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If Apple lets me trash this dongle I’ll be overjoyed

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I’m a Mac user, and a macOS fan, and I like Apple’s industrial design, but the chatter of a return of the SD card slot to upcoming MacBook Pro laptops has me muttering a silent prayer of thanks. It feels like we’ve been languishing in dongle hell for many years now, and while Apple wasn’t alone in betting on a tech future dominated by a single port, it’s certainly been the most stubborn about that.

For a connector type absent from its notebooks for about five years at this point, the fact that Apple took away the SD card slot still rankles so many users is impressive. When the fourth generation MacBook Pro was announced in 2016, it wasn’t only the memory card reader that Apple removed, however.

Gone, in fact, was every port beyond the 3.5mm headphone jack. In their place, users got either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, which doubled as USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 and DisplayPort 1.2 connectors.

It was an aggressive move, that spoke of Apple’s commitment to the USB Type-C future, but it also arguably became overshadowed by other changes the MacBook Pro introduced. The Touch Bar – the company’s implementation of a touchscreen interface – proved more controversial still, as did the butterfly keyboard. One of those issues has been settled, with the new Magic Keyboard arriving in late 2019 on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but if the rumors are to be believed it’ll likely be this year that the Touch Bar and USB-C get their comeuppance.

It seems fair to say that the USB-C transition hasn’t gone entirely as many expected it would. When Thunderbolt 3 adopted the same USB Type-C connector, it seemed reasonable to assume that peripherals would go the same way. Certainly, there are more USB Type-C compatible devices and accessories out there than, say, Thunderbolt 2 managed to get onboard.

At the same time, though, it’s also no exaggeration to say that the USB situation is beyond confusing. Different versions provide different speeds and capabilities despite all looking, outwardly, the same. You might not notice that if you’re simple plugging in a thumb-drive or a scanner, but if you’re trying to troubleshoot why your monitor isn’t working – or delivering the maximum resolution it’s meant to be capable of – then that’s a whole other story.

Some things, meanwhile, just haven’t made that transition, and look unlike to ever do so. We’re seeing more new cameras with USB-C connectors now, for example, but that hasn’t stopped content creators wanting to simply pull out an SD card and slot it into the side of their notebook. The USB-C to SD Card Reader Apple still sells for $39 has been a permanent occupant of my work kit since I switched to the 12-inch Retina MacBook all those years ago, and it’s kept me company since then.

Honestly, out of the things that Apple has (in many cases rightly) been lambasted for in Macs over the last few years, the removal of the SD card slot has had the most impact on my life. I don’t hate the Touch Bar, especially since I loaded it up with some of my most commonly-used Automator shortcuts, and I was one of the oddball people who actually enjoyed typing on the butterfly keyboard. Having to always double-check I have the SD card adapter – and canvassing the room to see if someone has one with them, on the few times I forgot it – has been a chore for so long, it’s basically become muscle-memory.

I doubt I’m alone in that and, while I may not be a programming power-user, or someone making complex 3D graphics, I don’t think my use-case when it comes to content creation fails to qualify as the “professional” that the Pro in MacBook Pro is meant to refer to. The big experiment of doing away with ports has had long enough to run, and the results sure seem to indicate that no, you can’t comfortably and seamlessly replace an SD card reader with a USB-C port.

I can’t help but feel that there’s a sense of new liberation among Apple’s Mac team as it heads into 2021. Jony Ive – a brilliant designer but also an uncompromising one, and someone who cast a significant shadow over Apple’s hardware decisions – is gone, and the transition to Apple Silicon opens the door for many of the old-normals to be cast out in favor of new thinking. If that means getting back some familiar ports, I’m 100-percent for it.

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Chromebooks will soon support noise cancellation for external mics

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Google is positioning Chrome OS and Chromebooks as the ultimate productivity weapons, especially in this day and age of remote work and schooling. Ironically, they are also one of the last to jump on one of the most important bandwagons in this day and age of remote work and schooling, video chats and conferences. Many of the apps and services for these require Windows or macOS or even Linux, and those that do run in Web browsers sometimes don’t even work well compared to those other operating systems. Case in point is the rather complicated case of noise cancellation, something that may be soon to Chrome OS at long last.

Most of the video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet offer fancy and creative ways to cut out the visual noise or embarrassing background behind you. They often leave the handling of actual audio noise to each platform’s or device’s noise cancellation support. Unfortunately for Chrome OS users, Chromebooks have neither.

That might be changing soon as a change in Chromium source code reveals a new flag that will toggle whether Chrome OS will display input noise cancellation UI or not. This, of course, presumes that the hardware actually supports noise cancellation, which it detects from headsets.

Unfortunately, this also implies that the feature only activates for external headsets that support the feature. Android Police notes that it doesn’t include support for the internal microphones of Chromebooks themselves, implying that the hardware doesn’t support noise cancellation either. Hopefully, Google will come up with a software solution like it always does.

Chrome OS is definitely shaping up to become an even more powerful productivity device, receiving features that most computer users may have taken for granted on other platforms. That includes even just the ability to scan documents which, while rarer these days, can still be a pain when the need does arise. Google has also been optimizing its own Google Meet to work better on Chromebooks, many of which have less powerful hardware compared to Windows laptops.

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Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids don’t need a prescription

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As always, it seems that technological innovations are coming full circle. The quality and conveniences of wireless audio made their way from earphones to hearing aids a few years back and now advancements in ear care are coming to consumer audio accessories. Bose, a name renowned for its audio technology, is taking advantage of that cycle and is launching the SoundControl Hearing Aid, its first stab at such a product but one that doesn’t need a doctor’s appointment to acquire.

There have been a handful of new devices that have come up in the past two or so years that aim to revolutionize the hearing aid market. Many of these seem to have taken cues from modern wireless earbuds in terms of the conveniences offered by smartphones, Bluetooth audio, and the like. One thing that these hearing aids have over your consumer wireless earbuds is the accuracy and personalization of settings to each person’s unique hearing profiles, something that Bose is now trying to address.

These hearing aids are, of course, considered medical devices more than consumer products and their precision and advanced features come at more than the cost of the device itself. They often need a doctor’s prescription or at least a checkup, something that is more than just inconvenient these days. Some hearing aid companies have started to adopt remote or virtual doctor’s appointments but Bose does away with even that.

That’s what makes the Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids special because they have been FDA-approved to be sold directly to consumers, no need for professional advice. That said, Bose’s Hear app, designed especially for this device, does offer the opportunity to have a one-on-one appointment with product experts for free. Given the price tag of this thing, it’s not exactly too generous an offer.

The Bose SoundControl Hearing Aids are lightweight and practically invisible, with the main electronics hiding behind your ears, out of sight. In just 30 minutes, you can set up your personal settings in the Bose Hear app without fiddling with confusing controls or even asking a doctor. Users will also be able to choose between Focusing on certain voices or letting sound in from Everywhere. A pair does cost a hefty $850, though, but it might still be a fraction of the total expenses for a formal hearing aid, not to mention a doctor’s fee.

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OnePlus 7 and 7T Android 11 update is reportedly very buggy

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OnePlus has been making great strides and making big promises regarding its Android updates but it might need a bit more work when it comes to the quality of those updates. Though fortunately not the norm, OnePlus has been known to have pushed updates with rather notable issues, some of them worse than others. That is the unfortunate experience that OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7T owners are reportedly having after the Android 11 and OxygenOS 11 upgrade brought not only new features but also bugs that remain unfixed more than a month later.

OnePlus has had rather problematic upgrades but it seems that the OxygenOS 11 update, which also brings Android 11, is taking the cake. There have been reports about problems with the latest update across many of OnePlus’ phones, including the OnePlus Nord, but owners of the company’s 2019 models are the ones that seem to have gotten the short end of the stick.

A growing number of complaints on Reddit as well as OnePlus’s own forums reveal the rather unfavorable situation regarding the update. Those complaints are all over the place, from greater battery drain to dropped frames that could affect mobile gaming. There are also worrying reports of overheating, at least more than usual, which could raise red flags when it comes to safety.

Given the wide range of issues, there is no single known source of the problem other than the Android 11 update. Of course, other phones on Android 11 don’t report such problems and OnePlus users are quick to blame OxygenOS 11 as the real culprit. It doesn’t help that this version of OnePlus’s custom Android experience isn’t exactly that popular because of the heavy changes that the company made.

OnePlus already pushed a minor update to these phones but it doesn’t seem to have addressed the problems to users’ satisfaction. Unfortunately, the only way to get around the problem is to downgrade back to Android 10, which is also impractical for many OnePlus 7 and 7T owners.

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