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Devialet’s Phantom Reactor turns music into an emotional experience – TechCrunch

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French startup Devialet has done it again. The new Phantom Reactor is a smaller, more effective speaker that packs in everything that made Devialet speakers good in the first place.

Devialet’s first speaker, the Phantom, attracted rave reviews a few years ago. The egg-shaped speaker promised no background noise, no saturation and no distortion in a relatively small package.

To be clear, it wasn’t that small when you compared it with an average bookshelf speaker. But when you turned it on, it would feel like a much larger speaker — something that you’d find in a concert hall.

But that speaker wasn’t for everyone. If you live in a tiny apartment, spending $1,700 to $3,500 for a speaker capable of generating up to 4,500 watts of power was overkill.

Hence the Phantom Reactor, a smaller version of the Phantom with the same promises — no background noise, no saturation and no distortion. It still features the iconic egg-shaped design.

The company let me borrow a Phantom Reactor for a few weeks to play with it at home. And I’ve been impressed by the speaker. It’s a tiny beast that makes any all-in-one Bluetooth speaker sound like a joke.

In many ways, this speaker reminds me of the iPod lineup. When Apple first introduced the iPod, it was the perfect device for music enthusiasts. For the first time, you could take all of your music with you, even if you had a large music library.

But that device was heavy, expensive and thick — stack three iPhone XSes and you get the thickness of the original iPod. Everything was great on paper, but it was impractical if you’re not that much into music.

With the iPod mini, Apple created a device that was not only cheaper than the original iPod but also more effective. Music devices, from portable players to connected speakers, are supposed to disappear and integrate perfectly in your daily routine.

The Phantom Reactor is a damn good speaker. Music fills my living room in a way that none of my many other speakers do. When I compare it with another speaker, I can hear that it’s the same song. But, with Devialet’s speaker, it feels like I’m experiencing the song instead of just listening to the song.

The 900W model that I’m using is still too powerful for my apartment — I can’t play music at 60 percent of the volume for too long without thinking about my neighbors. If you live in a crowded city with small living rooms, the cheaper 600W model is probably enough. If you have a house in the suburbs, that’s probably a different story.

The Phantom Reactor isn’t portable per se. It doesn’t have a battery and it still weighs 9.5lbs/4.3kg. You’ll be able to unplug it and carry it to another room every now and then, but you won’t take it with you to your friend’s house.

You can currently play music using AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and UPnP, as well as analog and optical input. You can connect it to your network using Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

The mobile app is quite minimal. It guides you through the setup process and lets you select the source input at any time. You’re supposed to control music from your usual music players. There are also touch buttons on the top of the speaker for basic playback and pairing controls.

I’ve been mostly using Spotify Connect, which lets you stream music on the speaker directly. If you’re not familiar with the protocol, you play a song or playlist in the Spotify app just like you would normally do — you just have to select the Phantom Reactor as the output speaker. Nothing actually happens on your phone or computer, the Spotify app acts as a remote.

As you may have noticed, AirPlay 2 isn’t supported just yet and you can’t pair multiple speakers. The company says those features will come later with a software update. Devialet also says that it isn’t in the business of voice assistants — there’s no microphone on board.

But if you’re looking for a unit that sounds good and you have enough money for the Phantom Reactor, the speaker is available now for for $999/€990/£990 for the 600W model and $1,299/€1,290/£1,290 for the 900W model.

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The Google Assistant is now a Google messaging service

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The Google Assistant’s “Broadcast” feature has long existed as a way to blast a message to every Google smart speaker in the house. Instead of hunting down every individual family member at dinner time, put those smart speakers to work by saying, “Hey Google, broadcast, ‘It’s dinner time!'”

In a new blog post, Google called Broadcast “one of our most popular Assistant features” and announced that the feature is expanding to show messages on phones, too, even when they’re outside the home Wi-Fi network. That means Broadcast is basically turning into a new Google messaging service.

Broadcast will now be able to send and receive messages on the Google Home and Nest smart speakers, the Google Home Hub and Nest Hub smart displays, any Android phone, and iPhones running the Google Assistant app. Phones will get a notification when new messages arrive, and group chat members include both individual people (presumably with personal devices like a phone) and more public home devices. Just like any other messaging service, opening the notification will show a scrolling list of broadcast messages. The one big limitation is that the messaging only happens within a Google Family Group. If you want to include an outsider, you’ll have to awkwardly switch group messaging services.

Broadcast messaging uses audio by default, so speakers and smart displays will play the voice recording of your message. Phones and smart displays will show a transcription of your message and a play button, so you can listen or read if you want, and it looks like phones have the option of typing a response, too. Presumably, this would play back on speakers using text-to-speech.

One of many bespoke Google messaging services

Google has never been able to throw its full weight behind a single messaging service, and the constant launching and shutting down of competing messaging services has left the company without a competitive messaging platform to back. Several Google apps like the Google Assistant have aimed to include some smaller messaging functionality over the years, but without a clear Google service to plug into, they end up spinning up their own bespoke messaging services.

Besides this Google Assistant messaging service, YouTube Messaging existed from 2017-2019, Google Maps Messages (to message businesses) launched in 2018, Google Photos Messaging launched in 2019, Stadia Messaging was added in 2020, and Google Pay Messaging came out of beta with the app revamp in March 2021. And who could forget Google Docs Chat, which has existed seemingly forever, though awkwardly only on desktop clients. We can also give half-credit to Google News, which lets you send a message with a shared news article and will pop up a notification through the Google News app, although the feature doesn’t support replies. It would be nice if any of these services talked to each other through a single Google Messaging service, but instead, you’ll be managing individual contact lists and message histories.

This is one of a few new Google Assistant features that is supposed to arrive “just in time” for Mother’s Day (this Sunday—you all remembered, right?) so it should be rolling out soon.

Listing image by Google

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Fix for critical Qualcomm chip flaw is making its way to Android devices

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Makers of high-end Android devices are responding to the discovery of a Qualcomm chip flaw that researchers say could be exploited to partially backdoor about a third of the world’s smartphones.

The vulnerability, discovered by researchers from security firm Check Point Research, resides in Qualcomm’s Mobile Station Modem, a system of chips that provides capabilities for things like voice, SMS, and high-definition recording, mostly on higher-end devices made by Google, Samsung, LG, Xiaomi, and OnePlus. Phone-makers can customize the chips so they do additional things like handle SIM unlock requests. The chips run in 31 percent of the world’s smartphones, according to figures from Counterpoint Research.

The heap overflow the researchers found can be exploited by a malicious app installed on the phone, and from there the app can plant malicious code inside the MSM, Check Point researchers said in a blog post published Thursday. The nearly undetectable code might then be able to tap into some of a phone’s most vital functions.

“This means an attacker could have used this vulnerability to inject malicious code into the modem from Android, giving them access to the device user’s call history and SMS, as well as the ability to listen to the device user’s conversations,” the researchers wrote. “A hacker can also exploit the vulnerability to unlock the device’s SIM, thereby overcoming the limitations imposed by service providers on it.”

Fixes take time

Check Point spokesman Ekram Ahmed told me that Qualcomm has released a patch and disclosed the bug to all customers who use the chip. Because of the intricacies involved, it’s not yet clear which vulnerable Android devices are fixed and which ones aren’t.

“From our experience, the implementation of these fixes takes time, so some of the phones may still be prone to the threat,” he wrote in an email. “Accordingly, we decided not to share all the technical details, as it would give hackers a roadmap on how to orchestrate an exploitation.”

Qualcomm representatives weren’t available on Wednesday evening to answer questions.

The vulnerability is tracked as CVE-2020-11292. Check Point discovered it by using a process known as fuzzing, which exposed the chip system to unusual inputs in an attempt to find bugs in the firmware. Thursday’s research provides a deep dive into the inner workings of the chip system and the general outline they used to exploit the vulnerability.

The research is a reminder that phones and other modern-day computing devices are actually a collection of dozens if not hundreds of interconnected computing devices. While successfully infecting individual chips typically requires nation-state-level hacking resources, the feat would allow an attacker to run malware that couldn’t be detected without time and money.

“We believe this research to be a potential leap in the very popular area of mobile chip research,” Check Point researchers wrote. “Our hope is that our findings will pave the way for a much easier inspection of the modem code by security researchers, a task that is notoriously hard to do today.”

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Dell patches a 12-year-old privilege escalation vulnerability

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Enlarge / At least three companies have reported the dbutil_2_3.sys security problems to Dell over the past two years.

Yesterday, infosec research firm SentinelLabs revealed twelve year old flaws in Dell’s firmware updater, DBUtil 2.3. The vulnerable firmware updater has been installed by default on hundreds of millions of Dell systems since 2009.

The five high severity flaws SentinelLabs discovered and reported to Dell lurk in the dbutil_2_3.sys module, and have been rounded up under a single CVE tracking number, CVE-2021-21551. There are two memory corruption issues and two lack of input validation issues, all of which can lead to local privilege escalation, and a code logic issue which could lead to a denial of service.

A hypothetical attacker abusing these vulnerabilities can escalate the privileges of another process, or bypass security controls to write directly to system storage. This offers multiple routes to the ultimate goal of local kernel-level access—a step even higher than Administrator or “root” access—to the entire system.

This is not a remote code execution vulnerability—an attacker sitting across the world, or even across the coffee shop, cannot use it directly to compromise your system. The major risk is that an attacker who gets an unprivileged shell via some other vulnerability can use a local privilege escalation exploit like this one to bypass security controls.

Since SentinelLabs notified Dell in December 2020, the company has provided documentation of the flaws, and mitigation instructions which for now boil down to “remove the utility.” A replacement driver is also available, and should be automatically installed at the next firmware update check on affected Dell systems.

SentinelLabs’ Kasif Dekel was at least the fourth researcher to discover and report this issue, following CrowdStrike’s Satoshi Tanda and Yarden Shafir, and IOActive’s Enrique Nissim. It’s not clear why it took Dell two years and three separate infosec companies’ reports to patch the issue—but to paraphrase CrowdStrike’s Alex Ionescu above, what matters most is that Dell’s users will finally be protected.

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