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SMART GLASSES

Friday, December 8th, 2017

By age 45, most of us will need glasses at least for reading. That’s because our eyes’ ability to accommodate to change focus to see objects at different distances degrades with age. In young eyes, the eyeball’s crystalline lens changes shape easily, allowing this accommodation. But as we get older, this lens stiffens. Objects in close range suddenly look blurry. Hence the “readers” most middle-aged adults begin wearing on a chain or tucking in a handbag, or the bifocals worn by those who already had vision problems. But the days of popping reading glasses on and off or constantly shifting your gaze through bifocals may be numbered. Researchers at the University of Utah have developed “smart glasses” with liquid lenses that can automatically adjust their focus. “The major advantage of these smart eyeglasses is that once a person puts them on, the objects in front of the person always show clear, no matter at what distance the object is.”

Regular prescription glasses don’t fix the eyes’ accommodation problems. They simply shift the range of what’s in focus rather than expanding it. So if you put on a pair of reading glasses, the once-blurry page a foot from your eyes will be clear, but objects on the other side of the room will suddenly be blurry. The reverse is true of people who need glasses only for seeing far distances. The new smart glasses consist of lenses made of glycerin, a thick clear liquid, enclosed in flexible membranes. The membranes can be mechanically moved back and forth, changing the curvature of the glycerin lens. The lenses are set in frames containing a distance meter on the bridge, which measures the distance from the wearer’s face to nearby objects using infrared light. The meter then sends a signal to adjust the curve of the lens. This adjustment can happen quickly, letting the user focus from one object to another in 14 milliseconds.

The glasses come with a smartphone app, which uses data about the wearer’s eyeglass prescription to automatically calibrate the lenses via Bluetooth. When the wearer gets a new prescription, they can simply update the information on the app. “This means that as the person’s prescription changes, the lenses can also compensate for that, and there is no need to buy another set for quite a long time.” Though the glasses have not yet been formally tested, Mastrangelo and other members of his lab have tried them out. The current prototype is, to put it gently, bulky. Formal wearer tests are in the works.

Some adjustments will need to be made before the glasses could be ready for the market. They need to reduce the weight and thickness of the eyepieces and make the electronic subsystems smaller. They also need “much improved” styling. Mastrangelo expects to overcome these issues and have a product on shelves within two to three years.

 

 

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Charge your Electric Car As You Drive with WIRED Roads

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

A new wireless power system could help people avoid the inevitable jumbled mess of tangled cords and offer a more efficient way to charge electric vehicles on the go, according to a new study. Researchers at Stanford University adapted a concept from quantum physics to produce a wireless charger that does something other wireless chargers cannot: automatically tune the frequency of the radio wave the medium that transfers the power to account for changes in the distance between the charging pad and the device. In an experiment, the team showed that its system transferred power with 100 percent efficiency up to about 27 inches. The range is perfect for electric cars, the floor of a car is about 8 inches away from the road’s surface. You could embed the charging pad below the road surface.

Although other wireless-charging devices, such as those for phones, already exist, the efficiency drops dramatically if the device is too close or too far away from the charger. This means a phone has to be placed on top of a charging pad to work best, and an electric car needs to be parked directly over a pad to recharge efficiently. As such, electronic devices are still tethered, albeit invisibly, to their power source. The problem lies in the design of these wireless power systems. They typically consist of a source, which is the charging pad, and a receiver, which could be a phone or an electric car. Finding the optimal frequency for the radio waves depends on the sensitivity of the equipment, the distance between the source and receiver and their orientation to each other.

Once the optimal frequency is found, deviations to the variables used to set it, such as changing the distance between the source and receiver, reduces the transfer efficiency. Assawaworrarit said a tuning circuit can, in theory, be built to adjust the frequency, but the design is complicated and puts limitations on how fast the device can be moved in relationship to the charging pad. Assawaworrarit and his team created a wireless power system that doesn’t use a source for radio waves, nor does it require a tuning circuit. It also works even if the distance between the resonant coils fluctuates, the scientists said. The researchers accomplished this by taking advantage of a concept from quantum mechanics called parity-time symmetry, or PT symmetry for short. Like other concepts from the field of quantum science, it’s peculiar, but systems built from it have symmetrically arranged parts that either absorb electromagnetic energy or emit it.

Although the researchers tested their idea both in a computer simulation and in an experiment using an LED light bulb, it will take some time for such a device to reach consumers.

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PHONES.. The New Bank Cards

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Wallets can be lost, stolen or forgotten, but most people today wouldn’t be caught dead without their phones. Banks understand, and are grabbing on to that trend. Customers who don’t want to fumble around in their wallet for their A.T.M. card, or who have misplaced it for the umpteenth time will soon be able to unlock cash dispensers’ by using their phone. Chase, which has more A.T.M.s in the United States than any other bank, has activated this technology on a few hundred machines in four test cities, including Miami and San Francisco. Six thousand more are already upgraded and ready to go. Bank of America and Wells Fargo plan to introduce card-less options to all their machines by the end of the year. And while swiping an A.T.M. card may not exactly seem onerous, bankers think going card-free will be a hit with consumers.

“It’s about having the choice,” said Wells Fargo’s head of A.T.M. and branch banking. “If you’ve lost your card or left home without your wallet, chances are you still have your smartphone in your hand.”

But of course, any new financial technology brings with it new security holes. For decades banks have battled “skimming,” in which criminals sabotage A.T.M.s to steal the information off a card and use it to clear out people’s accounts. The replacement of magnetic stripe cards with chip cards significantly reduced that problem, but mobile access brings in new worries. A Chase customer recently had money stolen from their account through the bank’s new card-less system, which they had never used. A thief got their online banking user name and password, installed Chase’s mobile app on his or her phone, and used it to withdraw cash. Unlike most card-less systems, Chase’s does not require customers to enter their four-digit PIN at the cash machine. Chase refunded the customer’s lost money and immediately made security changes. The bank’s system still does not require PINs, but Chase is confident it can now detect and prevent similar attacks, he said. Other banks have fared better, and say their fraud rates on mobile A.T.M. transactions are significantly lower than those for traditional card-swipe withdrawals.

How the mobile systems work varies from bank to bank and sometimes, even within one bank. Most of the major banks are using a technology called near-field communications (N.F.C.), which enables devices to exchange information wirelessly over short distances. Modern smartphones usually contain an N.F.C. chip, which is used for many mobile payment systems, including Apple Pay and Android Pay. At Bank of America, customers with compatible phones and a digital wallet app can tap their phone on the cash machine’s wireless pad to authenticate their identity. From there, customers enter their personal identification numbers and carry out transactions in the usual way. Wells Fargo is also testing N.F.C. and adding the hardware it requires to all of its cash machines. But in the meantime, it has a simpler approach: one-time access codes. Customers can log in to Wells Fargo’s mobile app and request one, which is good for 30 minutes. At the 900 Wells Fargo A.T.M.s that are set up to accept the codes so far, the customer types in the code and then their PIN to withdraw cash.

Mobile A.T.M. transactions are usually at least a little bit faster than traditional ones, banks say, sometimes significantly so. Wintrust’s system, which lets customers set up their withdrawal in advance on their phone and simply scan a QR code when they get to the machine to get their cash, cut its average transaction time to about 10 seconds from 45. Around 17 percent of the bank’s customers have used the technology at least once. Some banks have gone further and let customers ditch even their phones. With bio-metrics, a unique body part is enough to unlock cash. Even if mobile wallets finally take off and phones replace debit and credit cards, there are still times even for millennials when only old-fashioned cash will do.

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HIGH TECH LICENSE PLATE FRAME

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Right up there with stick-on carbon fiber applique is the license plate frame: Just a lot of nothing. Until now. New frames graft cameras, parking sensors and even a lockbox onto your car with a few minutes installation effort and no wiring.

Phrame is the oddball in this bunch: Not a camera or a sensor, it’s a key locker behind your license plate. With the app you can grant one time access to a car key stored within to allow in-trunk deliveries, enable car share, let detailers clean your car inside and out while you’re away or just have a place to stash your bulky key and fob when you’re out for a run. I think they will need to convince consumers it’s really hard to break into and to line up at least one major e-commerce company to support it for deliveries. Its not available until 2018.

The FenSens frame gives you park sensors only. Like all the products tested, its wireless, displays on an app and installs quickly with anti-theft screws. Its the ugliest product tested, but it also worked the best. You can calibrate the distance from your license plate to the back of your bumper for precise sensing and the sensors can be aimed and angled to suit the height of your car’s license plate well. You activate the FenSens via an included wireless Brodie knob sort of thing, though you can also wire it to be activated when you shift into reverse. That, however, defeats the goal of 5-minute install.

Where FenSens is sensor only, Look-It is camera only. Its also activated by a wireless switch that clamps onto your steering wheel of mounted on your dash. Camera angle and guidelines shown on the app are both adjustable for your car’s geometry so when you get it to work it should be trustworthy. Unfortunately found it often hesitant to launch. When it did come up, the image was good.

The most ambitious and pricey option is what used to be called Pearl but is now known as Rear Vision. It rolls up a rear camera, backup sensors and solar charging for both of those systems in a package that is Apple quality because it was designed by ex-Apple engineers. The original company foundered, was acquired by American Road and the product is now called RearVision. An included OBD-II dongle triggers the image and sensors to pop up on your phone when you go into reverse except on Android 8, 7 or 4 devices. They made a tech support installer available but were still unable to figure it out. You, unfortunately, will probably go to the URL pearlauto,com looking for support only to find it redirects to the product’s page on Amazon. Something this nicely designed deserves much better support and merchandising.

So, just when you thought you had bought the car buff every possible gift for their ride, here is a new category with unusual and, uneven entrants. But they are all easy to try, just make sure you have a solid return policy.

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What’s your preference? iPad, iPad Pro OR iPad Mini 4

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Apple has several iPads. You, potential iPad shopper, have choices to make. So, what should you do? Long story short: there are now four iPads in Apple’s current lineup. There’s a budget 9.7-inch iPad, 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros, all three of which were introduced in 2017 and one older iPad Mini 4 that just keeps hanging on. Here are some go-to recommendations on which one to buy, and why.

iPad Pro (10.5-inch): The best model, but not worth the spend for some – The Pro iPads are one and the same as far as tech specs: the 2017 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch models have the same processors, storage, cameras and everything else. You’re just shopping for screen size and resolution. These iPad Pros have more powerful processors than the 9.7-inch iPad, more RAM, better cameras, better antireflective displays with better color quality and faster refresh rates, and most importantly, they support a fantastic pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus. They also have a Smart Connector, which is a magnetic side port for snapping on keyboard accessories that don’t need recharging. The 10.5-inch model replaces 2016’s 9.7-inch Pro, which was great. If you have that 2016 iPad Pro, you really don’t need this new 2017 model. The new version has a slightly bigger screen in about the same size body as its predecessor. But, it’s nearly twice the price as the basic iPad. To be clear, this is the best iPad. But only video and photo professionals are likely to need its step-up features. However: if you find this iPad on sale for any significant savings, it’s worth considering. Get it if you are:Someone with money who wants the best thing, An artist who can afford it or Looking for the best display.

iPad (9.7-inch): Good for anyone – This is Apple’s entry level iPad. Weirdly, it’s just called “iPad.” It replaces the iPad Air 2, which was great but old. The new iPad is less expensive and more powerful, but has a slightly less impressive display. Same resolution, but it’s more reflective, meaning it’s more prone to glare. It’s a really great device, though, especially for the price. This is the basic iPad. And, with this iPad frequently going on sale throughout the year, it’s as good a budget iPad pick as we’ve ever seen. Yes, its processor is aging. Yes, it’s not as fast as an iPad Pro. But at the right price this can’t be beat. It runs iOS 11 just fine. Get it if you are: On a budget, Buying for an older kid, Just using a tablet for everyday things like email, websurfing and games or Don’t need a fancy stylus for drawing or marking up documents.

iPad Pro (12.9-inch): The mega-iPad – This model has a giant 13-inch screen that has more pixels, but also feels like a laptop screen detached from its keyboard base. It’s better used as a tabletop iPad, or a bigger tool for artists. One notable advantage of the 12.9-inch model is that its split-screen apps show two nearly full-size apps side-by-side with less of the squishing of the 9.7- and 10.5-inch models. The 2017 version offers some significant upgrades over the older 2015 model: a faster A10X processor, better cameras, and a significantly improved antiglare, TrueTone color-adjusting display with a faster refresh rate. If you love this size and you use it every day, it’s well worth considering an upgrade now. But, you have to ask yourself: do you really need an iPad this big, and do you have the money to spend for it? Get if you are: An artist who can afford a $1,000-ish iPad, Care about having a big, movie-watching super-screen iPad or Are a hardcore split-screen app lover

iPad Mini 4: The aging, smaller option – Apple still sells the iPad Mini 4, which is now the oldest iPad in current rotation. It’s got a smaller screen 7.9-inch, which used to feel more helpful before phones became megasize. The Mini 4 has an older A8 processor and can’t handle split-screen as well as the other iPads. Its battery life isn’t quite as good, either. It’s a nice option as a portable reading tablet, but it’s not the bargain that the now-discontinued iPad Mini 2 used to be. Apple only sells the 128GB version of this tablet, which keeps the price somewhat inflated. It would be a great tablet if you can find it on a steep sale. Its older processor just doesn’t perform as well, and it’s still not a value pick. Get one only if you’re desperate for a smaller iPad for travel, or if you love the size.Otherwise, get the 9.7-inch iPad.

It’s a great time to get an iPad, particularly the iPad Pro. But, keep in mind that the iPad Pros were released back in June, and the 9.7-inch iPad in March. Next-generation iPad Pros could add Face ID, which would be more useful on a tablet than Touch ID and a home button. Does that matter to you? Wait it out. Otherwise, it’s a fine time to shop.

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Blind-spot Monitoring Systems

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

This technology uses ultrasonic sensors located on the car’s flanks to detect when a car is in your blind-spots. Most BLIS implementations will warn by illuminating a notification light on or near the side mirror on the appropriate side of the vehicle. If you activate your turn signal while BLIS is triggered, you’ll usually also get an audible beep or tone to let you know to look twice before changing lanes. Most basic systems will let you know if a car is currently in your blind-spot, but more advanced versions will let you know when a vehicle is about to be there. Lane Change Assist, as Hyundai calls it, extends the range of the side sensors as much as three to five car lengths back and monitors the speed of oncoming vehicles. With this information, the system can sort of predict the future, alerting you to an upcoming car in your blind-spot before it’s even there. If you don’t properly adjust your car’s mirrors or if your vehicle of choice has thick window pillars, you may find that there’s a blind spot just over your shoulder where cars behind you can hide. A blind-spot monitoring system can help watch your back so that you don’t find yourself trading paint when changing lanes.

Blind-spot monitoring systems are among the most common modern driver aid technologies, being found on the options list of many mid-tier or budget models. The tech is sometimes shortened to BSM or called blind-spot warning (BSW). I tend to call it a blind-spot information system (BLIS), as it was by Volvo, which originated the tech back in 2007 for use on its and Ford’s vehicles. Typically, blind-spot systems only work at speeds above 20 to 35-ish mph. This prevents false positives on city streets but tends to only make the tech useful at highway speeds. And as I mentioned, the audible alerts work only if you actually use your turn signal, which some people don’t always use. So, keep in mind that the technology is no replacement for an old-fashioned glance over your shoulder before changing lanes. Always look before you leap.

BLIS and rear cross-traffic alerts are increasingly becoming “must-have” technology on larger SUVs and cars with poor rearward visibility and the next evolutions of the tech are already here. Volvo is at the forefront of blind-spot monitoring tech it figures, they invented it — with its BLIS with Steering Assist. Featured on the new 2018 Volvo XC60, BLIS with Steering Assist can actively guide the SUV out of harm’s way and back into its lane if it detects that you’re about to collide with another vehicle when changing lanes. Ford and Toyota/Lexus, for example, have taken the next logical step of adding automatic braking assist technology to their most advanced RCTA systems. So, if you’re backing out of a parking spot and another vehicle is approaching, the system will sound an alert and then, if you ignore the warning, automatically brake before you move into a possible collision path.

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SMART UMBRELLA

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

A new umbrella may be just the answer for those of us who constantly forget or misplace our rainy-day gear. The Weatherman umbrella, which debuted Thursday, uses an app paired with a Bluetooth tracker to follow weather forecasts. The app sends real-time weather alerts and custom notifications, so you know when to bring along your umbrella. An embedded tracker chip uses Bluetooth 4.1 technology for your smart devices to help locate your umbrella as well. This even could mean that you find your umbrella in the hands of someone who grabbed it by mistake. The umbrella is made with 14mm gauge fiberglass ribs help prevent breaking and inverting inside out during strong winds, up to 55 mph. The umbrella fabric is coated with Teflon to repel the rain.

The smart umbrella is backed by meteorologist Rick Reichmuth (hence the umbrella’s name Weatherman) who appears on “Fox and Friends” and “Fox News Sunday.” “I looked everywhere for a solid umbrella that would last, and I came up short every single time,” Reichmuth said in a statement. “I realized, I know what a good umbrella should be, so I could just make one. That’s how it all started.” The Weatherman comes in two styles: The Collapsible Umbrella, and the Stick Umbrella. Both umbrellas are available in black, navy blue, green, orange, yellow and white. The umbrella comes with its own wall mount that also serves as a charging stand for the device. A color-changing LED on the handle alerts you when it’s umbrella weather.

Here’s a look at the umbrella’s key features.

  • Feather weight: Approximately 198 grams, the TARAbrella is lighter than the iPhone.
  • Weather forecast system: A built-in, pressure-sensing piece of hardware that provides an accurate weather forecast within as short a time of 6 hours.
  • Patented safety runner: Durability and ease of use combine here to allow the contraption to be locked or release with a simple click.
  • Super LED light: Equipped atop the TARAbrella is a super LED light that can brighten up dark or foggy places to ensure the user’s safety in hazardous conditions.
  • Anti-lost tracker: A detachable clip will alert the wearer if they move more than a set amount of feet from the TARAbrella.
  • Ergonomic design handle: The handle of TARAbrella was crafted to ergonomically fit in your hand, making it comfortable to hold for extended periods of time with the smooth texture.

Of all the things you need as winter comes, a smart umbrella is surely at the very top of your list. You look critically at everything in your life these days, and if something’s not “smart,” you disdain its very existence. Sadly for some, it’s currently only on sale in Japan and Korea. I can see many Americans taking a trip there just to buy one or more of these. You can never have enough smart tools. The more you have, the smarter you surely are.

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Tesla’s new Roadster

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Tesla’s new Roadster has some impressive numbers. But with a price on par with a Bentley or Aston Martin, the question is, can it deliver on the kind of luxury and drivability those buyers expect? That’s going to take a lot more than just sternum-cracking acceleration. Prices for the Roadster will start at $200,000, with a required deposit of $50,000. A limited edition Founders Series of the car will cost $250,000 and will have to be paid for up front and in full. At these prices, someone could buy an Aston Martin DB11 or a Bentley Continental GT. Those cars can’t match the Roadster’s advertised performance figures, but there’s a lot more to a sports car than just speed.

The Roadster’s ability to go from zero to 60 in under two seconds is unprecedented, and would make this the quickest production car ever. It can run the quarter mile in 8.8 seconds. That’s faster than a Dodge Challenger Demon, an 840-horsepower single-seat car designed especially for drag racing. And its top speed of over 250 miles an hour puts it in the same league as the $3 million Bugatti Chiron. That figure is especially surprising, given that top speed is not an area in which electric cars tend to excel. Anyone who can afford to spend a quarter million dollars on a car is used to high level of quality of craftsmanship. That means Tesla needs to overcome the production issues it is currently having with the far simpler Model 3, as well as the sort of quality issues it’s been having with the complex Model X.

Sports cars also need to corner well and give the driver a sense of confidence and control. Tesla’s original Roadster, produced from 2008 to 2012, was built on the skeleton of a British Lotus sports car. Lotus is legendary for how well its cars handled, and for an obsession with light weight, which also helps with cornering and control. For a company building a high-end sports car, there could hardly be a better place to start. This Roadster will presumably be all Tesla. Electric drive does provide some advantages for a sports car. First, most sports cars have an engine that concentrates weight somewhere in the car. A lot of sports car design is about how to carry that big block of metal through turns at high speeds. Engineers and designers work hard to position the engine as low as possible in the car, and in a place that will give the car stable, controllable and predictable cornering characteristics.

In an electric car, the weight is concentrated in battery packs, but those batteries don’t need to be all together. In Tesla’s other vehicles, they’re spread out under the floor of the car, giving them a very low center of gravity and weight that’s evenly balanced. But, batteries are heavy and weight is still a problem, no matter where it is. That’s why electric cars are, generally speaking, heavier than gasoline powered cars. Tesla engineers will still have to overcome, or minimize, the sheer weight that will come with that level of range and performance. Still, based on Tesla’s claims, the Roadster certainly the potential to be a big winner for Tesla that could help generate the profits it so badly needs and even more buzz.

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MekaMon

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

The robots are upgradable and customizable with detachable legs, shields, and weapons. They feature four IR sensors, so the robot can measure distance and location and also accurately track and attack opponents. The robot can also flip on its back and stabilize rather quickly. Each robot weighs around 2.2 pounds, with a dimension of 11.8 x 11.8 x 5.9 inches.

When it comes to gaming competition with friends, most of us grew up playing games like Pokémon, battling with friends through Game Boys and old link cables, and mostly using our imagination when the gameplay animation was still pretty basic. Fast-forward a few decades, and you can still battle friends, but the modes have expanded incredibly. The latest form is a gaming robot from Reach Robotics. Called MekaMon, the four-legged robots have AR capabilities that can be controlled by your smartphone.

The toy connects to the smartphone app through Bluetooth, and other robots via infrared signals. The battery life is a bit limited, though: you’ll only get about one hour of play before it needs to be recharged. MekaMon’s story is set in 2076 and follows Earth after an alien invasion, where humans are fighting back using the battle robots. There are options to play them in story mode, arcade mode, or battle with friends. “We’ve created an entirely new video gaming platform,” Silas Adekunle, CEO of Reach Robotics said in a statement. “Players can whip out their smartphone to battle their multi-functional, connected battlebots in the physical and virtual worlds at the same time.”

The robots are compatible with both iOS and Android devices, using the phones’ cameras and infrared sensors. You look through your phone’s screen to guide your robot and objects in the room like tables and chairs can be used to hide from attacks in the game. Reach Robotics says more add-ons will be available from MekaMon.com in the future. MekaMon is available in white and black models from Apple and MekaMon.com.

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Firefox Quantum

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Firefox today released its newest browser Firefox Quantum out of beta. The company claims it’s twice as fast as the original Firefox from six months ago. Firefox Quantum has a sleek UI with the option to customize the toolbar. It also exceeds the performance of Google Chrome in a browser speed test battle. The new browser also includes Pocket recommendations of what sites to browse on every new tab. Night Mode and other features are available as Firefox free add-ons.

Despite competing against Google in the browser space, Firefox does resort to using Google as the default search engine in the US, Canada, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. For years, Firefox used Yahoo as a default, though it also offered Google and Bing as alternative selections, but it recently terminated its contract with Yahoo, according to an email statement from Mozilla. The company’s chief business officer Denelle Dixon said, “We exercised our contractual right to terminate our agreement with Yahoo! based on a number of factors including doing what’s best for our brand, our effort to provide quality web search, and the broader content experience for our users.”

The biggest selling point of Quantum versus Chrome is the smaller RAM usage something Google has been repeatedly critiqued for over the years. As you open more tabs in Quantum, it takes up less memory than opening up multiple tabs in Chrome. On my Asus laptop with an Intel Core i5, it runs six processes for 20 open tabs, while Google Chrome runs 21 processes for 14 tabs. Note that after opening the 10th tab, Quantum begins to show a squiggly loading sign on new tabs.

Private browsing mode for Firefox Quantum looks just as good as regular browsing. A purple masked symbol on the right indicates what mode you’re in, and Firefox has tracking protection on by default. Quantum was a project open to volunteers, with about 700 authors contributing to the code. It took a year for Firefox to complete the project. You can download the final version today for free from Mozilla for the web, Android, and iOS.

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