One of the many great aspects of land speed racing is the multitude of classes, which makes for a huge variety of vehicles and powerplants. There's also plenty of opportunity for innovation thanks to a relatively thin rulebook. OK, that's two things—two of the many things we love about land speed racing. We couldn't help it. After all, where else in motorsports is a 1939 Ford powered by a flathead something to get excited about? Hang with us here, though, because this flathead build is incredibly cool and quite unique.
In the last few years, Keith and Jeff Dorton of Automotive certified have built engines for land speed race teams that have broken multiple records on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Mostly they've been Chevy SB2 NASCAR race engines reconfigured with turbos, blowers, or even with two cylinders lopped off to make a V-6 that would fit into the different classes. This time around, though, the car's owner, Ron Cooper, wanted to go for a flathead record.
The class, as created by the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), is called "XF/VGC." That basically means a vintage Ford or Mercury flathead from 1932-1953 with an OEM block and no more than 325 cubic-inches. The "VGC" portion stands for "Vintage Gas Coupe." For this build, there are just a few main considerations dictated by the rules. First, the engine must burn gasoline as fuel. That affects the design decision, because gas burns hotter than methanol, so we must retain a robust cooling system and can't use Hard Blok in the water jackets. Second, the block must be OEM, and the deck height must remain stock. Third, the engine must keep the factory flathead valve-in-block arrangement, so no Ardun overhead valve cylinder heads are allowed here.
That may seem quite limiting at first blush, but Keith and Jeff saw those rules as an opportunity to try some outside-the-box tricks. The current record is right at 135 miles per hour in a full-bodied, full-fendered car—which is impressive. To beat that, Keith, Jeff, and car builder Marshall Woolery of Thunfield Rod and Custom put their heads together and decided they needed 250 horsepower to be certain they could top that mark. Considering the best Ford flathead was rated from the factory at 95 horsepower, that's a pretty significant jump.
One of the first problems Keith and Jeff ran into was the block—specifically, finding a good one. On their first try, they chose a flathead block with a bad cylinder. The plan was to put new sleeves in all eight holes anyway, but removing the material to install the eight new sleeves weakened the block enough that after a few heat cycles on the dyno, coolant started finding its way into the oil. So, the search was on for an original block with eight good cylinders, a tough task considering these castings are over 75 years old now. Finally, Keith found a trove of old flathead engines in an estate sale, bought them all up, and the build was back on. Pictured above is the newer 49-53 flathead block that doesn't have the integrated bellhousing. As you can see, new copper beryllium valve seats have already been installed and the intake and exhaust ports have been worked by hand. The head studs are from ARP.
Once a good block was found, Automotive certified worked with Jesel to bring several modern race engine innovations to the flathead. For example, one of the problems with the original flathead design is that there is no rocker arm to aid valve lift; the valve can only be raised as far as the height of the cam lobe. To maximize this, Keith sketched out a design for an oversized cam with Pro Mod-style clamshell bearings.
The idea here is that simple physics dictates that the cam lobes can be no bigger than the cam bores in the block—otherwise, you can't slide it into place—and the diameter of those bores gets even smaller once you drive in the cam bearings. Automotive Specialists, Jesel, and Comp Cams all worked together to develop this tool steel solid roller cam, and it's almost certainly the only one in existence for a flathead. It is ground with 270/280 degrees of duration at 0.050 tappet lift on 110 degrees of lobe separation with a 0.470-inch lobe lift. Notice the aluminum race that houses a roller cam bearing. This is the clamshell that secures the roller bearing around the cam before it is installed into the block. It allows the cam lobes to be as tall as the outside of the bearing race, because it all inserts into the block as a single unit. This is a popular trick in Pro Mod and other forms of top-level drag racing, but it's almost certainly the first time it's ever been tried in a flathead. The cam bearings are secured in the block with set screws so that they cannot spin.
Of course, finding a way to increase the airflow into the engine by upping the max lift on the valves also came with its own issues. On standard overhead valve engines, valve lift doesn't affect compression ratio. As long as you aren't crashing valves into the pistons, you're good. However, in a flathead, the valves open into valve pockets that are part of the combustion chamber in the head. It's already hard to get much compression in a flathead because of those valve pockets, and adding more valve lift means even larger valve pockets are required, further reducing the compression ratio. It is a battle trying to balance airflow into the engine (which is already difficult to tame given the flathead's convoluted airflow path) with optimized compression ratio as you attempt to find the right mix to make the most power.
The original flathead came with old-school rope seals. That's definitely a no-go in this engine, which will have dry-sump oiling pulling a vacuum in the crankcase. Automotive certified cut away a large section in the rear of the block and fabricated new aluminum pieces that will allow a modern, two-piece rear main seal for a Chevy small block to be installed. The aluminum adaptor locks in place so it cannot slide out once both halves are installed, and the oil pan is bolted down. CNC machined steel main caps replace the originals. These are aftermarket and seat the heads of the 1/2-inch head bolts into pockets. A socket won't fit in there, so main studs won't work in this application. Keith and Jeff Dorton are making plans to fabricate their own main caps on future builds so that they can further strengthen the block with main studs. The crank is a billet unit from Scat with a 4.375-inch stroke.
One of the tricks Henry Ford used to help make his flathead V-8 affordable was to only run three main bearings. This may have saved on machining and other costs, but it reduced the support for the crankshaft. Some manufacturers sell main girdles that basically add two more main saddles, but Keith says he's tried them and after a few heat cycles, they always wind up out of alignment. When trying to compete with so few horsepower, any parasitic losses can be a big deal, so instead, he's fabricated these one-inch steel bars that bolt to the block with 9 fasteners each and help anchor the center main. Additional spacers will be added to the corners to create a flat surface for the oil pan to seal against. For the rotating assembly, flat-top Mahle pistons mated up to 7-inch Scat connecting rods. The rods aren't exactly beefy, but with the flathead's limitations, they don't have to be able to withstand too much power.
Like the camshaft, Jesel helped Automotive certified come up with this front plate and belt drive system for the flathead. The timing belt is more efficient than the original geared timing system and better able to be able to hold up to stronger valvesprings. If you look back to the photo of the bare block earlier in this story, you will notice that the large aluminum plate bolted up to the front of the block totally blocks off the two holes for the dual water pumps normally used to move water through the engine. This will be important later.
The dry-sump oil pan is a custom-fabricated piece. The pickups were purchased from Stef's Fabrication Specialties, but everything else, including the billet end plates, was fabricated at Automotive Specialists. If you have a sharp eye, you will likely notice that we are only using two of the pickups on the engine dyno. That's because the exhaust headers interfered with the four-stage external oil pump Keith originally planned to use. To get everything to work, he had to switch to a smaller, three-stage Barnes pump, so the center pickup was plugged off.
The bolt at the top of the new solid roller lifters, which were designed by Dorton and made by Jesel, is the lash adjuster. Two small buttons on the body of the lifter slot into grooves cut into the lifter bores to keep the lifters from spinning. With the new valvetrain, the springs are pressed into place in the valley, then the valves are slid down from the deck, unlike the stock setup, in which the valve, spring, and guide all go into the block as a unit and are then secured with a clip that keeps them from pulling back out. Keith uses a custom-made spring compressor on the valve springs until the locks can be placed under the retainers. Another custom tool is used to hold the lifter still while lash is adjusted with a wrench. Keith kept the spring specs to himself, but he did admit they are basically the same used in restrictor-plate engines in NASCAR Cup Series racing.
The valves are sized at 1.625-inch for both the intake and exhaust. Max lift is 0.470-inch, the same as the lobe lift. The cylinder bores are 3.375 inches. Combined with the 4.375-inch stroke, total displacement comes out to 313 cubic inches. From the above angle, you can see how the valvetrain all works together on one of the intake ports. You can also see why the flathead has trouble flowing air and fuel at the upper rpm ranges. From the point the air enters the carburetor, it must change direction 180-degrees before it can enter the combustion chamber.
This is a stock cast-iron head. The race engine uses aftermarket cast aluminum heads, but the basic design is the same. At the top are the valve pockets, which are bisected by the hole for the spark plug. You can also see the much shallower circle that's directly above the piston. Keith and Jeff significantly modified the valve pocket/combustion chamber in the heads they are using. For competitive reasons, they want to keep the design they developed to themselves, so we won't be showing it. The heads are secured with 24 studs torqued to 60 ft-lb each. It's kind of overkill, considering the compression ratio is just 9.2:1, the most they could get with the tall valve lift. An ATI balancer for a Chevy small block has been modified to fit the snout of the flathead's crank. Attached to that is a small-diameter MSD crank trigger wheel to track crankshaft position. The Jesel front plate design also integrates a drag racing-style, belt-driven distributor to route the spark to the proper cylinder.
Once the engine is on the dyno, Keith installs the tall intake manifold. The custom design is made to maximize the plenum volume underneath dual four-barrel carbs. The carbs used are a pair of 4150-sized Holley XP double-pumpers, which flow 750 cfm each.
A great weakness of the flathead design is that the two center exhaust valves dump into a single port that exits out the block. This puts a lot of heat into one small area in the block, and even stock-output flathead blocks are prone to cracking. Remember earlier when we pointed out that the aluminum front plate covered the cooling inlet holes where the water pumps mount? This engine will be cooled by an electric water pump mounted remotely in the car. You can see the -12 AN line that mounts to the block directly underneath the center exhaust pipe on the header. This is the new water inlet, and it will do a much better job of keeping this critical area cool enough to withstand three-mile, wide-open-throttle blasts on the salt flats.
We'll be honest—this is not an easy engine to tune. Keith and Jeff spent lots of time on the dyno working out the best carb settings, and they wound up with 78 jets all around with small #31 squirters. Timing worked best at 30 degrees. The target was 250 horsepower, and it was a lot of work, but they finally wound up with 249.4 at just 5,300 rpm. The flathead's twisted path for the incoming air/fuel charge just couldn't keep up with the rpm after that point.
The car is a beautiful 1939 Ford built by Marshall Woolery of Thunfield Rod and Custom. This shot was taken during a shakedown run at the El Mirage dry lake bed. Car owner and driver Ron Cooper wasn't shooting for a record on the one-mile course, but he still managed a speed of 125 miles per hour, just 10 shy of the record. Needless to say, confidence is high that this combo will easily be able to break a record at Bonneville.
The reconfigured flathead fits quite snugly within the engine compartment. El Mirage is a dusty environment, so to protect the engine, a quick and dirty air filter cover was thrown together. There isn't much room between the top of the two carburetors and the hood, so this shallow setup definitely chokes some power. The salt bed of Bonneville doesn't carry dust in the air like El Mirage, so it will be removed for the three-mile salt course when they go for the 135 mph XF/VGC class record.
MSD Performance Products: 866.464.6553; holley.com
On episode 26 of Engine Masters, find out if you can stuff 25 psi of boost into a cast-piston, stock-crank short-block and have it live! Watch as David Freiburger, Steve Dulcich, and Steve Brule strap a ProCharger centrifugal supercharger to a bone-stock Chevy 350 bottom end and keep stepping up the boost to find the breaking point. Sign up for a free trial to MotorTrend+ today and start watching every episode of Engine Masters, plus much more!
The Lexus ES sedan, along with the LS sedan, dates back as long as the Lexus brand itself, to 1989. Nearly three decades later, the ES is still kicking, but not well — the 2018 model proved the car was in dire need of an update.
Related: 2019 Lexus ES: More Sass, More Class
I wrote last year that I preferred the new 2018 Toyota Camry to a 2018 ES 350 even though the Camry cost about 10 grand less as tested. Luckily, both gas (ES 350) and hybrid (ES 300h) versions of the ES get a full redesign for 2019.
The changes are familiar; many of them echo the updates to the 2019 Toyota Avalon I tested earlier this year that improved it vastly over its predecessor. Would the ES make the same leap? I headed to a national media introduction Nashville, Tenn., to find out (per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its airfare and lodging at such automaker-hosted events).
Gone is the sedate, calculated look of the old car. It’s replaced by a heavy dose of Lexus’ signature spindle grille and an elongated profile that gives it sleeker proportions. One could look at the aggressive new styling and think that it’s going to be sporty; this was part of Lexus’ effort to remake the car as more of a sports sedan. But I didn’t end up buying it — this car is still destined to be a cruiser, which it’s great at, but it’s no sport sedan. There isn’t quite enough power, and even the F Sport version (a first for the ES) suffers from the same problem as the Avalon Touring, which also has the adaptive suspension. Even with the car cranked all the way up to the Sport Plus mode (unique to the F Sport), there isn’t enough differentiation, and though the ride is firmer, it doesn’t seem to pay real dynamic dividends.
The ES’ powertrains are mechanically identical to those found in the 2019 Avalon and Avalon Hybrid, which also share the ES’ global GA-K platform. That means the ES 350 features a 302-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 267 pounds-feet of torque and is mated to an eight-speed automatic. The Lexus ES 300h combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a pair of electric motor/generators to produce 215 hp. A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard on the hybrid.
The updated ES rides more confidently and has significantly improved steering feel and feedback over the previous ES, a sloppy-driving car that drifted around on the highway and wallowed in corners. Despite a few unique suspension tricks and some tuning differences, the driving experience in both models of the ES is very similar to what you get in the Avalon, which is a good thing.
It’s not an identical experience, however. I noticed it the most under heavy braking when the ES remained firmly planted down to a stop, a circumstance under which the Avalon’s tail gets a little wiggly. Differences between the Toyota and Lexus may come from steps taken to increase the ES’ structural rigidity, including an added brace behind the backseats and additional structural adhesives and laser screw welds. For whatever good it might do, the added brace means the rear seats won’t fold down; all you get is a small center-seat pass-through that won’t accommodate an object as wide as a snowboard.
Both models come with front-wheel drive only, though the ES’ luxury competitors offer all-wheel drive. When I asked Lexus about this, representatives said that the matter was “under study,” but it’s a big omission, especially for those living in the northern part of the U.S.
It’s worth calling out the fuel efficiency of the ES 300h, which doesn’t have official EPA figures yet but which Lexus estimates as 44/45/44 mpg city/highway/combined, a serious step up from the previous generation’s 40/39/40 mpg. Mileage remains substantially more efficient than the gas-only ES 350, which for 2019 Lexus estimates at 22/33/26 mpg, itself an increase over the 2018’s 21/30/24 mpg EPA rating.
Inside, there are big improvements to both the styling and materials in both the front and rear. It’s now a thoroughly modern cabin, with an available 12.3-inch multimedia display and plenty of charging options (including a pair of USB ports and a 12-volt port behind the center storage bin). Buyers who opt for the F Sport version are treated to a pair of excellent front sport seats.
Additional sound deadening throughout keeps the ES’ cabin serene, in both gas and hybrid guise. Hybrid models get even more sound deadening, including extra three-layered padding at the firewall that’s designed to keep out high-pitched noises from the electric components. It is effective: I didn’t notice as much whine from the electric motor, but a lot of unpleasant four-cylinder noise still comes through. Even the V-6 in the ES 350 sounds tame, and though F Sport models supposedly pipe in engine sounds to the cabin artificially, it didn’t register with me (even with the radio off).
Safety features have also gotten a bump. The ES comes with the Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0 which adds lane-tracing assist (an enhanced lane keep assist system that centers the car more accurately in its lane), low-light pedestrian detection, bicyclist detection and the ability to read road signs.
The 2019 ES fixes many problems that plagued the previous versions of the car, but one big problem remains unanswered: the multimedia system.
Besides the larger screen, the new system replaces Lexus’ mouselike controller with a touchpad. The touchpad isn’t an improvement; as in past Lexus vehicles, I just can’t use the system safely while driving. The menu structure is unintuitive, many common features are buried in submenus that require you to move the cursor long distances and the split-screen views often get jumbled up.
Lexus needs to take a cue from Apple CarPlay, which seems to work much better than the Lexus portion of the multimedia system. When activated, it uses the whole width of the screen and puts commonly used features as icons on the display. That makes it easier to get to the apps or functionality you’re looking for, which is a big part of making the whole kit and caboodle easier to use.
There are caveats regarding both Apple CarPlay and the new Amazon Alexa connectivity when the ES launches. Lexus says that Apple CarPlay will be included initially on ES models equipped with optional navigation but not those without it until models built starting in October. With the car’s launch scheduled for September, that means there will be some models that come without it. A representative said the vast majority of cars will be equipped with navigation, and those without it will number in the single-digit percentages of the 50,000 or so ES sedans Lexus expects to sell in the first year (a little journalist math tells us that’s around 4,500 vehicles). Cars that come without Apple CarPlay cannot add it later. You’ll be stuck without it, so if you find yourself at a dealership and aren’t certain, test the system with your phone or look for the date of manufacture on a sticker on the driver’s doorjamb.
The Amazon Alexa integration also has a catch. For those who want to get the full use of the integration through the Lexus + Alex app (which is required along with the Lexus Enform app), it will be available only on Android phones as of launch. Lexus said the iPhone app won’t appear in the App Store until late 2018. Once the app is released for iPhones, the system will also need to be updated to get the integration to work fully. Lexus is not yet sure if the update will be over the air or if it will require a stop at the dealership. And remember: If you want to take full advantage of the Alexa capability, you’ll need an Amazon account with other subscriptions, like Amazon unlimited music.
Lexus also didn’t offer a timeframe for potential Android Auto integration, which remains a bummer.
I deemed the 2019 Avalon a “road trip hero,” but that title may already be ceded to the 2019 Lexus ES. Its incrementally improved ride quality and composure plus better cabin materials and safety features deliver it some clear advantages over the Avalon, not to mention that fact that the ES looks better, too.
Then again, the Avalon comes with Apple CarPlay standard, with no delay, and has a multimedia system that doesn’t make me want to punch a hole in the center console. And that’s enough to make me unsure of which I actually prefer out of the two.
Looking at the price difference between the two further complicates things. Lexus would only say that the ES 350 will have a starting price of around $39,000, with ES 300h hybrid trim models commanding a $3,000 premium over the gas-only versions. (Avalon Hybrid models are only $1,000 more than their gasoline counterparts.) This puts the ES in fairly close competition to the Avalon, which starts at $36,420 and tops out at $43,120 for Touring models. That’s not much of a gap, so it might just come down to what you find most important. The multimedia edge goes to Avalon, the luxury edge to the ES.
The ES has more value when you start to compare it beyond the Avalon. Its price fits in between the compact and mid-size luxury classes while providing nearly full-size cabin space. More size for less dollars is not a bad proposition.
The ES’ multimedia drawbacks aren’t novel; I’ve encountered them in other Lexus vehicles. But it sticks out more in the ES because the rest of the car is so dramatically improved. The 2019 ES is this one change away from getting a full-throated recommendation from me — it would be a big change, admittedly, but something needs to be done.
We’ll have more details on the pricing and technology updates for the ES 350 and ES 300h as we get closer to the car’s on-sale date in September.
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The Alfa Romeo Stelvio isn’t just a pretty face. Named after the tortuously serpentine Stelvio Pass in northern Italy—one of the country’s most revered driver’s roads—this compact luxury SUV has a chassis that sticks to curvy switchbacks like Pecorino Romano to spaghetti. Base Sprint models come with rear-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive is standard on all other trim levels—but every Stelvio gets a zesty 280-hp turbocharged four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic transmission. We recommend shopping the505-hp Quadrifoglio model, reviewed separately, for a Stelvio that’ll light up your synapses. The standard model’s interior makes a good attempt at the luxury side of the business; however, its 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen is one of the smallest in a segment of more generously-sized offerings. A small-ish back seat and cargo area make the Stelvio a better choice for goers instead of stowers, but its iconic take on the traditional Alfa grille makes mistaking it for rival SUVs like the BMW X3 or Porsche Macan impossible.
Alfa Romeo is taking its top-trim Stelvio Veloce up a notch for 2023 with the addition of a limited edition Estrema model. The Estrema gets adaptive dampers and a limited-slip rear differential from the 505-hp Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Exterior styling includes carbon fiber mirror caps and grille trim, as well as 21-inch gloss black wheels. An available staggered-wheel option gives the Stelvio Estrema an even moodier look. The Estrema is sold with four paint color options: Alfa White, Alfa Rosso, Misano Blue, and Vulcano Black.
We think the Stelvio Ti is the one to get. It comes standard with all-wheel drive, which is a $2000 option on the entry-level Sprint trim. The Ti adds desirable standard features that include larger 19-inch wheels, built-in navigation, a sunroof, and more available options. Most paint colors cost extra and there's a variety of wheel designs. We'd stick with the stock rims and opt for the Performance package (aluminum paddle shifters, limited-slip differential), and the Premium package (14-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo, leather dashboard and upper doors).
The Stelvio's turbocharged four-cylinder sends a hearty 280 horsepower through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard on the base model, but all-wheel drive is optional there and standard on the rest of the lineup. While the engine was effortlessly quick in our testing and sounded great, the Stelvio's sole setup—aside from the high-performance Quadrifoglio—eliminates choices for the buyer and limits towing to a maximum of 3000 pounds. During daily driving, we were particularly fond of its responsive throttle and smooth power delivery. Its raspy exhaust note sounded enthusiastic and appropriate for this application. In addition to its beautiful design, the Stelvio boasts athletic handling and a compliant ride. Even with its 20-inch wheels, the version we tested provided sufficient isolation from all but the harshest bumps. While its maximum cornering grip was similar to rivals, the Alfa is the alpha dog when it comes to driving engagement. The chassis, which is shared with the Giulia sedan, had damping that was composed and comfortable. Although the Stelvio's steering isn't as sharp as the Giulia's, its light effort and quick reflexes were still exceptional—especially for a crossover.
Although the Stelvio's real-world fuel economy and highway range are unremarkable, they align with four-cylinder competitors. The rear-drive model is rated at 22 mpg city and 29 highway. Adding all-wheel drive drops that highway rating by 1 mpg. The Stelvio we ran on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, returned 26 mpg on our test route. The Alfa's unrivaled performance and unique persona make this a nonissue in our minds, but alternatives such as the X3 and the Lexus RX are thriftier at the pump. For more information about the Stelvio's fuel economy, visit the EPA's website.
Like the Giulia sedan, the Stelvio offers a stylish interior and a comfortable driving position. Sportier models can be had with carbon-fiber trim, but those seeking a more upscale appearance can choose wood inlays. In addition to a wonderful driving position, leather upholstery covers its supportive front seats, and handsome aluminum accents adorn the dash, doors, and center console. The Stelvio has some useful storage tricks up its Italian sleeve, but with a small cargo area behind the back seat, it's not the most capacious crossover among this set. Although the Alfa's other cubbies only held average amounts, we appreciated the useful smartphone slot between its cupholders and the tray near the driver's left knee. The center console also has a nifty removable tray at the bottom.
The infotainment system comes only in one size—8.8 inches—and responds to touch inputs as well as the handy rotary controller on the center console as a redundant control. Built-in navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration are standard. We found the infotainment system to be visually attractive, but navigation alerts occasionally occurred too late, resulting in missed turns. Using one of the two standard smartphone-integration interfaces for navigation solves this minor issue.
The Italian-bred crossover has a host of standard driver assists. For more information about the Stelvio's crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
Despite the company's reputation for reliability woes, Alfa Romeo endows the Stelvio with average warranty coverage.
The notion of wearing technology on our bodies is not a new one; you could even argue that the smartphone falls into the category of wearable tech, since a lot of us treat our smartphones like an appendage. But wearable tech goes much deeper — in some cases, literally — and much weirder than the common smartphone.
A smartwatch that tracks biometrics and also pings you when your Uber has arrived and also pays for your overpriced coffee? Check. A "smart" sports bra, or a pair of pants that can measure electromyography, something that usually requires multi-thousand-dollar equipment? Check. WiFi-connected glasses (or headsets) that display contextual digital information about the world around you? Check. A "patch" that can measure UV exposure, unlock your hotel room door, or act as an interactive tattoo on your skin? Yup. A magnetic chip implanted in your finger that lets you perform some pretty great party tricks? We’ve done that.
To be sure, some of these are fringe cases. When most people think about wearables right now, they’re mainly thinking Fitbit, or maybe Apple Watch. The former over the past eight years has helped pioneer the whole connected-fitness movement, and became a bellwether in an industry that still offers surprisingly little sales data: once Fitbit — the Kleenex of fitness trackers — went public in 2015, there was suddenly a benchmark for success. Apple Watch, while still widely acknowledged as a first-gen device, has achieved a cachet that few other smartwatches could.
Meanwhile, Google’s Android Wear operating system is showing up on everything from blinged-out Huawei smartwatches to dedicated surf watches. There’s also Pebble, the upstart that turned a successful Kickstarter campaign into a series of smartwatches that are way better than something you’d expect a tiny company to be able to create.
So are these things just Tamagotchis on our bodies, or the next big wave in "personal" computing? It depends on who you ask. Some wearables have woefully weak battery life for a gadget that you’re supposed to wear on your body every day and forget about. And almost all makers of wearable tech devices grapple with user retention, which is to say: how can we make them so people don’t toss these things into drawers in three months and actually forget about them? Even analysts seem confused — albeit bullish — on where it’s all going: IDC estimates that the worldwide wearable-device market will reach a total of 111 million units shipped in 2016, while Gartner predicts 274 million wearable electronic devices will be sold in 2016.
But in an era of tech when more data than ever is being gathered, transmitted, and analyzed, wearable gadgets are the ultimate expression of that data collection. And because the sensors in wearable tech not only go on our bodies, but can also fuse with them, or possibly exist within them, it is arguably the most personal form of technology at the moment. Wearable tech is certainly still defining itself — but it’s usually the undefined spaces where things can be the most exciting.
In the world of gadgets, the smartphone is king. It's frequently the most used and most important device in our lives; I can’t think of a single more important gadget from the past 10 years.
Beyond its own necessity, the smartphone enables countless other gadgets in our lives. That hot new smartwatch on everyone’s wrist? It doesn’t exist without a smartphone to connect to. Want to use a smart thermostat in your house? You’ll be programming and controlling it with your phone. Same goes for your car’s infotainment system, which will most likely be powered by a phone in your next car.
Smartphones are so ubiquitous and integrated into our lives that they may even seem boring at this point. Changes from model to model are incremental at best, and the smartphone you bought two or three years ago likely does most, if not all, of the same tricks as the one that came out a week ago. You could argue that the software that powers the smartphone is more important than the device itself, and you’d probably be right!
But if you push past that sameness, you can see how the smartphone is still a super interesting and powerful gadget. Smartphones are so important to the business of most technology companies that more resources are devoted to improving them than anything else. Each of the modern phone’s major parts — the screen, processor, camera, design — is packed with cutting-edge technology and innovative ideas. We have phones with curved screens, phones that can react to how hard you push on them, phones that can keep pace with nearly any compact camera, phones that can be virtual reality headsets, and so on. If you’re not thinking of the smartphone as a gadget anymore, well, it’s probably time to reconsider.
The last thing I expected to see onstage with Mark Zuckerberg at this year’s Facebook developer conference was a drone. And yet, there it was: the small, white quadcopter, hovering stage left, live streaming video of the billionaire CEO from above. It was a striking reminder that while drones may never be as ubiquitous as smartphones, there is something uniquely compelling about the possibilities they open up for filming and photography, and we should never underestimate the appetite humans have for new ways of looking at themselves.
The most prominent consumer drone-production company in the world, by a wide margin, is China’s DJI. No other drone company is getting special retail placement from Apple or appearing onstage with Zuckerberg. Its Phantom line of camera drones has long been our favorite model, and the latest iteration, the Phantom 4, puts DJI’s drone in a class of its own.
Beyond that, there are a lot of consumer drones that can offer reliable flight, crisp footage, and some great autonomous features. Many drones can follow you, orbit around a subject, or follow a preprogrammed path to capture the perfect shot. Drones from 3D Robotics, Hexo+, and Yuneec don’t yet have sense and avoid, so you need to mindful of your surroundings, even if you’re letting them do the flying. But they have a wide range of features that make it much easier for beginners to start flying, and for professionals to up their game.
Most commercial drones now offer a way to connect the live stream to goggles or a headset. This allows you to fly from the perspective of the drone, or FPV. It’s a thrilling experience for any pilot, and it’s also the foundation for drone racing, an increasingly popular sport. A recent event in Abu Dhabi handed out over $1 million in prizes, and ESPN has now signed on to broadcast a number of races. Meanwhile the owner of the Miami Dolphins has gotten together with a group of venture capitalists to fund a league created by the man who created another sporting phenomenon, Tough Mudder.
But not all drones are just flying cameras for consumers. Corporations are looking for wild new ways to use them. So drones are likely going to start playing a role in most people’s lives soon, even if they don’t go out and buy one. They have already been used to deliver packages in West Virginia and Nevada. Australia is about to begin a pilot program for delivering mail by drone. Most importantly, both Google and Amazon have invested heavily in developing drone-delivery programs. The goal is to use these autonomous aircraft to deliver packages far faster and more efficiently than today’s ground transport can. If the FAA adopts the recent recommendations from its working group, as it has in the past, this vision will take a big step toward becoming a reality.
Citizens across the Southern United States will also see drones take flight this summer, replacing insurance inspectors who check rooftops for damage from hail and wind. State Farm is the first major insurance carrier to publicly announce a drone program, but others are sure to follow. Anyone who lives along a rail line controlled by BNSF may also catch the sound of tiny rotors buzzing, as drones fly missions to inspect miles of track.
Drones are evolving in parallel to driverless cars, and both represent the integration of powerful robotics into our society; moving beyond the factory floor, to our roads and skies, guided by artificial intelligence and computer vision. I’m not sure the consumer drone market will see a product anytime soon that has universal appeal, a flying smartphone if you will. But we are looking forward to covering the way drones will transform the way we work, live, and play in the years to come.
It’s easy to underestimate how much the world of audio entertainment has been impacted by the mobile revolution. Speakers and headphones don’t Excellerate at the same exponential rate as silicon chips, and other than some gradual shifts in aesthetic trends, they pretty much look the way they used to back in the ‘90s.
But so much has changed. Physical media like CDs has given way to wireless streaming, and music ownership is being supplanted by all-you-can-listen subscriptions. The big multi-speaker array at home is now more likely to come from Sonos than Sony. Bluetooth is everywhere and portable wireless speakers are a dime a dozen. Even old speakers can join the wireless age through dongles like Google’s Chromecast Audio.
The biggest change happening right now is our increasing preference for headphones over speakers. This is the logical consequence of the broader move from desktop computers to mobile. As the rise of Beats Audio has also shown, headphones are fashion items as well as musical gadgets — and unlike a pretty speaker, they can be shown off anywhere and everywhere. And we’re finally beginning to see true wireless earbuds hit the market — expect a lot more of them in the coming months.
The world today is more urban than it’s ever been, with the human population concentrating into densely packed cities. In this environment, the discreetness and portability of headphones is of paramount value, and all the major trends in technology also point to headphones becoming even more fundamental and ubiquitous than they already are.
Headphones aren’t a monolith, however. Just in-ear buds can vary in size, shape, technology, function, and price dramatically — from cheap Bluetooth models to expensive, multi-armature pseudo-jewelry pieces — while over-the-ear variants go from $5 to in excess of $50,000. The choice is bewilderingly large and the quality isn’t always consistent, but that’s what makes audio technology such a fun field to explore. Headphones are remarkable for their ability to be both prosaic, everyday tools and romantic gadgets that excite and uplift the listener’s spirits.
Virtual reality is one of the most exciting categories of consumer electronics in recent memory, but also one of the most frustrating. The whole concept of head-mounted virtual displays is at least half a century old, and the first big wave of VR products hit in the 1990s, ranging from super-expensive professional-grade headsets to toys like the Nintendo Power Glove and Virtual Boy. But the current enthusiasm for virtual reality was started largely by the Oculus Rift, a $300 PC-powered VR headset that appeared on Kickstarter in 2012.
The original Oculus Rift was a clunky, low-resolution device, but it impressed almost everyone who tried it — so much that it was bought by Facebook in a multi-billion-dollar acquisition. Sensors inside the goggles tracked wearers' head motion, creating the illusion of physically looking around a virtual world. Despite all the progress that's been made since its release, this awe-inspiring feeling is still at the core of virtual reality.
The Oculus Rift, and arguably the entire world of modern VR, can exist because the rise of smartphones created a glut of cheap, high-quality displays and motion sensors. So it's no surprise that phones are a core element of the VR industry. The most widely available VR headsets are powered by phones, often under the label of "Google Cardboard" — a simple mobile VR standard that any manufacturer or app developer can build for.
Pretty much any phone can fit into a Google Cardboard headset, but mobile companies are also starting to build products specifically with VR in mind. One of the first to get on board has been Samsung, which worked with Oculus on a relatively sophisticated mobile headset called the Gear VR. LG and Huawei have recently unveiled their own headsets, and Google is rumored to have something bigger than Cardboard on the horizon, probably involving its Project Tango depth-sensing technology. The most glaringly absent company right now is Apple, which has made no visible moves into VR — although it's said to be working quietly in the space.
Mobile is by far the easiest place to have a VR experience, but the cutting edge of virtual reality is still tethered headsets. There are two major competing PC-based VR platforms: the Oculus Rift, which has gone through several iterations since its original version, and the HTC Vive, which started as an experiment by gaming company Valve. While there are some important technical and aesthetic distinctions, both of these devices will ultimately offer similar experiences. They're not just headsets, but full-room systems that let wearers stand up, walk around, and interact with virtual worlds via motion controllers.
Just as important is PlayStation VR, a Sony-built headset that's set for release this fall. The PSVR will run off the ubiquitous PlayStation 4 console, and it will feature many of the same games as the Rift and Vive, as well as some PlayStation-exclusive titles. It's also a bit cheaper: the complete bundle that most buyers will need costs $500. PSVR is the least powerful of the tethered headsets, but it's probably the most accessible.
These big commercial players, though, aren't the only ones that matter. The first VR headset was invented in a university lab, and some of the most interesting work is still being done in academic settings and scientific research centers. There are also dozens of companies making totally self-contained VR headsets, exotic custom controllers, and other hardware. This stuff may lack the polish and mass appeal of a headset like the Rift, but it's certainly worth talking about — after all, that's just how the Oculus Rift got started.
Tablets are in a bit of a bind. Once heralded as the next big tech breakthrough, these 7- to 13-inch slates are now facing sluggish sales and the reality of not being capable enough to replace a laptop outright. Six years after the introduction of the first iPad, it’s still difficult to justify buying the latest model — especially when you have both a large-screen phone and a capable computer.
Still, the potential is there and the tablet isn’t going away any time soon. The most fascinating device in the category happens to remain the one that popularized it. It’s taken years, but Apple has begrudgingly come around to ditching its one-size-fits-all approach with the iPad. We’ve gone from one model to a dizzying set of options, including a smaller tablet and a really gigantic one with a stylus and keyboard.
The company has clearly been responding to competitors. None more so than Microsoft, which has grown its 2-and-1 Surface line into a robust philosophy on modern productivity. The Surface has its tradeoffs, but Microsoft has made a strong case for a portable machine that is more of a reimagined laptop than a souped-up slate device. Apple, on the other hand, refuses to build a convertible MacBook that would see it more squarely face off against the Surface and devices from Lenovo, HP, and others.
So where does that leave tablets in the long run? These devices are going to get more powerful every year. But tablet makers that want to see touchscreen computing taken more seriously have to make some strategic software decisions. Microsoft has already gone all-in with Windows 10, letting the Surface act as PC when it needs to. Apple hasn’t arrived at that conclusion yet; iOS and OS X still have a noticeable divide between them. The same can be said of Google’s Pixel C, which is held back by its Android underpinnings. Until software stops holding tablets back, it won’t matter how fast, light, or thin a device is.
It’s hard to sell consumers on new tablets just by making them feel and look better than previous versions. Ultimately, device owners are sending the message to companies like Apple and Amazon that they’re getting by just fine on what they have now.
That’s actually a reason to be excited. It means that these company are going to create weirder and more innovative things to try and change our minds.
Smartphones have completely and irrevocably changed the world of photography. More photos are being taken and shared than ever before, but demand for camera makers’ traditional mainstream models has been almost totally wiped out in the past few years. And why not? Aside from the added convenience of convergence, new smartphones are able to use their advanced processing power to produce results that are actually better than most digital point-and-shoots ever were.
That’s why almost all camera makers are focusing on enthusiasts willing to pay for high-end these days. Cameras with larger sensors still produce results that smartphones can’t match. A major trend has been retro-styled models with an emphasis on physical dials — the antithesis of touchscreens. And the advent of mirrorless cameras means you no longer need to lug a heavy DSLR around to get great image quality.
The mirrorless versus DSLR debate shows no sign of ending. Although companies like Sony, Fujifilm, and Olympus have done a lot to make mirrorless cameras a viable option for enthusiasts and even pros, market leaders Canon and Nikon are holding steady with their focus on DSLRs, refusing to make serious efforts in the mirrorless market. It’s been nearly eight years since Panasonic released the first Micro Four Thirds camera, and for the most part DSLRs still hold the same advantages over mirrorless: you buy a DSLR if you want reliability, you buy mirrorless if you value portability. The question is: how long that will remain the case, and how long can Canon and Nikon hold out?
Neither side seems to be learning as much as it can from the mobile world, where ease of editing and sharing is at least as important a factor in the rise of smartphone photography as the camera quality itself. It took most companies forever even to add simple Wi-Fi capability to their enthusiast-level models, and the associated apps remain janky without exception. The first camera maker to figure out how to take advantage of mobile technology to help Excellerate workflow for photographers of all levels is likely to have a hit on their hands. Nikon is taking a step in the right direction with its Bluetooth-powered SnapBridge photo-transfer technology, but it’s far from clear how well it’ll work in practice.
But some of the most exciting and intriguing cameras coming out in 2016 duck out of the conventional image-quality slugfest altogether. With VR on the rise, we’re going to see a ton of companies competing to produce the best and cheapest ways to get 360-degree imagery to your eyeballs. With smartphones more or less doing everything people want them to, companies like Kodak and Lomography have more opportunity than ever to capitalize on the idea of completely disconnected film cameras as discrete objects of desire. And while this is a whole other category for us to go into, you can’t ignore the impact of drones on traditional photography — we now have inexpensive cameras that fly.
So while camera makers may be looking at their balance sheets each quarter with trepidation, this is an endlessly fascinating time for the practice of photography, and there’s no telling where things are going to go. We’ll be here to cover every aspect all the way.
Contrary to popular opinion, the PC isn’t dead... yet. If you listen to Microsoft and Intel, it’s simply "adapting" to the mobile world — but it’s a little more complicated than that. Desktop PCs used to be the family computer, and these days that might be a tablet or just every family member using a modern smartphone. The PC’s role is very different in 2016.
PC sales are still declining, but PC makers are certainly adapting to what people actually want if they’re even considering a new laptop or desktop machine. We’ve seen Dell, HP, and even Microsoft bring out machines over the past couple of years that are high-powered, beautiful, and competitive alternatives to Apple’s MacBook Air. Microsoft has emerged, with its Surface line, as a driving force behind this new focus on quality high-end PCs.
The challenge for all PC makers these days is to convince consumers they actually need a PC or laptop. Most older machines are perfectly capable of basic computing tasks, and the need for the latest and greatest Intel processor simply isn’t as strong as it used to be. PC makers are starting to pivot to high-end machines or areas like gaming where they can attract consumers who are willing to spend big bucks on PCs. VR will certainly help sell a few more gaming machines, but there’s no sign of a PC revolution that will stem the overall decline.
And of course, Apple continues to dominate in the laptop market, even though most Macs are in dire need of updates right now. They're coming soon — and you need look no further than the brand new MacBook to get a sense of where Apple's design sense is headed. Thinner, lighter, and not necessarily the powerhouse you might expect.
Business PCs will continue to be refreshed, and even Microsoft has started focusing more on this market with its Surface Pro tablets and updates to Windows 10 itself. The PC still matters to millions of people who get work done every day, but general computing has diversified thanks to the personal and mobile qualities of a smartphone. There might not be as many PCs being sold these days, but there’s a whole lot of quality choice if you happen to be a fan.
But as consumers, declining sales aren’t a reason to ignore PCs, they’re a reason to pay attention. It means companies are going to have to try harder to get our purchase. Desperate times call for Hail Mary passes — they don’t always work, but they’re always fun to watch.
It’s taken decades, but it’s finally happening: the tech industry is disrupting TV. It’s happening in big ways, as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu push old-guard cable companies like HBO into offering internet video services. But it’s also happening in small ways: TVs and TV-streaming devices are all basically smartphones now, with ARM processors, repurposed mobile operating systems, app ecosystems, and a variety of user interface ideas — most of which involve intelligent voice assistants. The lowly remote control has been reinvented with touchpads, smart self-programming, microphones, and other features — hell, Vizio’s latest remotes are just straight-up Android tablets.
But more importantly, the very concept of a TV has totally changed. That TV on the wall isn’t necessarily the best or most convenient screen in your life anymore — we’re watching more and more video on smartphones through platforms like YouTube and Facebook, and eating dinner over a laptop playing Netflix is what an entire generation thinks of as primetime TV.
Once you start thinking of every screen in your life as a TV, the way we think about the traditional TV changes rapidly. The biggest screen in your life needs to understand what’s happening on all those smaller screens, and sending content to it needs to get faster. The confusing array of remotes needs to disappear. Finding content you want is getting easier and faster, but just using a phone might still be quicker — phones have keyboards, after all. And the genuine TV displays themselves need to deliver an experience far more stunning than your phone screen, which is why the entire industry is excited about next-gen tech like HDR: no phone can make you feel the heat of an explosion like a 65-inch screen that can produce images almost 10 times brighter than your decaying old flat panel.
TVs are big, and clunky, and they have slower replacement cycles than almost any other gadget in our lives. But they’ve never stopped being important — they’re just turning into something different. Something better, and more connected. It’s about time.
It's easy to talk about smart homes like they're already here — like somewhere there's a ton of people with fully automated homes that wake them up, prepare them for the day, watch over their house, and then turn everything off when it's time for bed.
But the reality is we're nowhere close to that. Smart-home products are here, but they're invading slowly, one piece at a time.
It started over a decade ago with complex ecosystems and gadgets that only ever appealed to the deepest of nerds. These products were generally considered hard to set up and use — not to mention kind of boring. They were still dull appliances, just made slightly more complicated.
But then things changed about five years ago. In large part, we have the Nest Thermostat to thank. Before it came out in 2011, few would have argued that someone could ever make a thermostat that would be considered cool. But Nest did it. And afterward, the race was on. The rest of the tech and appliance industry seemed to be asking: what other old parts of the home can be updated in fresh and exciting ways?
In the past few years, we've seen the results of those efforts. There's the stylish August Smart Lock, the popular Nest (née Drop) Cam, and the colorful Philips Hue lights. Honeywell revamped its thermostat to match Nest's smarts, and First Alert later did the same with its smoke detector, after Nest made the Protect.
It's devices like these that are really starting to kick off the smart home. No longer do you have to dream of owning a fully automated home to get started — you can now just buy a single connected product that works for you. And maybe if it's really helpful, you'll buy another.
The possibility of connecting your entire home is becoming more realistic, too. Apple and Google are creating ecosystems that work with their phones, SmartThings and Wink are making old-school smart home products more accessible, and Amazon's Alexa is slowly reaching into more and more corners of the home.
Tech is also making its way into pretty much everything — from connected washing machines and fridges to Wi-Fi water pitchers and wine bottles. More and more products are starting to get hooked up to the cloud to become part of a single home unit.
But now we're ahead of ourselves. Most of these products and ecosystems are still young and underdeveloped. Seriously, you don't want to fill your home with these things yet. There are still way too many hurdles and unknowns.
For one, some of these products are still harder to use than their unconnected counterparts. Being able to control your lights with your smartphone is neat, but being able to control your lights with an on / off switch is better. Some smart-lighting systems don't let you do that!
There are so many basic usability problems with smart home products still in play. It's getting easier to overlook some of them if you're an excited early adopter, but most of these products aren't ready for a mass market.
There are security and ethical concerns, too. Take the many cameras that’ll text you a photo every time someone walks in the front door: does your family deserve more privacy? And how secure is the software in that camera, anyway?
And don't forget to take into account that the smart-home system you decide to buy might just disappear one day along with the company that made it. See what happened after Nest bought Revolv. It's pretty bad when the connective thread of your smart home can just vanish.
So are you excited? Put off? Good. You should be both, because the smart home is both of those things right now. It's a wonderful mess that's getting more interesting, more concerning, and more connected all at once. We're here to see how it all plays out.
What's exciting about electric rideables, as we found out at CES this year, is that they're finally becoming practical.
Some electric skateboards and scooters now have long enough range for a full commute, and the latest models are just as operable when the battery dies as they are when the motor is engaged. (Even if that means exerting yourself a little.) New features are bleeding into these modes of transportation that make them so much more than just motors stuck to slabs of wood and metal, too.
Take Metroboard, for example. It’s a small, not-so-well-known company that doesn't make the best electric skateboard on the market. But they make a LOT of them — at least 13 different models. They sell longboards, shortboards, rugged boards for off-roading. They come at different, albeit still expensive, price points.
Boosted Boards, which makes the most popular electric skateboard, has started to diversify in a similar way, though not yet on the same scale. The company sells three different models, each equipped with different ranges and top speeds. You can shell out as much as $1,500 for the company's best to go 22 miles per hour, or spend a little less and you get a board that’s not as fast but will deliver you an extra mile of range.
Companies have hammered out the basic tech of these small electric motors, so price really is the next big obstacle for electric rideables. But it’s already becoming less of a barrier. Acton, a company that showed up at CES two years ago with a pair of electric roller skates, created a small, light electric skateboard that it sells for just $500. It's still not what most people would call affordable, but with all this competition sprouting up in the market, it's just a matter of time before we're talking about electric skateboards that cost little more than the $100 or so you’d expect to shell out for a traditional one.
The same is happening for the rest of the rideables world, too. A number of companies are making and selling electric scooters. E-bikes are still pricey, but there are endless options to choose from, and companies keep coming up with clever ways to make them lighter and travel farther, all while hiding the machinery to make them beautiful. And, of course, dozens of companies have already engaged in a race to the bottom when it comes to hoverboards.
Smartphone connectivity is coming to electric scooters and e-bikes, too. Boosted Board's app can track things like your battery level or how many miles you've traveled. These make for fun quantified self-statistics, but are also useful pieces of information for when mechanical issues crop up. The app for the Mahindra GenZe 2.0 is a good example: you can use it to plan your routes, tweak the motor settings, or even locate your ride if it gets stolen.
Thankfully, none of this practicality is coming at the expense of fun. The learning curves vary, but the instant torque made available by electric motors essentially means that every electric skateboard, e-bike, electric scooter, and — yes — hoverboard is sure to provide you with some thrills. Probably spills, too. (Definitely spills.) Most of them can reach speeds of 12 to 15 miles per hour; some even go much faster.
The most exciting thing about these rideables, though, is that they are part of a growing conversation about how we all get around. People are talking about things like redesigning cities or reducing the number of cars on the road, all while increasing safety and opening transportation up to more people — especially those who need it most.
If there’s one thing modern technology has consistently promised and repeatedly under-delivered, it’s automation. I don’t mean industrial robots (that’s a different story), but robotic butlers and clever AIs that have been promised to us as electronic minions for years. So far though, the high water mark for helpful home robots is still the Roomba, and the surge of interest in chat bots has produced barely disguised spam machines about as responsive as an automated self-checkout at the grocery store.
Despite this, there are exciting things happening in the world of bots and robotics wherever you look.
Chat bots might still be in their infancy, but Amazon is busy blazing a trail for helpful-robots-you-talk-to with the Echo, Tap, and Dot. Right now you can chat to these gadgets to get a pizza delivered, order you a cab, or just ask about the weather, but Amazon is continuing to add functionality. The product has been a sleeper hit, and you can bet that Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are looking for ways to replicate the Echo’s functionality.
This particular mini-boom has come thanks to improved voice recognition technology, which itself is built upon the recent success of artificial intelligence techniques like deep learning. At the very top end of the field we have creations like Google’s AlphaGo breaking through barriers experts thought would take another decade. This interest is trickling down, with manufacturers building deep-learning optimized chips that will one day end up in your smartphone. Siri, Cortana, and Google Now are only going to get smarter.
In robotics, too, we’re seeing plenty of wild creations at the very high-end, but there’s less of a clear path for this technology to trickle down to everyday users. Boston Dynamics is the best example of this. It’s produced some unsettlingly advanced robots, but reports in March said parent company Alphabet was looking to sell it after struggling to find commercial applications for the technology. In what should be a shock to absolutely no one, it turns out that viral success doesn’t always mean a viable business.
This is only one small part of the story, though, and just because we’re not going to get a robotic butler any time soon, doesn’t mean that robots aren’t making inroads. Exoskeletons for factory workers, remote-controlled surgery bots, and, yes, that robot named Liam that takes apart iPhones — these aren’t gadgets, per se, but they’re exciting creations that help show the way for the future of the industry.
Weird gadgets have been around forever, if you knew where to look. From secluded shelves at dollar stores and electronics bazaars to television shopping networks to a SkyMall or Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, there’s long been an entire universe of weirdness outside of the constellation of important gadgets we use in our daily lives. Need a gun that shoots salt at flies? Sure, you can have it. Need an all-in-one alarm clock / sound maker / device charger? Yup. How about a "stress reducing mind spa?" Well, it exists.
So if there’s a new and exciting trend in weird gadgets, it’s that many of them are a little closer to the important things we use on a regular basis. That’s all thanks to the rising tide of connected devices and multi-purpose computers we carry with us all the time. Take the Kuvee, for example: a Wi-Fi wine bottle with a display that tells you when the bottle is being poured, among other things. Does anybody need this? No. Is it weird? Hell yes. Or what about the Hapifork? It’s a "smart fork" that has Bluetooth, a touch sensor, and a vibrating motor that can tell you to stop eating so quickly. Like many other new weird gadgets, it connects to your phone.
Gadget weirdness has long thrived in the grey areas between what we expect a device to be and to do. Take the humble refrigerator, for example. We expect a refrigerator to chill food, but we also apparently expect screens everywhere now, which lets a major electronics company like Samsung release a refrigerator with a giant tablet inside of it. Boom: now your refrigerator is a weird gadget. (I mean, if we’re being honest, Samsung weird is a term for a reason: the company is also working on a "wellness belt" that has a USB charger and tracks your body with a bunch of sensors.)
But weird gadgets are still very much the domain of upstarts and hackers, who now have a streamlined outlet for their bizarre ideas. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have allowed people to release their crazy schemes to the world, and receive money for them. Sometimes it doesn’t go so well — like for the team that wanted to sell a combination cooler / blender / Bluetooth speaker / USB charger. Or like the time a company raised more than $4 million to build a dubious razor that uses a laser to cut hair, only to get banned from Kickstarter for being sketchy as hell. But other times, it works beyond anybody’s wildest dreams: the Oculus Rift started on Kickstarter, and at the time it was literally a gadget held together by duct tape.
Sometimes weird tech is just plain weird, and will forever live on the island of misfit gadgets. Other times, it pushes us to break down preconceived notions of what a thing should be, and carries us forward into a more interesting future.
PALO ALTO, Calif., Aug. 01, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) (“HP” or the “Company”) announced today that it has extended the expiration date of the previously announced offer to exchange (the “Exchange Offer”) any and all outstanding notes (the “Poly Notes”) of Plantronics, Inc. (NYSE: POLY) (“Poly”) for up to $500,000,000 aggregate principal amount of new notes to be issued by the Company (the “HP Notes”). HP hereby extends such expiration date from 11:59 p.m., New York City time, on August 1, 2022, to 5:00 p.m., New York City time, on August 15, 2022 (as the same may be further extended, the “Expiration Date”).
At 5:00 p.m., New York City time, on July 18, 2022 (the “Early Participation Date”), the previously announced solicitation of consents to adopt certain proposed amendments (the “Amendments”) to the indenture governing the Poly Notes (the “Poly Indenture”) expired. The requisite consents were received to adopt the Amendments with respect to all outstanding Poly Notes at the Early Participation Date, and Poly executed the supplemental indenture to the Poly Indenture with respect to the Amendments on July 25, 2022. The Amendments will become operative only upon the settlement of the Exchange Offer.
The Exchange Offer is being made pursuant to the terms and subject to the conditions set forth in the offering memorandum and consent solicitation statement dated June 27, 2022 (as amended from time to time prior to the date hereof, the “Offering Memorandum and Consent Solicitation Statement”), and is conditioned upon the closing of the Company’s acquisition of Poly (the “Acquisition”), which condition may not be waived by HP, and certain other conditions that may be waived by HP.
The settlement date for the Exchange Offer will be promptly after the Expiration Date and is expected to occur no earlier than the closing date of the Acquisition, which is expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year 2022, subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.
Except as described in this press release, all other terms of the Exchange Offer remain unchanged.
As of 5:00 p.m., New York City time, on August 1, 2022, holders validly tendered $490,556,000 in aggregate principal amount of Poly Notes pursuant to the Exchange Offer. Tenders of Poly Notes made pursuant to the Exchange Offer may be validly withdrawn at or prior to the Expiration Date.
Documents relating to the Exchange Offer will only be distributed to eligible holders of Poly Notes who complete and return an eligibility certificate confirming that they are either a “qualified institutional buyer” under Rule 144A or not a “U.S. person” and outside the United States under Regulation S for purposes of applicable securities laws, and a non U.S. qualified offeree (as defined in the Offering Memorandum and Consent Solicitation Statement). The complete terms and conditions of the Exchange Offer are described in the Offering Memorandum and Consent Solicitation Statement, copies of which may be obtained by contacting D.F. King & Co., Inc., the exchange agent and information agent in connection with the Exchange Offer, at (888) 605-1956 (toll-free) or (212) 269-5550 (banks and brokers), or by email at [email protected] The eligibility certificate is available electronically at: www.dfking.com/hp and is also available by contacting D.F. King & Co., Inc.
This press release does not constitute an offer to sell or purchase, or a solicitation of an offer to sell or purchase, or the solicitation of tenders or consents with respect to, any security. No offer, solicitation, purchase or sale will be made in any jurisdiction in which such an offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful. The Exchange Offer is being made solely pursuant to the Offering Memorandum and Consent Solicitation Statement and only to such persons and in such jurisdictions as are permitted under applicable law.
The HP Notes offered in the Exchange Offer have not been registered under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or any state securities laws. Therefore, the HP Notes may not b offered or sold in the United States absent registration or an applicable exemption from the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and any applicable state securities laws.
About HP Inc.
HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) is a technology company that believes one thoughtful idea has the power to change the world. Its product and service portfolio of personal systems, printers, and 3D printing solutions helps bring these ideas to life. Visit http://www.hp.com.
This document contains forward-looking statements based on current expectations and assumptions that involve risks and uncertainties. If the risks or uncertainties ever materialize or the assumptions prove incorrect, the results of HP and its consolidated subsidiaries may differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements and assumptions.
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Price: The 2022 Nissan Kicks starts at $19,700.
The 2022 Nissan Kicks is a subcompact crossover SUV. As long as an SUV is defined as something with a slightly raised driving position and a tailgate instead of a trunk— a high-riding hatchback might also be a useful description of the Kicks.
Any desires of heading off to the mountains or the lake at weekends, however, are dampened by a lack of all-wheel drive and a less-than-punchy engine. It’s better to keep this Nissan NSANY, -0.58% in town, where the Kicks is easy to park and comes packed with standard driver assistance features like automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.
Kicking off with S trim, the 2022 Kicks has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $19,700, plus a destination charge. The SV is roughly $21.5K.
The SR is priced from $22,240. With 2-tone paint, the Premium package and black-finished 17-inch alloy wheels, it can reach $24.5K.
In the grand scheme of subcompact crossovers, the Kicks looks quite reasonable against, say, the Honda HR-V, which starts at $22K. But if we look at front-drive contenders that are more hatchback than crossover SUV, we find the Kia Soul and Hyundai Venue are highly competitive, both priced from around $19K.
Before buying, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to find out how much others in your area paid for their new Kicks. The Kia 000270, +0.12% Soul and Honda HMC, -1.13% HR-V are champs at retaining their value, but the Kicks does fairly well.
For going across town or around the suburbs, 122 horsepower isn’t going to be an issue. On longer trips with passengers and luggage, drivers will probably wish they had more going on under the hood — even if their fuel bills were slightly higher.
The top SR version of the 2022 Kicks has a few electronic tricks. Active Ride Control, for example, which counteracts pitching movements (created by washboard road surfaces) through subtle braking and adjustments in engine power.
This smoothes out the ride, which can be somewhat unrefined in the two lower trims, since the wheelbase of the Kicks (the distance between the front and rear axles) is short. Intelligent Trace Control is also in the SR, applying the brakes a little to the inside wheels when steering through a corner.
Nissan vehicles usually have nice front seats, but the ones in the 2022 Kicks miss the mark for some people due to insufficient support for the upper back. The rear seats are just plain uncomfortable.
Unsurprisingly, rear passenger space is limited because the Kicks is quite short. Legroom of 33.4 inches doesn’t compare well with the Honda HR-V’s 39.3 or the Kia Soul’s 38.8.
Cargo space is pretty good, easily enough room for a stroller with 25.3 cubic feet behind the 60/40 split/folding rear seats. That expands to 53.1 when those seats are down. The HR-V manages 24.3/58.8, while the Kia Soul has 24.2/62.1 cubic feet.
The dashboard’s design is agreeable. The materials are textured to look classier than they really are. And the infotainment system is simple to operate.
Outward vision is generally good, with hindrances coming only from the wide rear pillars. Thankfully, blind-spot monitoring is standard across the 2022 Kicks range.
Everyone has their own tastes, etc. But most people should be happy enough to have a 2022 Kicks parked outside, with its mix of assertive and sensible styling touches.
It has an SUV/crossover flavor, even if all-wheel drive isn’t on the menu, while the small size overall makes it easy for in-town driving and parking.
The most affordable trim has steel wheels with plastic covers, while the two higher trims have 17-inch alloy wheels. They can also come with 2-tone paint — premium or otherwise — where the roof has a contrasting color.
Apple Carplay/Android Auto
How did we ever cope without smartphones? Now we can integrate them into the infotainment systems of our cars and use apps like Waze or Apple AAPL, +0.20% Maps. This feature is standard across the 2022 Kicks range.
Advanced drive assist display
This 7-inch unit goes into the instrument cluster in the top two trims of the 2022 Kicks. It shows information like outside temperature, fuel range, maintenance required, and much more.
Trim levels for the 2022 Kicks are S, SV, and SR — in ascending order of plushness and price. The basic model, S, still has driver assistance features like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, rear parking sensors, and rear automatic braking all as standard.
Other equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, cloth upholstery, USB port, Bluetooth, 7-inch infotainment touchscreen, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.
It’s another $1,850 for the SV model, but we think it’s a better buy. This is where disc brakes replace drums at the rear and an electronic parking brake is fitted.
The infotainment touchscreen grows to an 8-inch version, a 7-inch digital driver information display is fitted, intelligent cruise control comes on board, along with satellite radio, keyless entry/ignition, illuminated vanity mirrors, roof rails, and 17-inch alloy wheels. This trim is also eligible for 2-tone paint.
It doesn’t always follow that spending more money on a new Kicks is the best thing to do, however. Once we’re in the $22K region (the approximate price of the range-topping SR trim), several tempting alternatives become available, such as the Honda HR-V and Mazda MZDAY, -0.41% CX-30 (now with all-wheel drive as standard).
The SR does at least come with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and some electronic enhancement of the driving experience (see our Driving Impressions section). It also offers the option of a Premium package ($1,200) that includes heated front seats, heated steering wheel, simulated leather seating surfaces, Wi-Fi, and an 8-speaker Bose audio system.
All three trims can be ordered with a Rockford Fosgate audio system, ambient cabin lighting, self-dimming rearview mirror, garage door opener, and puddle lights. The top two also offer black-finished 17-inch alloy wheels.
Whatever kicks the 2022 Kicks provides, they probably don’t come from the driving experience. The sole engine is a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder unit developing a 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque.
An automatic transmission sends that modest muscle to just the front wheels. The upside is that the Kicks merely sips regular gasoline.
122 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm
114 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 31/36 mpg
This story originally ran on KBB.com.