Robot maker Boston Dynamics replaces CEO to prepare for ‘new stage of growth’

Boston Dynamics, the creator of the internet’s favorite robot dog, is announcing a new CEO and developer conference as it begins selling its robots more widely.

Marc Raibert, who founded the company in 1992 and served as CEO until late last year, is taking on the role of chairman, while Rob Playter, the former chief operating officer, is moving to CEO.

Raibert, a veteran engineer, has been the public face of Boston Dynamics for many years and is well-known in the conference circuit for his lively presentations and livelier Hawaiian shirts. Raibert has led decades of research and development at the company, which began leasing its first commercial robot to businesses, the four-legged Spot, late last year.

The change is being made to prepare the company for a “new stage of growth,” said Boston Dynamics’ VP of business development, Michael Perry. Currently just 100 Spot units are being used in the US and abroad.

“Marc is stepping into a more strategic role,” Perry told The Verge. “He’s been promoted to chairman to focus on the long-term direction of the company and look after a few special projects that he’ll have more to say about in months to come.”

In addition to the personnel change, Boston Dynamics is also making its software development kit (SDK) for Spot available to all developers. Previously, the SDK could only be accessed by those signed on to Spot’s Early Adopter Program; now, any interested parties can start designing new functions and payloads for the robot.

Boston Dynamics has always said its machines are less about solving specific tasks than providing a modular mobile platform. Current payloads for the robot include a gripper arm and 3D scanner, and Spot is currently being tested in a range of roles, including industrial inspection and law enforcement. This latter placement has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which says law enforcement groups were not being open about how they planned to use this technology.

To show off new functions for Spot, Boston Dynamics will be holding its first developer conference in Boston this year on May 12th and 13th. The conference is called Actuate, and it will include demos, customers presentations, and workshops.

“We’re aiming to start small with just 200 people from our customers who are already part of the Early Adopter Program,” said Perry. “We’re excited to get our sensor providers, software developers, and end-users together so they can learn from each other and learn from us.”

As part of Boston Dynamics’ well-established marketing outreach on YouTube, the company has also leased a Spot unit to presenter and designer Adam Savage to be demoed over the course of a year as part of Savage’s Tested series.

It’s an interesting development considering that videos of the company’s robots are met with a mixture of fear and awe online. As Spot starts taking on new jobs and interacting more frequently with the public, Boston Dynamics needs to ensure its creations aren’t seen as scary or oppressive. A series of videos with Savage could help soften Spot’s image.

Adam Savage with Boston Dynamics’ Spot.
Image: Boston Dynamics

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Apple Watch gym partnerships give you perks for working out

Apple is launching a partnership program for gyms today called “Apple Watch Connected” that’s meant to highlight chains that integrate with its wearable and offer perks for owners. In some cases, perks include discounted membership fees and gift cards for people who regularly work out, according to CNBC.

For a gym to get the Apple Watch Connected branding, it’ll have to offer three things:

  1. An app for iPhones and Apple Watches that offers information like class times
  2. Support for Apple Pay to buy things at the gym
  3. Some kind of perk for wearers, like membership discounts

One thing that’s not required across the board: machines that support GymKit, Apple’s system for syncing an Apple Watch with fitness equipment like treadmills and ellipticals. Reports on the program say these may be offered where applicable, since GymKit doesn’t support many types of equipment right now. It’s not clear if it’s required at gyms that have supported machine types, though.

The partnership is, in theory, a win for everyone involved. Apple Watch owners get a better experience at gyms (and potentially some discounts); Apple gets gyms that not only better support its product, but go out of their way to offer perks to its customers; and gyms get customers who may be more likely to stay with them due to the incentivized workouts.

It’s free for gyms to join the program, though I’m a little skeptical about how much benefit there really is to a program that mostly boils down to “give discounts to Apple customers.” If Apple, in turn, offers promotion for these gyms, then they could certainly see more people headed their way. But at least for now, there’s no word on these gyms being highlighted in, say, Apple Maps or Apple’s Health app.

At launch today, there are four Apple Watch Connected gym partners: YMCA, Crunch Fitness, Basecamp Fitness, and Orange Theory. It’ll also only be live at select locations for each. Crunch is the only gym offering membership discounts for people who work out regularly; Orange Theory is offering gift card perks; and the YMCA will donate classes to kids. Basecamp is advertising a program it already offers that can give subscribers an Apple Watch for free.

The tie-in with gyms is Apple’s latest attempt to associate wearing an Apple Watch and being fit with saving money. It’s also worked in the past with health insurers to offer discounts to people who wear the Watch. The integrations make sense given the focus on fitness, but they also mean that people who can’t afford a watch that starts at $200 that connects to a phone that starts at $449 miss out on these discounts.

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How Bad Boys For Life’s directors brought back the ‘90s — from Belgium

Bad Boys For Life pulls off one of the most unlikely tricks in blockbuster moviemaking: It’s the rare good third entry in a franchise, a successful soft reboot that introduces a small squad of new faces to carry the Bad Boys name into the future. It does all this while also coming nearly 20 years after the last film in the series and being the Hollywood debut of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, a Belgian directing duo known for gritty crime dramas on a much lower budget.

Over a phone call just after Bad Boys For Life’s opening weekend, Adil and Bilall spoke with The Verge about making that transition. The duo are as ebullient and energetic as brothers, frequently finishing each other’s thoughts and serving as the other’s hype man. Despite not yet knowing how their film performed at the box office, the directors were eager to talk about getting the chance to homage their ‘90s action-movie upbringing, at nearly 100 times the budget they’re used to.

The Verge: This is your first Hollywood movie, right?

Adil: That’s right! Our first movie was what, 3.4 million?

Bilall: Yeah, and now it’s 100 million.

Adil: That’s a big jump, brotha!

Action movies are great for introducing audiences to different talent — I’m interested in how you put this movie’s international cast together.

Adil: Well, we wanted to have a cast that was a reflection of the diversity of Miami, because Miami is the place where the movie takes place. It’s a character in the movie and it’s very multicultural. We have, obviously, African Americans with Will and Martin, but also Paola Núñez is from Mexico, Vanessa [Hudgens] is of Filipino descent, Charles [Melton] is Korean— we wanted to have that mix of flavor that is also in all of our movies. Our movies are very colorful, that’s what we like. It’s our trademark, you could say.

What attracted you to doing a big Hollywood action movie?

Adil: Specifically, for this one because it was a Bad Boys movie — we grew up with Jerry Bruckheimer movies, at the end of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, Michael Bay movies, this whole era. And we wanted this movie to be an homage, to give a nostalgic feeling. Also Lethal Weapon

Bilall: Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, all that.

Adil: And that’s what attracted us to Bad Boys. Me and Bilall, we’re like the bad boys of cinema in Belgium. (laughs) Those characters and that dynamic. And we love action, big action movies, that real Hollywood thing — you can’t do that in Belgium.

Bilall: And in this movie, the action starts with these characters, Mike and Marcus. That comedy intertwined with the big action, that attracts us a lot.

Oh, definitely. One of the best scenes is one on an airplane where they just sit and razz each other for a few minutes.

Bilall: Yeah!

Adil: Mine too! They just sit and talk! And the camera doesn’t move, but it’s awesome.

The movie feels like the Michael Bay movies the first two were, but also fresher somehow. Do you think something’s been missing from action movies?

Adil: It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a traditional buddy cop movie. And these days, most action movies are superhero movies or the Fast and Furious franchise — which this movie resembles a little bit, but those movies are almost superhero movies. Like you see Hobbes and Shaw and that’s the superhero version of Bad Boys, you could say.

With movies like John Wick, you have that old-school traditional action again that we try to make — those movies were a little more of an inspiration for how we wanted to take on the action. Sure, there’s extravagant action, but we wanted to have it a little bit more grounded than, like, your Fast and Furious or a Marvel movie.

The Fast and Furious comparison feels valid with how this movie ends. Is that a direction you’d want to go? Would you both want to make more Bad Boys movies?

Bilall: We don’t want to make 10 of those movies! Maybe we can do one more story if the audience loves [Bad Boys For Life]. Maybe this is the last one, maybe we are ready for another one, but it’s also like… we really love these characters, Mike and Marcus, but also the new guys on the block, the AMMO team. We feel there is much more in it, and I think there is a possibility for it. The audience will decide, but also the story, there has to be an evolution, if it’s just a copy of this one then it is not interesting enough.

Coming to Hollywood from Belgium, money is obviously the biggest difference, but did anything else surprise you about the process?

Adil: Yeah, we were surprised that even though there’s a lot of money there’s still not enough money.

Bilall: No money and no time! Never enough time!

Adil: But the other thing is that it’s just this gigantic machine. You make a smaller movie, you take a camera, you go in the street and just shoot it. Here, you have to have 250 people on the set that you have to move. That’s a whole other way of making a movie. But at the end of the day, you have Will, Martin, and Jerry [Bruckheimer]. They always supported us and helped us through this process of big moviemaking.

And you had Michael Bay drop in for a cameo! What was that like?

Bilall: That was the first day we actually met him, on the day of that shoot!

Adil: We were super nervous because a lot of our crew worked with him, but it was super nice! He just said at the end, “Don’t fuck up my baby,” and then we were like, “We got you!”

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Google’s ads just look like search results now

Last week, Google began rolling out a new look for its search results on desktop, which blurs the line between organic search results and the ads that sit above them. In what appears to be something of a purposeful dark pattern, the only thing differentiating ads and search results is a small black-and-white “Ad” icon next to the former. It’s been formatted to resemble the new favicons that now appear next to the search results you care about. Early data collected by Digiday suggests that the changes may already be causing people to click on more ads.

The Guardian’s Alex Hern is one of many commenters to point out the problem, noting that there’s now next to no visual distinction between ads and search results. “There is still, technically, *labelling*, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that it is supposed to be difficult to spot at a glance where the adverts end,” he tweeted.

It’s especially striking considering how distinct Google designed its ads in the past. Up until 2013, the search engine gave its ads an entirely different background color to distinguish them from its organic search results. But even after that, it continued to use unique colors that effectively let users quickly see where its ads ended and organic results began.

In the past, Google used to give its ads a different background color to make them distinct from the rest of its results. This screenshot is from 2013.
Image: Search Engine Land

In a blog post announcing the new design when it came to mobile last year, Google partially explained the change by saying that adding favicons to organic search results means that “a website’s branding can be front and center,” which means “you can more easily scan the page of results.” But it spent far less time talking about the changes to its ad designs, which now feel much more significant, especially when viewing results on a laptop or monitor.

In the past, Google’s Sundeep Jain justified simplifying the company’s ad designs by saying that a simpler design “makes it easier for users to digest information,” according to Search Engine Land. He added that the company was trying to reduce the number of different colors used on a page in order to bring a little more “harmony” to the layout.

It’s hard not to get the feeling that this “harmony” is less about offering a better user experience, and more about helping Google’s ad revenue. As Digiday reports, there’s data to suggest that’s actually the case. According to one digital marketing agency, click-through rates have already increased for some search ads on desktop, and mobile click-through rates for some of its clients increased last year from 17 to 18 percent after similar changes to Google’s mobile search layout.

Google is fundamentally an ad business. In the third quarter of 2019, Google’s parent company Alphabet made nearly $34 million from Google advertising, out of a total revenue of $40 billion for Alphabet as a whole. At that sort of scale, small changes in ad click-through rates could end up having a huge effect on Alphabet’s bottom line, even if it means tricking users for cheap clicks.

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Tinder will give you a verified blue check mark if you pass its catfishing test

Tinder is launching new safety features today, including a photo verification system that’ll place a blue check mark on daters’ profiles, a partnership with the safety app Noonlight to give daters an easy way to call emergency services, and a feature that flags potentially offensive messages.

The photo verification system requires daters to take a selfie in real time that matches a pose shown by a model in a sample image. Those photos are then sent to Tinder’s community team, which verifies that each user matches both the given pose and their chosen profile photos. If everything lines up, they’ll receive a blue check mark, which is meant to give their potential matches peace of mind that they won’t be catfished.

For now, humans will be checking the photos and verifying that people are who they say they are, but the goal is to eventually offload that task to software. It’s unclear when that’ll happen, if ever. Tinder has millions of users around the world, so it’s rolling this feature out slowly for now and in smaller areas, like Taiwan and Ireland. Bumble introduced a similar system for its users in 2016.

It’s unclear how well this system will keep people from being surprised at who shows up to their date, even with human verifiers. People cut and grow their hair, gain and lose weight, and age, meaning the profile photos used to verify themselves will eventually be outdated. Tinder hasn’t said how long a verification badge is good for and if it’ll ever expire. It also hasn’t said whether people will have to redo the process every time they want to update their pictures. Right now, daters sometimes note in their profiles whether they’ve updated their look, like if they’ve grown a mustache or dyed their hair, so maybe that’ll remain the best option for staying verified while also accurately setting matches’ expectations.

Apart from the selfie verification process, the company also says it’s slowly rolling out a feature in “select markets” that detects potentially offensive messages and asks daters whether a message “bothered” them. If it did, they can report the person. The company says this feature will eventually lead to another called “undo” that’ll give people the option to unsend a potentially offensive message. The feature sounds similar to one launched by Instagram in 2017 that detects offensive comments, although in that case, Instagram gives users the power to automatically hide the comments.


Tinder is also announcing a partnership with safety app Noonlight to give US-based users free access to the app, as well as a new “safety center” where people can find resources and tools about dating online. Noonlight syncs with various apps and devices, including Tinder, to provide on-call emergency service assistance.

Daters who sync their Tinder account with Noonlight can choose to display a badge on their profile saying they did so, which is meant to function as a kind of warning that they’re protected. People can tell Tinder and Noonlight when they’re going on a date and with whom, and if there’s an emergency during the date, they can take out the Noonlight app and hold down a button to summon emergency services. Noonlight will ask for a PIN to cancel that request at first. It’ll also text and then call. If no action is taken, emergency services will be called. Uber built a similar emergency calling feature into its app in 2018, as well as a safety center.

Generally, it seems like Tinder has picked up on other apps’ efforts to keep users safe and is doing so in turn. It’s playing a bit of catch up. Still, the offensive comment feature and emergency calling could have wide-reaching effects that might not only change the culture of chatting on the app for the better, but also give daters more peace of mind that they have a way out of a dangerous situation if necessary.

Image: Tinder

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Cricut EasyPress 2 Review; An Impressive Heat Press

After receiving the Cricut EasyPress 2, I knew I had to write a review immediately because I was so excited! A huge part of crafting can involve sewing, creating motifs, transfers, there are so many ways you can use one of these tools. It truly is impressive. I’m used to using a small broken ironing board and my own ‘craft room’ iron. That’s been replaced and I’m thrilled.

Now Cricut are upping the game with something called Infusible Ink; to take those Vinyl transfer ideas to the next level! Making the project was so easy and I can’t wait to share the tutorial with you.

For my take on this incredibly popular tool, keep reading.


Cricut EasyPress 2 Review; An Impressive Heat Press


The Cricut Maker Machine and EasyPress 2 being stored in the Dreambox from the Original Scrapbox Company
This is everything you receive in the Cricut Maker Champagne Essentials bundle, read the Cricut Maker Machine review here.

My Easypress 2

Recently I shared my Cricut Maker machine review and told you about a large bundle I received from Cricut in exchange for an honest review. Now, it’s time for the Easypress 2! 

I’ve truly been considering one of these for a long time as both my dad and husband would LOVE to make their own custom t-shirts. My dad, as part of a sporting club he is with, and my husband because he wants to try out his hilarious jokes on some shirts. I received the 6”x7” Easypress 2, the mat, vinyl and infusible ink. 


Current Cricut Offers:


The EasyPress 2 has pride of place in the top shelf of my Dreambox Craft storage unit.
The EasyPress 2 has pride of place in the top shelf of my Dreambox Craft storage unit. Watch the Dreambox review here & get a coupon code to save $100 off your purchase!

All About The EasyPress 2 


Why I Said YES To An Easypress 2

Pressing using a traditional iron is a nightmare. Say for example, you wish to use T-Shirt transfer material to add a design to a tote. A traditional iron heats up intensely in different areas and is completely uneven. Having access to an Easypress 2 means I have access to an evenly heated plate that won’t potentially destroy my projects. 


What Is The EasyPress2 All About?


What Makes The EasyPress 2 different from a Heat Press or an Iron? 

The EasyPress 2, heat presses and irons all do the same thing just slightly differently. Each tool has a plate that heats up to 400°F (mine is in Celcius), but there are a few notable differences. 

EasyPress2 Heat Distribution vs Iron Heat distribution
Heat distribution image courtesy of Cricut


How Irons Work For Transfers: 

I’ve always used irons for pressing until now. They’re great for pressing fabric thanks to the steam option but I would also get creases out using water in a spray bottle. The reason that irons aren’t great for iron-on vinyl and transfers is that heat doesn’t distribute evenly across the plate. If a design needs to be pressed with a plate at a specific temperature, there may be one part of the iron that hasn’t reached that temperature and either doesn’t transfer or ruins the piece.


The Cricut EasyPress2 Machines + Projecs
Project images courtesy of Cricut

How Do I Know Which Size To Get?

I have only got the 6″ by 7″ and I have just purchased the 1.92” x 3.25” machine for the mixed media possibilities. Pick the size that makes sense for you. Do you create mostly large projects? Maybe you need the largest press. For small things like coin purses or applique, the smallest is great! 


Cricut Easypress2 Sizes available

The Sizes Available: 

Cricut EasyPress 2 size:

  • Make sure to choose the EasyPress 2 size for the crafts that you make. 

    • If a heat plate that is too big it will be very awkward to move on small projects and can run the risk of uneven pressing over seams. 
  • Will you travel with your Cricut EasyPress 2?

    • If yes, the machine I got; 6”x7” or the EasyPress Mini might be even better. I’m genuinely considering buying one of these for my dad so he can add vinyl decals to guitars he likes to build. Not only are they a good size, but they are also lightweight and you can get a carry bag to make it even easier!


EasyPress 2 6"x7" Cricut Crafts

The EasyPress 2 6″x7″ Can Make: 

  • Baby clothes
  • Napkins
  • Mittens/Gloves
  • Scarves
  • Storage containers


EasyPress 2 9"x9" Cricut Crafts

EasyPress 2 9″x9″ Can Make: 

  • Smaller T-shirts
  • Bags
  • Sweatshirts
  • Pillows
  • Aprons
  • Towels
  • Table runners
  • Costumes


EasyPress 2 12"x10" Cricut Crafts

EasyPress 2 12″x10″ can make: 

  • Larger T-shirts
  • Sweatshirts
  • Sleeves
  • Pants
  • Banners
  • Blankets
  • Curtains
  • Adult clothing


Cricut Easypress2 Heat Settings quick reference guide available to download from Cricut

Finding the correct heat settings is easy

Bookmark the Cricut EasyPress Interactive Quick Reference Guide. Choose what material you will be using and you get the information you need! 

It’s possible to download as a pdf and print out to put in a binder for quick reference if you don’t use a tablet or your computer can be slow. Once you use the EasyPress, you’ll start to remember your most-used settings. Usually, I do the same types of projects over and over (infusible ink, vinyl, print and cut vinyl) and I’ve set up my workspace so it’s always ready to go. 


Cricut EasyPress2, Cricut Maker machine and make up bag tutorial

Pros And Cons


  • Sets up just like an iron except there’s an ‘On’ button
    Surprisingly easy to use after watching this video on the official Cricut Youtube channel
  • Heats up quickly
  • Temperature and timing settings were easily located
  • Beeps when the timer is finished
  • It’s easy to navigate the controls on the machine
  • The base keeps surfaces protected
  • Lightweight enough for a lady with a joint disorder to use 
  • Impressive results 
  • Very convenient to use compared to a heat press (which I used when I was in college) 


Cricut HeatPress and Infusible Ink


  • It took several tries to press on to a pencil case because of the zipper so having the smaller press would have been very useful but that was user error.

Having the Easypress 2 makes it SO much easier to attach applique, using bondaweb for seams and the craft project potential is immense. It’s wonderful!


Cricut EasyPress 2 Review; An Impressive Heat Press

Final Verdict In The Easypress 2 

I’ve walked you through the benefits of the Easypress, the pros and con. I’m sure you can guess that I highly recommend using this press. I was SO impressed with the results that I immediately ordered the small machine and pastel-coloured holographic material. 


Cricut EasyPress 2 Review; An Impressive Heat Press


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Microsoft’s software plan for the Duo Android phone is surprisingly realistic

Welcome back to Processor, a mostly daily newsletter mostly about computers, by which I mostly mean the consumer electronics industry at large. I’m Dieter and if you already know all of the above, thanks for sticking around. If you’re new, welcome!

I’m going to leave the analysis of the truly bonkers story of Jeff Bezos’ phone hack to Casey Newton’s newsletter, The Interface. Go subscribe now. He’s drafting it as I write these words and it contains Very Practical Advice like “Never open a WhatsApp message from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.”

For me and my personal obsession with the various ways companies are trying to reinvent the computer and computer interfaces, the most exciting story of the day was Microsoft releasing a bunch of software tools for its upcoming dual-screen Android phone, the Duo. It includes the necessary bits to build Android apps that are aware of the hinge and its various positions and even some proposed web standards so web pages can do the same.

I promise the previous very nerdy paragraph has implications that matter to more than just Android developers.

I am really into Microsoft’s developer tools for a lot of reasons — especially the various proposals for making the web work better on dual-screen devices, which in theory could help everybody. But the most important thing is the overall context: Microsoft has the horse and cart in the right order. It’s trying to get the software right before it releases the hardware.

There have been two big problems with foldable devices thus far: 1. the screens are too fragile and 2. Android is not great on tablets and so the windowing systems have been kind of bad. (And, well, a third big problem is that they have been super expensive.)

I have no idea when the fragility thing will be fixed, but I like that Microsoft isn’t bothering with a flexible display. It compromised on whiz-bang hardware to make something more durable and, in many ways, elegant. But the trade-off is that there’s a big ol’ seam between the Duo’s two screens. That’s the cart.

The horse, then, is how the software is designed to deal with that trade-off. (This is a bad metaphor because I don’t know what goes in the cart but we’re in too deep to turn back now.) The details of Microsoft’s answer to “how does Android work on a dual-screen device” all seem really smart.

Windows Central’s Zac Bowden installed the emulator and made a little video showing how windows move around and it’s refreshingly simple. Apps open on a single screen, you go into the multitasking view and drag them to move them across to the other screen, or you move them over the seam for some kind of split-screen.

There are different ways to split-screen: sometimes there’s a list on one side and details on the other, sometimes there’s two pages like on a book, and sometimes the canvas covers the whole thing and you just have to deal with the seam.

Image: Microsoft

All that is fine, but it’s not the smart part. Just because Microsoft appears to have created an elegant SDK doesn’t mean that anybody will actually use it. We’ve seen Microsoft try and fail to woo mobile developers before. RIP Windows Phone, we still miss ya.

But for the Duo, it’s even worse than that. We’ve watched Google struggle to get Android developers to make better big-screen layouts for their apps for years to disappointing results. Android tablets have gone the way of the dodo and Android apps on Chrome OS are best used in small doses.

So the way Microsoft appears to have dealt with that reality is one reason that I’m actually more hopeful today than I was yesterday about the Duo’s chances. That’s because even if literally nobody customizes their Android apps for the Duo, it should still work pretty well. Instead of pinning the Duo’s chances on the nearly impossible task of getting Android developers to invest resources in a completely new and untested phone, Microsoft is working with where the ecosystem is today.

The key reason is that Microsoft explicitly says that apps will only open on one screen by default and in fact, apps will not be allowed to open up on both screens — that can only happen if a user drags a window into that state.

Your app by default will occupy a single screen, but users can span the app to cover both screens when the device is in a double-portrait or double-landscape layout. You can programmatically enable full-screen mode for your app at any time, but spanning is limited to user activity for now.

It has the very practical benefit of working better with existing Android apps by default. Instead of being annoyed that many apps are kind of junky and poorly-designed in a tablet screen context, the entry experience will just be two normal Android apps, side by side. Android apps generally look alright on portrait, phone-style screens — and that’s the way they’ll launch on the Duo.

So even in the worst case scenario where only Microsoft’s own apps are aware of the hinge, the Duo will still work. It’s like the theory of progressive enhancement (and graceful degradation) in web design, but applied to dual-screen Android apps. It’s smart because, frankly, the worst-case scenario also happens to be the most likely scenario at launch.

Only allowing users to choose when to make apps span two screens adds a level of predictability that will be important for users to built up their intuitions for how things work on the dual-screen device. (Side note: I have a whole rant about how there’s no such thing as “intuitive” design in software, it’s all learned.)

Assuming it all works, users won’t be forced to learn a whole series of gestures and layouts and grids and whatever. Instead, they’ll just be able to move stuff around and let the software do the right thing.

It is, pardon the alliteration, programmatically pragmatic.

None of this guarantees that the Duo will be any good or that my relative optimism will be rewarded. I’m just glad that Microsoft isn’t setting the whole situation up for immediate failure from the jump. There’s simply very little chance that a ton of Android apps will be customized for the Duo’s dual screens for launch, but that hopefully won’t matter.

Speaking of things that aren’t guaranteed: Windows 10X. The developer tools for that OS are still forthcoming and the questions about how it will operate are much more numerous than for the Duo. Given how many PC manufacturers are waiting for that OS for their foldables, the stakes for Windows 10X are much higher.

As Tom Warren noted yesterday, we should expect to see more at Microsoft’s Build developers’ conference in May. If there were ever a time for Microsoft to be a little less hand-wavy about 10X, that will be it.

More from The Verge

Microsoft to force Chrome default search to Bing using Office 365 installer

In case you were feeling really good about the new Microsoft working across platforms, here is a reminder that it still sometimes does crappy things.

Senator asks Jeff Bezos for more information on Saudi-linked hack

Reading the bullet points in Wyden’s letter really drives home how every successively revealed detail in this story is more eye-popping and mysterious than the last.

Alleged Xbox Series X photos show off the port selection

No HDMI-in, yet another sign that Microsoft isn’t trying to make the Xbox the central hub of your living room. It’s the right call. This feels vaguely related to the idea of a hub but I’ll leave it to you to connect the dots: the more I look at this big box the more it feels like one of those old HP MediaSmart home servers.

Motorola’s foldable Razr will launch on February 6th after delay

It’s still $1499 and it’s coming out just days before Samsung is expected to announce its own flip phone. But when people think flip phone, they think Razr, so Motorola still has a good chance even though it’s up against a bigger company. A real question in my mind is how big this launch will actually be. Will Verizon, because it has an exclusive, try to make this a huge deal with tons of marketing?

During the announcement, Motorola acted supremely confident in the Razr’s reliability and battery life. How much oomph gets put into the retail launch will say a lot about how real that confidence was.

Google publishes largest ever high-resolution map of brain connectivity

Google designed an envelope you can use to hide your phone from yourself

Amazon Music passes 55 million customers as it chips away at Spotify and Apple Music

Great interview by Loren Grush: NASA administrator on the year ahead: ‘A lot of things have to go right’

Rapid global response to the new coronavirus shows progress made since SARS

Nicole Wetsman:

By comparison, the SARS virus emerged in November 2002, but it took until April 2003 for scientists to get a full genetic sequence. It took several months of disease spreading in Western Africa in 2013 before authorities determined it was caused by Ebola. It took around a year to identify Zika as the cause of illnesses in Brazil in 2014 and 2015.

How an experimental story about gender and warfare shook the sci-fi community

Incredible story about how we perceive each other online, how platforms like Google affect that, how the platforms themselves can be affected by our actions, identity online and off… I could go on. Even if you aren’t interested in the specific things I just mentioned, I bet that the way this piece tells the story of their collisions and interactions will suck you in.

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PSA: Never open a WhatsApp message from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia

Bay Area! I’ll be talking with Anna Wiener about Uncanny Valley, her brilliant new memoir of a life in tech, on February 4th at Manny’s in San Francisco. It’s our second-ever Interface Live event, and it would mean the world to me if you came to say hello and talk tech and democracy with us. Get your tickets here!

Some days, when you write a column about the latest interactions between big tech platforms and the government, you try to make a meticulous and layered argument based on a series of nuanced observations about the world. Other days, you just write down a bunch of facts and say — wait, what?!

The past 24 hours have been a wait, what?! sort of day.

It has been just under a year since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shocked the world with a Medium post disclosing that he had been the subject of an extortion attempt, hired the best person in the world to investigate it, and promised to get to the bottom of it. The story’s elements included an extramarital affair, family betrayal, stolen nudes, and the crusading reporting of the Washington Post, which Bezos owns. Within days, a hefty amount of circumstantial evidence hinted that the government of Saudi Arabia — and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, were likely involved in the scheme.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the Guardian published a bombshell: a forensic examination conducted at Bezos’ request by the FTI Consulting found that his phone had most likely been hacked in 2018 after he received a WhatsApp message from a personal phone number belonging to MBS himself. Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports:

The encrypted message from the number used by Mohammed bin Salman is believed to have included a malicious file that infiltrated the phone of the world’s richest man, according to the results of a digital forensic analysis.

This analysis found it “highly probable” that the intrusion into the phone was triggered by an infected video file sent from the account of the Saudi heir to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.

The report was subsequently confirmed by the Financial Times and New York Times, and , and Vice published the full report from FTI. Among other things, the report suggests that MBS was attempting to intimidate Bezos, months before a Post columnist — MBS critic Jamal Khashoggi — was brutally murdered on the crown prince’s orders, according to the CIA.

The United Nations has called for further investigation related to the Khashoggi murder, in which MBS continues to deny his involvement. Here’s Jared Malsin, Dustin Volz and Justin Scheck in the Wall Street Journal.

“The circumstances and timing of the hacking and surveillance of Bezos also strengthen support for further investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities of the allegations that the Crown Prince ordered, incited, or, at a minimum, was aware of planning for but failed to stop the mission that fatally targeted Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul,” the officials said in a statement based on their review of the forensic analysis.


“At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post,” Ms. Callamard and Mr. Kaye said.

Some threads.

Is the case against MBS being behind the hack open and shut? On one hand, there’s no smoking gun. On the other, no one has proposed a credible-sounding alternate culprit. The gist is that after MBS’ WhatsApp account sent Bezos a video file, Bezos’ phone went crazy and started transmitting an enormous amount of data:

That file shows an image of the Saudi Arabian flag and Swedish flags and arrived with an encrypted downloader. Because the downloader was encrypted this delayed or further prevented “study of the code delivered along with the video.”

Investigators determined the video or downloader were suspicious only because Bezos’ phone subsequently began transmitting large amounts of data. “[W]ithin hours of the encrypted downloader being received, a massive and unauthorized exfiltration of data from Bezos’ phone began, continuing and escalating for months thereafter,” the report states.

Still, information security types aren’t satisfied with the FTI report, arguing that someone with access to the phone and the malicious file should be able to find direct evidence that it was the culprit. See Alex Stamos on this point.

What malware was used in the attack? What vulnerabilities were exploited? Could my phone be hacked in the same way? We don’t know, we don’t know, and we don’t know, respectively.

OK, but who made the malware used in the attack? Probably one of those shadowy hacker-for-hire outfits. The FTI report “suggested that the Tel Aviv-based NSO Group and Milan-based Hacking Team had the capabilities for such an attack,” Sheera Frenkel reports in a Times piece about the hack. NSO Group denied it; Hacking Team didn’t respond.

Is this the craziest series of events ever to befall the CEO of a major tech platform? Yes and it’s not even close.

What was the best tweet about all this? Oh, probably Jake Tapper’s.

Second place goes to Jeff Bezos.

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia has recently sent me a message on WhatsApp. Should I open it? Absolutely not. And probably stay out of his embassies, too.

The Ratio

Today in news that could affect public perception of the big tech platforms.

Trending down: Apple dropped plans to let iPhone users fully encrypt backups of their devices in iCloud after the FBI complained that the move would harm investigations. The tech giant’s reversal, which happened about two years ago, shows how much Apple has been willing to help US law enforcement despite casting itself as a defender of customer information.


Facebook and Twitter have evidence that could save people from prison, but they’re reluctant to give it up. They argue that the Stored Communications Act forbids them from divulging the content of communications unless a specific exemption applies. Megan Cassidy from the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Facebook and Twitter provide online portals specifically for law enforcement to request information during emergencies and investigations. Government officials armed with search warrants routinely collect private user messages to help win convictions.

Defendants and their attorneys have no such recourse. In addition to the legal firewalls, Facebook also requires defense counsels to deliver subpoenas in person to their Menlo Park headquarters or to an authorized agent.

Critics are worried that Facebook’s fact-checking partners aren’t getting the resources they need to adequately address misinformation. The six partners tasked with evaluating content in the US are all growing their staff, but so far it hasn’t been enough to quell fears. (Chris Mills Rodrigo / The Hill)

Facebook has allowed a major pro-Trump Super PAC, the Committee to Defend the President, to run ads with lies. Some of the ads claim former Vice President Joe Biden is “a criminal who used his power as Vice President to make him and his son RICH.” Who’s excited for 11 more months of this? (Popular Information)

Facebook has made serious improvements to election security ahead of the caucuses next month, the company argues in a new op-ed in the Des Moines Register. The changes include opening rapid-response centers to monitor suspicious activity on the platform, and growing the security teams.

Voters in the Seattle area will be able to vote by smartphone in an upcoming election. It’s a historic moment for American democracy. But security experts warn that while mobile voting could increase turnout, it could also make the system much more vulnerable to a cyberattack. Yikes! (Miles Parks / NPR)

Amazon and Facebook each spent roughly $17 million on lobbying efforts in 2019. The new federal disclosures tell a story of a sector tapping its deep pockets to beat back regulatory threats and boost its bottom line. (Tony Romm / The Washington Post)

Presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg said breaking up tech companies “is not an answer.” He added that he doesn’t think Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) “know what they’re talking about” when it comes to breaking up big tech companies. He also did not offer “the answer.” (Makena Kelly / The Verge)

While Apple may not provide official support to law enforcement agencies to access iPhones, police departments across the US already have the ability to crack mobile devices. They often use third-party companies to unlock and access information on encrypted mobile devices (including iPhones) at a relatively low cost. (Michael Hayes / OneZero)

There’s been very little consistency in how companies are complying with California’s new privacy law. Some have incorrect information on their websites about how the law affects them and consumers. Others lack a clear process to respond to customers who request their data. (Greg Bensinger / The Washington Post)

Joshua Collins, a 26-year-old socialist trucker running for Congress in Washington State, is leveraging TikTok in a new kind of political campaign. (Makena Kelly / The Verge)

San Francisco Pride members voted to ban Google and YouTube from their parade. They say the company isn’t doing enough to stop hate speech on its platforms. (Shirin Ghaffary / Recode)

City officials in Suzhou, a city of six million people in eastern China, sparked outrage online when they published surveillance photos of residents wearing pajamas in public. The people in the photos were identified with facial recognition software, and officials called their behavior “uncivilized.” (Amy Qin / The New York Times)

Britain unveiled sweeping new online protections for children’s privacy. The rules will require platforms like YouTube and Instagram to turn on the highest possible privacy settings by default for minors, and turn off by default data-mining practices like targeted advertising and location tracking for children in the country. (Natasha Singer / The New York Times)


ByteDance is seeking a new CEO for TikTok. The massively popular video app has come under fire from American politicians who worry that it might present a national security threat. Bloomberg’s Kurt Wagner and Sarah Frier have the story:

The company has interviewed candidates in recent months for the CEO role, which would be based in the U.S., according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the search is private. In one potential scenario, the new CEO would oversee TikTok’s non-technical functions, including advertising and operations, while current TikTok chief Alex Zhu would continue to manage the majority of product and engineering out of China, one person said. The hiring process is ongoing and the envisioned role could still change depending on who is selected, the people added.

Zhu, who co-founded a predecessor to TikTok called, took over the business last year, though ByteDance also has a Chinese version of TikTok called Douyin, which is run by a different management team. The eventual corporate structure involving Zhu and the new CEO is still unclear, the people said, and Bytedance has hired executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to help lead the process.

Researchers at Stanford have developed a new metric to track the time people spend on their devices. They say it’s more accurate than “screen time,” which treats all time spent online as more or less equal. (Will Oremus / OneZero)

Google launched three new experimental apps to help people use their phones less as part of a “digital wellbeing” initiative. One of the apps invites people seal their devices in a phone-sized paper envelope, similar to the pouches some artists require fans to put their phones into at concerts. No thanks! (Jay Peters / The Verge)

Small businesses are posting about the difficulties of competing with Big Tech, and the messages are going viral on social media. Sometimes, that virality has kept the businesses afloat. Other times, it’s made things harder. (Input)

Some of the biggest companies in the world are funding climate misinformation by advertising on YouTube, according to a study from activist group Avaaz. More than 100 brands were found to be running ads on videos that were promoting misleading information about climate change. (Alex Hern / The Guardian)

British telecom company Vodafone just quit the Facebook-founded Libra Association, the latest company to do so after PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, Mercado Pago, eBay, and Stripe left last year. I can’t remember the last time Libra got any good news. (Nikhilesh De / Coindesk)

Bonus industry content: The former director of newsletters at The New Yorker and BuzzFeed interviewed Casey about the making of this newsletter.

And finally…

The president’s impeachment trial is underway in the Senate, and rules prohibit senators from bringing electronic devices onto the floor. And yet seven senators have been spotted wearing their Apple Watches:

Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, John Thune of South Dakota, Jerry Moran of Kansas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, John Cornyn of Texas and Tim Scott of South Carolina all are wearing them on the floor. Also spotted with the smartwatch: an aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

So, too, is Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner owns an Apple Watch, but it could not be confirmed if he had it on the floor.

It should be pretty easy to tell. Just wait to see if he stands up 10 minutes before every hour.

Talk to us

Send us tips, comments, questions, and your unopened messages from the Saudi prince: and

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Here’s a first look at Android on Microsoft’s dual-screen Surface Duo

Microsoft unveiled its Surface Duo device at the company’s hardware event back in October. The dual-screen device includes two 5.6-inch displays (1350 x 1800) that fold out into an 8.3-inch overall screen. While we saw a lot about the hardware back in October, Microsoft didn’t let anyone play around with the Android software and apps that power the Surface Duo. That’s all changing this week, thanks to Microsoft publishing its Android emulator for developers.

Zac Bowden managed to play around with the emulator and navigation gestures, and Jonas Daehnert — known as PhoneDesigner — has overlaid that footage onto the Surface Duo itself to give us a much better idea of how these dual screens will work in practice.

In the nearly two minute video you can see how apps and Android’s built-in settings will open on a single display fullscreen. Microsoft is making it a user choice to span the apps across both displays, and advising developers to start testing their apps and optimizing them.

While apps and settings menus open fullscreen, you can also see how Microsoft is reflowing how pinned apps on the Android home screen span across the two displays. Once an app is launched, the apps immediately flow onto the opposite display so you’ve always got access to open more. The Android task manager also only appears on one display, allowing Surface Duo users to drag and drop apps onto the second one.

Now that developers can start building Android apps that are optimized for both displays, it will be interested to see just how many really take advantage of having an extra screen. Android tablet apps have been notoriously bad in the past, but Microsoft’s approach means they’ll mostly just run on a single display fullscreen, so you can use them side-by-side. That should, by default, make the experience pretty manageable out of the box, but there are more complicated apps that you’d want to span across both displays that will require some work to avoid the seam in the middle.

Developers can download the new Android emulator from Microsoft and start getting apps ready. It’s optimized for the Surface Duo, and a similar emulator will be available for Windows 10X next month to get Windows developers ready for the bigger Surface Neo hardware. We’re also expecting Microsoft to detail more of its dual-screen plans during a developer webcast next month, and at the company’s Build conference in May.

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Tonal review: the ‘Peloton for weight training’ that lives on your wall

The first reaction people have when they see the Tonal, a connected strength training machine, on my wall is often one of two things: 1) is that the Mirror (a different internet-based piece of fitness equipment)? 2) can I try it?

Both are valid reactions, especially when you consider how much money the industry has poured into marketing connected fitness. There are ads for the Mirror all over train stations and cars, Echelon bikes are in nearly every Costco, and, well, you must have seen or at least heard of that Peloton holiday commercial. Five years after the first Peloton product launched, the concept of an at-home workout regimen no longer requires retro workout videos of the past. Even if you’re not interested in buying one, you’re probably at least curious what all the fuss is about.

Tonal is unique in this field for its focus on weight training instead of cardio. Think of the machine like a slimmer, low-profile Bowflex that mounts flush against the wall rather than taking up an entire corner of your room. With arms that can be adjusted and folded away, it’s also a bit less likely to end up as an expensive coat rack.

At $2,995 plus a monthly subscription cost, Tonal’s pitch is that it will replace a personal trainer at the gym by putting an on-demand one inside your home. I’ve been working out with Tonal for a few months, and while it’s got a lot of potential, there are also a lot of quirks and flaws.

The Tonal is a wall-mounted machine that has two adjustable arms; you can move them up and down and angle them for various push or pull exercises. The grips can also be swapped out for either two handles, a bar, or a rope. Some of these handles include an on / off button that allows you to get into position before starting the weight. The starter set also comes with a bench and a floor mat.

Inside the Tonal, electromagnets create resistance so that you can push and pull up to a maximum of 200 pounds combined, or 100 pounds per arm. (That might not be enough for some people, but it should suit most beginner to intermediate levels. If you want more resistance, you’ll have to wear your own wrist weights.) The center features a touchscreen in the middle that includes a roster of classes to suit your goals, whether it’s to bulk up in muscle or get toned and lean.

When you start up Tonal, you’ll need to perform a strength test to measure just how much weight you can handle. Based on the speed and force you’re able to lift, Tonal will auto-adjust the resistance and recommend weights for each program. You can also select your goals and difficulty levels for suggestions on the best classes to take.

Tonal currently offers a handful of coaches with different personalities, but most of their classes are structured the same way: the instructors start with some small talk then lead you through two to three sets of three to four exercises, which includes a warm-up and cool down. Most workouts last anywhere between 25 and 45 minutes, and you can also select a freestyle mode to perform specific exercises if you want to craft your own sets. Currently, the machine supports hundreds of different movements targeting all areas of the body, from arms and abs to legs and shoulders.

As the instructors talk you through the exercises, a video appears to show you how to adjust the machine’s arms to prepare for what you’re about to do. It’s a little clunky to get accustomed to at first, but I got used to it after a few workouts. As you push or pull, Tonal prepares the weight and counts your reps for you, beeping at the end for your last three reps so you know it’s almost over. If necessary, you can also pause or skip a section.

This is a similar setup to many other exercise apps, but what’s interesting about the Tonal are advanced modes like Eccentric, which automatically adds a few pounds to your last couple of reps to further challenge you. I was often surprised by how much more I could lift even though it felt like I had already maxed out. There’s also Spotter mode, which is supposed to sense when you’re struggling to complete a rep and automatically decrease the weight, though I never found this to turn on unless I am shaking and unwieldy. With any kind of exercise, there’s always a risk that you can seriously injure yourself, so I wouldn’t rely on Spotter mode to save you over your intuition.

Each push and pull from the Tonal arms were smooth and quiet. There’s a small crank-like hum behind the screen, but you won’t hear much of this anyway, as Tonal offers various music radio stations you can listen to while you work out. Unlike the Peloton, Tonal music doesn’t synchronize with each move so it’s not running into similar issues Peloton is with copyrights. However, the music selections are slimmer as you can only select by genre instead of artists / albums, and you can’t personalize your own playlist.

The sleek hardware is cool and all, but the most important thing about connected fitness is whether it’s actually fun to use. After all, home workouts are only effective if it’s entertaining enough for you to do them regularly.

That’s where I found Tonal to be a bit underwhelming. Currently, Tonal doesn’t offer live classes, and it comes with pre-taped programs that you use to work out three to four times a week and repeat over the course of the month. There’s something mildly impersonal about this; whereas Peloton shines in the instructors bringing the boutique workout experience into your home by engaging personally with students, talking about their day, cracking jokes, or even pushing themselves to the point where they’re as out of breath as you are, the Tonal classes feel a bit robotic and rehearsed to the point where some of the script come across as cringeworthy. In one class, a coach flexes his incredibly sculpted biceps to show them off, then smirks at the camera. I found this to be corny, but maybe someone out there in inspired by that.

Since classes are just Tonal coaches narrating what you’re supposed to do next, followed by an instructional video of what you should be doing, it feels akin to watching a YouTube tutorial on how to perform certain weightlifting tasks. The thing about having a personal trainer (aside from someone to yell at you to work out) is someone to watch your form, and that’s just something Tonal can’t quite do. Tonal says it’s programmed the videos to be as detailed as possible, and the coaches do blurt out reminders to check your forms periodically, but without being able to see yourself, it’s hard to tell whether you’re doing a new exercise correctly for the first time.

Once the week is over and you go back to day one of the program, the content also starts to feel stale. Yes, weight training works by repetition and consistency, but hearing a coach make the same cheesy joke gets old after the second time, never mind the fourth. After two weeks of a program, I often found myself starting a different one or ignoring the machine for a few days before being ready to go back to doing the same things over again.

It’s also super easy to cheat the machine. Since Tonal is only monitoring whether a push or pull is being made, you don’t necessarily have to do the exact exercise you’re being told to do. When I was too tired to do a proper bicep curl, I found that performing weighted squat or even just walking the pulley forward still tricked the machine into counting the rep. Whenever I was too lazy to properly warm up or cool down, I skipped during those segments by either using the fast-forward button or just walking away for a drink of water.

You shouldn’t do that, obviously. Part of any physical transformation is your level of dedication, and these programs are designed to only work if you’re committed to following through the way they’re meant to be done.

As it stands, using the Tonal feels like paying to be a beta tester. That’s both good and bad: because Tonal is clearly young, growing, and learning, it’s extremely receptive to current user feedback. Employees are often personally engaging with users on dedicated Facebook groups and via emails; on one occasion where I skipped through a workout and rated it 3 out of 5 stars, someone from the team reached out to note what had happened and asked how the program could be improved. Additionally, the employee suggested other classes I might want to try that might better suit what I was looking for based on my specific reason for rating the class poorly.

The Tonal software is also constantly getting updates. In the six months that I’ve had the machine, Tonal introduced partner mode (for switching between you and a friend while working out), custom workouts, high-intensity mode, progress tracking on the mobile app, and yoga was added to the class offerings. Most of these features were things users directly requested in Facebook groups, and the team seemed to respond swiftly and directly. The whole app even updated with a new font, a cleaner interface, and classes now take place in a mood-lit set. (This all happened so quickly that it made our review photos outdated shortly after the shoot.)

But the con is obviously that the machine costs thousands of dollars for something that’s clearly still relatively early in its stages of development. It’s clear that Tonal wants to be the next Peloton, but it still doesn’t quite have that stickiness Peloton has with getting users —especially ones that are new to strength training — addicted and committed to classes. Peloton forces you to stay through class by not offering a pause button and clipping you into the machine so that getting on and off the bike is an effort in itself. That’s just not something Tonal can easily re-create with any simple formula.

Tonal’s primary focus is strength training, and while it does offer some bodyweight cardio classes, it might not be as challenging as cardio machines like bikes, treadmills, or rowers. Lots of Peloton owners have ended up buying the Tonal to complement their cardio regimen (Tonal even has a Peloton program designed to use in conjunction with Peloton classes), which could mean a lot of upfront costs for those who want a full connected home gym experience. That said, Tonal does offer a financing plan that makes it roughly $199 per month (including the subscription), which compares much more favorably to a gym membership and personal trainer than Tonal’s full hardware cost. (Of course, there’s always the danger of relying on software updates to run the thing, which is now an all-too-common risk with the Internet of Things.)

If you are the kind of person who is already mentally prepared to commit to weight training, the Tonal is an excellently designed machine that’s much sleeker than your traditional home gym equipment. It’s space-efficient and great for multiple people in the house to use since each profile saves their personalized weights for the next time they work out. Plus, you can’t deny the perks of grunting and sweating in your own private space instead of a public gym.

But is the Tonal going to get you the body you’ve always wanted? Not exactly. But really, no machine can promise that since diet is another huge part of that equation. However you choose to exercise, know that working out doesn’t have to be expensive — getting over the mental hurdle is the hardest part.

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