Google has started rolling out Android 6.0, aka Marshmallow, to a handful of Nexus devices. But, as great as that is, there are still millions of people who have to wait for third-party manufacturers or carriers to get the update. Thankfully, companies like HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Sony and T-Mobile are already outlining their plans to distribute the latest, tastiest version of Android. Not everyone will be happy, of course, but the list of smartphones set to receive Marshmallow isn’t bad — and chances are more will be added over the next few weeks. “So, am I getting it,” you ask? If so, when? Let’s find out.
2014 Moto X Pure Edition in the US (second-generation)
2014 Moto X in Latin America, Europe and Asia(second-generation)
2014 Moto G and Moto G with 4G LTE (second-generation)
2014 Moto MAXX
2014 Moto Turbo
The good news? Motorola’s taking care of a lot of devices. The bad news? There are no availability details.”We have high standards, so we’ll work fast but we won’t push the upgrades out until we know they’re ready,” the company said in a blog post.
Xperia Z5 Compact
Xperia Z5 Premium
Xperia Z4 Tablet
Xperia Z3 Compact
Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact
Xperia Z2 Tablet
Xperia M4 Aqua
Xperia C5 Ultra
Timing-wise, Sony says it’s working hard to deliver Marshmallow to you as quickly as it can, but it didn’t share any details beyond that.
HTC One M8
HTC One M9
LG G Stylo
Nexus 7 (2013)
Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
Samsung Galaxy S5
Samsung Galaxy S6
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge
Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
Unlike its rivals in the US, T-Mobile was thoughtful enough to put together a list of devices that will get Android 6.0. There’s also a tool on the carrier’s site that lets you see what stage of the update process each device in, which is going to be greatly appreciated by users.
As we said earlier, though, more details from other networks and manufacturers are due to pop up throughout the coming weeks — so stay tuned to this article, as we’ll be updating it with any further details.
For years I’ve relied on caffeine and cannabis to modulate my moods. It’s an effective, albeit slightly illegal, system and not without its side effects. Too much coffee and I become a jittery, hyperactive mess. Too much cannabis and I spend the next few hours taking a weed nap. But that’s where the Thync comes in. It’s a tiny, head-mounted device that is supposed to discretely modulate your moods by gently zapping your brain with pulses of electricity. But can the power of Tesla really get me out of an emotional funk the way a doppio espresso and some dab rips can?
The Thync retails for $300 and comes with four five-packs of adhesive strips: two sets for calming, the other two for energizing. The device attaches to a strip and sits atop your right temple. The other end of the strip is then affixed to either the bone behind your right ear or a the base of the skull, depending on the effect you’re looking for. The energizing strip, which goes behind the ear, closes the circuit of the facial nerve. This nerve controls your “Flight or Fight” response; stimulating it reportedly increases alertness, motivation and energy levels. Conversely, the calming strip, which connects at the base of the skull, completes the cervical spine nerve circuit and results in feelings of relaxation. As the Thync module pumps out electricity (up to 20 milliamps) during each five- to 20-minute session, the pulses excite these nerve pathways, instigating the desired effect. Or, at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
I recently spent some time electrocuting my nervous system to see just how much the Thync can affect my mood and, quite honestly, the results were all over the board. The Energize strips had the most obvious effect, even at lower intensity settings. The Awake program noticeably boosted my alertness, though I can’t be sure if that was because the device was properly stimulating my facial nerve or it was just shocking the side of my head. The Workout program provided a more intense tingling sensation but failed to motivate me to get up and exercise. The Surge program simply felt like someone licked a couple of 9-volt batteries and smashed them into the side of my head. The Holiday lights program, however, was nuts. It’s designed to make seasonal decorations twinkle more vividly. But when I tested it in a traditionally lit room, all it did was make my vision strobe; it was akin to someone rapidly cycling the room lights. That made me rather nervous, to be honest, and quite unwilling to give it a second try.
The Calming strips, on the other hand, had virtually no effect on me. Even on the highest intensity settings and most powerful program, I barely noticed anything. These routines are supposed to result in a sense of serenity and general well-being — “similar to how you would feel after a glass of wine or an hour of yoga,” as a company rep explained it to me. I guess I felt something like that? With the Sleep program at 96 percent intensity I was indeed pretty mellow, but the second I started thinking about work, family and all my daily hassles, my stress levels went right back through the roof. There certainly wasn’t any euphoria in the experience, as I had expected. According to Thync, at least, the effects are supposed to be a bit longer-lasting: up to an hour. “We don’t have direct feedback from all users,” the spokesperson said, “but we do have ratings, and the vast majority of users are in the ‘good’ to ‘great’ spectrum for ratings.”
This discrepancy between what I felt and what I “should have” felt isn’t that surprising, really. As with the self-reported pain scale that physicians use, what one person considers a significant sense of relaxation might not even register with someone else. As such, it’s difficult to predict if the device will have the same effect on you that it had on me.
There’s also precious little literature on what happens when you develop a resistance to these electrical shocks. I noticed within the first couple of sessions that I had to keep dialing up the intensity to get the same effects as the first few. To ensure that it wasn’t just me, I enlisted the help of some suckers friends and had them put the Thync through its paces as well. Their experiences were equally scattered, with each person diverging on everything from the most comfortable intensity setting and session length to the physical and psychological effects that they felt.
The system can also get expensive quickly. Each strip lasts between one and five uses, on average. So if you’re applying one of each strip daily and reusing it four more times, you’ll still run through a pack a month — or $40 total. That’s $480 a year. I also took umbrage with the fact that, nearly a year after debuting, the system is still only available for iOS. What’s more, the Thync is currently only available in the US.
The app itself was a bit of a pain as it repeatedly insisting on walking me through the initial setup video every time I paired the device to a new test phone. Once you get through the walkthrough, however, the entire “vibe” experience is controlled with just six onscreen buttons so day-to-day use is pretty straightforward and intuitive.
Overall, I remain unconvinced that this thing consistently does what it says it’s supposed to. I’m not really sure how or why it works the way that it does and those aren’t the sorts of questions I really want to have when pumping current through my skull. That’s not to say it’s dangerous — there are peer-reviewed studies suggesting that this device is harmless — but just, I mean, look at that warning list up there. What’s more, $300 to start and another $40 a month for a device that may or may not work seems like an expensive and unnecessary gamble when there’s perfectly good weed and coffee at my disposal.
Dammit, Logan. I’m glad it’s your first day working at this coffee shop; congrats on getting hired and all. But dude, seriously, I don’t have time to waste waiting for you to fish that beard hair out of my coffee. I’m “latte” enough for work as it is. That’s why, for a full week, I tried switching from my normal intake of three to four caffeinated beverages a day to Eagle Energy caffeine vaporizers. Oof, my heart is still racing.
Eagle Energy vapes are self-contained atomizers that operate much like Blu disposable e-cigs or the Blackout X hash pens, except that it’s loaded with caffeine instead of nicotine or THC. Each EE pen measures about five inches in length and is maybe a half-inch in diameter. Inside, a small reservoir holds about 3ml of liquid and 0.08 percent caffeine per milliliter. This liquid passes through a small atomizer driven by a non-rechargeable lithium ion battery where it is converted into a vapor and inhaled.
According to the included documentation, regular coffee drinkers will need about 10-20 puffs to notice the effects — a figure I found to be pretty accurate during my testing. Each pen is rated to last about 500 puffs before the battery conks out, which seems about right as well.
Eagle Energy’s kick comes from a mixture of caffeine (guarana extract), taurine and ginseng — basically the same stuff as in a Red Bull. Unsurprisingly, these things taste uncannily like the popular energy drink. The vapor does not, however, contain sugar or calories. But man, these pens gave me heartburn something awful. Even when huffing the recommended number of times over a three- to five-minute span, I immediately felt as if I’d just chugged a Big Gulp’s worth of espresso or a carton of apple juice on an empty stomach.
I also noticed that the kick didn’t last as long as a standard cup of coffee. I mean I typically average a 350 ml mug of Peet’s Major Dickason blend every hour for the first three hours of my workday with each cup’s effects lasting around an hour. According to Caffeine Informer, a 16-ounce cup of this blend contains 267 mg of caffeine. As such, Eagle Energy’s kick isn’t nearly as potent as the coffee’s. There isn’t the sip-sip-wheeeeeomgthisisawesomeImhavingeverythoughtinthewoooooooorld feeling you get with a good cup of coffee. It’s subtler and less of a jolt, though that also means there’s less of a crash later.
Overall, I rather like these things. They’re obviously never going to be a 1-to-1 replacement for my morning coffee and I can’t absentmindedly puff on it as I would a hash pen, but for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up or an emergency morning kickstart, you could do worse. Eagle Energy is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to fund both the 3-pack and 10-pack options, although the company’s rep has assured me that it will move forward with the 3-packs regardless of whether the campaign funds. They’re expected to retail for $9 apiece, $20 a 3-pack and $75 for 10.
In July of 2014, New York State did what few thought possible at the time: Its legislature passed Assembly Bill 6357 (better known as the Compassionate Care Act of 2014), which effectively legalized medical cannabis; a bill Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law. Less than a week after he did so, Leafly, a cannabis information database, made headlines of its own by running an advertisement in TheNew York Times’ — the first of its kind in the venerable newspaper’s163-year history.
Cannabis, both as an industry and as a subculture, is quickly coming out of the shadows and entering the mainstream. Nowhere is this more explicit than in the meteoric rise of Leafly. So to get some insight into the company’s rapid growth and future plans, I recently spoke with co-founder Cy Scott and CEO Brendan Kennedy about where Leafly came from and what it’s like to be an industry pioneer.
Leafly’s advertisement in The New York Times
The Compassionate Care Act in New York was really your big debut with your full-page ad in TheNew York Times. What sort of effects to the business have you seen emerge from that event?
Cy: One of the biggest benefits was, obviously, the media picking up that ad. We were in New York at the time and it really helped us “plant the flag” so to speak. We already had a number of users from New York, but to have it “top of mind” was really invaluable for us.
Brendan: It was really important that we ran that ad. We had actually designed it almost two years before we ran it and we designed [it] more as a project as to what we thought the first mainstream ad would look like. Then we put it on the shelf for two years. But when Gov. Cuomo signed the CCA, I believe it was July 7th, we almost ran it that week. But then when The New York Times editorial board came out in favor of ending the prohibition, that’s when we knew we had to run it.
It took us less than six days to get the ad finalized and in place. It was a big story for us. It was important, not just because it was the first cannabis ad in the history of TheNew York Times, but that it was done right and didn’t embrace the stereotypical cliches. That ad was covered in about 360 stories in 97 countries and they [The New York Times] told us it had roughly 400 million impressions.
Weedmaps reportedly had its Times Square billboard campaign yanked minutes before it was supposed to go live just a couple months before your Times ad ran. Was there a concern that, like Weedmaps, you would be denied publication?
Brendan: You know, I don’t know if that was a publicity stunt or what. What we’ve always liked about Leafly is that it’s a mainstream brand offering a mainstream product consumed by mainstream Americans. There’s a counterculture, a subculture, but there are also average Americans in New York and Kansas and Oklahoma that consume this product. They’re just looking for brands that don’t insult them. That’s why Leafly doesn’t have all the stereotypical cliches. You can show Leafly to a 25-year-old; you can show it to a 50-year-old soccer mom; you can even show it to someone’s grandmother. That’s not true for every brand in this industry.
Though The New York Times ad brought the fledgling company global notoriety, its publication was a far cry from Leafly’s humble beginnings. Cy, Brendan and co-founder Scott Vickers met in college.
CFO Michael Blue, COO Christian Groh and CEO Brendan Kennedy (L-R)
How did Leafly get its start?
Cy: Scott, one of the original founders got his doctor’s [recommendation] and went to a dispensary and was presented with an overwhelming selection of different cannabis products. At the time, we were familiar with the general categorization of different strains — you know, indica, sativa and hybrids — but we didn’t understand how nuanced the strains could be, the different effects they could have and the different reasons people would take one over another. And so in tracking that, [we solved] our own problem using spreadsheets to understand what we did and didn’t like. Like most startup stories, just sort of recognizing that there’s something missing in the market. We figured if we had this need, others would as well — a location or service where people could go and read reviews or create a journal of what they like and aggregating and anonymizing that and presenting it back to other people that are interested in the same space: new patients, new consumers looking for good information on strains.
Five years ago, most digital platforms targeted that common stereotype of a cannabis consumer. We wanted to target a more mainstream audience. We saw the trend happening in terms of mainstream adoption and acceptance of medical cannabis. We thought that it would go that direction with more states adopting it. So we decided to build a platform that had a great visual representation; something that people could use in their workplace or wouldn’t be embarrassed looking at. Since then, multiple states have legalized recreational use as well as medical and we’ve seen incredible adoption of the platform as well.
A selection of Leafly’s strain reviews
We started with the foundation of strain reviews and then understood that we really wanted to connect people to locations where they could acquire a particular genetic strain. So, we integrated a dispensary-locator service where people can rate and review specific dispensaries much like they’d rate and review specific strains. You can see a dispensary location and read its menu so you know what to expect when you arrive. From there, we realized that we needed some good editorial content. It’s something that’s been doing really well for us.
People, new patients, that are new to cannabis are really looking for good information. Also, people that are coming back to it, that tried it once when they were younger, but now that it’s legal in certain markets, they want to learn more about it. Also new patients that are looking for something that will help them with specific conditions and symptoms are coming to Leafly.
From just three founders and 17 strain reviews, Leafly has grown to more than 35 full-time employees and a database of nearly 147,000 reviews today. The site now generates close to 6 million monthly visits and 31 million page views across both its web page and mobile apps. What’s more, Leafly’s readership continues to grow at a steady rate, averaging 10 percent month over month over the past two years, although 75 percent of that audience is based in the US. As such, Leafly’s product offerings have expanded along with its payroll. The company now offers not just strain, doctor and dispensary guides, but also an impressive archive of cannabis-related knowledge as well. Leafly boasts a five-person editorial staff that regularly produces content ranging from basic information like the Cannabis 101 series to cultural features. Its growth is one of the team’s primary goals for the year.
How do you maintain editorial control for something that is inherently crowdsourced?
Well, when we list a new strain, we control that directly. We have people on staff that do the research and work with our genetics companies to really understand the lineage and background of the strain. We add those as we stumble upon them or connect with new genetics companies or producers who are making their own crosses then requesting they be included. We control that so it’s not just any old strain or location that someone randomly adds to the system. As far as reviews, we have a Helpful/Not Helpful system where people can tag them — like up or down voting — so the content that isn’t great gets pushed down, buried and eventually moderated to keep the system pretty clean.
As for video: What brought about the decision to add video content to the site and where do you see it going from here?
Cy: Video is something we recognized we’d been missing for a long time. We really wanted to create an audience on our YouTube channel and to do that we really needed some original content. We batted around a bunch of ideas using the strain data and auto-generated videos, but nothing really connected until we started producing these new ones. For example, we have a host; her name is Regina. She’s a fantastic representation of the brand. It’s a great set. We get feedback from people all the time wanting to purchase things they’ve seen on-set (like the Cannabis Guide). It’s a lot of that original 101 content to get people comfortable with things like consumption methods or stuff that we take for granted working so closely with cannabis. But people have a lot of questions about stuff like the properties of strains. We’ll go really deep on specific strains like Blue Dream, talking about the foundations and background of it, different effects, et cetera.
“We decided to build a platform that had a great visual representation; something that people could use in their workplace or wouldn’t be embarrassed looking at.”
Being so uniquely positioned within the market, have you run into any added legal or regulatory troubles?
Cy: Other than typical industry challenges, no. I mean, everything in this industry is more complicated than people think. It took us a long time to find the right bank, even though nothing Leafly does is a violation of local state or federal laws. It takes time to find partners that are willing to think about this industry.
And has it been getting easier as cannabis grows in acceptance?
I think it’s easier today than four years ago, certainly, but it’s still not nearly as easy as any other industry in the United States.
Even though Leafly currently boasts an impressive (and seemingly uncannily sustainable) rate of growth, it’s not content to sit on its laurels. The company reportedly has a number of new features and innovations in the works that will be announced in the coming months.
You’ve already got revenue from ad streams and sponsorships; how else are you looking to expand your business?
Cy: One of the fundamental issues with this industry is that traditional digital marketing channels limit cannabis advertising. So if you’re a producer or processor or retailer in the market, you can’t advertise. You can’t advertise on platforms like Twitter, Instagram or Google. And neither can we, even as an ancillary business in the industry. We are working on some product offerings and services that will fill that gap for new and returning customers. We’re also working on more editorial content, looking towards new markets that are opening up (and we see new interest every time — one to three times the average every time a new market opens).
Leafly COO Christian Groh working on the website
A good example is DC, we saw a 3x increase in traffic both leading up to and following legalization there. And with new markets come new consumers. So yeah, definitely expanding editorial to support that new audience as well as new services and product offerings.
And where exactly are you looking? What areas do you think will be next to legalize it?
We’re looking at all different markets. Some of which we’ve been looking at lately have been Oregon and Alaska given that their regulatory frameworks are coming together. Within the next few months (up to 18 months), they should have stores opening up, so those are fun for us. There are also medical markets like Nevada, specifically Las Vegas. They’re about a month away from opening up their first dispensary. That should be a pretty big market. I believe they have reciprocity there so you can use your doctor’s recommendation from other regions.
As for what we do when a new market opens up, it really depends on the location. A lot of times, we’ll participate by sponsoring a number of local events in those regions. We have field marketers and reps; sometimes we’ll deploy them out to those regions to have a presence on the ground — start making connections and contacts in the industry. And when [recommendation] markets open up like in Seattle, we had a food truck day in a bunch of different locations. We had a bunch of Cannabis 101 materials to hand out that really resonated with consumers. It really just varies within each region.
What plans do you have for the API program?
We have a lot of sign-ups for it. We actually have a hackathon here in Seattle this weekend called the Grassroots hackathon and it’s being done at a Wee Works [Preschool] office. The hackathon revolves around the API (we are a sponsor), but it’s a great way for people like Meadow to get access to this data. And as we add new features — we only offer strain and dispensary data at the moment — we’ll expand. We don’t do editorial content because we’ve got agreements with a couple of other companies. We should have some good stuff coming out later this year, stuff we can’t talk about just yet, but we’ll expand the API once those are in place.
Of course, even industry pioneers need to relax every once in a while.
Do you regularly partake?
Cy: I’m a pretty regular consumer, but I don’t smoke. I prefer vaporizers these days. So it really was a matter of us solving our own problem. We had our doctor’s [recommendation] in California. We had exposure to a lot of strains initially and that’s where the interest and impetus, in part, came from.
What’s your preferred pen?
Cy: I actually just got the Pax 2. It’s fantastic. Obviously, we don’t consume at work or anything since we’ve got a lot we need to get done. But I use it to unwind in the evenings.
With cannabis legal in nearly half the US in some form or another, there are a lot more opportunities for people to drive while high. While a number of studies have suggested that driving stoned may not be as dangerous as driving drunk, you try explaining that to the officer who pulls you over. So after the last bong rip, but before you grab your car keys, give yourself a once-over with the My Canary app. It’s been designed by NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) as a quick and personal means of roughly estimating your impairment. The $5 iOS app runs the user through a series of mental and physical tests designed to measure coordination, reasoning, reaction time and balance. Pass the test and you’re probably ok for that Taco Bell run. Fail, and maybe you’re going to want to call an Uber for that Taco Bell run. Because even if that “breathalyzer for weed” is bullshit, getting a DUI isn’t.
It looks like NASA’s figured out one of the reasons why Mars isn’t fit for human — or any other kind — of life. The space agency held another press conference to discuss why Mars has turned from what was thought to be a wet, lush planet (that might have contained surface life) into a cold, desolate place. The likely culprit? Solar winds. With a little help from the MAVEN probe (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), researchers were able to figure out how much of the planet’s atmosphere is being stripped away by solar winds — around 1/4 pound of gas every second. Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal investigator at the University of Colorado, likened the atmospheric loss to taking a small amount of coins out of a cash register every day — at first it’s insignificant, but over time can have a big impact.
Scientists found that the atmosphere breaks down quicker when solar storms occur. Charged particles that come from the Sun shoot out towards the planets at about one million miles per hour. The magnetic field carried by the particles flows past Mars and creates an electric field which speeds up other electrically charged atoms and shoots them into space. Researchers think that these storms were much stronger billions of years ago when the Sun was younger, which more than likely sped up the process of degrading Mars’ atmosphere creating the arid land we know today.
You’ve been waiting, and it’s finally here: the Apple TV review. Months before Steve Jobs announced the new set top box at Apple’s annual fall event, we had been reporting on news that the company would strike out again into the TV market, offering a small, low-cost box that had more in common with the iPhone than the iMac. When those rumors came to fruition, we were presented with the completely revamped Apple TV — a tiny black puck of a device priced at a staggering $99, and centered around a handful of completely new ideas (for the folks in Cupertino at least) about getting content onto your TV screen. The first is a new rental system which allows you to nab brand new TV shows at $0.99 a rental, and HD movies for $4.99 a go (or $3.99 for older titles). And that includes new releases the same day DVDs hit shelves (or Netflix distribution centers). Speaking of Netflix, the new Apple TV also features the rental service’s “Watch Instantly” as a wholly integrated component of its offerings, alongside a new function the company calls AirPlay which will allow you to “push” video and audio content from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch with the tap of a button. On top of that, the new ATV streamlines sharing from your home computers or laptops, making getting content you own onto your TV dead simple. So, has Apple finally solved the “second box” problem, or are they still struggling to turn this hobby into a real business? Follow along after the break for those answers (and more) in our full review of the Apple TV!
Apple TV (2010)
Video and audio quality is excellent
Elegant, simple interface
Content selection is limited
Doesn’t allow purchases
Can only network via Apple Home Sharing
The first thing you’ll notice about the Apple TV is just how small it is. The matte black box clocks in at just 3.9 inches square, stands just 0.9 inches off of your table of choice, and weighs a measly 0.6 pounds. It’s a quarter of the size of the previous Apple TV — it’s just that tiny. If you’re worried about a new piece of gear taking up previous shelf space, the Apple TV certainly skirts that problem. Beyond its size, there’s nothing particularly shocking about its appearance — in most settings the simple box will go unnoticed. Still, like most Apple products, it’s an elegantly designed piece of technology that you won’t mind having around.
Wiring options for the device are minimal to say the least; around back you’ve got an Ethernet port, micro USB jack (for “service and support” they say), an HDMI port, an optical audio hook-up, and a spot for the power cable. If you’re worried about wall warts, you’re in luck — the Apple TV has no need for external power bricks. Inside, the exact specs are unknown, but the ATV is powered by the A4 CPU, the same chip that powers the iPhone 4, iPad, and new iPod touch. Apple isn’t fessing up on speed, but it’s entirely possible the processor is clocked to 1GHz, like its tablet brethren. As far as memory and any local storage is concerned, however, we’ll just have to wait for an iFixit teardown — though we suspect it won’t have more than 512MB of RAM. Apart from the wired internet, the Apple TV also has WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n).
In all, it’s not a crazy combination, but it’s relatively inexpensive hardware, and there’s certainly enough power here to handle HD video (of the 720p variety, of course), graphically rich slideshows, and a few other visual perks.
The Apple TV comes with an absurdly minimal remote manufactured out of aluminum. The slim accessory is short on buttons (a menu key, play / pause key, and four way rocker with center button), and long on style. We’re a little confused about the fact that the remote is silver instead of a matching black, but it’s not a big issue. What’s more concerning is the fact that getting around the menus and especially entering text is a chore with this remote, though this is also due in part to the way Apple has laid out text. Having to click click click your way to a password, movie title, or email address is pretty time consuming, but we’ll have more on that in the software section in a moment.
If you’re an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch owner, you have a better option, luckily. The company just issued an update for its Remote app that allows you to control the Apple TV via a touch surface and virtual buttons — but in this arrangement you get a proper onscreen keyboard as well. This is the way the ATV was meant to be controlled, as far as we’re concerned.
Software and content
If you’re used to using the previous version of the Apple TV, the new interface won’t really look all that, well… new. Your main navigation takes place in a menu which shows featured content along the top of the screen, a selection of sources below those, and a list of options for each source. As you venture deeper into the menus, you’re presented with fairly standard rows of show or movie selections, or right-anchored lists of text with smaller preview images to the right. Front Row users should also feel right at home. Movie and show pages allow you to preview or purchase content, rate selections, or add items to your wish list (where you can later fish them out for purchase). For films, you can check out Rotten Tomatoes content, something we think is a a really nice inclusion here. All in all, basic control is stupidly easy — there’s almost nothing hidden from view.
Setting up the Apple TV was just as stupidly simple, and where a lot of boxes have more complicated code / account syncing, Apple just dials it all in via your iTunes account. When you first switch the box on you’re asked for a choice of network and prompted for a password (if you have one) — as we said before, the one place where the UI stumbles is text entry. For some reason, Apple decided a long list of letters would be easier than a more standard QWERTY-style grouping. It isn’t. Traveling from end-to-end with the included remote (with no way to zip quickly down the line) was a painstaking process. Beyond that, you’re asked to enter your iTunes account name and password, and if you’re a Netflix user, you have to enter that data too. But, surprise surprise — you don’t have to go to the site’s activation page to get your account playing nice with the Apple TV.
You can also set up multiple laptops or home computers on your home sharing network to stream to the TV, allowing for quick access to video, photos, and music you’ve got stored on your Mac or PC. After you flip on the appropriate settings (home sharing needs to be active on both your Apple TV and computer), grabbing your stuff remotely is clean and simple.
Renting content is as easy as you’d imagine, and Apple gives you 24 hours to watch a movie and 48 hours to watch TV episodes (the timer starts from when you begin viewing; you can hang onto unwatched content for 30 days). One interesting note is that while you can purchase or rent content on your iPad, iPhone, iPod, or computer and then watch it on your Apple TV, you can’t do the reverse. So if you rent a movie on your ATV, you’re watching it on your ATV, while you can transport a rental on another device around. For those of you trying to catch up on a season of a show by watching whenever possible, this might be a concern. We’re guessing most will just opt for the instant gratification of sitting down and picking a flick to view then and there. If you’re a Netflix user, you’ll find that the interface here is tightly integrated. You can browse your queue, search, add content, and watch video inside the same UI that the rest of the Apple TV sports.
There are a few other perks, like YouTube, the ability to flip through photos (which actually is kind of great if you’re using the Remote app), and internet radio — but that’s all really a side dish to the main course of pure, top shelf content consumption.
So what’s missing? Quite a bit actually. In terms of channel selection for TV content, right now Apple is limited to partners ABC, Disney, Fox, and the BBC. The company has alluded to more partners in the offing, but right now the pickings are slim. Okay, but maybe you want to play a bunch of your downloaded or ripped content? Well, it better be an M4V, MP4, or MOV file, because you’re not getting anything else onto the Apple TV. AVI, DivX, MKV, and a slew of other popular formats are obviously out — so you’ll have to wait for a decent jailbreak solution if you want to watch those files. And of course, you can’t sideload any content or playback from a standalone hard drive. We might be crazy, but an option to connect to something like a Time Machine (or any networked drive) seems like it would be killer in conjunction with the ATV. If you’re thinking you can use a network drive that does iTunes sharing, you’ll be depressed to know that that won’t fly with the Apple TV. You’ve got to use Home Sharing within iTunes, and that’s not possible on third party drives, obviously.
It’s also a little frustrating that Apple doesn’t offer an option to purchase content and leave it in the cloud for streaming. We’re sure there are lots of parents who’d like to have their kids’ favorite movies on tap whenever they want them without having to crack a laptop or boot up a second machine, and plenty of other consumers want to revisit favorites. Amazon has a better idea with its purchasing options, providing a dedicated basket where you can access the stuff you’ve paid for from any device you choose (well, almost any device). Why Apple is solely focused on rentals here isn’t clear to us — we see no technical reason the company couldn’t provide a “purchased items” location for content you want to own.
But those aren’t really the most troubling issues we have. The company touts on its website that the Apple TV will have rentals available “often the same day they come out on DVD.” In fact, this is one of the company’s talking points about advantages of the Apple TV over competitors such as Roku, and Steve Jobs — when introducing the device — said that HD movies would be available to rent on the “day and date” of DVD releases. So, you want to watch Iron Man 2 right now? Tough luck — it’s not available to rent on the Apple TV, and won’t be for 30 days. And if you were hoping to revisit the original Iron Man, you’ll have to buy that title as well, it’s been pulled back from rental (to capitalize on the release of the sequel, we’d suspect).
If you were thinking there would be special treatment for the Apple TV, think again: studios (and not Apple) will have discretion about what is and isn’t made available for rental. That goes for TV too. Even though Modern Family was present in the demo that Jobs did at the fall event, it’s not here for rental. If you want to catch up on season 1 of the show, it’ll run you $40 to purchase. Season 2? That’ll be $52.99. It seems that despite what it sounded like at the launch event, Apple doesn’t have a complete handle on its partners, and for the most desirable (or lucrative) content, the studios are most definitely still pulling the strings. If we were conspiracy theorist types, we might even conclude that allowing Jobs to demo Iron Man 2 at the announcement and then pulling the title from rental come launch day was a little twist of the knife. But that’s crazy talk.
Note: Early in our review period, ‘Iron Man 2′ was available as a rental, but this was in error and has since been corrected.
Image and sound quality
When streaming 720p content (particularly new movies) the clarity of video was impressive. There was certainly some very minor compression artifacting, but far far less than you would see on HD video on demand from your cable provider, and considerably less than with Amazon’s HD streaming. As you can see in the comparison photo, HD content from Amazon on Roku’s new XDS looks noticeably more blocky than the cleaner, dithered content coming to Apple’s new box. This was true for SD content as well — across the board, the Apple TV streaming video looked smoother, crisper, and clearer than its nearest competitors. The video quality obviously doesn’t match up to the richness of full 1080p Blu-ray discs, but it looks damn good.
Sound quality was also superb — standard stereo was rich and wide, while 5.1 was as crisp and encompassing as you’d expect (though also as you’d expect, not every piece of content you find will have a 5.1 soundtrack to accompany it). Obviously everyone’s setup will vary, but in our experience the audio being pumped out of the Apple TV went beyond sufficient. For a $99 box, it’s more than pulling its weight in the sound category.
A lot of the team here at Engadget feel like AirPlay could be a game-changing component of the Apple TV. The premise is simple: when using an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, AirPlay allows you to move content you’re viewing or listening to over to the Apple TV, in realtime. That doesn’t just go for videos you’ve downloaded or music in your iTunes playlists, but streaming content as well. That means that while you’re watching a YouTube clip or even an HTML5 Viddler video on Engadget, you can tap the little AirPlay button and send the video to your TV. Unfortunately, AirPlay is only available right now for audio, and won’t have its full implementation in place until November. Apple did demo the video pushing feature for us using an iPad, and the system worked flawlessly, save for a tiny lag in between sending the video and it popping up on the Apple TV. There are some lingering questions we have, however. For instance, we were told that while you can multitask on a device you’re pushing content from, you can’t put it to sleep, even if it’s docked or charging. That means the screen will dim, but not shut off entirely, which seems like a weird choice. Hopefully the company will add some kind of charging awareness that allows you to pick some content, dock the device, and sleep the screen. We’ll revisit this feature once it’s available and give you the Engadget take on its usefulness.
As far as using the function for music, it worked without a hitch on our iPad running the iOS 4.2 beta, though there is that slight delay (say, for switching songs). Unlike video, you can sleep the device and have music continue to play, which makes sense given that iDevices also serve as iPods.
The Apple TV enters the market amid some pretty interesting competition. Roku has been making big moves in the cheap-and-simple set top category (especially with its new XDS), and the company just announced a partnership with Hulu to allow Hulu Plus users access to the site’s content via a channel on Roku (and TiVo) devices. By comparison, the Apple TV offers far fewer options when it comes to channel surfing. Adding insult to injury, shortly after Apple’s announcement of the Apple TV and its $0.99 rentals, Amazon announced that it would be making the same batch of TV shows available for purchase at $0.99 (and of course that goes for Roku devices too). That said, the Roku setup process and user interface is far less polished than Apple’s offering, HD content doesn’t look as crisp to our eyes, and its buffering generally takes longer to get started. It’s not just Roku either — there are options like the Boxee Box in the offing that will bring a slew of new choices to the table, like the ability to play pretty much any kind of content you’d like in one place.
But none of the other options we’ve tested have felt as simple, solid, and easy to use as the new Apple TV. Putting content concerns aside (which admittedly is difficult to do), the Apple TV has a lot going for it. The video and audio quality of the Apple TV is to be lauded, the company is making a lot of high quality titles available right off the bat, sharing from your current computers is a snap, and if you’re a Netflix user, the inclusion here is perfectly seamless. The question is ultimately about ease versus options — right now it’s hard to whole-heartedly recommend the Apple TV even at its $99 price point given the thin list of partners Apple has courted. If you just want a dead simple movie rental box and you’re not that picky about content, the Apple TV is a no-brainer. If, like us, you’re looking for options good enough to make you can the cable, Apple’s new box still feels a lot like a hobby.
Looking forward to an update to your beloved Apple TV? It seems the company still fancies the device as well. On the quarterly numbers call today, Tim Cook quipped that “we still classify this as a hobby, but we continue to add things to it.” He went on to say that the company will “continue to pull strings and see where we can take it.” This comes on the heels of Cupertino seeing a record 1.4 million units sold last quarter.
Grabbing a physical copy of a new game on day one usually means either braving an in-store midnight event or waiting through the day for a package delivery. In the case of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Amazon has an alternative: midnight delivery straight to your door, at no extra charge. In 20 metropolitan areas (Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Manhattan, Miami, Minneapolis, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle) it promises to drop the game off — along with any snacks you might order — within a two hour window on November 6th through its Prime Now same day delivery service.
To keep everything running smoothly, this service will be limited, and pre-orders open up via the Prime Now app (iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Appstore) at midnight on November 4th. Unless your internet connection is limited, we’re still thinking it would be easier to buy and preload via your gaming service of choice. But, if you need a disc to collect or sell then this is a way to get it without giving up precious hours that could be used for pwning n00bs and learning the maps as quickly as possible — choose wisely.
If you have an undying love of weird monsters, action-adventure video games, expensive collectible toys and wacky vehicles, you’ve come to the right place: Tim Seppala and I are about to play Skylanders Superchargers. That’s right, the franchise that kicked off the toys-to-life trend is now in its 5th generation, enticing veteran players to dust off their figure collections for an all new gimmick — planes, boats and automobiles. As for us? This is our first Skylanders game, ever. Come join us at 6 pm ET / 3 pm PT to find out if it’s a good starting point for new players. As always, you can watch our broadcast on this very post, the Engadget Gaming homepage or, if you want to chat along with us, head over to Twitch.tv/joystiq. While you’re there, hit the heart button below the streaming window to give us a follow.
[We’re streaming Skylanders Superchargers on PlayStation 4 and at 720p through OBS. Rest assured, this game will look much better on your setup at home.]