The Oculus Quest 2 will be the only VR hardware Facebook offers after spring of 2021. This is the headset Facebook is banking on, saying farewell to the tethered, fussy Oculus Rift headsets that launched this wave of virtual reality enthusiasm.
The Quest 2 isn’t the most impressive headset on the market, at least in terms of raw specs, and its improvements on the original Quest are incremental. But here’s the good news: Facebook was able to pull off all these improvements while lowering the price. The Quest 2 starts at $299.99 for the 64 GB model, a full $100 less than the first Quest. The 256 GB model will sell for $399.99, compared to the current Quest’s upgraded model, which comes with 128 GB of storage for $499.99.
The Quest 2 is cheaper and better than its predecessor, with enough tweaks to make it a formidable challenger in the VR space. After using the hardware for almost two weeks, I see why Facebook has gone all-in with this big bet.
A portable with the specs of a high-end, tethered headset
The first big improvement, the one that makes this purchase a no-brainer for anyone who has used and loves the first Quest, is the soft strap that ships with the device. It’s a huge step forward from the semi-firm plastic strap that held the original device on your head. It’s the rarest of VR headset amenities at this price point: comfort.
If you want to upgrade the strap, Facebook sells an Elite strap for $49.99 that more closely resembles what you see in higher-end, tethered headsets, complete with a dial on the back to tighten or loosen the fit. It’s much easier to use, and that’s the strap I tend to keep on my review unit .
You can also buy an Elite strap with a built-in battery pack to give you more playtime (along with a carrying case to keep your hardware safe) for $129.99. All the Quest 2 straps attach through a new clasp system that snaps on with a little pressure, and snaps off with a twisting motion. The straps I was sent for the review never disconnected, even during energetic play.
The Quest 2 is generally smaller and lighter than the original model, weighing in at 17.74 ounces with the nylon strap, compared to the previous unit’s 20.14 ounces. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s noticeable when going between the two headsets. Every ounce counts when you’re strapping something to your face. The controllers are actually a little larger than the originals — now in a crisp white color, like the headset itself — but they remain as comfortable as ever, even for my 11-year-old son. I doubt anyone needs to worry about these new controllers being too big for their hands.
Since a lack of basic comfort was often my biggest complaint about the original Quest, this change would almost be enough on its own to make the Quest 2 a must-buy. But I appreciate the visual upgrades, too.
Facebook has increased the resolution to 1832×1920 per eye, up from the original’s 1440×1600 per-eye resolution. The screens themselves now have a 90 Hz refresh rate, although currently the hardware is only running at 90 frames per second in the system’s menus, with 90 Hz support coming to developers near launch. To take advantage of those specs, the system is now powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 platform, a nice jump up from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 that powered the first generation of Quest headsets. Both Quest 2 models come with 6 GB of RAM, up from the 4 GB found in the original Quest.
In layperson terms: A higher refresh rate can be a gigantic boon for VR, making everything in the virtual world feel a little more solid and “real,” as a higher frame rate makes it much easier to trick your eyes and brain into thinking you’re someplace else. But we won’t know how much this improvement will help until we start seeing games patched to take advantage of the new hardware. Facebook has said it will enable the 90 Hz screen by default later this year, but you can turn it on at launch for use in the home menus and while browsing the internet if you go into the headset’s experimental features.
So for right now the Quest 2’s biggest improvements are the smaller size, more comfortable straps, and lower asking price. That will change once developers begin releasing patches for their games to fully take advantage of the unit’s shiny new screens, which should happen before the headset is released in October. We’ll update this review when more content using the full capabilities of the system is available to try, but the added sharpness in the menus and while browsing is already very enticing. I can’t wait to see what developers are able to do with the extra power.
That being said, however, the Quest 2 is pumping a lot of pixels to those screens very quickly, especially if developers choose to display their games at 90 fps. That’s a lot of strain on the hardware, even with that new chipset. What’s likely is that each team will have to balance between frame rate, resolution, and detail to get the most out of the new hardware while it’s untethered, although the improved screens are pure upside for anyone using the headset by tethering it to their PC.
That’s the other big news of the Quest 2: Oculus Link, the software that allows the stand-alone headset to connect to your PC to work as a tethered headset, is coming out of beta by the end of the year as, hopefully, a much more polished experience. Oculus Link was impressive but a little twitchy when it launched, but Facebook has since upgraded and patched it into something that’s a lot more stable. And it better be, since, again, the Quest 2 will soon be the only VR experience Facebook sells.
There are no longer tethered and stand-alone product lines, or portable and home-based headsets. Just like Nintendo combined the two with the Switch, Facebook is bringing both options together in the Quest 2. You will need a Facebook account to use the hardware, though, a change that will soon be universal with Oculus hardware — and which caused developers and fans to express their distrust of the Facebook platform in droves.
Whether you trust Facebook and its data practices could also influence your decision when shopping for a VR headset.
So what does this mean for VR?
Moving down to a single product for both stand-alone and tethered VR is a big step, but it makes sense when you look at the strength of the Quest 2’s hardware. A separate, tethered headset would have been redundant, unless Facebook wanted to add even more features and increase the price, and the company seems to be going after the mainstream as much as possible these days.
The downside is that apart from the new, much more comfortable strap and the visual fidelity of the menus in the 90 Hz mode, there aren’t many immediately impressive visual showcases for the Quest 2 available during the time I’ve had to test it. Knowing that just about every specification has been improved despite the lower price point is a pretty comforting thought, though.
I look forward to seeing what developers are able to do with the extra power, whether it’s continuing to optimize for fewer frame rate drops, deciding to run games at 90 fps, or just basking in the extra power to upgrade the textures. The content is coming; it just wasn’t quite ready during the review period.
VR has come a long way in only a few years, and now you can buy one of the best headsets on the market — with hardware that works on your PC or as a stand-alone device — for $299.99. That’s a huge leap in features and overall usability, while also offering the best price in VR. It plays all the existing Quest games, and original Quest headsets will be able to play all Quest 2 games, so the already challenging market for VR games won’t be bifurcated again.
Even without seeing games take full advantage of the hardware yet, it seems silly not to buy a Quest 2 if you’ve been waiting to jump into virtual reality. The hardware does everything you need, is incredibly simple to set up and get running, and turns into a tethered headset with a single cable. The screens are clearer and faster, the system that drives the whole thing is significantly more powerful, and it’s much more comfortable to wear.
Facebook has also told Sports Grind Entertainment that it has designed the production line of the Quest 2 so that it can be scaled up rapidly to meet demand, so hopefully the shortages that have plagued the original Quest model during quarantine won’t be as much of an issue moving forward. Heck, many players trying to get their hands on that hardware may even be thankful that the shortages kept them from purchasing a more expensive, less capable system — instead of saving $100 and getting a Quest 2.
Virtual reality is still a niche market, and everyone is looking for the best way to bring it into the mainstream, but Facebook is getting very aggressive when it comes to bang for the buck with this newest offering. There are better VR headsets out there, but they’re also much more expensive and harder to set up — and they can’t be used without a gaming PC powering them.
The Oculus Quest 2, on the other hand, is affordable, doesn’t need any additional hardware to work (although you have the option of using it with your PC), and offers a whole lot of power for the price. I think we can expect this to be a popular item for the rest of the year, and one of the most popular VR headsets in general moving forward.
Oculus Quest will be released Oct. 13. The hardware was reviewed using a retail unit along with the optional Elite Strap, both provided by Facebook. Sports Grind Entertainment has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Sports Grind Entertainment may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Sports Grind Entertainment’s ethics policy here.
The world’s first foldable PC is now available to order from Lenovo
Lenovo has announced a ThinkPad like no ThinkPad you’ve ever seen before: the ThinkPad X1 Fold. Think Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, but a 13-inch OLED laptop screen. It’s available for preorder now, starting at $2,499.
The idea is that you can use the Fold like a large tablet when it’s fully unfolded (or divide the screen into two adjacent displays). You can prop the Fold up horizontally to use it like a full 13-inch notebook, with an optional detachable keyboard and easel stand. You can fold the thing up 90 degrees, turn it vertically, and use it like a miniature laptop (a touchscreen keyboard pops up on the bottom half). You can turn it horizontally and use it like a book, with an optional stylus. Or you can fold the whole thing up, and easily carry it around without it taking up much space in your bag.
We had a chance to test a prototype of the X1 Fold back in January at CES in Las Vegas.
In terms of other specs, the production Fold comes with 11th Gen Intel processors, two USB-C ports and a SIM-card slot, 8GB of RAM, up to 1TB of storage, and a 50Wh battery. It weighs 2.2 pounds and can come with 5G support.
Lenovo also announced the ThinkPad X1 Nano, which is the lightest ThinkPad ever made at 1.99 pounds. This ThinkPad is based on Intel’s new Evo platform, which is meant to certify that laptops deliver long battery life, fast charging, and a quick boot time, among other features. Evo systems also need to include Intel’s 11th Gen Tiger Lake processors, Wi-Fi 6, and Thunderbolt 4.
The Nano has a 13-inch 2K 16:10 display (with touch and non-touch options). Lenovo says that it’s about the same height as a 14-inch 16:9 screen. And it comes with a number of AI security features: it can detect when you’re walking by and wake itself up, for example, and lock itself when you walk away.
Specs-wise, the Nano comes with 11th Gen Intel processors up to an i7, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of storage, a 48Wh battery, four 360-degree microphones, and Intel’s Xe integrated graphics. It supports 5G as well and can run Linux in addition to Windows 10 Pro.
The Nano will be available in Q4 of 2020, starting at $1,399.
Lenovo announced several additions to its ThinkBook line as well. The flagships include the $729 ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 (which is also Evo-verified), the $879 ThinkBook 14s Yoga (the first convertible ThinkBook, which has a built-in pen), and the $549 ThinkBook 15 Gen 2 (which comes with built-in Bluetooth earbuds). The 13s and 15 also have AMD options. They’ll both be available in October; the Yoga is coming in November.
Amazon One uses your palm to approve store purchases
Amazon is putting contactless payments in the palm of your hand. No, seriously. Today, the company has revealed Amazon One, a service that uses your unique palm signature to authenticate purchases and let you into gated locations, such as offices, gyms and stadiums. For now, palm reading is restricted to two Amazon Go stores — the type that doesn’t require you to interact with a cashier or self-service checkout — in Seattle. You’ll need to ‘enroll’ on your first visit by inserting your credit card and following the scanner’s on-screen instructions. Once your card and palm have been paired, you’ll able to enter the Seattle stores simply by holding your hand above the device “for about a second or so,” according to a blog post.
For now, it feels like a pilot. Amazon has big plans for the technology, though. The company says it will “start” in select Amazon Go stores before expanding to “additional Amazon stores,” which could mean bookshops or Whole Foods Market locations, “in the coming months.” It will also offer the service to third-party retailers and other businesses that might find the technology beneficial. I know what you’re thinking: why palms? Well, Amazon believes that it offers more privacy than other biometric methods because you can’t figure out a person’s identity with a palm image alone.
How a fake “Real Oversight Board” is putting pressure on Facebook.
Today let’s talk about Facebook’s Oversight Board, the “real” Oversight Board, and what it means for the 2020 election.
Last week I wrote about how Facebook’s vast size and monarchic corporate structure had contributed to a steady stream of controversies all summer. When every decision on which posts to remove comes down to the judgment of one person, that person will be subject to enormous pressure to take one side or another. Facebook’s proposed solution to this is the Oversight Board, an independent group that will serve as a kind of Supreme Court for content moderation.
When it’s up and running, the board will hear appeals from users who believe their posts have been removed in error, and will either uphold Facebook’s original call or reverse it. Inevitably, the board will take some actions that Facebook itself disagrees with, and from that tension the board will derive its legitimacy.
The board has several limitations, which we’ve covered here before, but the most urgent one at the moment is this: it’s still not operating. The board named its members in May, raising hopes that it would be hearing cases by now. But in July, the board said it would not be operational before the election. That created much frustration among critics who argue that during such a critical election Facebook could use more oversight.
But it seems that we’ll be having some oversight after all. Here’s Olivia Solon at NBC News:
A group of about 25 experts from academia, civil rights, politics and journalism announced Friday that they have formed a group to analyze and critique Facebook’s content moderation decisions, policies and other platform issues in the run-up to the presidential election and beyond.
The group, which calls itself the Real Facebook Oversight Board, plans to hold its first meeting via Facebook Live on Oct. 1. It will be hosted by Recode founder Kara Swisher, a New York Times contributing opinion writer.
My first reaction to the Real Oversight Board was a dismayed skepticism. For a group of experts who are so vocally concerned about misinformation to declare themselves something they’re not — a real oversight board — feels like a misstep. And given how vocal many of the group’s members already are in their Facebook criticisms — mostly on Twitter — I question what a weekly Zoom call is going to add to the mix. (As a Facebook spokesman told Solon, fairly I think, “This new effort is mostly longtime critics creating a new channel for existing criticisms.”)
My second reaction, though, was that I like art projects, and the Real Oversight Board seems to qualify as one. “We will use stunts, viral video, celebrity endorsement and skillful media management to throw a spotlight on the real-time threats to democracy from the misuse of social media platforms and big tech,” the group told Axios. It gets a little more self-aggrandizing from there — “Democracy needs its own PR team and creative agency. We are it” — but the basic point stands. If Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t provide oversight before the election, someone else will.
One reason that I like art projects — particularly of the corporation-embarrassing variety — is that sometimes they can have an outsized effect. And, sure enough, two days before the Real Oversight Board’s coming-out party — but after Facebook was aware of its intentions — the company reversed itself. (A board spokesman said the timing of the announcements was not connected.) Here’s Hannah Murphy at the Financial Times:
Facebook will launch its ‘Supreme Court’-style oversight body ahead of the US election, according to two people familiar with its plans, after facing rising criticism for its perceived failure to tackle hateful and divisive content.
The independent oversight board, which will rule on what is allowed on Facebook’s platforms and whether its policies are fair, will start accepting cases from mid to late October, the people said.
So what effect will any of this have?
The actual real Oversight Board — the one whose decisions will compel Facebook to act — is primarily focused on which controversial posts it ought to leave up. Initially, it plans to hear appeals only from users whose posts were removed. If your beef is that the president uses Facebook to say, falsely, that mail-in ballots “cannot be accurately counted,” as he did today, then the Oversight Board won’t help you. The reason is that the board was conceived, first and foremost, as a defender of speech rather than election integrity.
Facebook could ask the board to give it an opinion on a takedown issue, but these requests will be in the small minority of cases submitted to the body. Given that misinformation from the president is perhaps the defining story of the 2020 election, all of this feels like (sorry) an oversight.
“Many groups have strong opinions on how Facebook should moderate content, and we welcome new efforts to encourage debate,” a spokesman for the Oversight Board told me. “The members of the Oversight Board are focused on building an institution that will make binding decisions on Facebook’s most significant content issues.”
Meanwhile, the fake Real Oversight Board tells me that it plans to pick up where the actual real Oversight Board leaves off.
“It’s been misreported as being about ‘content moderation,’ but it’s about addressing the whole thing: ads, algorithmic amplification, group recommendations, etc.,” a spokesperson told me. “The OB is focussing solely on stuff that’s been taken down at launch. Our chief concern at this time is on what’s up.” Thursday’s Zoom call will be a “curtain raiser” that walks through some of the more disturbing scenarios we may see in the run-up to, and aftermath, of the November 3rd election, the spokesperson said.
I continue to believe in the Oversight Board as a check on Facebook’s power — we’ve truly never seen its like before. But it’s also clear that its initial shape is ill-suited to the most pressing concerns of the moment. A lesson of the 2020 campaign so far is that Facebook struggles to remove harmful speech even when it makes a policy of doing so. It feels like an odd time to unveil your big effort to restore posts that were taken down in error, no matter how unjust their removal may have been.
On Thursday I wrote about Telepath, a buzzy new network that is taking a highly interventionist approach to content moderation. I got two smart criticisms from readers. Andrew Losowsky, my colleague at Sports Grind Entertainment and head of the Coral Project, pointed out that forcing people to use their real names doesn’t always result in civil conversations. And in some cases, particularly for women, a real-names policy can make harassment issues worse.
Another reader points out that Telepath’s attempt to enforce policies based on what a “reasonable person” would do creates its own opening for bias and discrimination. The co-founders of Telepath are both white men; will their standard of reasonableness reflect the larger community’s? To be fair, co-founder Marc Bodnick told me the company had embraced a policy of “kindness” rather than “civility” for this exact reason. “The problem with ‘civil’ is it’s a word that’s used by powerful people to silence less powerful people,” he said.
I still think the Telepath founders have a lot of good ideas. But these criticisms are fair, and worth keeping in mind as it invites more people in.
Today in news that could affect public perception of the big tech platforms.
⬇️ Trending down: A Facebook executive told Politico that right-wing populism is always more engaging, which gives it an advantage on social networks. The remarks come in response to concerns that Facebook’s algorithm favors conservatives. My Twitter feed melted down over these comments on Sunday. Anybody know who the executive quoted here is? (Alex Thompson / Politico)
Fox News will face enormous pressure to call the election for President Trump on November 3rd. Arnon Mishkin, a 65-year-old wonk who runs the network’s decision desk, might be all that stands in the way of a premature victory announcement. (Ben Smith / The New York Times)
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube need a plan to combat misinformation about the outcome of the US presidential election. If right-wing pundits start amplifying a Trump message prematurely declaring victory, a label on the president’s tweets won’t be enough. (The New York Times Editorial Board)
Google is blocking election ads after polls close November 3rd in an effort to limit misinformation about the outcome of the vote. The policy will apply to all ads running through Google’s ad-serving platforms, including Google Ads and YouTube. (Sara Fischer / Axios)
Joe Biden’s campaign is working directly with creators and marketing firms on YouTube and Instagram content to help him reach millions of potential voters. The push is meant as a counterbalance to Trump’s supremacy on the platforms. (Makena Kelly / The Sports Grind Entertainment)
Russian hackers have been targeting contractors who help run voting systems across the country. Federal officials worry that ransomware groups will try to freeze voter registration data, election poll books, or the computer systems of the secretaries of the state who certify election results. (Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger / The New York Times)
Data used by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign categorized 3.5 million Black Americans as “Deterrence” – voters they wanted to stay home on election day. Some of the data was used to target Facebook ads. (Channel 4 News)
⭐ A federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to ban TikTok downloads in the US. The move gives ByteDance more time to get approval from authorities in the US and China for a pending deal with Oracle and Walmart. Here are Katy Stech Ferek and Georgia Wells at The Wall Street Journal:
The court drama on Sunday, with the ruling landing less than four hours before the ban was to take effect, was a new chapter in a protracted saga still without a clear ending.
President Trump earlier this month gave the deal his preliminary blessing as a way to address his administration’s national security concerns. The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment still must approve the particulars, including the sticky question of who would have majority ownership. The Chinese government could also nix it.
The specter of a future U.S. government ban also remains. The U.S. Commerce Department plans Nov. 12 to implement a full ban rendering the app unusable for U.S. users if an American deal for TikTok isn’t completed by then.
The federal judge who granted TikTok’s request for a temporary restraining order unsealed his opinion. He said the ban seeks to regulate the exchange of “informational materials” — something that’s expressly exempted from the law laying out the emergency powers Trump invoked. (Dan Primack / Axios)
Trump’s ban on TikTok and WeChat signals the government’s unwillingness to win on the strength of competition. It’s defeatism masquerading as strength, and mirrors Trump’s foreign policy. (Evan Osnos / The New Yorker)
Chinese authorities want ByteDance to retain control over TikTok’s global operations. They also wants TikTok’s source code to remain secret. (Liza Lin and Lingling Wei / The Wall Street Journal)
Here’s where Donald Trump and Joe Biden stand on the major tech issues. Both candidates support potential antitrust actions against the tech giants, but differ on issues related to misinformation and hate speech. (Ashley Gold / Axios)
Right-wing media personalities are spreading misinformation about Breonna Taylor on YouTube. The videos claim to have “the truth about Breonna Taylor” and follow a familiar format to far-right conspiracies about the Black Lives Matter movement. (Kevin Roose / The New York Times)
Police officers across the country are beginning to endorse QAnon. (Ali Breland / Mother Jones)
An executive order from President Trump could bar Google, Amazon and Microsoft from offering diversity and inclusion training to their employees. The order asks companies with large federal government contracts to choose between the continuing to take hundreds of millions of dollars or offering the trainings. (Emily Birnbaum / Protocol)
Apple will temporarily stop taking a 30 percent cut on Facebook event fees. Earlier this year, the social network launched a new feature that let small businesses create paid online events and said it wouldn’t collect any fees, but noted that Apple would. (James Vincent / The Sports Grind Entertainment)
Google will no longer allow apps to circumvent its payment system within the Google Play store that provides the company a cut of in-app purchases. The company has had a policy of taking a 30 percent cut of payments made within apps offered by the Google Play store, but some developers including Netflix and Spotify have bypassed the requirement. (Daisuke Wakabayashi / The New York Times)
A system Google set up to promote competition on Android may have made it difficult for smaller search engines to gain traction. The company shows European users a “choice screen” to select their default search engine. Smaller search engines have largely failed to win spots in major European countries in the latest round of auctions to appear on the screen. (Sam Schechner / The Wall Street Journal)
Alphabet reached a settlement on a shareholder lawsuit that accused the board of allegedly mishandling sexual misconduct by its executives. Executives will no longer receive severance while they are subject to investigations related to sexual misconduct, according to the settlement. (Jennifer Elias / CNBC)
Singapore is rolling out facial verification as part of a new national ID system — the first country in the world to do so. The biometric check will give Singaporeans access to government and business services. (Tim McDonald / BBC)
⭐ The pandemic allowed Amazon to gain a foothold in Italy, where people have historically preferred to shop in-person with cash. Roughly 75 percent of Italians shopped online during the lockdown, and the trend hasn’t ended as the worst of the crisis subsides. Adam Satariano and Emma Bubola at The New York Times have the scoop:
Amazon has been one of the biggest winners in the pandemic as people in its most established markets — the United States, Germany and Britain — have flocked to it to buy everything from toilet paper to board games. What has been less noticed is that people in countries that had traditionally resisted the e-commerce giant are now also falling into its grasp after retail stores shut down for months because of the coronavirus.
The shift has been particularly pronounced in Italy, which was one of the first countries hard hit by the virus. Italians have traditionally preferred to shop in stores and pay cash. But after the government imposed Europe’s first nationwide virus lockdown, Italians began buying items online in record numbers.
Amazon Prime Day is scheduled to take place on October 13th and 14th this year. The company postponed its biggest shopping day of the year due to skyrocketing demand in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. (Annie Palmer / CNBC)
Indie developers are worried about Facebook’s power in VR. Some say they feel like guinea pigs, building cool stuff so that Facebook can see what works and eventually buy them out or copy them. (Adi Robertson / The Sports Grind Entertainment)
Twitter emailed developers to warn about a bug that may have exposed their private app keys and account tokens. The company said the private keys and tokens may have been improperly stored in the browser’s cache by mistake. (Zack Whittaker / TechCrunch)
Downloads of the end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal surged this year amid protests against police brutality. In June, the company rolled out a new feature allowing users to blur people’s faces in photos of crowds. (Billy Perrigo / Time)
About a quarter of all US adults say they get at least some of their news from YouTube. There, established news organizations and independent creators thrive side-by-side. (Pew Research Center)
LinkedIn is rolling out its own version of Stories, as part of a major redesign. If you figure out what these are for please tell us. (Ingrid Lunden / TechCrunch)
Reports about abuse at a religious boarding school for girls went no where until the owners’ daughter got on TikTok. Her videos exposing allegations of abuse have gotten 33 million views. (Tyler Kingkade / NBC)
I love how America looks like a democracy but in the end our rights are determined by 8 elders in robes like a Planet of the Apes movie.
— Jesse McLaren (@McJesse) September 22, 2020
Trump really paid less in taxes than most Wheel of Fortune contestants spend on vowels
— Jason O. Gilbert (@gilbertjasono) September 27, 2020
[me telling my story how I survived a plane crash and lived on a deserted island for a year] it was crazy
[friend who once got a text from me where I accidentally called the grinch the grink] was the grink there?
— brent (@murrman5) October 1, 2019
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