East Japan Railway begins developing vacuum to collect earphones dropped on tracks

After dealing with hundreds of dropped earphones — mostly AirPods — East Japan Railway has started development of a custom vacuum cleaner-type device to retrieve them faster than mechanical grabbers.

Truly wireless earbuds, like AirPods, are convenient to carry and comfortable to wear. However, these earbuds all share one well-known problem — the tendency to fall out at some of the worst times.

In Japan, East Japan Railway (“JR East”) had around 950 cases of dropped earphones at 78 train stations in the Tokyo area in a three month period. Dropped earphones make up one-quarter of all dropped item complaints.

JR East warns customers to avoid climbing down onto tracks to retrieve the items. Instead, they are encouraged to ask railway staff to collect dropped items.

Workers usually employ a grabber tool, though the solution is far from perfect. When dropped on the tracks, earphones have the unfortunate habit of nestling into the gravel, making it difficult for employees to grab them with the long-armed tool.

According to The Japan Times, JR East and Panasonic are teaming up to develop a vacuum cleaner-type device that picks up earphones. Early tests show that the device can retrieve earphones much quicker than currently employed methods.

Japan’s railway companies have also asked customers to be more mindful of their earbuds when entering or exiting trains. They have released informative videos showing customers how to properly fit earbuds to avoid them dislodging unintentionally.

MagSafe Duo Charger, iPhone leather sleeve cost $129, and are 'coming soon'

The previously announced iPhone MagSafe leather sleeve with a cutout to show the time, plus the MagSafe Duo Charger for iPhone 12 and Apple Watch, are now listed on the Apple Store online for $129 each, and are “coming soon.”

However, the listing is also the first time that Apple has revealed pricing for either item. Both will be sold for $129, and both are eligible for 0% financing with monthly payment instalments on Apple Card.

The MagSafe Duo charger comes in only white. This folding travel unit, though, comes complete with both a MagSafe charger for an iPhone, and an Apple Watch charger built in.

The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro Leather Sleeve with MagSafe works with both models of phone, and will be sold in four colors. By default, Apple displays what it calls the Saddle Brown color. There is also a Baltic Blue option, plus Pink Citrus, and PRODUCT(RED).

Alongside the leather protective case, and the colors, this sleeve allows the time on iPhone 12 to be seen through a cutout. The iPhone alters the background color on the clock to match the choice of case.

Best iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 12 mini deals from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile

Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini are officially available for pre-order and AppleInsider has rounded up the best deals from leading wireless carriers.

Save on iPhone preorders

The iPhone deals below offer free phones on installment, pre-paid card offers and more, putting a lot of money back in your pocket just in time for Black Friday. We’ve highlighted our top picks below, but be sure to check each retailer’s website for specific terms and conditions pertaining to each offer.

AT&T Wireless: Save up to $700 with trade

Ringing in as one of the most aggressive deals available, AT&T Wireless is offering users up to $700 in bill credits when you trade in a qualifying device. AT&T subscribers must select an eligible unlimited plan, but this is a great way to save on a new iPhone if you plan on using AT&T’s wireless service.

Verizon Wireless: Buy one, save up to $1,100

Verizon is also getting in on the pre-order action by offering buy one, get one deals on both the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Requirements include a new line, monthly payments and an eligible plan.

Red Pocket Mobile: Get an iPhone 12 mini for $659

Shoppers can also snag a deal on the new iPhone 12 mini at Red Pocket Mobile. Prices Save $40 on the device and add unlimited wireless and AppleCare for a low rate of $40. This unique bundle stipulates AppleCare will remain active on the $40 per month plan (or higher) for up to 3 years so long as your account remains active.

Xfinity Mobile: Save $250 on iPhones

Proving to be a popular offer when we covered the promo during last month’s iPhone 12 release, Xfinity customers can still save $250 when upgrading to Apple’s latest iPhone.

T-Mobile: Save up to $550 with iPhone trade

T-Mobile is also running a competitive offer on the new iPhone 12 Pro Max during the pre-order period. Save up to $550 when you trade in a qualifying iPhone. Plus, select T-Mobile customers who have been with T-Mobile for five or more years can get an extra $200 via rebate. Select Sprint customers can also get the amount via 30 monthly bill credits.

Additional Apple deals

Best Apple prices

AppleInsider and Apple authorized resellers are also running additional exclusive discounts on hardware that will not only deliver the lowest prices on many of the items, but also throw in bonus discounts on protection plans, software and more. Here are some of the offers:

HomePod mini now available to preorder for $99

At the same time as the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max, Apple has opened pre-orders for the HomePod mini, its pint-sized smart speaker, with customers now able to order the $99 smart speaker for delivery starting from November 16.

Like the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max launched today, orders were able to be placed since 5am PT, for customers in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Spain.

In the case of the HomePod mini, Apple intends for preorders to start arriving starting the week of November 16, a few days later than the being made available at the same time. Availability in China, Mexico, and Taiwan is also anticipated for later in 2020.

Unveiled on October 13, the HomePod Mini is a smaller version of Apple’s HomePod smart speaker, one that offers many of the same capabilities but at a smaller size and price point. Rather than $299 for the full-size counterpart, the HomePod mini is $99.

Measuring 3.3 inches tall and spherical in shape, the HomePod mini is housed in a mesh fabric, in both space gray and white variants. Due to its small size, the device has to use a single full-range dynamic driver and two passive radiators to produce sound, rather than the multi-speaker setup of the HomePod.

Powered by the S5 chip and using complex tuning models for loudness and dynamic range optimization, the speaker also differs in having the U1 chip installed, enabling it to be used for future Ultra-Wideband applications.

While it is primarily meant for Apple Music, the HomePod mini can also be used with various radio stations including iHeartRadio, Radio.com, and TuneIn, with support for Pandora and Amazon Music also inbound before the end of 2020.

While you can set up two HomePod minis as a stereo pair, and use it as part of a multi-room audio setup, it cannot be used as a stereo pair with a HomePod. It is likely due to the mismatch in size and audio quality, among other factors.

Preorders for $1,099 iPhone 12 Pro Max now live

Three weeks after opening preorders for the iPhone 12 Pro, Apple has restarted the process for the other Pro model, with the iPhone 12 Pro Max now available to preorder.

A delayed launch behind the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, the iPhone 12 Pro Max can now be ordered from Apple directly. Customers who wanted the more advanced and larger version of the iPad Pro now have their chance to acquire the handset from the company directly.

Pre-orders for the iPhone 12 Pro Max started 5am PT on November 6, just like the other device preorders, with shipments set to start arriving one week later from November 13. Customers in the US, UK, Australia, China, Germany, Japan, and more than 30 other countries and regions will be able to make the pre-order on the same day.

As with other models, pre-orders usually sell out very quickly after they become available to buy, with delivery dates sometimes slipping within minutes of launch. Customers ordering later in the day could see their shipment times extend towards late November if orders are left too late.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max starts from $1,099 with a 128GB storage capacity, rising to $1,199 for 256GB, and $1,399 for 512GB. It is available in four colors: graphite, silver, gold, and “Pacific Blue.”

Alongside the iPhone 12 Pro Max, Apple is also starting preorders for the iPhone 12 mini and the HomePod mini.

Sporting the largest screen of the range, the iPhone 12 Pro Max has a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display, an OLED screen with a resolution of 2,778 by 1,284, a pixel density of 458ppi, and up to 1,200 nits of brightness when watching HDR content.

Powered by the 5-nanometer A14 Bionic SoC with the next-generation Neural Engine, it has the same comparable specifications as the iPhone 12 Pro, such as Face ID support using the 12-MP TrueDepth camera array, 5G support, Apple Pay, and Ultra WideBand. However, the camera bump on the back is even more advanced than the version used in the non-Max Pro.

While it uses the same 12-megapixel cameras for the Ultra Wide, Wide, and Telephoto ranges, Apple has upgraded the zoom on the Max from a 2x optical zoom in to a 2.5x version, along with a 2x optical zoom out, giving it a 5x optical zoom range. This also means it has a longer digital zoom than the iPhone 12 Pro, with the Max going for up to 12x instead of 10x.

The telephoto camera has a dual optical image stabilization, with the wide camera also having a sensor-shift optical image stabilization system, similar to a DSLR’s system. This enables it to be steadier while taking photographs or video, which can certainly help when taking shots in low-light situations.

Apple has also added HDR video recording with Dolby Vision support at up to 60fps, making it one of the few devices capable of filming, editing, and viewing Dolby Vision content. It is also capable of recording video at 60fps 4K video, 1080p 240fps slo-mo, and low-light videography due to its wide dynamic range.

Preorders start on $699 iPhone 12 mini

Apple has started to take pre-orders for iPhone 12 mini with deliveries expected to start from November 13.

The iPhone 12 mini is arriving weeks after Apple released its iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, with preorders on October 16 and shipments from October 23. The smallest model will be arriving approximately three weeks behind the mid-sized models, due to Apple splitting the range into two releases.

The pre-orders for the iPhone 12 mini began at 5am PT on November 6, the same time as the earlier wave for orders, and at the same moment in territories around the world. Customers in the US, UK, Australia, China, Germany, Japan, and more than 30 other countries and regions will be able to make the pre-order on the same day.

At the same time, Apple is also opening preorders for the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the HomePod mini.

Pre-orders for new Apple products regularly sell out shortly after they become available, with initial stock snapped up sometimes within minutes of going live. Customers ordering later may see their shipment times slip towards late November if they decide to wait for the initial rush to pass.

The iPhone 12 mini starts from $699 with 64GB of storage, rising to $749 for 128GB and $849 for 256GB. It is available in blue, green, black, white, and (Product)Red.

Equipped with a 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR OLED display,the iPhone 12 mini has a resolution of 2,340 by 1,080 and a pixel density of 476ppi. Despite its small size and lowest cost, the mini model has the same set of specifications as the larger iPhone 12 model.

This includes the A14 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine, Face ID support with the 12MP TrueDepth Camera array, and support for 5G cellular networks.

On the back are two 12-megapixel cameras for wide-angle and ultra-wide angle photographs, complete with a 2x optical zoom out and a 5x digital zoom. For 2020, the iPhone 12 mini also has HDR video recording with Dolby Vision at up to 30fps, as well as 60fps 4K video, 1080p 240fps slo-mo, and enhanced low-light imaging capabilities.

Review: Sony’s PlayStation 5 is here, but next-generation gaming is still on its way

The new generation of consoles is both a hard and an easy sell. With a big bump to specs and broad backwards compatibility, both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are certainly the consoles anyone should buy going forward. But with nearly no launch content or must-have features they also fail to make a compelling case for themselves beyond “the same, but better.” What we’re left with is something more like a new iPhone: You’ll have to upgrade eventually, and it’ll be fine. Just don’t believe the hype for the new consoles… yet.

Disclosure: TechCrunch was provided consoles from both Microsoft and Sony ahead of release, as well as a handful of titles from first- and third-party publishers.

In accordance with an elaborate (and ongoing!) series of embargoes for different features and games, impressions have been trickling out about the new platforms for a month now. For a launch that’s already lacking impact, this may have further blunted excitement: Few gamers will get excited when all anyone can write about is the exterior of the console itself, or the first level of the pack-in game. Some features wouldn’t even be available before launch, or are prohibited from coverage until long afterwards, leaving reviewers wondering whether day-one changes would make any impressions they had obsolete. (I’ll update this review when new information comes to light, or link to future coverage.)

But whatever the case, the shackles are finally removed and now we can talk about most (but not all) the new consoles have to offer. Unfortunately it’s… not that much. Despite the companies’ attempts to hype the next generation as a huge leap, there’s simply no evidence of that at launch and probably won’t be for many months.

That doesn’t mean the new platforms are a flop — or even that they aren’t great. But the new generation is a lot like the old one, and compatibility with it is actually the biggest thing the PS5 and Series X have going for them for the opening stretch. Here’s what I can tell you honestly about my time with the PS5.

The hardware: Conversation piece

A PS5 console with a PS4 on top

As you can see, the PS5 is CONSIDERABLY larger than the PS4 Slim.

The PS5 is a strange-looking beast, but I’ll give it this: no one is going to mistake it for any other gaming console. Though they may think it’s an air purifier.

The large, curvy device likely won’t fit with anyone’s decor, so it may be best to just bite the bullet and display it prominently (fortunately it sits comfortably vertically or on a stand horizontally). I look forward to getting custom shields for the side to make this thing a little less prominent.

The console is fairly quiet while playing games, but you’ll probably want it at least a few feet away from you, especially if you’re going to play with a disc, which is much louder than normal operation.

As for performance, it’s really impossible to say. The only “next-gen” (really cross-gen) game I got to play much of was Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and while it looked great (more impressions below), it’s incredibly hard to make any substantive comment on the machine’s computing and rendering chops.

Close up of the Sony logo on the PS5 and tiny characters making a pattern.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The prospect of gaming in 4K and HDR, and of advanced techniques like ray tracing changing how games look, is an exciting one. But in the first place you need a TV setup that’s capable of taking advantage of these features, and in the second — to be perfectly honest, they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. A high-quality 1080p TV from the last couple years will look very nearly as good despite not supporting Dolby Vision or what have you. (I know because I got a new TV during the review period. They both looked great.)

Load times — a factor of the much-lauded custom SSD in this thing — are similarly hard to evaluate, though certainly going from menu to game in Miles Morales was fast, fast-traveling faster, and the previous game was faster to load than on my regular PS4. This benefit will of course vary from game to game, however — some developers are announcing their performance gains publicly, while others with less impressive ones may just let sleeping dogs lie. Without more titles to get a feel for the console’s performance improvements, right now you’ll have to take Sony’s word on things.

The controller: DualSense makes sense

Close up image of a Sony DualSense controller

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey/TechCrunch

One place where Sony is attempting to advance the ball is in the new DualSense controller.

Not in the shape and color and slick, transparent buttons — those are not so hot. It feels like a DualShock that’s let itself go a bit, and I’m definitely not a fan of the “PS” shaped PlayStation button. This thing feels like a grime magnet.

And not in the built-in speaker and microphone, either; I struggle to think of any application for these that wouldn’t be better served by a headset or avoided altogether.

What’s actually a clear and impressive upgrade is the triggers, which feature incredibly precise mechanical resistance that serves all kinds of gameplay functions and sets the imagination running.

A Playstation 5 and 4 controller next to each other.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The new triggers are connected to a set of gears that impart actual pressure against your fingers, from a very light tap to, presumably (though I haven’t experienced it), actually pushing your fingers back.

The range is wide and it can impart the pressure anywhere along the trigger’s range, giving interesting effects like (the obvious one in violent games) resistance while you pull a gun’s trigger, which then clicks and releases when it fires. In Miles Morales, the triggers act as a very sensitive rumble, but also give you tactile feedback when you’re swinging, telling you when you’ve made contact and so on.

Honestly, I love it. I want to play games that use it well. I don’t want to play games that don’t have it! Hopefully developers will embrace the variable-resistance triggers, because it genuinely adds something to the experience and if I’m not mistaken even has the potential to make games more accessible.

The UI: More is more

The PS4’s interface had the illusion of simplicity, and the PS5 continues that with two steps forward and one step back.

For one thing, separating out the “games” and “media” portions of the machine is a smart move. As OTT apps and streaming services proliferate they take up more and more space and it makes perfect sense to isolate them.

Screenshot of the PS5 menu.

As for the games side, it’s similar to the PS4 in that it’s a horizontal line that you click through, and when a game is highlighted it “takes over” the screen with a background, the latest news, achievements, and so on. As before it works perfectly well.

Previously, when you pressed the PlayStation button, you’d return to the main menu and pause whatever you were playing. If you held down the button, it opened an in-game side menu where you could invite friends, turn off the console, and other common tasks.

The PS5 reverses that: the long press now returns you to the home screen, while a short press brings up the in-game menu (now a row of tiny icons on the bottom of the screen — not a fan of this change).

The in-game menu now sports an in-depth “card” system that, while cool in theory, seems like one of those things that will not actually be used to great effect. The giant cards show recent screenshots and achievements, friend activity, and if the developer has enabled it, info about your current mission or game progress.

For instance, in Miles Morales, hitting pause told me I was 22% of the way through a side mission to rescue a bodega cat named Spider-Man, with an image of the bodega where I accepted it. Nice, but it’s redundant with the info presented in-game if I pause in the ordinary way. There’s more to it, though — the cards can also be used as “deep links” to game features like multiplayer, quests in progress, quick travel locations, even hints.

Sony showed these advanced possibilities off in a video of Sackboy: The Big Adventure, but since that game isn’t yet available I can’t yet speak to how well it works. More importantly, I can’t make any promises on behalf of developers, who may or may not integrate the system well. At the very least it could be nice, but I’m afraid it will be relegated to first-party games (of which Sony promises many) and be optional at that.

It’s hard to call the new UI an improvement over the old one — it’s different, in some ways more busy and in some ways streamlined. Where it may improve things is in reducing friction in things like organizing voice chat and joining friends’ games. But that capability wasn’t ready for launch.

A couple nice things I want to note: Setting up the PS5 to your own preferences is super easy. I downloaded my cloud saves in a minute or two, and there’s a great new settings page for things people often change in games: difficulty, language, inverting the camera, and some other things. There are also accessibility options built-in: a screen reader, chat transcription, and other goodies I wasn’t able to test but am glad to see.

The games: Well… the PS5 is the best PS4 you can buy

The chief reason for buying a new console is to play the new games on it. When the Switch came out, half the reason anyone bought it was to play the fabulous new Zelda. Sadly, the selection at this launch is laughably thin for both Sony and Microsoft fanboys.

As I noted above, the only game I was provided in time to get any real impressions (that I’m permitted to write about) was Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Having recently completed its predecessor on PS4, I can say that the new game looks and plays better, with shorter load times, improved lighting, more detailed buildings, and so on. But the 2018 Spider-Man still looks and plays very well — this is the difference you’d expect in a sequel, not from one generation to the next.

A screenshot of Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5As far as a review goes, I’ll just say that if you liked the first, you’ll like the second, and if you didn’t play the original, play it first because it’s great. I also want to hand it to the new game for its commitment to diversity.

But that will also be coming out on the PS4… and Xbox One and Series X… In fact, almost all the big games of the next year will be.

They will, of course, play and look better on the PS5 than the PS4. But it’s a hard sell to tell someone to pay $500 so they can play the next Assassin’s Creed or Horizon: Zero Dawn in 4K HDR rather than 1080p.

Meanwhile, the few games you can only play on PS5 are niche players. Sackboy looks to be a fun platformer but hardly a blockbuster; Demon’s Souls is my most anticipated title of the season, but a remake of a legendary but little-played and controller-bitingly difficult PS3 game isn’t going to break sales records; Destruction All-Stars, an online-only racing battle royale game, got delayed until February, which suggests it’s not playing well.

Adding them all up there really isn’t much reason in terms of exclusives to pick the PS5 over the Xbox Series X or, at least for 2021, a PS4 Pro.

The good news is that the PS5 is now without a question the best way to play the huge catalog of amazing PS4 games out there. Nearly all of them will look better, play better, and load faster. Sony as much as admitted this when they bundled a dozen of the best games from the last generation with the PS5. Honestly, I’m looking forward to finally playing God of War (I know… don’t hassle me!) on this thing than I am to Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

Unfortunately I can’t speak to whether these PS4 games have much to speak of in terms of real improvements yet. As mentioned above, a lot of that depends on support from the developers. But as a simple test, loading the Central Yharnam area in Bloodborne took about 33 seconds on the PS4, and 16 on the PS5 (as you can see in the shots above, the game looks identical). I didn’t time them, but anecdotally other games showed improvements as well.

The verdict: The must-have console for the 2021 holidays

A PS5 console

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

No, that isn’t a typo. The PS5 (and I am joined in this opinion by our review of its rival, the Xbox Series X) simply isn’t a console anyone should rush out and purchase for any reason. Not least of which because it will be near-impossible to get one in the next month or so, making the possibility of unwrapping a PS5 a remote one for eager youths.

The power of the next generation is not much on display in any of the titles I have been able to play, and while a handful of upcoming games may show off its advantages, those games will likely play just as well on the other platforms they’re being released on.

Nor are there any compelling new features that make the PS5 feel truly next gen, with the possible exception of the variable resistance triggers (the Series X has multi-game suspension at least, and I’d jealous if there were any games to switch between). For the next 6-8 months, the PS5 will merely be the best way to play the same games everyone else is playing, or has been playing for years, but in 4K. That’s it!

The rush by Sony and Microsoft to get these consoles out by the holidays this year simply didn’t have the support of the publishers and developers that make the games that make consoles worth having. That will change late next year as the actual next-gen titles and meaningful exclusives start to appear. And a year from now the PS5 and Series X will truly be must-haves, because there will be things that are only available for them.

I’m not saying buy your kid a PS4 Pro for Christmas. And I’m not saying the PS5 isn’t a great way to play games. I’m just saying that outside some slight differences that many gamers don’t even have the setup to notice, there’s no reason to run out and buy a PS5 right now. Relax and enjoy the latest, greatest games on your old PS4 in confidence, knowing that you’ll save $50 when a Cyberpunk 2077 bundle goes on sale in the summer.

So don’t feel bad if you can’t lay your hands on a PS5 to keep you entertained this winter — a PS4 will do you just fine for the present while the next generation makes its lazy way towards the consoles it will eventually grace.