HDR monitor to CES — along with others raising the bar for color performance — though Dell certainly steals the show with its $4,999 8K monitor. The 32-inch UP3218K is simply stunning; I saw it in person this week and its sharpness is extraordinary. Not only that, but it also has a very consistent backlight (no light bleed to be found on dark images), teeny tiny bezels, and outstanding color fidelity. Photographers, 4K video producers, architects, and basically anyone else that makes a living from highly detailed work that requires great precision and resolution will at first lust after and eventually, once prices inevitably come down, buy one of these new 8K beauties.

And this is all without mentioning things like LG’s rollable OLED display or Panasonic’s transparent display from last year’s CES. Or the non-rectangle displays being developed for the automotive space, a glimpse of which we might have recently seen with Sharp’s smartphone display that actually has curved corners as well as curved sides.

Because they are so good nowadays, we take displays for granted. But let’s not forget that the most revolutionary thing about the original iPhone was how it broke away from the traditional keypad and tiny window of a screen toward a larger touchscreen. If you want to understand the innovations that will truly define our future, pay close attention to where display technology is headed. It’s the foundation upon which everything else is built, and it will remain that way at least until voice-based interfaces grow up.

The Basslet wearable lets you feel the music like you’re at the club

When you walk into a loud party or a club, you don’t just hear the music, you feel it in your body. The Basslet is a new wearable device that aims to bring a similar effect to your day-to-day music listening. It’s coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign from last summer, and I got to try out a final version at CES 2017.

The Basslet is a small, flat black box that you wear on your wrist like a watch, although it doesn’t actually tell time. Instead, it contains a miniature actuator that pulses in time with your music, giving you a localized version of the bone-rumbling beats that real subwoofers push out.

The Basslet works by plugging your headphones into a small, passthrough box on the way to your music source, which samples the music as it goes through and wirelessly communicates to the Basslet wearable how to vibrate in time with the bass of your music. Buttons on the side of the Basslet (that also double as magnetic charging contacts) are used to control the intensity.

When it comes to the actual vibrated subwoofer effect, it works — the Basslet buzzed and pulsed in time with the thudding base of the EDM track I was listening to as promised. The localized effect is a bit disconcerting, but if you’re interested in really feeling your music, it seems like the way to go.

The Basslet claims to get around 10–12 hours of battery life on a charge, although that number goes down to around 6–7 hours depending on how high the vibrations are ratcheted up. And while the device needs to pass through a pair of headphones, it does still work with headphones dongles (like those for the iPhone 7).

I asked the Basslet team why they had decided to skip including a way to tell time on what is obviously such a watch-shaped device; they answered that they didn’t want to have the Basslet pigeonholed as another smartwatch, but I think that I’d be far more likely to wear it on my wrist if it told time.

The Basslet costs $199, which seems a high price for adding a faux-subwoofer to your wrist, but if it sounds like something up your alley, you can get it February 7th.

Duncan Jones’ Mute looks like an icy ’80s music video

Netflix just released the first images from Duncan Jones’ upcoming movie, Mute, and they look straight out of a Human League music video. The sci-fi thriller will star Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, and Seyneb Saleh. This will be Jones’ (Warcraft, Source Code) first project for Netflix.

Mute is set in a near-future Berlin. Skarsgård plays Leo, a mute bartender searching for his girlfriend (Saleh) who has gone missing. He links up with two scheming American surgeons (Rudd and Theroux) who might be the only people who can help. Or maybe not — nothing says “untrustworthy” like Paul Rudd’s mustache!

If the sound of a synthy sci-fi mystery movie starring a mustachioed Paul Rudd appeals to you, there’s probably more where that came from. Jones has said that Mute is the second installment in a trilogy.

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The Das Keyboard 5Q doubles as a light-up notification board

Das Keyboard announced the 5Q, a smart mechanical keyboard, through a Kickstarter campaign a few months ago, and here at CES 2017 we were able to try out a working prototype of the cloud-connected keyboard.

The 5Q’s big differentiator from other keyboards is a connection to the internet, allowing it to light up specific keys to reflect certain triggers or notifications. The demo I saw had integrations like the “T” key lighting up blue when Donald Trump tweeted; a function key lighting up green to indicate that a smart lock-equipped door was open; or in the example seen above, converting the number pad into a real-time stock tracker.

The keyboard is configurable with triggers from Zapier and IFTTT to show information from almost any connected source. The company also has plans to support other APIs for adding notifications sources. An oversized volume dial can also be pressed for quick access to Das Keyboard’s [Q] app, which offers a quick reference to what your individual keys refer to.

When it comes to the keyboard part of the Das Keyboard 5Q, it uses mechanical keys with specially designed Gamma-Zulu RGB switches, which the company says are comparable to Cherry MX Browns. For non-keyboard nerds, the Cherry MX Brown switches offer a tactile indication that a key has been pressed and take a comparatively light amount of force to activate, which seems about in line with my experience of typing on the Das Keyboard 5Q when I was able to try it out.

The Das Keyboard 5Q will cost $229 when it launches sometime at either the end of Q1 or beginning of Q2 later this year.

Meta’s augmented reality glasses look ridiculous, but they’re ridiculously comfortable

If virtual reality is barely getting a hold on the mainstream, augmented reality — the kind that uses glasses, not your phone — is barely on most people’s mental radar. Even so, projects like Magic Leap have been massively hyped in the tech community, while Microsoft’s HoloLens can support experiences that seemed impossible a few years ago. But one of the most interesting AR headsets has a lower profile: the Meta 2, which started shipping to developers late last year.

Where many AR glasses produce a heads-up display style overlay, devices like the Meta and HoloLens aim to put real-looking “mixed reality” holograms into the world. The Meta 2 does this with a clear set of tradeoffs. On one hand, it’s far cheaper than HoloLens: $949 compared to $3,000. On the other, its images look less convincingly real, more like a projection than a solid object. It’s tethered to a computer, not self-contained. And even its creators admit it’s not nearly as good at tracking the world — as you walk around, objects shudder to the point of disorientation, even if they’re beautifully clear when you’re still.

But in a couple of places, Meta blows the HoloLens (and any other augmented reality I’ve seen) away. The first is its 90-degree field of view — more than twice the largest estimate I’ve seen of HoloLens’ FOV, and comparable to some VR headsets. You don’t have any peripheral vision in Meta, but it also doesn’t look like you’re staring through a window. The second is comfort. Meta is the only AR headset I’ve ever worn that didn’t feel like it was slipping down my face, including HoloLens. This is because it’s designed like a VR headset, with an overhead strap that holds it up. The Meta 2 may be comically huge and weirdly shaped, but I could look around normally and see a sharp, full image, instead of constantly tilting my head at odd angles.

People who have seen Magic Leap often describe it as the gold standard of mixed reality, but Magic Leap is also so secretive that it’s impossible to judge this, and a recent report suggests it’s having trouble turning a giant prototype into a pair of glasses. Meta’s product is still rough, but at least it’s showing its work.

T H E F U T U R E pic.twitter.com/SSCZ7prfYO

— Adi Robertson (@thedextriarchy) January 6, 2017

Sales VP Ryan Pamplin compares the Meta 2 to the Oculus Rift DK2, an innovative experiment that shipped with clear shortcomings and was greatly improved for consumers. Pamplin says Meta could cut the computer cord within a year, connecting to something like a pocket-sized mobile pack instead. That would let the headset stay light, while the team works to make the lenses and frames smaller as well. And he promises the tracking will improve within this generation.

Of course, there’s a difference between saying that and doing it, and Meta may run into the same problems as (allegedly) Magic Leap. For now, though, wearing the Meta 2 is one of the most pleasant AR experiences I’ve had — even if I looked even sillier than usual.

You can buy this 100 mph drone — try not to hurt anyone

I traveled to the Aerodrome yesterday for the third annual CES Drone Rodeo. The venue is empty desert next to picturesque mountains, just beyond the restricted air space around Las Vegas. There was a lineup of DJI drones anyone could fly and an augmented reality game that let you dogfight with virtual lasers. But the main attraction was the race course and the new Draco drone from UVify.

In the past if you wanted a racing drone, you had to build it yourself. That meant learning how to solder and program. If your drone broke, as they are prone to do, you had to learn how to make repairs. Draco aims to change all that. It costs $499, and the company says that right out of the box, the Draco drone can hit 100 miles an hour on a straightaway. And it’s made from entirely modular parts, so if you crash, you can easily buy replacements for your broken bits.

Drone racing has become increasingly popular over the last three years. ESPN struck a deal with the International Drone Racing Association to broadcast the sport on live TV. And the Drone Racing League raised $12 million in venture capital funding to build out its competition. Pilots are quitting their full time jobs and dropping out of college to pursue the dream of being a full-time drone racer.

I’ve put in upwards of a hundred hours piloting dozens of different kinds of drones in the course of reviewing units for The Verge over the last three years. But all of those units were built to make flying easy. When I took my hands off the controls, the drone would simply hover in place. Trying to fly the Draco was a whole different experience.

Draco, like most race drones, is optimized for speed and agility. Most camera drones try to get the longest possible battery life so you can maximize your time filming from the air. Race drones try to tune their settings so that the battery lasts just long enough to finish the race — usually around three or four minutes.

Trying to pilot the Draco felt like trying to walk a cheetah on a leash. If I let off the throttle, the drone would start falling toward the earth. When I throttled up to keep from crashing, the drone shot up into the sky, quickly getting beyond the range of my goggles, so that the live feed of the video would start cutting out. I flew twice, and never managed to stay in the air for more than a minute before crashing.

Focusing on a niche application, like racing, seems like a smart move for a drone startup these days. The consumer drone industry is starting to feel like a winner-take-all marketplace, with DJI emerging as the clear winner. To compete, you need to build something DJI won’t, like a drone optimized for speed, or something truly tiny, like the Dobby drone.

Now, just because I think Draco is making a smart business move doesn’t mean I think this is necessarily something that will be good for the drone industry. True, the unit has a beginner mode that limits the speed so beginners can train, but how many excitable teenagers are going to bother with that? Hopefully this unit will find a way to capitalize on the growing interest in drone racing as a sport without generating any scary headlines about flying robots crashing into people.

Watch The Vergecast Live on Twitter tonight at 7:30PM ET for the best of CES!

Live event by Twitter

The week is drawing to a close, and so tonight will be our final Vergecast Live at CES 2017 on Twitter. CES is far from over, but we’ll be bringing in The Verge family to talk about our favorite gadgets and the most important trends of the show. It’s going to be a blast.

The Vergecast airs right here and Live on Twitter, beginning at 7:30PM ET.

But CES 2017 itself is far from over! Stay tuned to The Verge throughout the next few days as we round up the best of the show and — as always — get just a little weird.

Vergecast ces 2017 day 1Vergecast ces 2017 day 1James Bareham

The Vergecast Live at CES 2017 is hosted by Nilay Patel, Dieter Bohn, and Megan Farokhmanesh. It will also feature Casey Newton, Lauren Goode, Paul Miller, and Ashley Carman — and hell, quite a few more people from the massive Verge team that we’ve brought to CES this year. Tune in each night and tweet with the hashtag #CES2017 — Megan may just read yours on the show.

Follow along with the stream of updates over there on the right. You can also subscribe to @verge on Twitter to get notified when the show goes live, and then watch it right in the Twitter app or at ces.twitter.com.