posted 6 days ago on ars technica
The PSN cracking saga is finally coming to a close, legally. The final loose ends from the massive hack of Sony's PlayStation Network that first came to light in April 2011 are being tied up, with Sony agreeing to a settlement that could hold it liable for up to $15 million in damages, plus nearly $2.75 million in attorney fees. The lengthy settlement agreement (PDF) offers a number of benefits to users affected by the breach: a free downloadable PS3 or PSP game (from a selection of 14 titles), three PS3 themes (from a selection of six), or a three-month subscription to PlayStation Plus. Users who took advantage of Sony's "Welcome Back" promotion back in 2011 can choose one of those benefits, while those who didn't get a free game back then can choose from two of the three benefits. Sony has also agreed to pay up to $2,500 to each user who can show that their identity was compromised in a way that "more likely than not... directly and proximately resulted from the PSN Intrusion or the SOE Intrusion and not from any other source." Users can get additional benefits if they can show they stopped using their PSN account for the last three years because of the breach, if they lost out on time using an existing Qriocity music subscription, or if they were registered for Sony Online Entertainment games. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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While communication from Microsoft about its layoffs and reorganization lacks a certain amount of clarity, one statement made in its earnings call yesterday did appear to be straightforward: "We will streamline the next version of Windows from three operating systems into one single converged operating system for screens of all sizes" said CEO Satya Nadella. The immediate reaction was twofold. From some parties, there were congratulatory noises, praising Nadella for this new strategy that moved away from the Ballmer-era multiple operating system. From others, there was glee that the "confusing" line-up of Windows, Windows RT, and Windows Phone would soon be gone and that in future users would no longer need to worry about what their devices were using. Some are even cheering the "fact" that this means that Windows RT will be killed off forever. That Nadella's remarks provoked headlines and column inches is ever so surprising, however, because what he said isn't new, isn't really being interpreted properly, and wasn't really his idea. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Antana Heritage Auctions, the Texas company orchestrating the Bitcoins.com sale, pulled the auction listing on Wednesday afternoon, stating: "This lot has been withdrawn from this auction. Bids are no longer accepted and previous bids are cancelled." The move comes as the result of a federal judicial order issued on Tuesday that put an immediate halt to the sale of Bitcoins.com, the domain name owned by embattled Mt. Gox CEO Mark Karpeles. "The lot is being held for now so we can get this sorted out one way or the other," Noah Fleisher, a Heritage Auctions spokesman, told Ars. "I haven't heard from [Karpeles] at all." Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Today, NASA announced that it's issuing a Request for Information that seeks parties, either academic or commercial, who are willing to set up a communications relay orbiting Mars. Should the agency like the information it gets, it could extend its current fee-for-service approach well beyond Earth's orbit. Because of weight and power restrictions, the hardware that we've landed on Mars can't carry high-bandwidth communication devices that can reach Earth (it does, however, carry lower-bandwidth hardware that can establish a direct connection). Instead, missions like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has its own science instruments, also carry communications hardware that lets them receive high volumes of data from the planet's surface and quickly send it back to Earth. MRO is the most recent hardware that serves this purpose, but it's already nearly a decade old; Odyssey, its fellow relay, is even older. Fortunately, the MAVEN mission, which arrives this year, will also have relay capabilities, as will the ESA's ExoMars orbiter, which should arrive in 2016. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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NASA With all the attention given to every nuance of climate data, areas of research that would have never attracted much public interest sometimes find themselves in the spotlight. So it is with the process of measuring sea ice cover. People pay careful attention because it appears to be a leading indicator of climate change. In the Arctic, where the warming has been most intense, sea ice is retreating rapidly, with record lows having been set every few years over the past decades. But at the other pole, Antarctic sea ice has been steadily expanding, creating a bit of a conundrum for scientists. They've come up with a variety of explanations for why the two poles might be behaving differently but, in the mean time, people have latched on to the difference to question our understanding of climate change. Now, a paper has come out questioning whether the difference between the poles is as dramatic as it seemed. The reason for the potential difference? Measuring sea ice is remarkably hard. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Asus RT-AC87. If you've been waiting for a Wi-Fi router that supports multi-user beamforming, there's now one for sale. The Asus RT-AC87 advertises support for 1.73Gbps throughput, and it implements one of the most highly anticipated features of 802.11ac Wi-Fi: MU-MIMO (multi-user, multiple-input, and multiple-output). As we explained in the feature, "Wi-Fi networks are wasting a gigabit—but multi-user beamforming will save the day," MU-MIMO relies on multi-user beamforming to send data streams of up to 433Mbps to three or more users simultaneously. This is an improvement over single-user beamforming, which could send multiple streams of data, but only to one device at a time. The Asus RT-AC87 uses a Quantenna MU-MIMO chipset and sends data over four streams to get up to 1.73Gbps on the 5 GHz band. It can send another 600Mbps over 2.4 GHz. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 7 days ago on ars technica
As many as 50,000 websites have been remotely commandeered by attackers exploiting a recently patched vulnerability in a popular plugin for the WordPress content management system, security researchers said Wednesday. As Ars reported in early July, the vulnerability in MailPoet, a WordPress plugin with more than 1.7 million downloads, allows attackers to upload any file of their choice to vulnerable servers. In the three weeks since then, attackers have exploited the bug to install a backdoor on an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 websites, some that don't even run WordPress software or that don't have MailPoet enabled, according to Daniel Cid, CTO of security firm Sucuri. "To be clear, the MailPoet vulnerability is the entry point," he wrote in a blog post. "It doesn't mean your website has to have it enabled or that you have it on the website; if it resides on the server, in a neighboring website, it can still affect your website." In an e-mail to Ars, he elaborated: Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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This image, confirmed by Ars Technica to be buried in the latest Steam client beta, could show a potential new design for a Steam Controller with a traditional analog stick. Valve When Valve first unveiled its prototype for a handheld video game controller last September, the most striking thing about it, from a modern design perspective, was the complete lack of analog joysticks. It's an omission that remained even after Valve updated the controller prototype to include more traditional digital button placement. So it's quite interesting that the latest version of the official Steam beta client includes the above image, showing a version of the Steam controller with an analog stick where the directional buttons used to be. The file seems to have been first spotted by an enterprising member of the FacePunch.com forums, but we've confirmed that anyone with access to the PC version of Steam's latest beta client update should have this file on their hard drive (if you've updated the beta, it should be in [Steam directory]\tenfoot\resource\images\library\alpha_conroller_lines_d0g.png in case you want to confirm for yourself; we haven't checked the Mac and Linux clients yet). The file on our system, which appears to be an overlay for some sort of controller configuration or help menu, was created on May 19 and modified to the current analog-stick-sporting version on July 16. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});In our preview of the OS X Yosemite beta today, we focused mostly on the OS-wide changes to the user interface and the new features of a few built-in apps. As happened in the transition from iOS 6 to iOS 7, though, there are plenty of other applications in Yosemite that still work like they did in Mavericks, just with a fresh coat of paint. We've collected a few different representative examples in the photo gallery below—some of these designs completely rethink the way the original application looked (Game Center). Some of them look basically the same but compress the UI or move buttons to different places to make existing features more accessible (Maps, Preview). Still others are just the same apps with different colors (Notes). The one class of app that remains essentially the same as before (at least of this writing) are the things in the Utilities folder, many of which even use the same "old-style" glassy icons as before. Only the Terminal and Activity Monitor get different icons at all, though the look of the apps don't change. The apps in Utilities are all, you know, utilities, so aesthetics aren't especially important there. Just know that Apple hasn't changed everything about the way Yosemite looks. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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Whether you're still running a years-long instance of 2004's The Sims 2, complete with a family's dozens of generations babbling in Simlish while running into all matter of torture-inducing home spaces, or haven't even played the game once, Electronic Arts has a giant, if ancient, freebie for you. Years after the game's "exchange" content website shuttered, the game's producer announced last week it would no longer post updates or patches for the decade-old game. To ease the pain for all 50 players who'll never see their Radeon-related visual glitches fixed, EA gave all Sims 2 owners on the Origin PC games service a free upgrade to the game's "Ultimate Collection" version, which includes the game's eight expansion packs and nine "stuff" packs. But what about players who didn't register the game on Origin (or, er, never bought The Sims 2 in the first place)? EA has them covered, too, because as of Wednesday, the company is now offering free downloads of The Sims 2: Ultimate Collection to all Origin members until July 31. Simply log into Origin and use the redemption code "I-LOVE-THE-SIMS" to immediately jump into the "Apartment Life" expansion, the Ikea household pack, and everything else your dollhouse heart desires. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Duff Watson, of Minnesota, stirring up trouble with his hand computer, no doubt. CBS Minnesota A Minnesota man was ejected from a Southwest Airlines flight for a tweet calling a gate agent rude, reported CBS Minnesota Wednesday. After tweeting, the man was removed from the plane and stated he was "forced" to delete the tweet before he could re-board. Duff Watson is an "A-list" passenger with Southwest, which gives him priority boarding. Watson was miffed when the agent in question told him his two children couldn't board the plane as priority passengers with him, and Watson let her know that Twitter would, in fact, be hearing about this. "Something to the effect of 'Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA,'" is how Watson summarized the tweet to CBS. The family eventually boarded the plane, but according to Watson's daughter, Lucy, the agent threatened to call the cops. Watson relayed that the agent said her safety felt threatened. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 7 days ago on ars technica
Comcast A California nonprofit says that a Comcast Internet service program for poor people is too difficult to sign up for, resulting in just 11 percent of eligible households in the state getting service. Comcast had to create the $10-per-month Internet Essentials program in order to secure approval of its acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011. About 300,000 households containing 1.2 million people nationwide have gotten cheap Internet service as a result, but the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) complains that the signup process is riddled with problems, a charge Comcast denies. CETF itself was created by the California Public Utilities Commission when approving the mergers of SBC-AT&T and Verizon-MCI, and its purpose was to accelerate broadband deployment for unserved or underserved populations. The group says additional requirements should be imposed on Comcast as part of its pending acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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AFTVnews.com Amazon released the Fire TV in April into a market already chock-full with streaming media boxes that one can attach to a television. At the same time, it filed for an "Amazon Fire" trademark and two service marks. Amazon also claims the word "Fire" itself on its long list of trademarks, and Amazon lawyers are apparently already engaged in sweeping the Web of sites that contain the mark. The anonymous proprietor of fireTVnews.com explained on his site that Amazon has given him seven days to turn over the domain to them because it contains an Amazon trademark. He wrote: I’ll admit, when I registered the domain, I knew there was a possibility that one day I would be contacted by Amazon’s trademark lawyers. I naively thought Amazon was nicer than your average mega corporation and registered the domain anyway. Lesson learned. It would have been nice if they gave me more than 7 days, or at least given me a way to contact them. Instead, I’m supposed to give them the domain release information through their standard ‘Contact Us’ form. I’m just one guy with a small blog and a few loyal readers, so I wont be fighting their request. This website will continue, but under a different name and URL. I will post the new website information shortly. I hope everyone reading this will stick around and not get lost in the move. Yesterday, the site completed a move to AFTVnews.com, gave up its Facebook page, and changed its Twitter handle as well. The news site appears to be tiny, with just 84 Twitter followers. (Twitter followers aren't lost when a handle changes.) He wrote: Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The captured DJI Phantom drone and its cargo, held by Thai prison authorities. Saichon Srinuanchan , Bangkok Post The Bangkok Post reports that guards at the Khao Bin Prison in Thailand took possession of what appears to be a DJI Phantom drone laden with cell phones and accessories. The drone was snagged on a tree limb inside the prison compound. Taped to the drone were two Nokia cell phones, four SIM cards, a pair of Bluetooth devices, and headphones. Also attached to the aircraft was what appeared to be a system on a board—about the size of a Raspberry Pi computer. The gear was concealed in a plastic bottle. In addition to its illicit cargo, the quadcopter was equipped with a GoPro video camera and a Wi-Fi signal range extender to allow the drone to be remote-controlled from a greater distance, based on analysis of the photos published by the Post. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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What time is it? According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, it's iTime! As the smartwatch market has grown with entries from Qualcomm, Samsung, and Google, Apple has remained remarkably mum on the concept, in spite of long-standing rumors hinting at a wristwatch in the works in Cupertino. On Sunday, iWatch's hopes grew further with the unveiling and approval of a new smartwatch patent filed by Apple in July, 2011. As reported by Wired UK, the US patent describes a "wrist-worn electronic device and methods therefor," and its description certainly resembles the features users have come to expect from recent smartwatches. In particular, the section about "information exchanges" between the watch and a user's phone describes a system of notifications and on-screen controls for everything from SMS to media playback (along with the naming of compatible Apple devices like iPhones and iPods). The patent (which never uses the term "iWatch") mentions features like gyroscopes, accelerometers, and vibrating elements, along with a variety of models, including one whose base can very clearly be removed from the wristwatch band, iPod Nano-style. This patent's unveiling comes nearly two years after Google's own "smartwatch including flip-up display" patent, but Apple beat Google to the filing punch by three months—and included a far wider range of designs and functionality (e.g. gyroscopes) to boot. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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It took just 20 minutes for a model drone to locate a missing elderly Wisconsin man, a feat that helicopters, search dogs, and volunteers couldn't accomplish in three days. Just don't tell that to the Federal Aviation Administration, whose regulatory wings are already flapping about model drones. This weekend's discovery of the 82-year-old man in an area of crops and woods comes amid a legal tussle between flight regulators and model drone operators—the latest of which coincidentally involves search-and-rescue missions. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Lumia 530. Nokia If analytics companies are to be believed, the lowly Lumia 520 and its variants have been the most popular Windows Phone handsets ever. Today, Microsoft officially announced that phone's successor, the Lumia 530. It will come in both single- and dual-SIM variants, though it's safe to say that only the single-SIM version will end up making it to the US, and Nokia expects both to be priced at around "€85 (about $114) before taxes and subsidies." The 530 is a somewhat cut-down version of the Lumia 630 that was introduced earlier this year, and the devices share many design elements—eye-melting neon color options, software navigation buttons rather than hardware or capacitive buttons, and no dedicated camera shutter button. Microsoft has made some changes to Windows Phone to make it easier for OEMs to put it on lightly modified Android hardware, and these two Lumias showcase those changes. On the inside, the Lumia 530 is a combination of small upgrades and small downgrades from the 520. Both phones share the same 5MP camera and 512MB of RAM. Storage is down to 4GB (from 8GB in the 520), but the phone's microSD slot will now support cards up to 128GB in size. The resolution of the 4-inch screen increases slightly to 854×480. The 530 uses a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 200 SoC rather than the 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 in the 520, but overall performance may break roughly even since the S4's Krait CPU architecture is faster clock-for-clock than the 200's Cortex A7 architecture. Finally, the GPU takes a minor step down from the Adreno 305 GPU to the Adreno 302. New buyers will still get a solid budget handset, but current 520 users won't need to rush out to buy this one. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Julien GONG Min PCs may not be thriving the way they once were, but Microsoft has posted a strong set of financials for the fourth quarter of its 2014 financial year on the back of substantial, sustained growth in its cloud businesses. Revenue for the quarter was $23.38 billion, up 17.5 percent on the same quarter a year ago. Operating income rose 6.7 percent to $6.48 billion, and earnings per share were down 5 percent to $0.56, with the drop largely attributed to a hefty tax adjustment. The results for the quarter were complicated by Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's Devices and Services business, which closed in April. In the wake of the purchase, the company has adjusted the way it breaks down its earnings. The "Devices and Consumer Hardware" segment has been renamed "Computing and Gaming Hardware." This includes Surface and Xbox hardware. A new segment, "Phone Hardware," will cover the Nokia business. Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Federal Communications Commission will face a lawsuit if it tries to invalidate state laws that restrict the ability of cities and towns to offer Internet service, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday. Such a move would infringe on states' rights protected by the Constitution, the group claimed. Wheeler has said he intends to "preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband," relying on authority detailed in a court decision that overturned the FCC's net neutrality rules. These state laws make it difficult or impossible for municipalities to create their own broadband networks that compete against private Internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. The US House of Representatives has already approved a budget amendment that would prevent the FCC from invalidating these laws. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A screenshot posted by "w0rm" showing he had dumped the user table from a Wall Street Journal database. Dow Jones & Co. took two servers that store the news graphics for the Wall Street Journal website offline yesterday evening after a confirmed intrusion by a hacker calling himself “w0rm.” The hacker was offering what he claimed was user information and server access credentials that would allow others to “modify articles, add new content, insert malicious content in any page, add new users, delete users, and so on,” Andrew Komarov, chief executive officer of cybersecurity firm IntelCrawl, told The Wall Street Journal. W0rm, according to Komarov, is the same individual previously known as “Rev0lver” and “Hash,” a Russian hacker who tried to sell access to the BBC’s servers last December and attacked the Web servers of Vice Media earlier this year. At 5:30pm ET on July 21, he posted a screenshot to Twitter that showed the e-mail address, username, and hashed password for the database admin on a wsj.com server. He offered to sell the full dump of the database table of authorized users for one bitcoin through an exploit marketplace at w0rm.in. According to the Journal, Dow Jones has taken the servers offline to isolate them and prevent further intrusions into their systems. A spokeperson for the company said, “At this point we see no evidence of any impact to Dow Jones Customers or customer data.” Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Four days after a forensics expert warned that undocumented functions in iOS could leak personal user data, Apple has documented three services it says serve diagnostic purposes. "iOS offers the following diagnostic capabilities to help enterprise IT departments, developers, and AppleCare troubleshoot issues," the support article published Tuesday stated. "Each of these diagnostic capabilities requires the user to have unlocked their device and agreed to trust another computer. Any data transmitted between the iOS device and trusted computer is encrypted with keys not shared with Apple. For users who have enabled iTunes Wi-Fi Sync on a trusted computer, these services may also be accessed wirelessly by that computer." As Ars reported Monday, three undocumented services include a packet sniffer dubbed com.apple.mobile.pcapd, a file downloader called com.apple.mobile.file_relay, and com.apple.mobile.house_arrest, a tool that downloads iPhone and iPad files to an iTunes folder stored on a computer. Jonathan Zdziarski, the forensics expert who brought the undocumented functions to light on Saturday, published a blog post in response that criticized Apple's characterization of the services. He continued to maintain that at least one of the capabilities—stemming from the file relay service—constitutes a "backdoor" as defined by many security and forensics practitioners. He also took issue with Apple's suggestion that the purpose of the services was limited to diagnostics. He reiterated his previous stance that he doesn't believe Apple added the functions at the request of the National Security Agency. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A rare dwarf galaxy that initiated a burst of star formation within the last billion years. NASA Large galaxies such as the Milky Way appear to have been built by repeated mergers of smaller ones, but not every small galaxy has ended up being swallowed completely by a large one. The Milky Way is orbited by dozens of dwarf galaxies, some of which have been disrupted and stripped of stars, while others may have slipped into orbit largely intact. Similar dwarf galaxies orbit our nearby neighbors, including Andromeda. Based on what we know about these mergers and computer modeling of galaxy formation and growth, the collection of dwarfs should be an unruly lot, having approached the galaxy they orbit from directions that are essentially random. Yet the dwarfs orbiting the Milky Way largely inhabit a single plane, orbiting in a manner analogous to moons around a giant planet. It's easy to dismiss that as a fluke of chance, but that became a bit harder to do as evidence built over the past several years that most of Andromeda's dwarf galaxies were also organized into a single plane. Stranger still, that plane's edge is oriented toward the Milky Way. Now, a French-Australian team of astronomers has figured out a way to search existing data for the presence of planes farther out from the Milky Way, finding that Andromeda's setup is actually quite common. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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This is Yosemite. Andrew Cunningham CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});It's not difficult to get your hands on pre-release Apple software. For a mere $198 a year ($99 each for OS X and iOS) you can download beta versions of operating systems from Apple's developer site even if you've never written a line of code in your life. This year, Apple is taking things a step further. The new public beta program for OS X Yosemite officially launches Thursday, taking software that has traditionally been protected from the public by a $99 paywall and distributing it to the first million users who sign up on Apple's site. It's a very Microsoft-esque way to roll out an OS: you give enthusiasts a chance to work with an early-but-reasonably-stable build in exchange for valuable bug-squashing feedback. Ideally, it will keep Yosemite from suffering from some of the general bugginess that affected iOS 7.0 when it launched last year. In advance of the public beta, we've been given about a week of time to use the third developer preview and get a sense of what Yosemite brings to the table. Beta subscribers will get a slightly newer build of the operating system, but at this point most of the features are locked down and ready for evaluation by the public. Read 53 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Exploring Grado Labs' manufacturing space and creating our own pair of headphones. Shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link) Buried in a packed townhouse on a quiet street in south Brooklyn is a manufacturing operation that produces some of the most renowned headphones in the business. Despite Yelp reviews for the business, Grado Labs doesn't sell directly from its location to consumers, though it does take the occasional walk-up request for repairs. For the most part, its long-time employees, including owner John Grado and his son Jonathan, tinker away through four crowded floors on audio gear that hasn't appeared in advertising since the 1960's. In the building, the company assembles and ships models that range from the flagship PS1000, priced at $1,700, to the $79 SR60s. As of early June, Grado has evolved the drivers for the second time in 23 years, from the I-series to the E-series. The average New York City apartment building is narrow to begin with, but Grado's space is like a house eternally in the middle of moving day. You get around by edging your way around boxes, through the halls, on the stairs, and in the rooms. During the holiday season, Jonathan says, the boxes are stacked high enough to effectively move the walls in. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Amazon's first phone isn't without its charms, but is it good enough to replace the iOS or Android stuff you already have? Andrew Cunningham It took other companies a long time to respond to the iPad. Early efforts like the first Samsung Galaxy Tabs, the Motorola Xoom, and Barnes & Noble's Nook Color had their fans, but compared to Apple's tablets, they all had major flaws. Amazon's first Kindle Fire had its problems too, but Amazon's name recognition and the tablet's $199 price made it one of the iPad's first semi-credible competitors. It opened the door for even better tablets at the same price point, and Android's tablet market share is largely built on the cheap tablet foundation that Amazon helped establish. Amazon's first smartphone is taking the opposite path. It's jumping into the high-end smartphone market surprisingly late in the game. The market started showing signs of saturation, and its competitors are entrenched. At $649 unlocked for a 32GB phone ($199 with a two-year contract), it doesn't have a price advantage. It's also not being subsidized by Amazon's media storefronts or by "Special Offers"-style advertisements. Because it's 2014, because the phone costs what it does, and because there are dozens of great phones to be had at (and well below) this price bracket, it's going to be much more difficult for users to overlook flaws or shortcomings when compared to those first Kindle Fire tablets. Amazon's phone brings unique features like its Dynamic Perspective head tracking cameras and its Firefly scanning software, but can the phone get by on a couple of cool features if it has other problems? Read 60 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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