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Jaybird RUN XT hands-on: Improved water resistance, customizable buttons, and video playback failure

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Music motivates me to run faster and further so I rarely run without something playing from a connected smartphone or music-enabled watch. Jaybird was one of the first fitness-focused audio brands I tested nine years ago. Since then, I have tested several Jaybird products and been pleased with the performance of the brand, until now.

Jaybird released its first fully wireless earbuds with the Jaybird RUN in late 2017. The Jaybird Tarah Pro was released in late 2018 and as the last step in ensuring all of its products meet the IPX7 level of water resistance Jaybird recently released the Jaybird RUN XT. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks with a pair of these new earbuds and they are not going to replace my favorites, the Jabra Elite Active 65t.

Compared to the Jaybird RUN, the RUN XT improves with a higher level of water resistance, new color options, and refined design. The two available colors are black/flash and storm/gray. Storm is light blue and the storm/gray color is the model sent to me for evaluation.

Also: Jabra Elite Active 65t review: Better than the AirPods and designed for active users

Specifications

  • Microphone: Omni-directional MEMS on the right earbud
  • Water resistance: IPX7 rating
  • Battery life: 80 mAh for each earbud for up to four hours of battery life. The charging case provides another eight hours of run time.
  • Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1
  • Earbud dimensions: 14.3 x 19.5 x 19mm and about 7 grams (depends on your selected fin and tip)

For $180, wireless headsets today should have the latest technology and that means Bluetooth 5.0, or at the least 4.2 Low Energy, with a charging case incorporating a USB-C port and not the old microUSB standard. aptX support would also be nice to see at this price.

Hardware

One reason I discovered Jaybird many years ago was its ability to create headsets with sweat resistance and a warranty to match my usage. I only run outside so am often running in rain and other inclement weather conditions. The new Jaybird RUN XT has an IPX7 water-resistant rating, which means it can handle submersion down to one meter for up to 30 minutes. There is also double hydrophobic nano coating to protect the headset. In other words, you can wear these in just about any weather condition

Fit has always been something you could customize with a Jaybird headset through the use of different tips and fins. The new Jaybird RUN XT model includes four pairs of fins and silicone tips. The fins are integrated with a silicone oblong piece that fits around the earbud. An opening in the fin piece with labeling for the size ensures accurate installation on the earbud. There are also four sizes of silicone tips to help you find just the right fit. We typically see three sizes of tips with most headsets.

Jaybird advertises four hours of playback time and so far that is about what I am seeing. It states that you can get up to an hour of playback with just five minutes of charging. Callers confirmed that I sound good on my end through the Jaybird RUN XT, with the omni-directional mic located on the right earbud. All calls are handled through just the right earbud and you can use this earbud in mono configuration too if you want one ear open for safety.

There is a one button on each earbud, located towards the bottom of the Jaybird logo and towards your face when inserted. There are also indicator lights at the top of each earbud so you know if an earbud is turned on or not. By default, the button on the left is used to activate your selected assistant while the right side is used to play/pause music and answer a call with a single press. A double press of either earbud skips forward or declines a call while a long press on either (more than 3 seconds) turns on or off each earbud.

Also: Jaybird Tarah Pro wireless sport headphones, hands-on: 14-hour battery life powers endurance workouts

I prefer to use wireless headsets where I can control volume so at first I didn’t think the Jaybird RUN XT would fit my usage habits. I then launched the Jaybird smartphone app and discovered that you can switch the single button press to an alternate set of controls. I now have the right bud increasing volume while the left bud lowers volume. A double press of either still jumps ahead one song.

A charging case, colored to match the earbuds, is provided with two formed compartments to store and charge the RUN XT. Indicator lights are present on the front, one for each earbud so you can view the charging state after inserting the earbuds. Unfortunately, the old microUSB standard is used for charging up the battery case. It’s time to move to the USB-C standard folks.

Smartphone software

While you do not need the Jaybird iOS/Android app to use the earbuds, I highly recommend you install it for an optimal experience. With the app installed, you can switch the functionality of the buttons, as I detailed above.

The app lets you customize your equalizer settings, manage the headphones, and even choose and share playlists. Spotify integration is present, which is perfect since I am a Spotify subscriber and have been looking for more playlists for running. Jaybird also recently added some recommended podcasts so it is another way to discover podcasts related to exercise.

How-to guides, fit guides, and support is also provided through the app. You also need the app to use the find my buds function, which will show the last known location of your connected Jaybird RUN XTs.

Price and competition

High end wireless earbuds currently range in price from $150 to $180 so the Jaybird RUN XT is priced about right, if some of the specs were a bit higher. It is the same price as the first version of the Jaybird RUN as well.

The 2018 Samsung Gear IconX has a MSRP of $179.99. However, the Samsung website currently has a $30 reduction in price so you can pick up a pair for $149.99.

RHA recently released the TrueConnect earbuds with a price of $169.95. The Jabra Elite Active 65t headset, one of my faves, is priced at $179. Bose also has the SoundSport wireless headphones for $149.95.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Jaybird headphones I’ve used over the years have always sounded great since sound quality is one of the four pillars of the company’s design philosophy. Music plays loud and clear with the RUN XT and I actually cannot pump them up to the highest volume level or my ears get blown out.

I also have not experienced any connectivity issues with the RUN XTs. I’ve tested them with multiple phones and watches with seamless playback. Despite using an older version of Bluetooth with no aptX support, the earbuds have performed well for music and podcasts.

Calls are handled just through the right earbud with audio limited to just the right side. The left earbud actually allows in ambient sound when a call comes in to help you hear your own voice so you don’t have to take it out to have a decent call. Callers sounded good in the right earbud and they told me I sounded fine as well.

However, there is one fatal flaw that may prevent you from wanting to spend $180 on this headset. On my daily Sounder train commute, I see about half the people watching video content on their smartphones with headsets and I can often been seen streaming the latest Netflix or HBO show. You will not want to use the Jaybird RUN XT for streaming the audio from a video. If you do, you will notice there is a consistent lag between the mouth movement of characters and the audio playback on the RUN XT. I tested several video streaming, and offline, services with the Jaybird RUN XT and the Jabra Elite Active 65t and there was lag on the RUN XT with none present in the Jabra headset. We should not see such poor performance from a $180 headset. It would be great if Jaybird could fix this with an update, but I read through the forums and this was also a problem with the previous Jaybird RUN headset so I’m not optimistic for a fix here either.

The Jaybird RUN XT never slipped out of my ears and were comfortable for hours of wear. The audio sounded excellent and the ability to customize the equalizer is something we don’t see in many of these wireless earbuds. I know that video is not really the focus of wireless sport headphones, but given the fact that mobile devices today require wireless earbuds, other earbuds don’t have this issue, and the RUN XT is priced at $180 this functionality should work perfectly.

The high level of water resistance is great and these earbuds should last you for years with your workouts in various conditions. If an update can fix the video problem then maybe I’ll try them again, but until then it’s back to the Jabra Elite Active 65t headset.

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Snap had its best quarter in four years – TechCrunch

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If you’ve started using Snapchat more regularly this year, you’re not alone. At yesterday’s Q2 earnings call, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced that the platform grew both revenue and daily active users at the highest rates it has achieved in the last four years. Snapchat now has 293 million daily active users, growing 23% since last year.

Snap went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation, but not long before then, the ephemeral photo sharing app experienced a massive hiccup: Instagram cloned their then-unique Stories feature. After Instagram Stories launched, Snapchat’s growth slowed by 82%. Then, when Snapchat redesigned its app’s interface, Kylie Jenner tweeted that she didn’t use the app anymore, causing the company’s valuation to drop by $1.2 billion.

But Snapchat held on and made a comeback. Its revenue reached an all-time high of $911 million in Q4 of 2020, then went down to $770 million the following quarter. Now, Snapchat’s revenue in Q2 of 2021 surpasses its previous high to reach $982 million.

The app’s Q2 growth could be attributed to the return of advertisers who scaled back their spending during the height of the pandemic, as well as the retention of users that flocked to the app while in lockdown. Like many social media platforms, Snapchat grew its revenue and user base during the pandemic, but this isn’t just a matter of re-engaging users with an app that they grew out of. As TikTok exploded on the scene and the creator economy boomed, Snapchat kept up by creating Spotlight, a TikTok clone, and investing in the applications of augmented reality.

“We made significant progress with our augmented reality platform this quarter,” Spiegel said. “More than 200 million Snapchatters engage with AR every day on average, and over 200,000 creators use Lens Studio to build AR Lenses for our community.”

Last month, Snapchat went viral for its Cartoon 3D Style Lens, which makes you look like a character in a Pixar movie. Spiegel specifically mentioned this lens as a feature that “highlighted the power of Lenses to go viral both inside and outside of Snapchat.” But beyond fun face filters, Snapchat has been using AR to woo e-commerce partners. The app has developed AR experiences for Walt Disney World, Smile Direct Club, Zenni Optical, e.l.f. Cosmetics, Ralph Lauren and more. This includes try-on capabilities for watches, jewelry, eyewear, handbags, makeup and even clothing. At its Partner Summit in May, Snapchat revealed an update that lets users scan friends’ outfits to find shopping recommendations for similar styles.

“We have a lot more work ahead to build out our technology and increase AR adoption, but we are thrilled with the results that our partners are seeing as we invest in our long-term camera opportunity,” said Jeremi Gorman, Snap’s chief business officer. “We are confident in our long-term opportunity, and are excited to double down on shopping and commerce via augmented reality.”

In March, Snap acquired Fit Analytics, a Berlin-based startup that helps shoppers find the right-sized apparel and footwear when shopping online. Combined with Snap’s investment in AR, could we eventually use AR to see which size of clothing to order? The application of that sort of technology would need to be handled sensitively, especially as the rates of eating disorders in teens are on the rise.

Beyond e-commerce, Snapchat has sought out strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like HBO Max and Universal Music Group and doubled down on its Spectacles, glasses that create AR experiences. Of course, Facebook is working on AR glasses too. But for both companies, Snap’s recent successes show the rising adoption and value of AR experiences.

 

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Jack Dorsey says bitcoin will be a big part of Twitter’s future – TechCrunch

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed to investors that bitcoin will be a “big part” of the company’s future, as he sees opportunities to integrate the cryptocurrency into existing Twitter products and services, including commerce, subscriptions and other new additions like the Twitter Tip Jar and Super Follows.

Dorsey has been a staunch bitcoin advocate for years, but how it would be put into action on Twitter’s platform had not yet been spelled out in detail. However, Dorsey has often publicly touted the cryptocurrency, saying it reminds him of the “early days of the internet” and that there wasn’t “anything more important” in his lifetime for him to work on.

More recently, Dorsey launched a $23.6 million bitcoin fund with Jay Z and announced plans to lead his other company Square into the decentralized financial services market by way of bitcoin. Square also this year acquired a majority stake in Jay-Z’s TIDAL music service with an eye toward how blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies could change the music business.

Today, Dorsey also dubbed bitcoin one of three key trends for Twitter’s future, along with AI and decentralization — the latter which Twitter is pursuing through its “Bluesky” initiative.

He touted bitcoin to investors on Twitter’s second quarter earnings call, saying it could help the company move faster in terms of its product expansions, while explaining that it was the “best candidate” to become the “native currency” of the internet. (Incidentally, Square’s $50 million in bitcoin purchased in 2020 was worth $253 million by February 2021, and it purchased $170 million more earlier this year.)

“If the internet has a native currency, a global currency, we are able to able to move so much faster with products such as Super Follows, Commerce, Subscriptions, Tip Jar, and we can reach every single person on the planet because of that instead of going down a market-by-market-by-market approach,” Dorsey explained. “I think this is a big part of our future. I think there is a lot of innovation above just currency to be had, especially as we think about decentralizing social media more and providing more economic incentive. So I think it’s hugely important to Twitter and to Twitter shareholders that we continue to look at the space and invest aggressively in it,” he added.

A Twitter rep confirmed this is the first time that Dorsey has spoken publicly about how Twitter could integrate bitcoin into its product lineup.

Dorsey also pointed out Twitter would not be alone in pursuing a crypto strategy, noting that Facebook was backing the digital currency Diem.

“There’s an obvious need for this, and appreciation for it. And I think that an open standard that’s native to the internet is the right way to go, which is why my focus and our focus eventually will be on bitcoin,” he noted.

Overall, Twitter delivered strong earnings in a pandemic rebound, which saw the company posting its fastest revenue growth since 2014, according to CNBC, which drove Twitter shares 9% higher in extended trading. The company pulled in Q2 revenue of $1.19 billion versus the $1.07 billion Wall Street expected, a majority ($1.05 billion) from its advertising business. It also saw earnings per share of 20 cents versus the 7 cents expected.

However, monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) — Twitter’s own invented metric meant to fluff up often flat monthly user growth — were only at 206 million, an 11% year-over-year increase, while analysts were counting on 206.2 million. The company blamed the decline on a slower news cycle and end of shelter-in-place in many U.S. communities, which may have impacted Twitter usage during the quarter.

 

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Tumblr users lash out against its beta subscription feature – TechCrunch

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The Tumblr community often refers to itself as the Wild West of the internet, and they’re not wrong. A text post with over 70,000 notes puts it best: “Tumblr is my favorite social media site because this place is literally uninhabitable for celebrities. No verification system, no algorithm that boosts their posts, it’s a completely lawless wasteland for them.”

But like any social media company, Tumblr needs to keep itself afloat in order for its users to continue sharing esoteric fan art, incomprehensible shitposts, and overly personal diary entries hidden beneath a “Read More” button. Yesterday, Tumblr announced the limited beta test of its Post+ subscription feature, which — if all goes as planned — will eventually let Tumblr users post paywalled content to subscribers that pay them $3.99, $5.99 or $9.99 per month.

Image Credits: Tumblr

Tumblr is far from the first social media platform to seek revenue this way — Twitter is rolling out Super Follows and a Tip Jar feature, and this week, YouTube announced a tipping feature too. Even Instagram is working on its own version of Twitter’s Super Follows that would let users create “exclusive stories.” But on a website with a community that prides itself as being a “completely lawless wasteland” for anyone with a platform (save for Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman, who are simply just vibing), the move toward paywalled content was not welcomed with open arms.

Monetization is a double-edged sword. It’s not considered uncool for a Tumblr artist to link to a third-party Patreon or Ko-fi site on their blog, where their most enthusiastic followers can access paywalled content or send them tips. So Post+ seems like an obvious way for Tumblr to generate revenue — instead of directing followers to other websites, they could build a way for fans to support creators on their own platform while taking a 5% cut. This isn’t unreasonable, considering that Twitter will take 3% revenue from its new monetization tools, while video-centric platforms like YouTube and Twitch take 30% and 50%, respectively. But Tumblr isn’t Twitter, or YouTube, or Twitch. Unlike other platforms, Tumblr doesn’t allow you to see other people’s follower counts, and no accounts are verified. It’s not as easy to tell whether the person behind a popular post has 100 followers or 100,000 followers, and the users prefer it that way. But Post+ changes that, giving bloggers an icon next to their username that resembles a Twitter blue check.

A Tumblr Post+ creator profile

Tumblr rolled out Post+ this week to a select group of hand-picked creators, including Kaijuno, a writer and astrophysicist. The platform announced Post+ on a new blog specific to this product, rather than its established staff blog, which users know to check for big announcements. So, as the most public user who was granted access, the 24-year-old blogger was the target of violent backlash from angry Tumblrites who didn’t want to see their favorite social media site turn into a hypercapitalist hellscape. When Kaijuno received death threats for beta testing Post+, Tumblr’s staff intervened and condemned harassment against Post+ users.

“We want to hear about what you like, what you love, and what concerns you. Even if it’s not very nice. Tell us. We can take it,” Tumblr wrote on its staff blog. “What we won’t ever accept is the targeted harassment and threats these creators have endured since this afternoon. […] all they’re doing is testing out a feature.”

Before making their post, a representative from Tumblr’s staff reached out to Kaijuno directly to check in on them regarding the backlash, but there’s only so much that Tumblr can do after a user has already been threatened for using their product.

“I felt like the sacrificial lamb, because they didn’t announce Post+ beforehand and only gave it to a few people, which landed me in the crosshairs of a very pissed-off user base when I’m just trying to pay off medical bills by giving people the option to pay for content,” Kaijuno told TechCrunch. “I knew there’d be some backlash because users hate any sort of change to Tumblr, but I thought that the brunt of the backlash would be at the staff, and that the beta testers would be spared from most of it.”

Why do Tumblr users perceive monetization as such a threat? It’s not a question of whether or not it’s valuable to support creators, but rather, whether Tumblr is capable of hosting such a service. Multiple long-time, avid Tumblr users that spoke to TechCrunch referenced an incident in late 2020 when people’s blogs were being hacked by spam bots that posted incessant advertisements for a Ray-Ban Summer Sale.

“Tumblr is not the most well-coded website. It’s easy to break features,” Kaijuno added. “I think anything involving trusting Tumblr with your financial information would have gotten backlash.”

Tumblr users also worried about the implications Post+ could have on privacy — in the limited beta, Post+ users only have the ability to block people who are subscribed to their blog if they contact Tumblr support. In cases of harassment by a subscriber, this could leave a blogger vulnerable in a potentially dangerous situation.

“Ahead of our launch to all U.S.-based creators this fall, Post+ will allow creators to block subscribers directly,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Still, the Extremely Online Gen Z-ers who now make up 48% of Tumblr know that they can’t expect the platform to continue existing if it doesn’t pull in enough money to pay for its staff and server fees. In 2018, Tumblr lost almost one-third of its monthly page views after all NSFW content was banned — since then, the platform’s monthly traffic has remained relatively stagnant.

Image Credits: SimilarWeb

A former Tumblr employee told TechCrunch that the feature that became Post+ started out as a Tip Jar. But higher-ups at Tumblr — who do not work directly with the community — redirected the project to create a paywalled subscription product.

“I think a Tip Jar would be a massive improvement,” said the creator behind the Tumblr blog normal-horoscopes. Through the core audience they developed on Tumblr, they make a living via Patreon, but they don’t find Post+ compelling for their business. “External services [like Patreon] have more options, more benefits, better price points, and as a creator I get to choose how I present them to my audience.”

But a paywalled subscription service is different in the collective eyes of Tumblr. For a site that thrives on fandom, creators that make fan art and fanfiction worry that placing this derivative work behind a paywall — which Post+ encourages them to do — will land them in legal trouble. Even Archive of Our Own, a major fanfiction site, prohibits its users from linking to sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.

“Built-in monetization attracts businesses, corporate accounts, people who are generally there to make money first and provide content second,” said normal-horoscopes. “It changes the culture of a platform.”

Across Tumblr, upset users are rallying for their followers to take Post+’s feedback survey to express their frustrations. The staff welcomes this.

“As with any new product launch, we expect our users to have a healthy discussion about how the feature will change the dynamics of how people use Tumblr,” a Tumblr spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Not all of this feedback will be positive, and that’s OK. Constructive criticism fuels how we create products and ultimately makes Tumblr a better place.”

Tumblr’s vocal community has been empowered over the years to question whether it’s possible for a platform to establish new revenue streams in a way that feels organic. The protectiveness that Tumblr’s user base feels for the site — despite their lack of faith in staff — sets it apart from social media juggernauts like Facebook, which can put e-commerce front and center without much scrutiny. But even three years after the catastrophic porn ban, it seems hard for Tumblr to grow without alienating the people that make the social network unique.

Platforms like Reddit and Discord have remained afloat by selling digital goods, like coins to reward top posters, or special emojis. Each company’s financial needs are different, but Tumblr’s choice to monetize with Post+ highlights the company’s lack of insight into its own community’s wishes.

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