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ICYMI: More gadget highlights from CES 2021


While CES was a bit different this year, we still managed to check out a number of inspiring new devices, apps and services. While we acknowledged the most promising tech in Engadget's Best of CES awards, there remain a bunch of gadgets that didn't make the list that will be worth checking out when they actually hit shelves later this year. Things like HP's new Dragonfly laptops, TCL's 8K TVs and Cowin's two-piece soundbar are all things to look forward to as 2021 progresses (and some are even available already). Here are some of the CES 2021 gadgets you may have missed this week. Cherlynn Low found a lot to like about last year's HP Dragonfly laptop: it was lightweight at 2.2 pounds, had a great battery life and an attractive design.

How I used open source to extend Apple's Home automation to more devices


I have to admit it: I backed the wrong horse when it came to driving home automation from a digital assistant and went with Microsoft's Cortana and its Harmon Kardon Invoke smart speakers. I had good enough reason: I trusted Microsoft's privacy commitments a lot more than either Amazon's or Google's, and Apple's Home relied on the too-expensive HomePod smart speakers. Sure, I had a couple of Amazon Echoes and a Google Nest Mini to try out those ecosystems, but their over-reliance on in-cloud voice recognition was that bit too much on the creepy side. Still, I could happily control my Hue lights from Cortana, though support for my Netatmo thermostats and Ikea Tradfri lights had to be through maker tools like IFTTT and workflow automation with webhook APIs like Power Automate or Zapier. But then Microsoft refocused Cortana on its commercial customers and announced that its Invoke Cortana integrations were due to be turned off early in 2021.

Microsoft: Here's how we're adding news, weather and traffic to your Windows 10 taskbar


Microsoft has released a new preview of a future Windows 10 taskbar that shows how it plans to display news and weather in the task bar. Microsoft is kicking off 2021 with more user interface changes as it gears up for the big Sun Valley UI update in for the 21H2 Windows 10 release. The widget panel features news and other tidbits that can be personalized or turned off, and are accessible from the taskbar. A point to keep in mind is that the feature isn't guaranteed to turn up in a future version of Windows 10, but if things go well, it probably will turn up in Windows 10 21H2. That the software giant is bothering to show off improvements to the feature bodes well for it.

ICYMI: We take a listen to Apple's AirPods Max


It's been a busy few weeks here at Engadget. In addition to celebrating the holidays, ringing in the New Year and prepping for next week's virtual CES, we've kept reviewing all the new gadgets and components that we can get our hands on. We start off with the long-awaited Apple AirPods Max headphones and, more recently, the Amazon Echo Frames which are now finally available. We also checked out Sony's portable A7C camera, HP's Reverb G2 mixed reality headset, NVIDIA's RTX 3060 Ti and the flexible Hologram Electronics Microcosm effects pedal. Long-rumored and quietly revealed last month, the AirPods Max are high-end, over-ear headphones constructed from aluminum and metal and available in five colors.

This year's CES show, still must-see technology -- TVs, drones, robots -- but done virtually

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

The hot topics expected to dominate the 2021 CES show, kicking off officially Monday, may sound familiar. But the annual high-tech mecca where most of the biggest names in electronics, telecommunications and software show off new products will be anything but. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to afflict the nation, hundreds of thousands of attendees will not descend on Las Vegas to ogle super-thin OLED displays or listen to the latest advances in audio. Instead, this year's CES will more likely resemble a videoconferencing meetup in Zoom or Microsoft Teams – but on steroids. Exhibitors such as LG and Sony and will show off their wares virtually with high production-quality presentations for retailers, analysts and media, all connected online. CES 2021:LG's new QNED TVs add Mini LEDs for stunning 2021 lineup Hundreds of smaller, startup tech firms will still use the multi-day event, which runs through Thursday, to unveil projects and plans to pique the interest of consumers, as well as investors.

Five ways to make AI a greater force for good in 2021

MIT Technology Review

At the same time, there was indeed more action. In one major victory, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM banned or suspended their sale of face recognition to law enforcement, after the killing of George Floyd spurred global protests against police brutality. It was the culmination of two years of fighting by researchers and civil rights activists to demonstrate the ineffective and discriminatory effects of the companies' technologies. Another change was small yet notable: for the first time ever, NeurIPS, one of the most prominent AI research conferences, required researchers to submit an ethics statement with their papers. So here we are at the start of 2021, with more public and regulatory attention on AI's influence than ever before.

The best deals from Microsoft's Xbox game sale


TL;DR: The Microsoft Store is hosting a sale on hit Xbox titles -- get popular games like Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Sunset Overdrive, and more at steep discounts. PlayStation owners aren't the only ones who deserve a sale after surviving 2020. Xbox players can have little a sale too, as a treat. That's right, the Microsoft store is also hosting a small holiday sale for the next few days, featuring hit titles from 2020 (and before 2020) that you'll definitely want to catch up on before this year's releases start taking up space on your to-play list. While you're at it, we recommend picking up a subscription to Xbox Game Pass -- a lot of the games included in this sale are on Game Pass, so that's even more savings for you.

The Morning After: Microsoft is pulling the plug on 'Minecraft Earth'


If existing styles of wireless earbuds have never quite worked for you, Bose is ready to try a new design. Instead they sit above it, allowing you to get the audio and still hear sounds of everything going on around you. The design looks a little awkward compared to other buds, but Bose claims they'll stay securely positioned in any weather conditions, with loud, clear audio you can hear without blasting it to everyone else. I'll need to see reviews from one of our audio experts before I believe fully in what it's selling, but the possibility of a headset with a better fit is worth a shot. Minecraft Earth players have until June 30th to play the augmented reality title before Microsoft shuts down its servers and it's no longer available to download from app marketplaces.

Microsoft will shut down Minecraft Earth in June


Microsoft will be shutting down its augmented-reality version of Minecraft, known as Minecraft Earth, beginning in June, 2021, the company said Tuesday. Microsoft blamed the pandemic as a cause, as well as the lack of freedom of movement that the game required. At its core, Minecraft Earth was a game based upon exploration and discovery. During the early days of lockdown, my kids and I would wander around the neighborhood, looking for animals, ores, and dungeons to explore. But Microsoft said that the "current global situation" prevented the free movement and collaborative play that allowed Minecraft Earth to survive.

Microsoft Could Bring You Back From The Dead... As A Chat Bot


Microsoft's chat bots may imitate the dead Microsoft has filed a patent which raises the intriguing possibility of digitally reincarnating people as a chat bot. Instead of using the conventional method of training chat bots using conversations and material from a wide sample of users, Microsoft's patent - as spotted by Ubergizmo - raises the possibility of creating a chat bot from the output of a specific person. The system would use "social data" such as "images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages [and] written letters" to build a profile of a person. "The social data may be used to create or modify a special index in the theme of the specific person's personality," the patent states. "The special index may be used to train a chat bot to converse and interact in the personality of a specific person."