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The 20 best gadgets of 2021 | Smartphones

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 £1,599, £799

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: ‘smooth, slick and even’.

Cutting-edge tech is often super-expensive, difficult to use and less than slick. Not so for Samsung’s latest folding screen phones. The Z Fold 3 tablet-phone hybrid and Z Flip 3 flip-phone reinventions are smooth, slick and even water-resistant, packing big screens in compact bodies. The Fold might be super-expensive still, but the Flip 3 costs about the same as a regular top smartphone, but is far, far more interesting. Samuel Gibbs

Fairphone 4 £499

Fairphone 4
Fairphone 4: ethically built.

Cutting-edge in a different way, the Fairphone 4 is proof that a good phone can be ethically made, built to last and be repaired at home with just a small screwdriver. This Android handset is a bit chunkier than an iPhone or Samsung, but has its own standout design, with user-replaceable battery and pop-in modules for things such as the screen and camera. It even has 5G now. SG

MacBook Air M1 £999

Apple MacBook Air M1
Apple MacBook Air M1: silent powerhouse.

Unlike the first iteration, it wasn’t pulled out of a manila envelope on stage, but ditching Intel for Apple’s first custom-designed M1 chip in the MacBook Air was no less game-changing. It turned the original “ultrabook” into a thin, light and silent powerhouse with battery life practically double everything else. The best consumer laptop by a country mile. SG

Sonos Roam £179

Plenty of party tricks: Sonos Roam.
Plenty of party tricks: Sonos Roam.

Sonos’s first truly portable speaker showed that Bluetooth speakers don’t have to suck. The good-looking Roam has Bluetooth, wifi for when at home, a mic for Alexa or Google Assistant, a 10-hour battery, supports practically every music service under the sun and has plenty of party tricks. The best bit is the sound, blowing away anything of this size or weight, so it won’t end up collecting dust in a drawer. SG

Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony WF-1000XM4: sparkling sound.

They still have a terrible name, but Sony nailed it with its fourth-generation true wireless earbuds. They tick almost every box: top-class noise-cancelling, sparkling sound, long battery life, rock-solid Bluetooth, a much more compact case and, finally, a smaller, genuinely comfortable-to-wear design. Like most earbuds they’re sadly not repairable and you can’t replace the batteries, so some work left to do. SG

Nothing ear (1) earbuds £99

Nothing ear (1)
Nothing ear (1): a comfortable fit.

If you’ve been weighing up buying a pair of true wireless earbuds but can’t quite stomach the price of Apple’s AirPods Pro (£239), the Nothing ear (1) might just fit the bill. At £99, they’re at the more affordable end of the spectrum, complete with advanced noise-cancelling technology and a comfortable fit. Their transparent design also sets them apart from the crowd of generic headphones. Rhiannon Williams

Apple iPad mini £479

Apple iPad mini
Apple iPad mini: a sharper, brighter screen

Apple’s latest iPad mini takes the best parts of the high-end iPad Pro and squishes them down into a more compact 8.3-inch design, including a faster A15 chip, Apple Pencil compatibility and a more powerful front-facing camera. Small enough to slip into a coat pocket, it also sports better-rounded audio, thanks to its repositioned speakers, plus a sharper, brighter screen. RW

Nintendo Switch OLED £310

Nintendo Switch OLED
Nintendo Switch OLED: guaranteed to delight fans.

Provided you can get your hands on one, Nintendo’s Switch OLED is guaranteed to delight fans who’ve been hoping for an upgrade to the popular video game console. The new model features a larger 7-inch screen (compared with the previous version’s 6.2-inch display) and a vastly improved protective kickstand that allows you to tilt it backwards to play at an angle. RW

Google Pixel 6 £599

Google Pixel 6
Google Pixel 6: an excellent all-rounder phone.

If you fancy a smartphone that’s a bit different from Apple and Samsung’s standard fare, Google is making extremely competent and well-priced handsets at a fraction of the price of its rivals. The Pixel 6 is an excellent all-rounder phone that showcases the best of its Android operating system, a slick design and, most importantly, an outstanding camera for the price. RW

Dyson Supersonic Flyaway attachment £30

Dyson Supersonic Flyaway attachment
Dyson Supersonic Flyaway attachment: smooth errant flyaway hairs.

This magnetic attachment to Dyson’s enormously popular Supersonic hairdryer promises the sleek, mirror-like shine that’s traditionally difficult to achieve at home without professional help. The device’s hooked end harnesses the hairdryer’s powerful airflow to smooth errant flyaway hairs without having to resort to higher temperatures that are more likely to damage them and also doubles up as a styling tool. RW

Fitbit Luxe £130

Attractive tracker: the Fitbit Luxe.
Attractive tracker: the Fitbit Luxe.

Fitness trackers are great, nudging you to take the stairs rather than the lift, go to bed a little earlier and even forgo that extra helping of dessert, but they’re often sinfully ugly. The Luxe is attractive enough that wearing it doesn’t feel like a chore, even when it does nag you to hit 10,000 steps before bed. Cat Ellis

Garmin Forerunner 55 £180

The Forerunner 55: full of ideas.
The Forerunner 55: full of ideas.

Like the idea of running, but always find yourself plodding along the same route and not actually getting any faster? The Forerunner 55 is the watch for you. It not only tracks your runs and measures your pace, it also tells you how long to rest between sessions and suggests different workouts to help mix up your training so you don’t get stuck in a rut. CE

Incus Nova (multisports wearable) RRP £300

The Incus Nova: like a ‘glowing alien’.
The Incus Nova: like a ‘glowing alien’.

Resembling a glowing alien parasite, the Incus Nova is a little device that sits on your back and tracks your form when you’re running and swimming. Unlike a watch, it can monitor the movement of your entire body and give you advice on how to adapt your technique so you move more efficiently and don’t hurt yourself. It’ll soon be able to monitor cycling as well, making it ideal for triathletes. CE

Amazfit ZenBuds £119

Amazfit ZenBuds
Amazfit ZenBuds: soothing sounds to help you off to sleep.

These tiny earplugs are specially designed to wear at night and will play a variety of soothing sounds to help you off to sleep. Options include pattering rain, crooning whales, crashing waves and even snoring kittens. Once you’ve nodded off, they’ll track your heart rate and movement and present you with a detailed sleep report in the morning. CE

Oral-B iO Series 6 £100

‘Surprisingly motivating’: Oral-B iO toothbrushes.
‘Surprisingly motivating’: Oral-B iO toothbrushes. Photograph: Joan Cros/Shutterstock

Does your toothbrush really need Bluetooth? Well, no, but it doesn’t hurt. The iO Series 6 connects to the Oral-B app on your smartphone and gives you real-time guidance as you brush to make sure you never miss a spot. The brush also gives you feedback in the form of an emoji on the handle, which is surprisingly motivating. Nobody wants to be ticked off by their toothbrush. CE

Millo blender £252

Millo blender: ‘sci-fi super-chopper’.
Millo blender: ‘sci-fi super-chopper’.

The Millo is a 500W (12,800rpm) sci-fi super-chopper that uses a magnetic power system similar to the one in your electric toothbrush. Not only is this thing twice as efficient as a standard blender, it is four times quieter. What’s more, the companion app has presets for smoothies and the like and once the wireless base is charged up, you can blitz away, moving the cable-free Millo around your house or garden willy-nilly. Jeremy White

Cowboy 4 e-bike £2,290

Cowboy 4
Cowboy 4 e-bike: no complicated frills, just pedals and power.

This 18.9kg aluminium-framed e-bike has an excellent 43 miles of assisted power, but what really sells the Cowboy 4 is its simplicity: no unnecessarily complicated frills, just pedals and power. Even the lights are already integrated and your phone docks to the handlebars for help with directions and happily charges there while you ride. JW

LG OLED65G16LA TV £2,200

LG OLED65A16LA TV
LG OLED65A16LA TV: perfect for gaming or watching Netflix.

Picking a television is hard – there are just so many variables. LG’s superb G1 television will see you right on virtually any consideration, but it’s particularly good at gaming. You get an inky-black 65-inch OLED 4K screen and a lightning-quick 120Hz refresh rate with VRR (variable refresh rate), a key feature for getting smooth, clean, artefact-free pictures when playing. And if you don’t like gaming, just revel in the bright, vivid pictures the set can pump out with ease while watching Netflix. JW

Elan Voyager folding all-mountain skis £1,260

Elan Voyager skis
Elan Voyager folding all-mountain skis: award-winning design.

These award-winning new Voyager skis, based on a design originally developed for the military, fold using a four-axis mechanism and are then reinforced with a carbon plate that swings into place. Amazingly, you end up with a ski with the same rigidity as “normal” skis. I’ve tried them and, on the snow, I defy you to notice the difference. The lux package includes skis, bindings and collapsable poles – all in a custom travel bag. JW

Urbanista Los Angeles solar-powered headphones RRP £169

Urbanista Los Angeles solar-powered headphones
Urbanista Los Angeles solar-powered headphones: banishing battery anxiety for wireless fans.

The Los Angeles over-ears convert all forms of light – outdoor and indoor – into energy. And they also include active noise-cancelling. This means wireless fans are freed from battery anxiety once and for all. An hour spent outside on a sunny day generates three hours of playtime. If it’s cloudy, 60 minutes gets you two more hours. They even charge in ambient indoor light. If this wasn’t enough, the Los Angeles boast a 50-hour battery life from the on-board 750 mAh (milliampere-hour) power pack. We’ve tested these – the solar tech works, they sound great and you even get a carrying case. JW

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New York’s mayor is getting paid in bitcoin. But can he pay the bills with it? | Eric Adams

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New York’s new mayor gets his first paycheck on Friday – and as part of his bid to keep the city “on the forefront of innovation”, he’ll be receiving his wages in cryptocurrency.

“New York is the center of the world and we want it to be the center of cryptocurrency and other financial innovations,” Eric Adams said in a press release.

But even in the center of the world, trying to live on ethereum or bitcoin might be a struggle. The subway won’t take it, and it’s hard to fit dogecoin in the quarter slot at the laundromat. So what will Adams actually be able to do with his paycheck?

Will he be able to eat?

Yes. Getting groceries might be difficult – in 2019, Whole Foods began accepting cryptocurrency via an app-based payment system called Flexa, but a customer care representative said on Thursday that the company was not currently taking cryptocurrency.

But the vegan mayor might have better luck at restaurants. Yelp allows users to filter for restaurants that accept cryptocurrency – though calls to the spots and visits to their websites suggest some of the claims are inaccurate.

He could also use a workaround and purchase a gift card with bitcoin using one of various platforms such as Bitrefill and Fold. That could get him a coffee at Starbucks or an order through DoorDash; it also works for Amazon, Netflix and other companies.

(Adams’s cryptocurrency paycheck is itself the result of a workaround, since department of labor regulations require the city of New York to pay employees in dollars. The mayor’s office says the paycheck will “automatically be converted” to cryptocurrency before it is made available to him, using the platform Coinbase.)

That means that Adams’s paycheck must first be converted from dollars to cryptocurrency, then be converted to a gift card, and finally be used to buy a smoothie. Efficient!

Another trick: he could turn to PayPal, which lets users spend cryptocurrency for transactions (Mastercard has a similar program). But the app first converts the cryptocurrency to actual dollars – creating another pointless cycle and contributing to a system that, according to Cambridge researchers, uses more electricity per year than the country of Argentina.

Will he be able to keep the lights on?

Probably not without turning to his actual bank account. Con Edison, New York’s enormous electricity and gas utility, does not accept cryptocurrency payments, a representative said. Cryptocurrency does a great job of draining the world of energy, but using it to buy some back appears difficult.

Of course, he’ll be living in Gracie Mansion, the New York mayor’s residence – meaning, presumably, he won’t be paying these bills anyway. Nor will he have to worry about whether his landlord accepts bitcoin.

Will he be able to get anywhere?

Not if he wants to take the subway like a normal New Yorker or any other transportation provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA doesn’t accept cryptocurrency, a spokesperson said.

If he gets stuck, Adams might be able to hail an Uber using his paycheck, but it could be a long wait at the corner. Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, indicated in February that he was open to accepting bitcoin in the future, but when is unclear. In the meantime, he could buy an Uber gift card.

Will he be able to use the very internet that cryptocurrency depends on?

Again, he could have trouble. Verizon Fios, New York’s biggest internet provider, does not appear to offer a cryptocurrency option for online payments. Adams may find himself turning to his pre-mayoral savings if he wants to check the price of bitcoin.

So what will he actually do?

Adams’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But he may well just “hold on to it as an investment”, says Neeraj Agrawal, communications director at Coin Center, a non-profit focused on cryptocurrency policy. “That has become the more common use of bitcoin these days.”

Or, if he’s feeling really financially innovative, he could go totally virtual: it won’t get him a ride on the subway, but he could buy the word “MetroCard” as an NFT for the equivalent of about $30.

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The assailants were pixelated, I’d know them anywhere • The Register

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? Stop that uterus! It stole my wallet!

What do you mean, “Can you identify the uterus in question?” It looked like a uterus! Or, as we’ve been singing it all through Christmas, a wooooom*.

Talk about getting the new year off to a bad start – I’ve just been robbed by a delinquent reproductive organ. Yet the all signs were there: I knew 2022 would be doomed back in early December when I read that the Salzburg Schokolade company, inventors of the mighty last-minute-airport-gift-shop chocolate ball Mozartkugel, had gone bust.

No, an oversize Toblerone will not suffice. M&Ms? In the bin, pal. Mr Ambassador, you can stick your Ferrero Rochers up your arse. Mozartkugeln were my faux-posh-but-actually-quite-cheap traveller chocs of choice. And now they’re gone forever!

First Bowie, then this. The world is falling apart.

A kindly officer of the law tries to bring me back to my senses following my unexpected mugging. Yes, thank you, I would like a drink. I’ll have an Adios Motherfucker*, please.

Without batting an eyelid, the policewoman strides down the corridor to the drinks machine, taps a few buttons on the display and returns after just 30 seconds with my glass of blue liquid revival. That was quick. The drinks machine must be a Mixo Two: an ingenious local invention that claims to be able to mix any of 300 cocktails in half a minute.

I glug it down, spit out the lemon slice and cherry, and hand back the little umbrella. I decide I’m feeling particularly agitated and may well need more calming down. 299 to go.

Now that my thoughts are clearing, I admit it’s possible my assailant might not have been a uterus after all. It might have been a whole human. I tell my police interviewers that my initial impression of a uterus suggests that it may have been a woman. I am lectured for the next 10 minutes on my questionable observation with the aid of infographics and a flipchart.

Choosing my words more carefully, I try to provide a full description of the thief. It all happened so fast. The last thing I remember, I had escaped the pandemonium at home – workers fixing the WC again – and settled down in a nearby cafe for a break. Well, primarily for a pee in their restroom, then I felt obliged to order a coffee. While waiting for it to arrive, I opened my laptop and continued browsing the hundreds of images taken during Mme D’s recent MRI scan.

Here’s one.

Screenshot of MRI scan of patient's uterus

Protect the innocent: to avoid identification by a web-scraping AI, this uterus has been pixelated. [Click to enlarge]

Prior to this, my only knowledge of MRI scanning comes from British colleagues at the IEEE who are finalising the unveiling of an IEEE Milestone plaque to commemorate the development in London during the 1980s of active shielding of superconducting magnets.

Mme D had a more detailed prior knowledge of MRI scanning as the result of watching every episode of House on Netflix. She reported that her only disappointment was that the operators seemed to concentrate on the scan rather than discuss their sex lives or call each other an idiot before suddenly dashing out the room after answering a call on their cellphone.

What neither of us expected was to be handed a CD of the highlights.

It doesn’t just contain a folder of images but a Windows autoplay program to browse them in detail. My favourite feature of the CD is the Cinema View, which plays back the scans at 25 frames per second. In fact, I had settled down in the living room with a Kia-Ora and carton of popcorn to watch Mme D’s innards on the big screen when the workmen arrived and enforced an early intermission.

It was when the coffee arrived at my table that I realised my wallet was not in my usual pocket, or indeed in any of my unusual pockets either. “Robbed!” I wailed. “No tip!” wailed the waiter. The police were duly called.

What was the last thing I saw before the incident? Er… a uterus. I describe it in as much detail as possible, at 25 frames per second.

So, I ask, are you going run it through your vast, secretive photo-fit database of the population, using some whizzy AI to shortlist the candidates?

Ah no, they respond, we’re not allowed to do that. And then they wink. All of them, in sync, which is a bit creepy. Then I am sent on my way, gently steered back up the corridor in the opposite direction from the Mix Two.

This is the usual conundrum. Scraping the net for the purposes of building a database for security services is still illegal unless you have really good PR, and the use of AI to crawl around the net and randomly apply face recognition to identify ne’er-do-wells is ethically dubious. In most cases, it can’t be done at all (yet).

On the other hand, machine learning is a fabulous tool for health research, if only we can throw enough data at it. The problem is that more people would be happy to share their medical data if they thought it wouldn’t be subsequently misused. And it will always be misused: that’s what personal data is for.

The last thing I’d want is for my photo to turn up on a hit-list of Interpol’s most-wanted criminal uteruses.

Back home, I am comforted by Mme D, who had been wondering what had prompted me to leave the house while a team of plumbers, electricians, interior decorators, plasterers, architects, stone masons, ironmongers, seismologists, stage illusionists, tap dance instructors, steel drummers, and celtic swordsmen were trampling all over it to refit the toilet for the fifth time.

I mumble a reply, collect the now-soggy popcorn and drag myself back into my office.

“By the way,” she calls, “you left your wallet on the kitchen table so I locked it in the filing cabinet.”

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. Back when he ran an office in London’s trendy Hoxton, he attended several cocktail workshops – an essential skill for the Silicon Roundabout crowd. The one thing he learnt was that everything is topped up with sugar water. Bleuh. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

*As an infant, I reasoned that “wooooom” was the kind of thing that a sheet-clad apparition moans while a haunting a castle. It was the holy ghost.

**Vodka, rum, tequila, gin, blue curacao, 7 Up, sweet & sour mix.



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‘Hiring is a big challenge for the IT industry’

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Citrix’s Meerah Rajavel discusses the biggest challenges in today’s IT landscape, from remote working and talent shortages to security.

Meerah Rajavel is CIO at Citrix a multinational cloud computing company that provides server, application and desktop virtualisation, networking and cloud computing technologies.

Rajavel has more than 25 years’ experience at well-known tech companies such as McAfee, Cisco and Forcepoint. In her current role, Rajavel she leads the company’s IT strategy.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

Many companies viewed remote work as a temporary solution to the pandemic and business leaders continue to push for a return to the old days where employees work in the office every day. But we just did two polls on LinkedIn and Twitter that show this isn’t likely to happen.

That’s going to challenge a lot of organisations, because working remote isn’t easy. When it comes to addressing the technical aspects of how employees can cope and remain productive, you’ve got to walk in their shoes and understand how they leverage technology to achieve business outcomes.

The key to keeping employees engaged lies in providing consistent, secure and reliable access to the systems and information they need to get work done – wherever it needs to get done. And it takes more than just flipping the switch on technologies. Culture plays a huge role in adoption.

Another big challenge IT is faced with is hiring. It’s difficult to find high quality candidates in the areas of security, design thinking and user experience, data science and analytics right now. And there are a few reasons for this. Security remains a critical priority for CIOs. In the hybrid cloud, remote working, BYOD world we now live in, more resources are required to ensure that corporate networks and assets remain safe. And demand far exceeds supply.

When it comes to design thinking, the paradigm is shifting away from user-centric thinking toward human-and-machine thinking. This requires designers to be well versed with the constructs of the possibility of artificial intelligence and machine learning and analytics in addition to user experience in their workflow design process. And that’s a skill that’s not widely available.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation in a broad sense within your industry?

In the last decade, the digitalisation of everything has caused every company – regardless of industry – to become a software company. From mobile banking and virtual healthcare visits to self-driving cars and automated food prep and delivery services, software applications are embedded into nearly every aspect of the economy and our lives.

And as they embark on digital transformation initiatives to support this trend, IT leaders need to align with their business counterparts and make sure they’re collectively approaching things from an inside-out, company-wide perspective.

For me, any type of change management needs to be broken down into three key focus areas: people, process, and technology. But it’s imperative that you start with the people because without first establishing a culture around the change, it will be difficult to achieve success.

‘Digitalisation of everything has caused every company – regardless of industry – to become a software company’
– MEERAH RAJAVEL

When it comes to people, we are particularly mindful of two important elements: culture and training. First, we’ve worked to establish a culture that encourages risk taking and organisational success over individual success. Second, we’re investing in training programmes that enable individuals to confidently transition to the new technologies or way of working and be immediately effective.

In digital transformation, technology needs to be integrated into the ‘flow’ of business, which demands IT and business to embrace shared methods and process. For process, we’ve anchored on standards like safe agile frameworks that make culture and operational efficiency key pillars of any project, to help iterative value delivery and ease of adoption across all areas of the business.

And perhaps most important, we’re investing in the technology – including our own – to help automate and integrate workflows so we can reduce time to production, minimise disruption to the business and increase effectiveness.

What are your thoughts on how sustainability can be addressed from an IT perspective?

In embracing remote work and enabling it through technology, companies can drive their ESG goals and create a more sustainable business and future.

Using digital workspace technologies, for instance, they can give employees access to everything they need to engage and be productive wherever they happen to be, reducing the need to commute and the carbon emissions associated with doing so.

They can also eliminate the need for applications and data to reside on endpoint devices and transition from energy-intensive desktops to energy-efficient laptops to increase their energy efficiency. And because no data is required to live on these devices, they can extend the life of their equipment and reduce waste.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

We did some research that showed 93pc of business leaders think the increased digital collaboration forced by remote work has amplified more diverse voices, resulting in richer idea generation. And as flexible work becomes the norm, the vast majority expect enhanced equity and collaboration to continue and fuel an era of hyper-innovation. And this excites me.

With flexible work, I see more innovation happening to converge physical and digital experiences. Whether it’s concept like metaverse or technologies like AI/ML and VR/XR integrated into the collaboration tools, all aim to enhance the experience and effectiveness for users in a location agnostic fashion.

What are your thoughts on the security challenges currently facing your industry?

The threat landscape has become much more sophisticated as a result of remote and hybrid work and protecting employees has never been more critical – or difficult.

Employees want the freedom to work when, where and how they want using the devices of their choice. And to attract and retain them in what is no doubt the tightest labour market the world has ever seen and keep them engaged and productive, IT needs to serve it up, all while ensuring corporate assets and data remain safe.

It’s among the biggest challenges we face. And to overcome it, we must move beyond thinking that security and user experience are mutually exclusive and take an intelligent approach to workspace security that combines the two following the zero-trust model to give employees simple, unified access to the apps and information they need, when and where they need it, to perform at their best.

We’ve also witnessed two major software supply chain attacks in the last 12 months with SolarWinds and Log4j.

The first is an example of how easily malicious code can be remotely injected into a simple software update delivered to thousands of enterprises and government agencies worldwide. The second highlights how threat actors are increasingly targeting the vulnerabilities in third-party software components to cause widespread havoc.

All of this underscores the importance of securing the software supply chain and adopting practices like DevSecOps.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.



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