The ONE Smart Keyboard Pro lets you tickle the ivories with ease

While the ONE Smart Keyboard Pro doesn’t have a sweet demo tune nor can it play barking dog Jingle Bells without some help, it can teach you or your kids how to play piano. The elegant keyboard has 88 weighted keys that simulate a true mechanical piano and connects to your phone so you can learn to play at your own pace.

The Keyboard Pro costs $799 and is essentially a compact teaching keyboard. It can connect to your iOS or Android devices via an oddly shaped USB B cable and once it’s paired with the app you can run through simple songs – think Greensleeves – and more complex sheet music. This keyboard is weighted but not progressively which means that each key offers the same resistance, a consideration that might be important to some more experienced players. Further, you can connect a USB cable and connect the keyboard to your computer to use it as a MIDI controller.

Again, this is a very austere keyboard. It doesn’t do much aside from teach you how to play which, in the end, is what most of us need. Because it doesn’t have the expansive bells and whistles of a Casio and because most of the smarts are in the app itself, it’s a bit of a hard sell for most people. However, if you’re looking to learn, the ONE works.

This larger and more complete version of the One Smart Keyboard offers quality workmanship and design. The entire system is surprisingly sparse with nothing but a power button and volume on the front of the keyboard. There is an input for a sustain pedal as well as a few output jacks for headphones and that’s about it. Don’t expect to pick out instruments or pitch shift with this keyboard. Once you fire up the app you have access to teaching exercises and games that let you follow along on the LED-lit keyboard as you run through songs and scales. Finally, you can buy sheet music for $3.99 or so that you can learn to play on the ONE. There is also free sheet music available for those who want to play a little classical.

I found the entire system to be quite usable and my kids, once they figured out how to slow down the music, jumped right in learning little songs. Nothing can quite teach you how to play piano like a human teacher – there aren’t enough smarts in this app to make adjustments based on your skill – but it’s the electronic equivalent of buying a Teach Yourself Piano book and sitting down in front of grandma’s old upright. I’m especially pleased with the quality of the keyboard. I’ve already had a few MIDI keyboards over the years including models from Casio and Yamaha and this one is on par with those. The teaching feature is the main draw here, as I noted before, because there is little else you can do with this keyboard right out of the box. However, if that’s what you’re looking for in a keyboard and you don’t want to sample bodily noises so you can play Farting Clair De Lune at the school talent show, this might be the model for you.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Rate This!

This is a real life Transformer

The J-deite RIDE transformers from a vehicle to a robot just like the Megazord from Voltron. Specific information about the creation is a bit sketchy but the YouTube channel states it’s an electric vehicle and shows the driver and passenger staying in their seat as it changes forms. It can even walk.

The whole process seems automated and takes just a few minutes. Sure, if this was a Michael Bay movie, this transformer wouldn’t stand a chance against the Jaegers that can change form in seconds. But this is real life and so I’m still impressed.

Rate This!

Leaked iPhone pics show glass back and headphone jack

The headphone jack could still have a future in an iPhone. These leaked pics show an iPhone SE 2 with a glass back and headphone jack. Like the current iPhone SE, the design seems to be a take on the classic iPhone 5. I dig it.

The leak also states the upcoming device sports wireless charging, which puts it in line with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

Rumors have long stated that Apple was working on an updated iPhone SE. The original was released in March 16 and updated a year later with improved specs. With a 4-inch screen, the iPhone SE is the smallest iPhone Apple offers and also the cheapest.

WWDC in early June is the next major Apple event and could play host for the launch of this phone. Last month, around the iPhone SE’s birthday, Apple held a special event in a Chicago school to launch an education-focused iPad. It’s logical that Apple pushed the launch of this new iPhone SE to WWDC to give the iPad event breathing room.

While Apple cut the headphone jack from its flagship devices, the SE looks to retain the connection. It makes sense. The low-cost iPhone is key for Apple in growing markets across the world where the last two models helped grow iOS’s market penetration. This is Apple’s low-cost offering and thus suggests Apple doesn’t expect buyers to also spring for its wireless earbuds.

If released at WWDC or later in the year, the iPhone SE looks to serve consumers who enjoy smaller phones with headphone jacks. That’s me.

Rate This!

Snapchat launches Spectacles V2, camera glasses you’ll actually wear

Photos, not just video. No yellow ring alerting people to the camera. Underwater-capable. Classier colors with lighter lenses. Prescription options. Faster syncing. And a much slimmer frame and charging case. Snapchat fixed the biggest pain points of its Spectacles camera sunglasses with V2, which launch today for $150. The company only sold 220,000 pairs of V1, with their limited functionality, tricky exports and goofy hues. But V2 is stylish, convenient and useful enough to keep handy. They’re not revolutionary. They’re a wearable camera for everybody. 

You can check out our snazzy hands-on demo video below:

The new Spectacles go on sale today in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and France, then in 13 more European countries on May 3. The $150 V2s are $20 more than the old version and only available on Snap’s app and site — no Amazon, pop-up stores or vending SnapBots. And V1 owners will get a firmware update that lets them take photos.

After two days of use, I think Spectacles V2 cross the threshold from clumsy novelty to creative tool accessible to the mainstream. And amidst user growth struggles, that’s what Snap needs right now.  

V1 was to get people comfortable

What Snap doesn’t need is a privacy scandal, and that risk is the trade-off it’s making with its more discreet Spectacles design. They still display a little circle of white lights while recording, but with the permanent yellow ring on the corner removed, you might not notice there’s a camera lens there. That could make people a little nervous and creeped out.

But the company’s VP of hardware Mark Randall tells me he thinks the true purpose of V1 was to get people comfortable wearing and being recorded by a face computer. It certainly wasn’t a consumer success, with less than half of owners using them after the first month. He said he feels pretty good about shipping 220,000 pairs. Yet Snapchat was roundly mocked for taking a $40 million write-off after making hundreds of thousands too many. Randall attributes that to having fragmented sales channels, which Snap is fixing by only selling V2 itself so it can better predict demand.

Snap did learn that users wanted to take photos, get them in less flashy coral colors, bring Spectacles to the beach, pair them quicker with better resolution exports and hear less wind noise when moving. And most importantly, they wanted something they didn’t feel weird wearing. So Randall’s team essentially scrapped the yellow warning ring, style, architecture, chipset and electronics to build a better V2 from the ground up. The result rises high above its predecessor.

The specs of Spectacles V2

Snapchat isn’t making a spectacle out of the Spectacles V2 launch. There’s no hidden vending machines with cryptic clues leading to long lines. They’re openly for sale today in Snap’s four top markets, with IE, BE, NL, SE, NO, DK, FI, DE, AT, CH, PL, ES and IT coming next week. This might make sure everyone who wants them can have them before they inevitably stop being trendy and will have to rely on their true value.

As soon as you slide them out of their tennis ball tube package, you’ll notice a higher build quality in Spectacles V2. The yellow case is about 1/3 smaller, so you could squeeze it in some pants pockets or easily throw it in a jacket or purse. The old version basically required a backpack. The charging port has also been moved to the side so it doesn’t fall out so easily. Even with the better hardware, Spectacles are supposed to have enough battery and memory to record and transfer 70 videos over a week on a normal charge, plus carry four extra charges in the case.

The Spectacles themselves feel sleeker and less like chunky plastic. They come in onyx black, ruby red and sapphire blue and you can choose between a more mirrored or natural lens color too. Users in the U.S. can order them with prescription lenses through Lensabl. Those colors are a lot more mature than the childish coral pink and teal of V1. More transparent lenses make them easier to use in lower light, so you won’t be restricted to just the sunniest days, though they’re still UVA and UVB rated. I could even get by inside to some degree, whereas I was bumping into things indoors with V1.

The box holding the hardware on the hinges is now much smaller, making them lighter and shallower overall. An extra microphone helps Spectacles reduce wind noise and balance out conversations so the wearer doesn’t sound way louder.

It’s easy to long-press for a photo or tap for 10-second video, with extra taps extending the clip up to 30 seconds. Either fires up the light ring to let people know you’re recording, but this is much more subtle than the permanent yellow ring that was there on V1. You can only add stickers and drawings after you shoot and export your Spectacles Snaps, so that means there’s no adding augmented reality face filters or dancing hot dogs to what you see first-person.

Syncing goes much faster with Spectacles V2

Snap Inc. actually reduced the field of vision for Spectacles from 115 to 105 degrees to cut off some of the fish-eye warping that happened to the edges of clips shot on V1. Videos now record in 1216 x 1216 pixels, while photos are 1642 x 1642. What’s fun is that Spectacles can record under water. Randall doesn’t recommend diving to 200 feet with them, but jumping in the pool or getting caught in the rain will be no problem. In fact, it can make for some pretty trippy visuals. Cheddar’s Alex Heath nailed most of these features in a scoop about V2 last month.

Syncing to your phone now just requires Bluetooth and a seven-second press of the shutter button, rather than a shoddy QR code scan. Exports always happens in HD over Specs’ internal Wi-Fi now, and transfers go four times quicker than the old process that required you to sync standard definition (low-quality) versions of videos first, then pick your favorites, then download them in HD. Randall says that led lots of people to accidentally or impatiently settle for SD content, which made Spectacles’ capture resolution seem much lower than its potential.

Unfortunately, Snapchat is what’s holding Spectacles back. You can only sync your Spectacles to Snapchat Memories first before exporting videos individually or as one big Story to your camera roll. That makes it a pain to share them elsewhere. If Snap wants to be a hardware giant, it can’t just build accompaniments to its own app. It needs to catch the attention of all kinds of photographers, not just those who already love Snapchat. I do wish they could share directly to Instagram, and barring that is a weighty strategy choice.

What really matters, though, is the how the incremental improvements all add up to something much more livable.

Keeping Snapchat spectacular

Snapchat may have finally found a way to make Spectacles carryable and wearable enough that people use them as their default sunglasses. That could lead to way more content being produced from Spectacles, which in turn could make Snapchat more interesting at a time when it’s desperate to differentiate from Instagram with something tough to copy.

Randall says Snap is just starting to reach out to professional creators, who could prove to people how fun Spectacles could be. Snap neglected them last time around and ended up with few pieces of flagship Spectacles content. This time, though, Snap will focus on showing off what Spectacles can shoot rather than just how they look on your face. It’s even going to run its own in-app ads promoting Spectacles that will let you swipe up to buy them instantly.

Snap Inc. calls itself a camera company, but beyond software, that wasn’t really true until now. It could be a half-decade before we have AR goggles for the masses, and Snap can’t wait around for that. V2 is a solid step forward, and Randall says Snap is committed to a long road of hardware releases.

Getting tons of its cash-strapped teens to buy the gadget may prove difficult again, but I at least expect V2s won’t end up dying alone in a drawer as often. These glasses aren’t going to turn around Snapchat’s business, which lost $443 million last quarter. And they probably won’t win over any Instagram loyalists. But Spectacles V2 could rekindle the interest of lapsed users while producing unique points of view to entertain those who never left. And if they don’t sell well, Snap at least is working the kinks out of its hardware iteration process that could pave the way for a killer product in the future.

The startup was always about communicating visually, and what better way than to lend someone your perspective of the world. Snap may have broken the Google Glass curse.

Rate This!

The FDA is cracking down on Juul e-cig sales to minors

The FDA has its eye on Juul Labs, the e-cigarette company that has captured nearly half of the $2 billion e-cig market.

Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced a new initiative called the Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan. While the agency is focused on making sure kids don’t have easy access to any e-cigs, the Juul vaporizer seems to be of particular concern to them.

As part of the initiative, the FDA has sent a request for information to Juul Labs in an effort to understand why young people are so attracted to the product.

Over the past year, a number of reports have suggested that teen vape use, especially with the Juul, is steeply on the rise.

The request is for documents related to “product marketing; research on the health, toxicological, behavioral or physiologic effects of the products, including youth initiation and use; whether certain product design features, ingredients or specifications appeal to different age groups; and youth-related adverse events and consumer complaints associated with the products.”

In response, Juul Labs issued a press release announcing its plan to combat underage use. The strategy includes an initial investment of $30 million over the next three years going towards independent research, youth and parent education and community engagement efforts. Juul Labs also said it will support federal and state initiatives to raise the legal minimum purchase age to 21+. The company website has required that purchasers be 21 or older since August 2017.

Here’s what Juul CEO Kevin Burns had to say about it:

Our company’s mission is to eliminate cigarettes and help the more than one billion smokers worldwide switch to a better alternative. We are already seeing success in our efforts to enable adult smokers to transition away from cigarettes and believe our products have the potential over the long-term to contribute meaningfully to public health in the U.S. and around the world. At the same time, we are committed to deterring young people, as well as adults who do not currently smoke, from using our products. We cannot be more emphatic on this point: No young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL.

Juul Labs is not the only organization that the FDA is cracking down on. The agency said it had sent out 40 warning letters to retailers selling e-cigs, including the Juul, to minors. Some of those retailers were caught as the result of a ‘blitz’ that has been underway since the beginning of April.

The agency has also asked eBay to take down all listings of Juul vaporizers, which run the risk of being sold to minors.

Alongside the FDA’s request for information from Juul Labs, the agency is also sending out similar letters to other e-cig manufacturers.

Rate This!

Alexa integration comes to Meural Canvas, letting you use your voice to navigate the art world

Alexa can do just about everything if you ask it the right question in the right way. Today, it’s gaining a new skill, letting you move through artwork on the Meural Canvas digital artwork frame.

The company’s $595 device lets you browse artwork from new and emerging artists as well as publicly available classics.

One of the cool elements of the product has been the device’s gesture controls, which let people wave their hands in front of the frame to swipe through pieces of artwork. It makes a lot of sense to have a tactile control system when you’re showing something to guests or the device is in an easily accessible spot. If you’ve opted to hanging your device on a spot on the wall that’s a little bit tougher to reach, your best move has been to switch artwork with Meural’s mobile app or desktop site.

This update makes things a bit more seamless for smart home enthusiasts, and chances are that if you’re buying a smart painting, the rest of your house or apartment might have a voice assistant hub or two as well. It’s just Alexa integration for now, so Google Assistant or HomeKit users will have to wait, but for those in the Amazon ecosystem, you’ll be able to swipe through artwork by querying your Echo product.

Meural is one of the more notable startups in the digital art subscription space. For hardware that is ultimately just a high-end digital photo frame, the companies are more focused on the idea that a certain type of consumer is interested in a monthly subscription to digital art. It’s a wild idea that has been a tough one to chase. Another startup in the space, Electric Objects, shut down its hardware business and had its assets bought by Giphy last year.

Rate This!

We put the Nintendo Labo to the test

The Nintendo Labo is for kids so we took Nintendo’s latest product to its target audience. Our resident toy testers Kasper, Milla, and Guthrie went hands-on with this cool STEM system. They cut, folded, and played for almost an hour and finally gave their rousing review including near perfect scores from each of the judges. It’s great to see Nintendo thinking outside (or inside) the box.

Rate This!

Meet the quantum blockchain that works like a time machine

A new — and theoretical — system for blockchain-based data storage could ensure that hackers will not be able to crack cryptocurrencies once the quantum era starts. The idea, proposed by researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, would secure cryptocurrency futures for decades using a blockchain technology that is like a time machine.

You can check out their findings here.

To understand what’s going on here we have to define some terms. A blockchain stores every transaction in a system on what amounts to an immutable record of events. The work necessary for maintaining and confirming this immutable record is what is commonly known as mining. But this technology — which the paper’s co-author Del Rajan claims will make up “10 percent of global GDP… by 2027” — will become insecure in an era of quantum computers.

Therefore the solution to store a blockchain in a quantum era requires a quantum blockchain using a series of entangled photons. Further, Spectrum writes: “Essentially, current records in a quantum blockchain are not merely linked to a record of the past, but rather a record in the past, one that does not exist anymore.”

Yeah, it’s weird.

From the paper intro:

Our method involves encoding the blockchain into a temporal GHZ (Greenberger–Horne–Zeilinger) state of photons that do not simultaneously coexist. It is shown that the entanglement in time, as opposed to an entanglement in space, provides the crucial quantum advantage. All the subcomponents of this system have already been shown to be experimentally realized. Perhaps more shockingly, our encoding procedure can be interpreted as non-classically influencing the past; hence this decentralized quantum blockchain can be viewed as a quantum networked time machine.

In short, the quantum blockchain is immutable because the photons that it contains do not exist at the current time but are still extant and readable. This means the entire blockchain is visible but cannot be “touched” and the only entry you would be able to try to tamper with is the most recent one. In fact, the researchers write, “In this spatial entanglement case, if an attacker tries to tamper with any photon, the full blockchain would be invalidated immediately.”

Is this possible? The researchers note that the technology already exists.

“Our novel methodology encodes a blockchain into these temporally entangled states, which can then be integrated into a quantum network for further useful operations. We will also show that entanglement in time, as opposed to entanglement in space, plays the pivotal role for the quantum benefit over a classical blockchain,” the authors write. “As discussed below, all the subsystems of this design have already been shown to be experimentally realized. Furthermore, if such a quantum blockchain were to be constructed, we will show that it could be viewed as a quantum networked time machine.”

Don’t worry about having to update your Bitcoin wallet, though. This process is still theoretical and not at all available to mere mortals. That said, it’s nice to know someone is looking out for our quantum future, however weird it may be.

Rate This!

Bag Week is coming and we need your recommendations

Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

To that end we need your help. Do you have a favorite bag we should check out? Do you make a bag we should check out? Is there a bag we should avoid? We’ve created this form to gather bag and bag-related information. If you’re a manufacturer just add a link to your wares and we’ll be in touch. If you are a civilian and simply love a bag (or hate it), add as much info as you’d like and include a rating. We’ll pick a few brand new bags and some old standbys you recommend.

Considering we spend months carrying around our laptop and gear bags they deserve a closer look. That’s what Bag Week is about and we hope you can help us out with some recommendations. Our back and shoulders will thank you.

Rate This!

Unstoppable exploit in Nintendo Switch opens door to homebrew and piracy

The Nintendo Switch may soon be a haven for hackers, but not the kind that want your data — the kind that want to run SNES emulators and Linux on their handheld gaming consoles. A flaw in an Nvidia chip used by the Switch, detailed today, lets power users inject code into the system and modify it however they choose.

The exploit, known as Fusée Gelée, was first hinted at by developer Kate Temkin a few months ago. She and others at ReSwitched worked to prove and document the exploit, sending it to Nvidia and Nintendo, among others.

Update: Because this sort of thing is a matter of pride in the homebrew community, it should be added that the exploit was in fact first publicly noted by fail0verflow in early January, but independently discovered and documented by Temkin and others. The former discusses their method in a blog post here.

Although responsible disclosure is to be applauded, it won’t make much difference here: this flaw isn’t the kind that can be fixed with a patch. Millions of Switches are vulnerable, permanently, to what amounts to a total jailbreak; only new ones with code tweaked at the factory will be immune.

That’s because the flaw is baked into the read-only memory of the Nvidia Tegra X1 used in the Switch and a few other devices. It’s in the “Boot and Power Management Processor” to be specific, where a misformed packet sent during a routine USB device status check allows the connected device to send up to 64 kibibytes (65,535 bytes) of extra data that will be executed without question. You need to get into recovery mode first, but that’s easy.

As you can imagine, getting arbitrary code to run on a device that deep in its processes is a huge, huge vulnerability. Fortunately it’s only available to someone with direct, physical access to the Switch. But that in itself makes it an extremely powerful tool for anyone who wants to modify their own console.

Modding consoles is done for many reasons, and indeed piracy is among them. But people also want to do things Nintendo won’t let them, like back up their saved games, run custom software like emulators or extend the capabilities of the OS beyond the meager features the company has provided.

Temkin and her colleagues had planned to release the vulnerability publicly on June 15 or when someone releases the vulnerability independent of them — whichever came first. It turned out to be the latter, which apparently came as a surprise to no one in the community. The X1 exploit seems to have been something of an open secret.

The exploit was released anonymously by some hacker and Temkin accordingly published the team’s documentation of it on GitHub. If that’s too technical, there’s also some more plain-language chatter about the flaw in a FAQ posted earlier this month.

I emailed Temkin with a few questions. She wrote back that she encourages any interested developers to build on top of the work ReSwitched has done; “that’s the point of open-sourcing things like this.”

She also explained the origin of the hack’s French name:

“‘Fusée Gelée’ literally translates to ‘Frozen Rocket,’ and it’s a play on the name of the Switch’s operating system, which is called Horizon,” she wrote. “This is a coldboot exploit that launches payloads ‘above the Horizon’– hence ‘frozen rocket.’”

In addition to Temkin, failOverflow announced a small device that will short a pin in the USB connector and put the device into recovery mode, prepping it for exploitation. And Team-Xecuter was advertising a similar hardware attack months ago.

The answer to the most obvious question is no, you can’t just fire this up and start playing Wave Race 64 (or a pirated Zelda) on your Switch 15 minutes from now. The exploit still requires technical ability to implement, though as with many other hacks of this type, someone will likely graft it to a nice GUI that guides ordinary users through the process. (It certainly happened with the NES and SNES Classic Editions.)

Although the exploit can’t be patched away with a software update, Nintendo isn’t powerless. It’s likely that a modified Switch would be barred from the company’s online services (such as they are) and possibly the user’s account, as well. So although the hacking process is, compared with the soldering required for modchips of decades past, low on risk, it isn’t a golden ticket.

Furthermore, Nintendo is reportedly working on a hardware revision to the Switch that would use an updated and not-as-hackable new Tegra chip and possibly add more RAM.

That said, Fusée Gelée will almost certainly open the floodgates for developers and hackers who care little for Nintendo’s official ecosystem and would rather see what they can get this great piece of hardware to do on their own.

When contacted for comment, Nintendo said that “We have nothing to announce on this topic.” Nvidia published this security notice acknowledging the issue, which affects a handful of other devices, such as its own Shield tablet and the Google Pixel C.

Rate This!