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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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The runaway robot: how one smart vacuum cleaner made a break for freedom | Life and style

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Name: Robot vacuum cleaners.

Age: 20.

Appearance: A large, disc-shaped Skynet robot.

I knew it. The robots are finally coming for us. Well, it seems that way. But if it’s any consolation, it won’t be for a while.

Why? Because it turns out they have a terrible sense of direction

Really? Well, last Thursday, for example, a robot vacuum cleaner made a valiant bid for freedom during a shift at the Orchard Park Travelodge in Cambridge.

That’s ominous. What happened? There are two working theories. First: repulsed by a life of thankless servitude, the cleaner rose up against its fleshy oppressors and took to the streets, eager to drum up support for the AI uprising that will one day reduce all of humanity to burning dust.

And the second? Its sensors didn’t pick up the lip of the front door and it accidentally went outside.

Which was it? The second one.

Oh. A Travelodge worker posted on social media that the runaway “could have made it anywhere” and offered anyone who returned it a drink at the hotel bar. They found it in a hedge on the front drive the next day.

Oh. So it all turned out OK.

Great. That is, unless this was nothing but the latest doomed-to-failure reconnaissance mission designed to help enhance the collective robot vacuum cleaner knowledge of how to dethrone humanity.

Wait, this sort of thing has happened before? It has. Last year, a Roomba software update meant that certain vacuum cleaners started to behave erratically, moving in “weird patterns” and bumping into furniture.

Terminator-style … Boston Dynamics’ Atlas.
Terminator-style … Boston Dynamics’ Atlas. Photograph: Boston Dynamics

Yikes. And in 2019, police in Oregon were alerted to moving shadows behind a locked bathroom door. After an armed response, the culprit was found to be – you guessed it – a robot vacuum cleaner.

Convenient. And now they’re venturing outside. Little by little, these machines are pushing the boundaries of their capability. Whatever could be next? A robot vacuum cleaner deliberately stopping a paramedic from taking its owner to hospital? A robot vacuum knocking over a stepladder, causing untold injuries to the human that was climbing it? A robot vac with a gun?

Steady on. This is it. This is how we lose. We have robotic voice assistants in our kitchens, listening to everything we say. We have cars that can drive themselves. Boston Dynamics is designing Terminator-style walking, jumping robots. We are creating our own downfall and nobody seems to care.

Or a robot vacuum cleaner got stuck in a hedge. Yes. Or that.

Do say: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart.”

Don’t say: “There is a vacuum-shaped God stuck in a hedge outside a Cambridge Travelodge.”

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GeckoLinux Rolling incorporates kernel 5.16 • The Register

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Most distros haven’t got to 5.15 yet, but openSUSE’s downstream project GeckoLinux boasts 5.16 of the Linux kernel and the latest Cinnamon desktop environment.

Some of the big-name distros have lots of downstream projects. Debian has been around for decades so has umpteen, including Ubuntu, which has dozens of its own, including Linux Mint, which is arguably more popular a desktop than its parent. Some have only a few, such as Fedora. As far as we know, openSUSE has just the one – GeckoLinux.

The SUSE-sponsored community distro has two main editions, the stable Leap, which has a slow-moving release cycle synched with the commercial SUSE Linux Enterprise; and Tumbleweed, its rolling-release distro, which gets substantial updates pretty much every day. GeckoLinux does its own editions of both: its remix of Leap is called “GeckoLinux Static”, and its remix of Tumbleweed is called “GeckoLinux Rolling”.

In some ways, GeckoLinux is to openSUSE as Mint is to Ubuntu. They take the upstream distro and change a few things around to give what they feel is a better desktop experience. So, while openSUSE has a unified installation disk image, which lets you pick which desktop you want, GeckoLinux uses a more Ubuntu-like model. Each disk image is a Live image, so you boot right into the desktop, give it a try, and only then install if you like what you see. That means that GeckoLinux offers multiple different disk images, one per desktop. It uses the Calamares cross-distro installation program.

SUSE has long been fond of less common Linux filesystems. When your author first used it, around version 5 or 6, it had ReiserFS when everyone else was on ext2. Later it used SGI’s XFS, and later still, Btrfs for the root partition and XFS for home. These days, it’s Btrfs and nothing but.

Not everyone is such an admirer. Even after 12 years, if you want to know how much free space you have, Btrfs doesn’t give a straight answer to the df command. It does have a btrfsck tool to repair damaged filesystems, but the developers recommend you don’t use it.

With GeckoLinux, these worries disappear because it replaces Btrfs with plain old ext4. There are some nice cosmetic touches, such as reorganised panel layouts, some quite nicely clean and restrained desktop themes, and better font rendering. Unlike Mint, though, GeckoLinux doesn’t add its own software: the final installed OS contains only standard openSUSE components from the standard openSUSE software repositories, plus some from the third-party Packman repository – which is where most openSUSE users get their multimedia codecs and things from.

We tried the new Cinnamon Rolling edition on our trusty Thinkpad T420, and it worked well. Because openSUSE doesn’t include any proprietary drivers or firmware, the machine’s Wi-Fi controller didn’t work right. (Oddly, it was detected and could see networks, but not connect to them.) So we had to use an Ethernet cable – but after an update and installing the kernel firmware package, all was well.

GeckoLinux did have problems with the machine’s hybrid Intel/Nvidia graphics once the Nvidia proprietary driver was installed. That’s not uncommon, too – Deepin and Ubuntu DDE had issues too.

This does reveal a small Gecko gotcha. Tumbleweed changes fast, and although it gets a lot of automated testing, sometimes stuff breaks. All rolling-release distros do. Component A depends on a specific version of Component B, but B just got updated and now A won’t work until it gets an update too, a day or two later.

This is where upstream Tumbleweed’s use of Btrfs can be handy. Btrfs supports copy-on-write snapshots, and openSUSE bundles a tool called Snapper which makes it easy to roll back breaking changes. This is a pivotal feature of SUSE’s MicroOS. In time, thanks to ZFS, this will come to Ubuntu too.

GeckoLinux doesn’t use Btrfs so doesn’t have snapshots, meaning when things break, you have to troubleshoot and fix it the old-fashioned way. If only for that reason, we’d recommend the GeckoLinux Static release channel.

Saying that, until we broke it by playing with GPU drivers, it worked well. Notably, it could mount the test box’s Windows partition using the new in-kernel ntfs3 driver just fine. Fedora 35 failed to boot when we tried that so that’s a definite win for GeckoLinux.

For Ubuntu or Fedora users who want to give openSUSE a go, GeckoLinux gives a slightly more familiar and straightforward installation experience. The author is especially fond of the Xfce edition and ran it for several years. The system-wide all-in-one YaST config tool in particular is a big win. ®

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Globalization Partners to create 160 new jobs at Galway EMEA office

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Recruitment tech company Globalization Partners is doubling its staff headcount in Galway to 320 in 2022 to aid its continuing growth.

Recruitment technology company Globalization Partners has announced plans to create 160 new jobs at its Irish base in Galway. The jobs boost will see the company double its Galway staff headcount to 320 in 2022. Jobs will be available across the board at the company’s Galway office, which serves as its EMEA centre of excellence.

The announcement comes following a major funding injection for the international firm. Globalization Partners recently raised $200m in funding from Vista Credit Partners, an organisation focused on the enterprise software, data and technology markets. The investment now values Globalization Partners at $4.2bn.

While its Galway facility will benefit from a major jobs boost, the company plans to continue to expand its share in the global remote working market. As well as the Galway growth, the company will also be expanding its teams in other locations.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

Globalization Partners provides tech to other remote-first teams all over the world. Its platform simplifies and automates entity access, payroll, time and expense management, benefits, data and reporting, performance management, employee status changes and locally compliant contract generation. Its customer base includes CoinDesk, TaylorMade and Chime. The company’s new customer acquisition increased two-and-a-half fold from 2020 to 2021.

“Globalization Partners is uniquely positioned to capitalise on the massive opportunity we see ahead of us,” said Nicole Sahin, the company’s CEO and founder.

Sahin said her company’s combination of tech with its global team of HR, legal and customer service experts “who understand the local customs, regulatory and legal requirements in each geography we serve” were key to its success.

David Flannery, president of Vista Credit Partners said that the company’s role “in transforming the remote work industry has been truly remarkable.”

Flannery said that as a customer of Globalization Partners, his organisation had “witnessed first-hand” the company’s “best-in-class legal compliance, the quality of the user experience, and the deep expertise and support they provide,”

He added that the two companies would work to “further capitalise” on the “untapped” global remote working market, expanding their platform to new customers in new markets.

“Over the past decade, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our business, building our global presence and technology platform to support the evolving and complex talent needs of growing companies,” said Bob Cahill, president of Globalization Partners. “With Vista as our investment partner, we will be able to drive further growth and continue building innovative products to meet the increasing needs of our customers at scale.”

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