Microsoft announces its xCloud streaming service and a truckload of new games are coming in 2020 – TechCrunch

Microsoft has announced a vague intention to launch its xCloud game streaming service sometime in 2020, and dropped a double handful of new titles that will arrive on it and the existing Game Pass subscription. It seems that next year will indeed be the opening battle in the streaming wars to come.

The announcements came at XO19, the company’s Xbox-focused event, which is taking place in London. They seem calculated to take the wind out of Google’s sails; the opening lineup of Stadia, Google’s entry in the game streaming world, was finalized earlier this week and is rather bare bones. Microsoft is hoping Google’s first-mover advantage will be nullified by the expected confusion around payments, features, titles and other issues Stadia is still working out.

Game Pass is currently in a preview period on PC. Although Microsoft did not supply a hard release date, saying only that 2020 is the plan. That year will also bring Windows 10 support, PC game streaming and potentially an expansion beyond Android for mobile streaming.

The price, too, is TBA — Google’s proposition is remarkably complicated, and it will take time for consumers to figure out what they’re willing to pay for, what the real costs are, and so on. So Microsoft is probably going to wait and see here.

But what is known about xCloud is that gamers will get access to all the games currently available on Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription — well over a hundred PC and console titles right now, with more being added regularly. That makes it easier to commit to for a lot of gamers.

New controllers will be supported soon, including Sony’s DualShock 4, which comes with the PlayStation 4; that’s a real olive branch to Microsoft’s arch-rival. And new countries will be brought into the fold soon, as well: Canada, India, Japan and “Western Europe.”

Game Pass will also be receiving dozens of titles old and new throughout 2020, including Final Fantasy 7 through 15, Darksiders 3, Flight Simulator and a bunch of newly announced games such as Obsidian’s new “Honey, I Shrunk the Survival Game” title, “Grounded.”

Several brand new properties and gameplay for known but unreleased games were also teased at XO19. Check them out below:

Everwild is a new IP from Rare that appears to involve a lot of sneaking around a lush forest and either avoiding or interacting with fantastical animals. It’s still early days, but the team wants to create “new ways to play in a natural and magical world.” I’m just here for the solar-powered dino-deer.

Tell Me Why is a new one from Dontnod, makers of Life Is Strange starring a pair of twins with some kind of paranormal connection. Notably one of the twins is transgender, not common among game protagonists, and the company worked with GLAAD to make sure the representation of the character is genuine.

Age of Empires IV got an only slightly satisfying gameplay reveal. Real-time strategy buffs will want more than this, but no doubt they’re excited to see this venerable franchise getting a modern sequel.

You can catch up on the rest over at the Xbox official blog post.

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ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 Released

News: ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 Released

ACDSee has just released its latest post-processing software, Photo Studio Ultimate 2020. ACDSee’s software is meant to pose a challenge to some of the big-name programs out there, most notably Lightroom and Photoshop, though Ultimate 2020 is somewhat unique in that it aims to take on both programs at once.

While Adobe’s Lightroom plus Photoshop package has remained a favorite of photographers over the past few years, programs like ACDSee continue to give them a run for their money. Especially when you can do with a single program that Lightroom and Photoshop can only do in conjunction.

ACDSee Ultimate 2020 isn’t just a full-fledged photo editor (like Photoshop), nor does it confine itself to digital asset management with moderate processing capabilities (like Lightroom). Instead, it offers both file management and advanced, layer-based editing for those photographers who’d like to keep their workflow all in one place.

ACDSee Ultimate 2020 promises a host of new and upgraded features in order to improve both organization and editing workflows, including:

  • Enhanced face detection features, which allow you to easily find photos of specific people within the ACDSee database
  • An HDR function that allows you to combine several exposures to create one high-quality HDR image
  • Focus stacking capabilities, in order to produce a deep depth of field image out of several photos focused at different distances
  • And a Blended Clone tool, which allows you to quickly and efficiently remove distracting areas from your photos for a seamless result

ACDSee Ultimate 2020 also offers RAW support for a slew of additional cameras, including Sony, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Hasselblad, and Canon bodies.

The most unfortunate thing about ACDSee Ultimate 2020 is that it’s only available for Windows. But if you’re already a PC user, there’s a lot to love about this program. You can download a copy of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 for $150 USD, or for $69 per year as part of a subscription program.

Now I’d like to know your thoughts:

Are you planning on purchasing ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020? If not, what is your favorite photo editor, and why? Do you think that single programs like ACDSee will ever be able to take the reigns from Lightroom and Photoshop?

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The new AirFly Pro is the perfect travel buddy for your AirPods Pro – TechCrunch

Accessory maker TwelveSouth has a solid lineup of gadgets, many of which fill a niche that their products uniquely address — and address remarkably well. The AirFly Pro ($54.99) is a new iteration on one of those, providing a way to connect Bluetooth headphones to any audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s being sold at Apple Stores, too, as part of its launch today — and there’s good reason for that: This is the ideal way to make sure you can use your AirPods Pro just about everywhere, including with airplane seatback entertainment systems.

The AirFly Pro will work with any Bluetooth headphones, not just AirPods Pro — but the latest noise-canceling earbuds from Apple are among the best available when it comes to both active noise cancellation and sound quality, both great assets for frequent travelers and people more likely to encounter an in-flight entertainment system. But the AirFly Pro has additional tricks up its sleeve that earn it the “Pro” designation.

This is the first version of the product from TwelveSouth that offers the ability to stream audio in, as well as out. That means you can use it with a car stereo system that only has auxiliary audio in, for instance, to stream directly from your iPhone to the vehicle’s sound system. The AirFly Pro can also serve that function for home stereo sound equipment, speakers or other audio equipment that accepts audio in, but not Bluetooth streaming connections.

One other neat trick the AirFly Pro packs: audio sharing, so that you can connect two pairs of headphones at once. This is similar to the native audio sharing feature that Apple introduced for its own AirPod line in the most recent iOS update, but it works through the AirFly with any audio source, and any Bluetooth headphones. That’s yet another great feature for when you’re traveling with a partner.

I’ve had a bit of time to spend with the AirFly Pro, and so far it has been rock solid, with easy pairing and setup, and a convenient keychain ring/3.5mm connector cap for making it easier to keep with you. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a USB-A to USB-C cable included, too. The on-board battery lasts for 16 or more hours, which is more than enough time for even the longest of flights, and again, you’re getting that audio sharing feature which is super handy even around the house for just checking something out on the iPad on your couch.

Alongside the AirFly Pro, TwelveSouth also introduced new AirFly Duo and AirFly USB-C models. The difference is that neither of these offer that wireless audio input mode — but you get up to four more hours of battery life for the trade-off. The USB-C model also offers USB-C audio compatibility, for connecting to devices that use that connection for sound instead of 3.5mm, and both of these still offer dual headphone connectivity, for $5 less, at $49.99 each.

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Got an iPhone, Apple Watch? Your health data could spark a medical breakthrough

Who owns your health data?
Dr. Brooke Grindlinger, chief scientific officer at The New York Academy of Sciences, informs Tonya Hall that there are some health privacy laws that haven’t been changed since 1996 and what steps are being taken to change that.

iPhone and Apple Watch users are being asked to enrol in three health studies that will share data with researchers about their movement, heart rate, and the noise levels they are experiencing.

Smartphone and smartwatches now gather large amounts of data that could be very useful to researchers studying various conditions. Apple’s new Research app provides the framework for that data to be used in such projects.

Apple said the Research App, which is how users can sign up for the studies, includes detailed consent that explains how data will be used and allows a user to control the type of data shared with each of the three studies.

  • The Women’s Health Study aims to improve understanding of menstrual cycles and how they relate to women’s health. It seeks to advance knowledge about menstrual cycles and their relationship to various health conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, osteoporosis, and menopausal transition. The study will use iPhone and Apple Watch to collect study-specific data like cycle tracking information, and use monthly surveys to understand each participant’s menstrual experience and to analyze the impact of certain behaviors and habits on a range of reproductive health topics.
  • The Heart and Movement Study wants to look at the factors that affect heart health and potentially cause deterioration in mobility or overall well-being. Users can participate by using the Research app on their iPhone and recording workouts on their Apple Watch Series 1 or later. The researchers want to understand how certain movements and details about heart rate and rhythm could serve as potential early warning signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib), heart disease or declining mobility.
  • The Hearing Study will collect headphone usage and environmental sound exposure data through iPhone and the Noise app on Apple Watch, to explore how both can impact hearing over time. It will also attempt to measure how long-term sound exposure can affect stress levels and cardiovascular health. Participants will be randomly assigned to two groups in the study to assess if receiving Health app notifications when loud sound exposure is detected can motivate users to modify their listening behaviors.

Apple has worked on health-related projects like this before with its ResearchKit, which allowed scientists and medical researchers to build apps that can use data from willing iPhone users.

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The new AirFly Pro is the perfect travel buddy for your AirPods Pro – TechCrunch

Accessory maker TwelveSouth has a solid lineup of gadgets, many of which fill a niche that their products uniquely address — and address remarkably well. The AirFly Pro ($54.99) is a new iteration on one of those, providing a way to connect Bluetooth headphones to any audio source with a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s being sold at Apple Stores, too, as part of its launch today — and there’s good reason for that: This is the ideal way to make sure you can use your AirPods Pro just about everywhere, including with airplane seatback entertainment systems.

The AirFly Pro will work with any Bluetooth headphones, not just AirPods Pro — but the latest noise-canceling earbuds from Apple are among the best available when it comes to both active noise cancellation and sound quality, both great assets for frequent travelers and people more likely to encounter an in-flight entertainment system. But the AirFly Pro has additional tricks up its sleeve that earn it the “Pro” designation.

This is the first version of the product from TwelveSouth that offers the ability to stream audio in, as well as out. That means you can use it with a car stereo system that only has auxiliary audio in, for instance, to stream directly from your iPhone to the vehicle’s sound system. The AirFly Pro can also serve that function for home stereo sound equipment, speakers or other audio equipment that accepts audio in, but not Bluetooth streaming connections.

One other neat trick the AirFly Pro packs: audio sharing, so that you can connect two pairs of headphones at once. This is similar to the native audio sharing feature that Apple introduced for its own AirPod line in the most recent iOS update, but it works through the AirFly with any audio source, and any Bluetooth headphones. That’s yet another great feature for when you’re traveling with a partner.

I’ve had a bit of time to spend with the AirFly Pro, and so far it has been rock solid, with easy pairing and setup, and a convenient keychain ring/3.5mm connector cap for making it easier to keep with you. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a USB-A to USB-C cable included, too. The on-board battery lasts for 16 or more hours, which is more than enough time for even the longest of flights, and again, you’re getting that audio sharing feature which is super handy even around the house for just checking something out on the iPad on your couch.

Alongside the AirFly Pro, TwelveSouth also introduced new AirFly Duo and AirFly USB-C models. The difference is that neither of these offer that wireless audio input mode — but you get up to four more hours of battery life for the trade-off. The USB-C model also offers USB-C audio compatibility, for connecting to devices that use that connection for sound instead of 3.5mm, and both of these still offer dual headphone connectivity, for $5 less, at $49.99 each.

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Facebook quietly built “Popular Photos”, an in-app Instagram – TechCrunch

Facebook is copying Instagram while simultaneously invading its acquisition with branding and links back to the mothership. TechCrunch has spotted Facebook testing a feature called Popular Photos, which affixes an endless scroll of algorithmically selected pics from friends beneath the full-screen view of a photo opened from the News Feed. The result is an experience that feels like the Instagram feed, but inside of Facebook.

Popular Photos could offer users a more relaxing, lean-back browsing experience that omits links you have to click through, status updates you have to read, and other content types that bog down the News Feed. Instead, users can just passively watch the pretty pictures go by.

Facebook’s text and link-heavy feed looks increasingly stodgy and exhausting compared to visual communication-based social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Users have to do the work of digging into the meaning of News Feed each post rather than being instantly entertained. That experience doesn’t fit as well into short browsing sessions throughout the day, or when users are already drained from work, school, or family. Facebook used to have a dedicated Photos bookmark on desktop that would let you just browse that content type, but at some point it disappeared.

A Facebook spokesperson confirms that Facebook was running a small test of Popular Photos in October when we spotted it. That trial has concluded but the team is now iterating on the product and plans to do updated tests in the future. The company refused to disclose more details or its motives for Popular Photos. Given Facebook already has Stories, messaging, profiles, and its IGTV-esque Watch video hub, it’s only the Explore tab and a dedicated media feed that are missing from it being a full clone of Instagram.

Here’s how Popular Photos works. When users discover a photo in the News Feed or a profile, they can tap on it to see it full-screen on a black theater-view background. Typically, if users swipe or scroll on that photo, they’re just booted back out to where they came from. But with the Popular Photos feature, Facebook splays out more images for users to scroll through after the original.

By scrolling down past the Popular Photos title, they’ll see additional pics and a “See More Photos” label beckoning them to keep whipping through more public and friends-only images shared by friends and who they follow. Like on Instagram but unlike the News Feed, Facebook truncates the captions of Popular Photos after only around 65 characters so the stream doesn’t look overwhelmingly wordy. The black backgrounds give a more cinematic feel to the Popular Photos, putting emphasis on the imagery.

Facebook started showing Related Videos in 2014 when users scrolled past a video they’d opened full-screen. Now this “More Videos” feature will auto-play the next video and automatically bump users down the feed to view it. The feature even shows video ads. That could foreshadow Facebook inserting advertisers’ photos into the Popular Photos tab to monetize the extra browsing.

Facebook hasn’t been shy about trying to leverage Instagram to benefit itself. The company has placed an Open Facebook button in the Instagram navigation sidebar.

Previously, Instagram tried showing Facebook alerts in its own Notifications tab, and an annoying red counter for Facebook notifications on the three-line hamburger button that opens the Instagram sidebar in an attempt to drive referral traffic back to the Facebook app. Facebook has also tried notifying users in its app asking them to Like the Facebook Pages of people they follow on Instagram. And now, a “from Facebook” and new FACEBOOK logo can be found appended to the Instagram loading screen.

For Facebook to keep growing after 15 years in the market, it needs to fully embrace visual communication. It’s already copied Snapchat Stories and implemented the ephemeral photo and video format across its apps. Clearly it’s not above copying its own subsidiary Instagram to offer an alternative take on feed scrolling. I wonder how Instagram’s team feels about its parent company building a direct competitor?

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Consumer Reports puts Tesla Model 3, Model S back on its recommended list after reliability improves – TechCrunch

Tesla gained ground and moved up four spots in in the latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey from Consumer Reports, thanks largely to improvements with the Model 3.

Reliability has improved in the Model 3 and Model S enough that Consumer Reports can now recommend the two models.

Consumer Reports announced Thursday the results of its Annual Auto Reliability Survey, which is based on data collected from the organization’s members about their experiences with more than 400,000 vehicles. The survey covers more than 300 models.

CR does not recommend the Model X. The Model X continues to rank among the least reliable models in the survey.

The reversal is good news for Tesla. In February, Consumer Reports said it could no longer recommend the Model 3 because issues with the paint, trim and body hardware raised reliability questions.

Lexus took the top spot, followed by Mazda, Toyota, Porsche and Genesis. Tesla is still ranked in the bottom third of the survey. It now is ranked 23 out of 30 brands reviewed in the annual survey.

“The Tesla Model 3 struggled last year as the company made frequent design changes and ramped up production to meet demand,” Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR said in a statement. “But as the production stabilized, we have seen improvements to the reliability of the Model 3 and S that now allow us to recommend both models.”

While Tesla has improved, Fisher said he expects Tesla’s reliability rankings will fluctuate, given its track record to date.

Cadillac came in last place. Audi, Acura and Volkswagen are among the brands that saw sharp drops, following the introduction of troublesome redesigned vehicles. Volkswagen, which is ranked 27th, dropped nine spots from last year due reliability issues with the Atlas and Tiguan. The Consumer Reports survey noted that the two SUVs had problems with power equipment, in-car electronics and emissions/fuel system.

 

Consumer Reports-reliability 2019

Dodge posted one of the best improved reliability scores in the annual survey, gaining 13 places to round out the top 10 after years as a lower ranked brand.

Audi also fell seven spots in its ranking. CR said the number of new or redesigned 2019 models that shared similar powertrains and the new infotainment system caused the fall in ranking. The A6 and Q8 had well below average reliability, CR said.

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Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens for Sony E-Mount

sigma-35mm-f1-2-art-lens-review

Considering the amount of articles I’ve written about shallow depth of field, it is safe to say that anything wider than f/1.8 is my sweet spot. However, Sony has found itself severely lacking in my favorite fast aperture: f/1.2. Well, my friends, Sigma has come to save the day with the brand new Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens for Sony E Mount! It’s the fastest autofocus lens available for Sony mirrorless cameras to date.

I had the pleasure of taking this lens out for a spin on my Sony A7r IV and Sony A7r III and making all of my creamy bokeh dreams come true.

Lens build

Sigma-35mm-f1.2-ART-lens-review

Upon first glance, this lens is large and heavy. Many people wouldn’t realize this is a wide-angle 35mm focal length. The weight is a bit daunting when you use a mirrorless system, especially since one of the big selling points of mirrorless is the small size of the camera. However, the benefit of mirrorless is that all you’re carrying is the weight of the lens, which I don’t mind.

The weight of the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 ART lens is very worthwhile. The following are the reasons why.

In true ART fashion, the lens is solid, sturdy, and what I’d consider shock-resistant. Give it a bump, you’ll see (no, please don’t do that intentionally!). The lens features a dust and splash-proof structure with additional water and oil-repellent coating on the frontmost surface of the lens. I can personally attest to these, having already taken this optic out in some dire conditions. I put lenses through the wringer, and if they can’t survive me, they aren’t a worthy build!

Also, akin to the ART line is the beautiful glass that is vibrant, sharp, clear, and perfect. It’s very reminiscent of the Canon L-series glass, which I was obsessed with, and was thrilled to find similar in the Sigma ART line.

Lens features

Sigma-35mm-f1.2-ART-lens-review

If you’re a native Sony G-Master user who picks up the Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART lens for the first time, you’ll likely see a familiar feature – an aperture ring. This smooth and easy to use manual adjustment of the aperture is quite a useful feature (especially for those who dabble in video and cinema).

Additionally, what’s really interesting about this lens is the ability to click/de-click the aperture ring, allowing complete silence or clicks to let you know you have turned the ring.

The inclusion of the AFL button adds to the lens’s functionality as you can assign it to various operations.

Lens communication

Sigma-35mm-f1.2-ART-lens-review

You don’t invest thousands of dollars on a camera like the Sony Alpha to not use those features, yes? So why would you grab a lens that isn’t compatible? You just don’t. As such, my deal breaker is whether or not the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 ART lens can speak the Alpha’s native tongue (being a non-Sony-brand lens).

Well, the answer is one that I certainly hoped for: The Sigma is fluent in Sony speak!

As one of the first ART lenses designed exclusively with mirrorless in mind, it’s communication with the popular Sony mirrorless system is key (considering the lens only comes in Sony E mount and L mount). All autofocus features (including eye-tracking [human and animal] and AI autofocus) translate brilliantly between the camera body and optics.

Autofocus

Sigma-35mm-f1.2-ART-lens-review

First of all, the autofocus of the Sony Alpha 7r IV and 7r III are just fantastic. Paired with this lens that is great at communicating with the camera, and you have a recipe for winning. My photo sessions have been so much smoother as a result.

Autofocus has been fast, accurate, and a dream. I have had a hard time putting this lens down, and can always find at least one excuse to bring it along for the ride.

I’ve gone as far as to shoot canine sports with it, even though a focal length of 35mm requires me to get closer to my subject than I’d usually like. However, it’s well worth it for that creamy bokeh, because canine agility fields tend to be quite cluttered with obstacles (which makes for a busy frame without the bokeh).

Whether your subject is running at you, away from you, or to the side, there is no discrepancy in autofocus.

Sharpness

Review: Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens for Sony E-Mount

Edge to edge sharpness doesn’t even begin to describe how crystal clear the Sigma 35mm f/1.2 ART lens is. If I closed my eyes, I’d swear I was shooting with Canon L glass. The ART glass has been truly tremendous, especially in recent lens releases.

I found that my subject was just as sharp in the center point as any corners. This is great for those that want to take advantage of the 35mm focal length width and do some off-center frames.

The full-frame capability gives it a further wow factor. When attached to my Sony A7r IV – a 60+ megapixel camera – the images viewed on a massive print-calibrated 4k screen equals some jaw-dropping moments. Pairing tack sharpness with this lens’s visual sharpness results in an image that would make even the ultimate pixel peepers happy. From my own use, I’d say peak sharpness was around f/2.0 – f/2.8.

What you see is what you get, as the sharpness translated to prints beautifully.

Bokeh

Review: Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens for Sony E-Mount

You don’t buy an f1.2 lens not to use it at its widest aperture! It took a bit of effort on my part to ever take it off f/1.2.

The bokeh is creamy, beautiful, and completely effortless. The subject separation is superb, and the client’s response to these magical images is pure bliss. I loved using this lens with cluttered backgrounds as the distraction smoothed away. Even when the aperture is widened to f/2.8, the bokeh continues to be smooth and satisfying.

There is some slight vignetting at the corners, but I quite enjoy this look and add a bit more of it in post-production. Those photographers that are miffed by vignetting may not be too thrilled. However, the 35mm wide focal length does allow for a wee bit of cropping so you can remedy that situation with some corner snips.

The bokeh balls produced with the Sigma 35mm f1.2 lens are very smooth and lovely. You won’t find yourself trapped with no onion-ring bokeh in the editing room, as seen in many other types of similar lenses.

Chromatic aberration

Review: Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens for Sony E-Mount

Much to my positive surprise, I have not experienced any chromatic aberration or fringing with this lens – even on extremely contrasting subjects. This tends to be a common problem with very wide apertures. Whatever magic Sigma did to this particular lens clearly works because I have yet to encounter fringing.

With that said, I’m not saying there isn’t going to be fringing in some peculiar situations, but just that I have not yet personally encountered it. I have encountered fringing immediately with several f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses from Sony (even the G-Master), unfortunately.

Pros

Review: Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens for Sony E-Mount

  • Fast and beautiful f/1.2 wide aperture.
  • Full-frame lens.
  • Physical aperture ring with click/de-click switch.
  • Excellent communication between Sony E-mount cameras and this Sigma lens.
  • Beautiful creamy bokeh with no onion-ring issues.
  • Fast autofocus and vibrant output.
  • Little to no chromatic aberration.
  • Price is still very competitive, despite being in the four-digit range.

Cons

Sigma-35mm-f1.2-ART-lens-review

  • Heavy, bulky, and large for a 35mm lens (especially on a mirrorless system).
  • Only available in Sony E-Mount and in Sigma/Leica/Panasonic L-Mount (the lens is designed exclusively for mirrorless systems. Some may see this as a con if they don’t own a mirrorless system).

Conclusion

Review: Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens for Sony E-Mount

Sigma 35mm f/1.2 Art Lens Review: Conclusion

My final thought is simple: “this lens will be permanently attached to one of my mirrorless cameras.” The investment is well worth the amount of use you’ll likely get out of this lens, even if you don’t shoot at extremely wide apertures such as f/1.2. I have always found it more worthwhile to invest in lenses that grant you more options and versatility rather than less.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.2 Art Lens can easily become a staple of any kit, with an incredibly vast array of uses from portraits, pets, events, fine art, and everything in between. With the popularity of prime lenses, this one is definitely a top contender.

Have you used the Sigma 35mm f1.2 ART Lens? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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Motorola throws back to the future with a foldable Razr reboot – TechCrunch

The rebirth of the Razr has been rumored for several months now. And honestly, such a product is a bit of a no-brainer. The Lenovo-owned company is embracing the burgeoning (if sputtering) world of foldables with the return of one of its most iconic models.

While it’s true that Motorola’s kept the Razr name alive in some form or another well into the Android era, everything that’s come since has failed to recapture the magic of the once mighty brand.

From the looks of things, however, the newly announced Razr is a lovely bit of symmetry. The product, which was announced earlier today in Los Angeles, leans into the lackluster criticism that foldables are simply a return of the once-ubiquitous clamshell design.

Motorola Razr

Motorola Razr

According to Motorola, the company has been toying around with flexible technology for some time now. Per a press release: “In 2015, a cross functional team, comprised of engineers and designers from both Motorola and Lenovo, was assembled to start thinking about how we could utilize flexible display technology.”

The device swaps the horizontal design of its best known competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Fold. The vertical form factor looks to be a match made in foldable heaven. Certainly it loses some of the uber-thin design that made the original Razr such a hit so many years back, but makes the ultra-wide (21:9) 6.2-inch screen compact enough to fit in a pocket.

As with the Galaxy Fold, there’s another a small display on the front for getting a glimpse of notifications and the like. It’s another design feature that mirrors the O.G. Razr. Predictably, the device runs Android — Android 9 (for now), to be precise.

For full throwback appeal, there’s also a “Retro Razr” mode, that mimics the original metallic button design for the bottom half of the screen. It’s a skin that does, indeed, double as a number pad, usable with Android messaging app. Motorola clearly put a lot of love into the design and it shows. If nothing else, the new Razr could go a ways toward proving that retro handsets can be more than just nostalgic novelty for bygone tech.

After the whole Samsung kerfuffle, you’d be right to question the device’s durability, though Motorola says it’s less concerned, citing an “average” smartphone timespan for the product. Only one way, to find out, I guess. Also like the Fold, price is a pretty big obstacle to any sort of mainstream adoption for this first-gen product. The Razr will run $1,499 when it launches in January of next year.

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Brave launches version 1.0 of its privacy-focused browser – TechCrunch

Brave, the company co-founded by ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after his ouster from the organization in 2014, today launched version 1.0 of its browser for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS. In a browser market where users are spoiled for choice, Brave is positioning itself as a fast option that preserves users’ privacy with strong default settings, as well as a crypto currency-centric private ads and payment platform that allows users to reward content creators.

As the company announced last month, it now has about 8 million monthly active users. Its Brave Rewards program, which requires opt-in from users and publishers, currently has about 300,000 publishers on board. Most of these are users with small followings on YouTube and Twitter, but large publishers like Wikipedia, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate and the LA Times are also part of the ecosystem. Using this system, which not every publisher is going to like, the browser will show a small number of ads as a notification in a separate private ad tab, based on the user’s browsing habits. Users then receive 70% of what the advertisers spend on ads, while Brave keeps 30%.

As users view these ads, they start earning Basic Attention Tokens (BAT), Brave’s cryptocurrency, which they can keep or give to publishers. In its early days, Brave actually started with Bitcoin as the currency for this, but as Eich noted, that quickly became too expensive (and because the price was going up, users wanted to hold on to the Bitcoin instead of donating it).

Brave also comes with a built-in ad blocker that is probably among the most effective in the industry, as well as extensive anti-tracking features. “Everybody’s bothered by the sense of being tracked and bothered by bad ads,” Eich told me. “But I think ad aesthetics are not the problem. It’s the tracking and the cost of tracking which is multifarious. There’s page load time, running the radio to load the tracking scripts that load the other scripts that load the scripts that load the ads, that drains your battery, too.” Eich argues that with Brave, the team found a way to tie this all together with anti-tracking technology and an approach to ad blocking that goes beyond the industry-standard blocklists and also uses machine learning to identify additional rules for blocking.

For those users that really want to be anonymous on the web, Brave also features a private browsing mode, just like every other browser, but with the added twist that you can also open a private session through the Tor network, which will make it very hard for most companies to identify you.

At its core, Brave is simply a fast, extensible Chromium-based browser. That’s also what the company believes will sell it to users. “The way you get users, […] I think speed is the first one that works across the largest number of users. But you can’t just leave it at speed. You want to have all your benefits tied up in a pretty knot and that’s what we have done,” he said. For Brave, speed and ad/tracking protection are obviously interconnected, and all the other benefits accrue from that.

Looking beyond version 1.0, the Brave team plans to implement better sync, with support for tab and history syncing, for example. Brave also aims to make participating in Brave Rewards an experience with much lower friction for the user. In the early days, before it was on Android, the opt-in rate was around 40%, Eich told me, and the team wants to get it back to that.

If you want to give Brave a try, you can download it here.

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