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Tech

Google automatically translates local reviews when you travel

We all use user-generated reviews to figure out what points of interest are worth checking out. If you’re traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language, however, the reviews you rely on are usually in the local tongue. Google has a new feature to help you out. The company will now automatically translate reviews into your native language without any effort on your part.

When you use Google Maps or Search to find a place you’re interested in, the reviews will be translated on the fly into the language you have set on your phone. You’ll see a parenthetical note that the review has been translated, but that’s it. No more pasting unfamiliar language into a translation app or — heaven forbid — using a pocket phrasebook to find that sweet photo spot in Italy or the best shawarma place in Istanbul.

This is just another in a line of features Google’s added lately, including a location-sharing feature that you might actually use and tappable shortcuts for its various apps.

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Tech

Running with an AI ‘personal trainer’ is fun, but expensive

The artificial intelligence that we hope will exist in our lifetimes is a world away from what’s available right now. A thinking computer that knows us better than we know ourselves, and can make us better than we are, is still the stuff of fantasy. But if our goals are simple and easy to understand, does an AI really need to be that smart to get the job done? For instance, can a pair of swanky headphones with an AI personal trainer make me a better runner?

It’s a question that I’ve been musing about ever since I started testing Vi, which its creators call the “first true AI personal trainer.” It combines a pair of bio-sensing headphones and an app from Lifebeam, a military biosensor company founded by a pair of former Israeli air force pilots. Lifebeam’s side hustle is to take those same sensors and bake them into consumer products like cycling helmets and baseball caps.

Here, the company has added that technology to a pair of Bluetooth earphones, along with a raft of other fitness tracking equipment. Buried inside the “halo” that sits around your neck is a six-axis gyroscope, barometer and accelerometer. In addition, the $249 device will work as a regular set of headphones, packing a microphone and Harman/Kardon-branded sound.

The device was a smash hit when it launched on Kickstarter last year, earning nearly $1.7 million, far beyond its initial goal of $100,000. It’s worth saying that the hardware concept isn’t new, since Intel and SMS did the same job with 2015’s BioSport. Similarly, Jabra came out with its Sport Coach headphones, although those didn’t have the optical heart rate sensor. Lifebeam is hoping that Vi, the AI personal trainer with voice coaching that ships with the product, will be the big draw for its headphones.

Once you’ve punched in your vital statistics and connected Vi to Healthkit, Google Fit or Strava, you’re ready to run. Vi needs 120 minutes of data before it truly begins to work, so your first few runs are more about training the app than training your own body. Despite suffering a damaged right knee that was close to giving out, I braved the indifferent English weather and began my testing.

There are four options from which you can choose: Distance Run, Time Run, Free Run and Cycling, and the app also lets you decide how chatty you want Vi to be. Selecting Free Run and asking Vi to “lead the way,” I began to run through the app’s tutorial level. It begins well, with the voice actress — there is no way to change Vi’s gender — speaking in a faux robot voice before admitting that it was a joke and chatting more naturally.

During these initial runs, Vi will run through a pre-recorded spiel about how the system will work to coach you through your journey. You can tap the right earbud to activate the microphone and bark vocal commands at the platform. So if you ask “How am I doing?” you’ll be told your heart rate, speed, pace and step rate. Simply asking for a specific statistic, such as heart rate, will get Vi to offer that statistic on its own.

You can also set audio beacons at specific distances during your run that gently ping when you approach them. The closer you get, the louder the ping, and I set my beacons to launch every kilometer so that I had a sense of achieving a goal. It’s a neat effect, and one that helps you perk up when your stamina might otherwise begin to flag.

During my runs, Vi told me that my stride length was too long and I wasn’t hitting the ground enough, risking fatigue and injury. As such, it offered up a feature called “Step to the Beat,” in which the background music is silenced in favor of a drum track. You’re then asked to make sure your foot is striking the ground in time with each drum hit, something I found quite enjoyable.

Some of the things that were promised in Vi’s initial Kickstarter pitch didn’t make themselves apparent during my short testing period. For instance, on a day with bad weather, Vi was meant to suggest that I work out indoors instead of braving the elements. That didn’t happen, although the app offers no options to exercise beyond running or cycling, so perhaps the feature was quietly dropped.

From Vi’s Kickstarter.

Overall, the experience of running with Vi was pleasant, and I can only attribute t it offers. Even though it’s little more than a series of pre-recorded statements being played at random, there is something about being cheered on — a sense of support — that’s useful. It would probably wear out its welcome after long enough, but I suspect judicious use of the system could be somewhat useful for fair-weather runners.

Unfortunately, some elements of the Vi experience weren’t quite as smooth or enjoyable. The microphone is woeful at picking up voice commands when you’re running in an area with plenty of ambient sound. As I ran at full pelt down a busy road, all Vi would do was apologize for not quite picking up the words I was saying.

I got plenty of funny looks when I had to slow down, and then stop, trying to speak clearly enough to be understood. I’m sure the patrons of a local supermarket thought I was ill after seeing me bellow “Step to the beat!” into my own neckband. Unfortunately, after a while I gave up and intentionally sped up my run to trigger the feature on its own.

The app itself is beautiful and minimalist, offering plenty of ways to dive deeper into your data at the end of a run. However, there’s still plenty of work to be done with the music controls, which do not work at all. Playing library music was an utter chore, as the carousel bounces around when you’re trying to skip a spoken-word track in the playlist. Perhaps the designers paid more attention to the Spotify Premium integration than making sure it worked with your own music.

Then there’s the fact that the AI that Vi boasts simply isn’t that intelligent, and the system is doomed never to live up to its promises. After all, it’s simply a slightly more sophisticated pattern recognition machine with pre-recorded audio prompts. You could just as easily listen to a specific coaching podcast and get a similar experience, albeit with a little more customization.

Admittedly, you won’t get the learning experience that Vi offers, and it will tweak its coaching as it learns more about your running. If you set fat-burning as a goal, and you’re getting closer to your fat-burning zone, Vi will offer some judicious encouragement to get you there. Alternatively, if it you there. Alternatively, if it knows that you’re close to flaking out and slowing down, the system will help you maintain a steadier, more consistent pace. The more data you give it, the better the insights you get back.

Overall, I enjoyed using Vi, because it’s a perfectly elegant way to run, and the voice coaching is friendly and pleasant enough. I’d like to think that I’d continue to use it, in the hope of getting ever smarter recommendations and using it to become a better runner. But one thing, above all of my other gripes, stops me from recommending this to anyone: the price. After all, $249 is a lot of money to spend on a device that does something you can achieve for a hell of a lot less.

If you really want a pair of Bluetooth halo earbuds with Harman/Kardon sound, you can pick up LG’s Tone for a lot less. There are plenty of apps that offer voice coaching, as well as podcasts that’ll do a similar job — sometimes for free. Since you have to bring your phone along with you, it’s not as if you need the motion-tracking abilities of the Vi headset anyway.

If you’re a hardcore fitness enthusiast who wants a premium product, cash be damned, then sure. Vi is a beautiful piece of equipment that offers good sound and doubles as a decent pair of running ‘phones. But for everyone else, it’s probably not worth the extraordinary premium.

Does an artificial intelligence need to be smart to make you a better runner? No, but then, it’s not really an artificial intelligence, is it?

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Tech

Google’s next trick for Android is ‘copyless pasting’

Google’s recognition for context goes beyond conversing with Assistant, it would seem. The search juggernaut is working on a feature that “thinks” of what you were looking at in Chrome and makes it available in other apps. It’s called “Copyless Paste” for now and a glimpse at the code documentation should give a few clues as to how it works:

“Provide suggestions for text input, based on your recent context. For example, if you looked at a restaurant website and switched to the Maps app, the keyboard would offer the name of that restaurant as a suggestion to enter into the search bar. The data is indexed locally and never sent to the server. It’s disabled in incognito mode.”

So, it isn’t the same as copying a string of text from a recipe or article and then Android automatically dropping it in an email or a text message, but it still sounds pretty useful. The info won’t leave your phone, either. VentureBeat writes that you can activate the feature if you’re running Chrome Canary on your device, but that you might not notice any changes.

What’s more, the code review suggests that this won’t be available on low-end devices. With I/O coming up next month, it’s pretty likely we’ll hear more about this feature soon, and what it’ll mean in the context of Android O.

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Tech

Apple’s iPhone 8 might not ship in September

Apple has practically settled into a routine with its flagship iPhone launches: it announces the new model in early September and ships it later that month. You can practically set your clock by it. Well, you might not want to bank on that schedule this year. KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a mostly solid track record when outlining Apple’s plans, believes that the long-rumored OLED iPhone won’t enter production until October or November. Reportedly, the new model’s “significant hardware upgrades” (such as the OLED screen and depth-sensing front camera) are pushing back the release. There could be shortages until Apple refines its manufacturing, too.

Provided the analyst is on the mark, this won’t be great for either you or Apple’s bottom line. While there has been talk of Apple releasing three new iPhones later this year, the OLED model is believed to be the truly exciting one — the other two would be mild upgrades to the iPhone 7 line. You may end up waiting several weeks longer to get the iPhone you really want, and that could leave Apple’s sales in the doldrums for a while.

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Tech

The Moto Z2 Play looks very familiar

You probably picked up the Moto Z Play for its long battery life, mid-range price and compatibility with Motrola’s flagship modular backs. If you were worried that those components wouldn’t work on the next version of the handset, don’t — leaked images of the Moto Z2 Play from TechnoBuffalo suggest that the device will be almost visually identical to the original. Well, there is one notable change: the Moto Z Play’s square button has been replaced with a round one.

Ultimately, this isn’t too much of a surprise — any drastic changes to the phone’s chassis would have made it incompatible with the battery, camera back and other accessories created for the Moto Z line. Keeping the same shape was important. Unfortunately, beyond form factor and the hard-point connector that confirms mod compatibility, the leak tells us precious little else about the phone. The leaked image’s clock does have a date listed for June 8th, however, which could be a tease, but take that with a grain of salt. If we hear anything, we’ll let you know.

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Tech

The best laser printer

After nearly 250 hours of research and testing over the past few years, we’ve found that the best choice for an affordable laser printer right now is the Brother HL-L2340DW. Among the dozens of laser printers we’ve looked at, the L2340DW is one of the most economical and least frustrating models you can buy.

Who should get this

If you print less than once a week on average, or mostly print text-first documents—like school assignments, invoices, shipping labels, tax forms, real estate applications, personal records, permission slips, tickets—a mono laser printer is probably all you need. Assuming, that is, you really need a printer at all.

Compared with inkjet printers, laser printers cost more to buy, but less to own over time because the toner is so cheap. Lasers won’t cause as much stress as inkjets, either, because they never clog, and their large toner cartridges can print at least twice as many pages as a typical ink cartridge before they need to be replaced. Laser printers also tend to be faster than inkjets, and they usually produce sharper-looking text as well.

So who shouldn’t get a laser printer? If you don’t have a lot of money to spend but need to print in color, an inkjet printer is the only way to go. Inkjets are also the only (relatively) affordable way to print glossy, high-quality photos at home. And a decent inkjet that can scan, copy, and print in color costs much less than a color laser machine with the same features. We recommend some decent inkjet machines here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Based on the best-seller lists at major retailers, most people want a printer that’s affordable, with a low cost per page and minimal maintenance—a simple machine that can handle basic jobs. Most of those printers are monochrome laser printers, so we focused on those when considering candidates for our main pick.

To start, we scouted for all the current monochrome (black and white) laser printers we could find for under $200. Then we whittled these down to printer-only models (we considered copy/scan models separately), and those with automatic duplex printing, Wi-Fi, and support for mobile printing. We also favored models with cheaper toner costs. To weed out any clunkers that had good specs but poor real-world performance, we read through dozens of customer reviews and editorial reviews.

Plenty of people want a copier and scanner in addition to a printer, so we also sought out a great monochrome multifunction printer.

We set up each printer on both a Windows PC and a Mac, following the manufacturer’s instructions and trying to use Wi-Fi where possible. We considered setup a success once we could print a page from a Web browser and then shut the printer off, turn it back on, and get it to print again. We also tested other connectivity standards, which you can read about in our full guide.

For print-quality testing, we used reference documents that were predominantly text-based, with some elements like columns, tables, or charts.

We also checked out each printer’s quality options, including toner-density sliders and any available print-resolution settings, to see what you can expect with toner-saving options and whether we could eke out better-looking text.

We stress-tested all the paper-feeding parts of each printer, including the main paper trays and document feeders if the printer had one. We (slightly) overstuffed them with paper to see if they’d jam, and we also fed them single sheets to see if they could pick up each. For more on our testing procedures.

The Brother HL-L2340DW (pictured) and HL-L2360DW fit onto (or under) most desks. Photo: Kimber StreamsThe Brother HL-L2340DW monochrome laser printer is the laser printer that we think will work the best for most people. Toner is a bargain, and it was easier to add to a simple home network than other models like it. All the crucial features you can expect from a decent document printer are here: Wi-Fi, auto duplexing, and support for important mobile printing standards. Text is crisp, and print speed is as fast as you’d ever need in a home office.

Though the L2340DW’s default print quality is worse than that of its closest competitor, the Samsung M2835DW, it’s fine for most home use. If you boost the print-quality setting, the difference mostly vanishes anyway. Even with that downside, we think the L2340DW is the better affordable laser printer overall because it’s easier to set up and troubleshoot, and user reviews suggest that it’s more reliable over a couple of years, too. You probably (probably) won’t ever feel like beating the L2340DW to a pulp Office Space style.

The best thing about the L2340DW is the dirt-cheap cost of ownership. It uses only about 1.7¢ worth of toner per page. Even counting the wear on the drum, the cost works out to about 2.3¢—less than most other residential printers out there. Compared with a similarly low-cost inkjet printer, you’ll save something like $20 per year on document printing even if you print just 500 pages per year. The more you print, the more the math favors the Brother.

Runner-up

The HL-L2360DW is the fraternal-twin Brother (hey-o!) to the HL-L2340DW, and is worth grabbing if it’s cheaper, or if you need an Ethernet port. The L2360DW can print a few extra pages per minute, but both printers are wicked fast for home-use standards, and you probably won’t notice the difference. From what we’ve seen so far, the L2360DW tends to cost a few dollars more than the L2340DW, and isn’t available at as many stores. But again, the differences hardly matter—follow your wallet.

A practical multifunction monochrome printer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you want an affordable printer that can also copy and scan, the Samsung Xpress M2875DW mono laser is our favorite option. The cost of operation is low, and this printer is easier to install than most of its competitors. It also has a 50-page auto document feeder, whereas many of its competitors have only a flatbed scanner. The ADF makes copying and scanning multipage documents much easier. The M2875DW also has reliable Wi-Fi connectivity, auto duplex printing, convenient mobile apps, and support for both AirPrint and Google Cloud Print. We think it’s best for home users, but it could work for a small office with modest needs.

 

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News

Toyota is testing a hydrogen fuel-cell powered semi

Toyota built a larger sibling for the hydrogen fuel cell powered Mirai, a semi truck. The automaker is testing a water-expelling big rig at the Port of Los Angeles that it hopes will yield data to help build a fleet of zero-emission trucks.

Gallery: Toyota Portal Project | 11 Photos

Called the “Portal Project,” the study will determine how well hydrogen fuel-cell heavy duty vehicles work in a shipping environment. The truck itself will be use two Mirai fuel cell stacks and a 12kWh battery to power two motors connected to the rear wheels working in parallel. With a range of over 200 miles per fill-up, the truck can haul a gross combined weight capacity 80,000 pounds.

“We think that there’s a market demand for this technology in the ports today and there are no there are no competing services to diesel solutions,” said Craig Scott, national manager of Toyota’s advanced technology group.

Tony Gioiello, deputy executive director of port development for the Port of Los Angeles said “the Port of Los Angeles has been a leader in working to reduce pollution from port operations, and we’re excited at the potential for a true zero-emission heavy-duty truck to push our Clean Air Action Plan even further.”

The truck and the project are part of Toyota’s larger plan to help kick start an infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles like the Mirai. Initially the automaker will hire its own driver to help collect data on the big rig and it’s trips. But it will eventually hand the keys over to the driver of a yet-to-be-determined shipping partner.

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Tech

Baidu wants to work with everyone on self-driving tech

Like many big technology companies, Chinese giant Baidu has been working on self-driving cars for a few years now, even investing with Ford in LIDAR sensor company Velodyne. Collaborations between tech firms and carmakers are now commonplace, but after an unsuccessful marriage with BMW, Baidu is seeking new partners — or rather, all the partners. In a project Baidu calls “Apollo,” the company is offering up its whole self-driving platform to the wider industry, from software to reference vehicles, to give the general pursuit of autonomous cars a NOS-like boost.

From July, Baidu says it’ll begin sharing more and more of what it’s been developing in-house. The company claims its particular strong suit is employing AI to solve the self-driving puzzle, but the Apollo project will offer a complete “solution.” That includes vehicles, other hardware like sensors, software, cloud services and all kinds of code, as well as testing tools. It’s not just about what Baidu can provide others, though, as the firm is hoping that allies will also help the project out with improved vehicles and components. “This will lower the barriers to entry for research and development of autonomous driving technologies, making it more accessible to the general public, and accelerate the overall pace of innovation,” Baidu’s release reads.

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Tech

Lenovo’s convertible Chromebook is built with Android apps in mind

Convertible Chromebooks are all the rage lately, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at Lenovo’s offerings. It did release the Chrome-powered ThinkPad Yoga 11e, but that was aimed at schools. Now, however, Lenovo is building a 2-in-1 Chromebook aimed at the mainstream — it just launched the Flex 11 Chromebook, a budget 11.6-inch hybrid designed to run Android apps. It can’t actually use Android apps yet (Google Play support is “coming soon,” Lenovo says), but its combination of a tablet mode with a quad-core, 2.1GHz ARM processor should make it well-suited to your favorite mobile titles. Just don’t expect it to be speedy compared to Chromebooks using Celeron or Core chips.

The 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and 1,366 x 768 screen resolution won’t blow you away, but there are a few perks to this relatively no-frills design. The Flex 11 includes USB-C to support newer peripherals and charge your system (there’s also USB 3.0, HDMI and an SD card slot), and it’s built to take some abuse between the reinforced ports and water resistance on both the keyboard and trackpad. You might like the 10-hour estimated battery life, as well.

However, the real allure is likely the price. The Flex 11 Chromebook will cost just $279 when it arrives this month. That’s not exactly revolutionary (Acer has a lower-priced option for students), but that’s much better than the $439 you had to pay for the school-oriented ThinkPad when it was new. This is clearly aimed at anyone looking to get their feet wet with Chromebooks, whether they’re doing schoolwork or just watching Netflix on the couch.

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Articles Featured/Opinions

Facebook’s latest drone delivers internet during a disaster

Internet connectivity is kind of like air: something we take for granted until we can’t get it. To help make communications easier during disaster scenarios, Facebook has come up with the “Tether-antenna.” At its simplest, it’s a small, unmanned helicopter that can hook onto undamaged fiber-and-power lines (when cellular connectivity has been damaged or is otherwise unavailable) and then hover “a few hundred feet from the ground,” according to a Facebook Developers blog post. “When completed, this technology will be able to be deployed immediately and operate for months at a time to bring back connectivity in case of an emergency — ensuring the local community can stay connected while the in ground connectivity is under repair.”

Facebook admits that the tech is still early in terms of development and that lots more work is needed before it will see use. But, like the company’s plans for blanketing the developing world with a limited form of internet connectivity, it’s a signal that Zuckerberg and Co. have serious plans for more than just shoving augmented reality into your News Feed.

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Tech

Sling TV streams live broadcasts to your LG Smart TV

If you’re a cord cutter, you no longer have to worry about buying a dedicated media player just to watch live broadcasts on your LG TV. Sling TV’s internet-only service is now available on “most” of LG’s 2016-era webOS sets as an app, with 2017 models due to get it in the months ahead. In theory, that puts internet -only viewing just a launch bar shortcut away.

This isn’t Sling’s first TV integration, but it’s an important one. It’s helping to create a future where you can assume that your TV set can handle any kind of live broadcast, whether it’s online or from a cable box. And of course, it’s important for Sling as well — this opens the doors to people who might not even realize that Sling TV exists, or aren’t willing to pay for a separate device just to get live channels.

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Tech

Early Galaxy S8 owners complain of red-tinted screens

Samsung started shipping the Galaxy S8 to customers in South Korea who pre-ordered the flagship phone almost a full week ago. They were probably thinking of how lucky they were to get the phone early until some of them noticed something off about their screen. According to multiple reports posted on Korean forums like PPOMPPU and social networks like Instagram, some S8 units’ displays have a very noticeable reddish tint. It’s unclear how widespread the issue is, but it seems to be serious enough for “Galaxy S8 Red Screen” to be a trending search term on Korean search engine Naver.

Samsung didn’t deny the issue and told ZDNet that it can easily be fixed in the settings:

“All Samsung phones undergo thorough testing to meet our high level of quality standards. The Infinity Display on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ has applied Super AMOLED and provides rich and expressive colors, enabling users to enjoy a clearer and more vivid viewing experience.

The Galaxy S8 was built with an adaptive display that optimizes the color range, saturation, and sharpness depending on the environment. If needed, users can manually adjust the color range of the display to change the appearance of white tones, through ‘Settings > Display > Screen Mode > Color balance’.”

An unnamed mobile industry official told Business Korea that a few Note 7 launch units also had a reddish tint brought about by the Super AMOLED display. If fixing color balance doesn’t work, his advice is to go in for a replacement — indeed, some affected users said making color adjustments did nothing for them.

Another insider pointed out to The Korea Herald that it could be caused by the company’s new deep red AMOLED tech. The S8, which is the first phone to use the technology, has two types of joint pixels: red-green and blue-green. Those two greens could cause a color imbalance, so Samsung made the red pixels look stronger and deeper. Whatever the cause is, it seems buyers’ best bet to check their phone against other devices when it arrives and adjust the color balance before panicking and asking for a replacement.

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Articles Featured/Opinions

Alphabet’s Verily details its research-focused health watch

Google has made a smartwatch, but not the kind you might expect. Verily, the health organisation owned by Google parent company Alphabet, has (finally) announced its ‘Study Watch’ for medical research purposes. It doesn’t run Android Wear, nor does it help you manage the notifications on your phone. Instead, it passively captures health data “critical to the success of continuous care platforms and clinical research,” including heart rate, electrodermal activity (the skin’s ability to conduct electricity) and body movement. It can also produce an ECG, a recording of the heart’s electrical activity, which can sometimes reveal heart problems.

The Study Watch has a circular e-ink display which displays the date, time, and some basic instructions for the wearer. “No other information is provided back to the user,” Verily says in a blog post. The simple interface is designed to maximise performance; the wearable can last a week on a single charge, and comes with “a powerful processor” to run important algorithms. There are no apps, or any other functionality normally associated with smartwatches. That means it can focus on capturing and storing raw data that will be useful for medical professionals.

“While numerous wearables exist in the market, we have a specific need outside of these offerings,” Verily adds. The team hopes the watch will be deployed in large research groups and prove useful as an always-on, continuous health tracking tool. Initially, it will be used in a few smaller studies including the “Personalized Parkinson’s Project,” a multi-year project led by the ParkinsonNet, Radboud University and the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Normally, Parkinson’s patients would have their heart rate variability measured in a hospital — now, the same tests can be run (in theory) anywhere, any time.

The health-focused Study Watch will also play a role in Verily’s “Baseline” study, which aims to track 10,000 participants over five years. The results will, the company hopes, create a ‘baseline’ of health data that can be used to better understand ageing and disease. It’s one of many ambitious Verily projects which include glucose-tracking contact lenses, nanoparticle pillsfor detecting cancer and heart attacks, and bioelectronic medicines. The Study Watch does, by comparison, sound like a more realistic endeavour, if only because Apple and Nokia which now owns Withings  are making similar inroads with their respective smartwatch and health platforms.

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