Game of Thrones petition reaches 1M signatures ahead of finale

Life is short, difficult and, most likely, ultimately meaningless. In this age of immediate fan service, it’s important to remember that you can’t always get what you want. That goes double when it comes to the final season of a beloved television series (I’m looking at you, The Wire). TV, like life, rarely has a satisfying ending.

But perhaps the internet — the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems — can fix that. Irritated Games of Thrones fans have taken to that bastion the bastion of fan annoyance (no, not that one) Change.org in a futile hope of getting a remake of the show’s eighth and final series to end thing they way they want.

As the petition has cruised past one million signatures, its creators have penned a prediction and spoiler note to let signers know where things stand. Tempering expectations for the possibility of a reshoot, it notes that the state of the world demands escapism via sci-fi and fantasy like GoT and Star Wars.

“I didn’t make this petition to be an entitled, whiny fan,” the petition’s creator writes. “I made it because I was immensely disappointed and needed to vent. Do I have a solution? I’ve got plenty of ideas, but no, I’m not a Hollywood writer. But you don’t need to be a mechanic to know your car is broken.”

Who knows, maybe tonight’s final episode will make everything right. Perhaps it will be so good that the world’s corporations and governments will join forces to end war, obliterate poverty and create a diet soda that doesn’t taste like a liquified pencil eraser. Or maybe we’ll all go back to work to work on Monday knowing that it, like all of us could have been better. And maybe, just maybe true change starts with us, beginning with canceling that HBO account.

Or maybe not. Barry is still pretty great.

Google reportedly suspends select business with Huawei following U.S. ban

The Trump administration Huawei ban is sure to have wide-ranging and long lasting effects for all parties. In the meantime, it seems, a number of those involved in the periphery are treading lightly in hope of not burning bridges on either side. Google has taken accidental center stage, in its role providing Android and a variety of apps for the embattled handset maker.

According to a new report from Reuters, the U.S. software giant has taken some steps toward disentangling itself. Word comes from unnamed sources, who say the company has suspended all businesses with Huawei, aside from those covered by open-source licenses. The list appears to include updates to Android and popular apps like Gmail.

From the sound of it, Google is still attempting to wrap its head around how to proceed with the matter. Huawei, too, is assessing its options. Given the complexity of smartphone hardware and software, handsets routinely utilize components source from a variety of different locations. This fact has complicated things as trade tensions have begun to rise, hitting ZTE particularly hard over accusations that the company had violated U.S.-Iran sanctions.

Huawei has called the ban bad for all parties, but has continued to be defiant, noting its plans to become “self-reliant.” The company has no doubt been preparing for the seeming inevitability of heightened trade tensions, but its determination has some industry observers unconvinced that it can carry on with without any input from Google or U.S. chipmakers like Qualcomm.

Is a $600 smart oven ever worth it?

Part of closely following tech is the often mistaken belief that newer, better technologies can help right some of the wrongs older ones caused in the first place. Behold the Wii and the Fitbit — two perfect examples of technologies designed to right some of technologies’ previous wrongs.

It’s tricky because, in some cases, these things do work. We’ve all read the success stories, and for many of us, that’s enough to keep us trying out new things. Some much ultimately relies on our own individual hang ups. If we’re lucky, the right piece of technology at the right time can be legitimately transformative of those things we’d like to change about ourselves.

With something like the June, the hope is two-fold. There’s all of the built-in features and the promise of better baking, coupled with the simple motivating factor of spending $599 on a glorified toaster oven. I’ll admit that test driving it only addresses only the first of those two key things, but my hopes were still pretty high that it could help wean me off of my takeout food dependency.

Thing is, I travel a lot for work. Couple that with a long time living in one of the world’s best and most diverse food cities, and that’s a recipe for picking up food nearly every night. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what that means for my wallet and waste line, not to mention the packing waste that tends to generate. Bad news all the way around.

Often life gets in the way, as it has with my own testing. This one’s been a little cursed. After a prolonged delay on review units (the second gen oven was announced 10 months ago), I was finally able to get started late last month. Well, after the company sent me a second unit when I discovered the hard way that the first had been damaged in shipping, sending up sparks during my first attempt to cook. I mention that only to say double-check the filaments when you take it out of the box. Perhaps some kind of automotive-like oven health check is in the cards for some future update.

One other thing worth mentioning here, at the risk of offering up TMI, is the fact that I rarely left my bed the week before last, over a particularly bad bout with the stomach flu. The nausea and everything else have been bad enough to put me off of the idea of handling raw meat for the intervening week — something that could hopefully be a boon for my longtime flirtations with vegetarianism.

As someone who’s never been especially enamored with cooking, the June did help fire up those synapsis in my brain a bit. There’s something in being able to cook something decent with minimal effort, and the June does a good job on that front. Locate a recipe with only a handful of ingredients and a stated five to 10 minute prep time, and that’s a solid baby step. Of course, you can only go outside of June’s suggested recipes, but coloring inside the lines is a probably the best place for a beginner to start.

Simplicity, coupled with data collection are where the June really shines. Between the constant heat monitoring, the camera and the inclusion of a meat thermometer, the oven is pulling a lot of data to assure you get the right cook. It’s not idiot-proof (sadly for this culinary dummy), and the first time I tried (the working oven), I’d stuck the thermometer too far in, touching the bottom pan and shortening the cooking time to a too brief five minutes (down from 22).

Make this so idiots like me can use it is probably my main feedback here. Also, though I fully understand why it’s as large as it is, it was still bigger than expected. Which may not mean much to you, if you don’t grapple with the size restrictions of a New York City apartment.

Another minor thing, which probably couldn’t be avoided is that plasticky smell that happens with the first several sessions. Based on the June FAQ, I expected it to go away a lot sooner, but was assured it was just a normal part of the baking process.

For what it’s worth, the simple dishes came out well, which only means a lot if you know how terrible I am at cooking. It’s a weird mental block, I realize. And I did enjoy the process enough to begin experimenting with things outside of the parameters of the June recipes.

Smartphone notifications are a nice feature, though I’m not sure any of the smart features are “necessary” per se. Like, take this time-lapse footage of me slightly overcooking chicken breasts:

[Above: bon appétit?]

Ditto for the image recognition. It does an impressive job mostly identifying the foodstuffs on the tray, but I can’t really foresee a scenario in which you, the chef, is not aware of what you’re cooking before you hit start.

It’s a tricky line to walk. You want to add enough features to justify the purchase of a smart oven, while not loading it up with so many that the price becomes unmanageable. June’s definitely taken a step in the right direction with the second gen oven, but for a majority of users, the balance still isn’t quite there.

How the (plant-based) sausage is about to be made

It’s been a big year for Impossible . The bay area based food startup kicked the year off with a new take on its titual burger, and just last week announced the closing of a $300 million round hot on the heels of its Burger King distribution.

What comes next for the company likely won’t come as much of a shock to anyone steeped in the world of plant-based meat replacements. Engadget got a bit of behind-the-scenes time at the startup’s Redwood City location, discovering that sausage is next up on the Impossible menu.

From the sound of things, the breakfast food will mostly be made up of the same stuff as the company’s burger patties, right down to the imitation blood. Instead, the amounts of the ingredients will be mixed up in different proportions, with potato protein removed completely. In fact, the company’s got a lot of different recipes in the work that are largely reconfigurations of its “platform” product. Imagine it as a modular menu, if you will. Heck, rotating the same few core ingredients has worked pretty well for chains like Taco Bell over the years, so why not health foodstuffs?

Timing and all that other good stuff is still TBD.

Powerbeats Pro are the Bluetooth earbuds to beat

Let’s get the bad out of the way first, shall we?

For starters, that charging case is huge. There’s no way around it. It’s something that’s become more and more apparent as the weather is warmer and I no longer have jacket pockets to carry it around in. If you shell out the money for these, you’ll be thinking about this a lot, too. How long you plan to be out versus the added pocket bulk.

There’s also the issue of cost. A few years ago, $250 might not have seemed crazy for a pair of wireless earbuds. When you’re out-pricing Apple’s primary earbuds, however, it might be time to reconsider.

Those are really the big strikes in what’s been an otherwise wholly enjoyable review process. I’ve been eager to put these through their paces since the day they were announced, and haven’t been disappointed. Given the choice between the AirPods and Powerbeats Pro, I’m leaning toward the latter at the moment.

The Powerbeats Pro are a wholly different take on the category, and that’s precisely where they succeed. Sure, Beats has been operating under the Apple banner for more than a third of its existence, but the company’s fully wireless headphones are probably the best example to date of how to run a sub-brand with minimal interference.

That’s not to say that Apple wasn’t involved. The company’s fingerprints are here, but that’s largely a good thing, honestly. The inclusion of the H1 chip is the clearest example. Using the same silicon found in the latest AirPods, the initial pairing process is as simple as opening up the case. From there, a large window will show the case and two headphones, along with corresponding battery levels.

Assuming, of course, you have an iPhone. You can pair them up to an Android handset and just about anything else with Bluetooth, but you’ve got to go through the more traditional rigmarole. The flip side of all of this is that the Pros only ship with a Lightning port. I’ve expressed my frustration with Apple’s proprietary connector in the past, but honestly, it mostly comes down to the fact that Apple seems to have finally started following the rest of the industry down the USB-C rabbit hole. At this point it feels inevitable.

And, of course, the Pro case isn’t wireless yet. Gotta save something for the second gen, I guess.

As for the clear advantages Beats has over the AirPods, that’s three-fold. First is battery life. The upshot to the massive case is a ton of time on a charge. Beats puts them at nine hours on the earbuds, with a full 24 hours all told, when the case is factored in. I never found myself short on juice, and I’m pretty psyched to take them on the next cross-country plane ride.

That means, in most instances, you’re totally fine to leave home without the case. Though beware that both the case and the buds tend to scuff easily, so I’d use it when possible. The buds’ placement inside the case is also a little tricky. Unlike the AirPods, I found myself repositioning them the first few times.

While the case itself sports a small light that goes either red or white, depending on whether they’re charging, there’s no light on the buds themselves, meaning you’re primarily dependent on iOS to let you know where things stand.

The design of the buds themselves isn’t for everyone — but the same can certainly be said for AirPods. It’s true that the over the ear hooks are probably ideally suited for the gym, but in black these are subtle enough for most people to wear out undetected. More importantly, there are quite comfortable. Apple is still kicking and screaming against silicone tips, and that’s made AirPods particularly divisive. Like many of the company’s headphones before, they simply don’t fit in a lot of ears.

Removable silicone tips offer a more adaptable fit, coupled with a better seal. That, in turn, means less sound leak. The headphones might be tuned a little high for some tastes, but it honestly beats the old days when the company leaned entirely too heavily on bass to make up for other shortcomings. As is, the sound is quite good, so far as fully wireless Bluetooth earbuds go.

I will say that the design wore on one of my ears a bit after a marathon listen while working at my desk, but I was able to wear them for a lot longer than most of the earbuds I’ve tested, with minimal annoyance.

Also impressive is the distance they’ll work. I routinely walked into the other room while leaving my phone charging on the desk with no problem. I did run into the occasional connection problems here and there, where one headphone conked out, but again, that unfortunately is pretty in-line with the current limitations of Bluetooth technology. Putting the earbuds in the case and pulling them back out seemed to address the problem just fine.

The Pros are generally less concerned with appearance than their Apple brethren. A bit ironic, perhaps, for a brand that was seemingly built around image. They’re a pretty good indicator of how far Beats has come as a brand, making for a much more utilitarian product than AirPods — and for a constant companion, that’s a good thing.

Assuming you can stomach the high price and massive case, for a majority of users, the Powerbeats Pro are probably the way to go.

Spotify is test driving a car hardware thing called ‘Car Thing’

For anyone following Spotify, this no doubt felt like an inevitably. As the streaming service looks to diversify, the company’s already had some loose partnerships with hardware companies like Mighty. Now it’s looking to build its own thing.

That thing being “Car Thing.”

The piece of automotive hardware isn’t a consumer device exactly. Spotify is actually just using it to study subscribers’ in-car listening happens. The voice controlled product will be offered up to “a small group of invited Spotify Premium users” in the U.S. who will be getting a comped subscription in return.

It’s a voice controlled product that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter — and it’s apparently just the beginning of this kind of public beta user testing. “We might do similar voice-specific tests in the future,” Spotify explains, “so don’t be surprised if you hear about ‘Voice Thing’ and ‘Home Thing.’ ”

The testing will starting in “the coming weeks,” per The Verge. Spotify is no doubt looking to address rumors about its own hardware ambitions by discussing these tests publicly. If things go well, however, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see these sorts of product being made available in a car or home near you.

Alphabet’s Wing drone deliveries are coming to Finland next month

Slowly but surely, Wing is spreading. Just last month, the one-time Google moonshot started deliveries for select locales in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. Now it’s moving into Finland, taking on that country’s own capital, Helsinki.

Drone deliveries will start just month — which may just make the “spring” timeframe it announced late last year. Like the Australian deliveries, this is considered a “pilot” program, with select goods and limited geography. Specifically things are being test driven in the Vuosaari distract — the city’s most populated.

Wing notes on its Medium page,

Vuosaari is an inspiring locale for Wing in several ways. Helsinki’s most populous district, it is bordered by water on three sides, with significant forestland alongside residential areas and a large international cargo port. The density of Vuosaari’s population makes it a great place to launch our first service to multi-family housing communities as well.

The program will kick off with two partners: gourmet super market, Herkku Food Mark and Cafe Monami. That means everything from salmon sandwiches to pastries delivered via drone.

As Wing notes, the program arrives as Helsinki is making a push to lessen dependence on car ownership by improving public transit citywide.

The state of the smartphone

Earlier this month, Canalys used the word “freefall” to describe its latest reporting. Global shipments fell 6.8% year over year. At 313.9 million, they were at their lowest level in nearly half a decade.

Of the major players, Apple was easily the hardest hit, falling 23.2% year over year. The firm says that’s the “largest single-quarter decline in the history of the iPhone.” And it’s not an anomaly, either. It’s part of a continued slide for the company, seen most recently in its Q1 earnings, which found the handset once again missing Wall Street expectations. That came on the tale of a quarter in which Apple announced it would no longer be reporting sales figures.

Tim Cook has placed much of the iPhone’s slide at the feet of a disappointing Chinese market. It’s been a tough nut for the company to crack, in part due to a slowing national economy. But there’s more to it than that. Trade tensions and increasing tariffs have certainly played a role — and things look like they’ll be getting worse before they get better on that front, with a recent bump from a 10 to 25% tariff bump on $60 billion in U.S. goods.

It’s important to keep in mind here that many handsets, regardless of country of origin, contain both Chinese and American components. On the U.S. side of the equation, that includes nearly ubiquitous elements like Qualcomm processors and a Google-designed operating system. But the causes of a stagnating (and now declining) smartphone market date back well before the current administration began sowing the seeds of a trade war with China.

Image via Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesThe underlying factors are many. For one thing, smartphones simply may be too good. It’s an odd notion, but an intense battle between premium phone manufacturers may have resulted in handsets that are simply too good to warrant the long-standing two-year upgrade cycle. NPD Executive Director Brad Akyuz tells TechCrunch that the average smartphone flagship user tends to hold onto their phones for around 30 months — or exactly two-and-a-half years.

That’s a pretty dramatic change from the days when smartphone purchases were driven almost exclusively by contracts. Smartphone upgrades here in the States were driven by the standard 24-month contract cycle. When one lapsed, it seemed all but a given that the customer would purchase the latest version of the heavily subsidized contract.

But as smartphone build quality has increased, so too have prices, as manufacturers have raised margins in order to offset declining sales volume. “All of a sudden, these devices became more expensive, and you can see that average selling price trend going through the roof,” says Akyuz. “It’s been crazy, especially on the high end.”

Asus’ $499 ZenFone 6 has a flip-up camera and a giant battery

Premium smartphone manufacturers have moved the needle on pricing, but 2019 may well go down as a kind of golden age for budget flagships. Apple, Google and Samsung are all in that business now, and OnePlus has once again shown the world how to offer more for less. And then there’s the new Zenfone.

It’s a bit of an understatement to suggest that Asus has had trouble breaking into the smartphone space. And things aren’t likely to get any easier as the market further consolidates among the top five players. But you’ve got to hand it to the company for swinging for the fences with the $499 ZenFone 6.

First thing’s first. Like the excellent OnePlus 7 Pro, the phone (fone?) forgoes the notch and hole punch, instead opting for a clever pop-up that flips up from the back. That means one camera is doing double duty, toggling between the front and rear with the push of an on-screen button. Like the OnePlus, there’s built-in fall detection that retracts the camera if it slips from your hand.

That whole dealie would be enough to help the phone stand out in a world of similar handsets, but this is a solid budget handset through and through. Inside is a bleeding edge Snapdragon 855, coupled with a beefy 5,000mAh battery. The new ZenFone also sports a headphone jack, because it’s 2019 and rules don’t apply to smartphones anymore.

Is that all enough to right the ship? Probably not, but it’s nice to see Asus stepping up with a compelling product at an even more compelling price point. More information on the phone’s U.S. release should be arriving soon.

Samsung’s 5G phone hits Verizon, Sprint getting two 5G devices this month

With 5G, when it rains, it pours. A few hours after Verizon officially started selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, Sprint announced that it will be offering two 5G devices for its network by the end of the month.

For now, it still feels like manufacturers are putting the cart before the horse here. There’s little question that 5G will become ubiquitous in the next few years, but actual opportunities to access the technology are still pretty scarce.

Among U.S. carriers, Verizon (or parent company’s parent company) has been the most aggressive. Fitting then, that the company is first to market with the Galaxy S10 5G. Of course all of these devices while default to 4G when there’s no 5G to be found, which is going to be the case more often than not for a while.

Verizon’s 5G is currently available in select markets, including Chicago and Minneapolis. That number is set to balloon to 20 before year’s end, including, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington, DC.

Sprint, meanwhile, has promised to flip on 5G in nine markets “in the coming weeks.” The list includes parts of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City, and then locations in Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix and Washington D.C.

To celebrate, the network will be offering two 5G devices this month. The LG V50 ThinQ and HTC 5G Hub will hit Sprint stores on May 31.