If you’re planning on picking up some cool new smart device for a loved one this holiday season, it might be worth your while to check whether it’s one of the good ones or not. Not just in the quality of the camera or step tracking, but the security and privacy practices of the companies that will collect (and sell) the data it produces. Mozilla has produced a handy resource ranking 70 of the latest items, from Amazon Echos to smart teddy bears.
Each of the dozens of toys and devices is graded on a number of measures: what data does it collect? Is that data encrypted when it is transmitted? Who is it shared with? Are you required to change the default password? And what’s the worst-case scenario if something went wrong?
Some of the security risks are inherent to the product — for example, security cameras can potentially see things you’d rather they didn’t — but others are oversights on the part of the company. Security practices like respecting account deletion, not sharing data with third parties, and so on.
Altogether, 33 of the products met Mozilla’s recently proposed “minimum security standards” for smart devices (and got a nice badge); 7 failed; and the rest fell somewhere in-between. In addition to these official measures there’s a crowdsourced (hopefully not to be gamed) “creep-o-meter” where prospective buyers can indicate how creepy they find a device. But why is BB-8 creepy? I’d take that particular metric with a grain of salt.
Google’s “Project Zero” team of security analysts wants to rid the world of zero-day security vulnerabilities, and that means it spends time calling out slacking companies on its blog. The group’s latest post is a bit of friendly fire aimed at the Android and Pixel teams, which Project Zero says aren’t dealing with bugs in the ARM GPU driver quickly enough.
In June, Project Zero researcher Maddie Stone detailed an in-the-wild exploit for the Pixel 6, where bugs in the ARM GPU driver could let a non-privileged user get write access to read-only memory. Another Project Zero researcher, Jann Horn, spent the next three weeks finding related vulnerabilities in the driver. The post says these bugs could allow “an attacker with native code execution in an app context [to] gain full access to the system, bypassing Android’s permissions model and allowing broad access to user data.”
Project Zero says it reported these issues to ARM “between June and July 2022” and that ARM fixed the issues “promptly” in July and August, issuing a security bulletin (CVE-2022-36449) and publishing fixed source code. But these actively exploited vulnerabilities haven’t been patched for users. The groups dropping the ball are apparently Google and various Android OEMs, as Project Zero says that months after ARM fixed the vulnerabilities, “all of our test devices which used Mali are still vulnerable to these issues. CVE-2022-36449 is not mentioned in any downstream security bulletins.”
The affected ARM GPUs include a long list of the past three generations of ARM GPU architectures (Midgard, Bifrost, and Valhall), ranging from currently shipping devices to phones from 2016. ARM’s GPUs aren’t used by Qualcomm chips, but Google’s Tensor SoC uses ARM GPUs in the Pixel 6, 6a, and 7, and Samsung’s Exynos SoC uses ARM GPUs for its midrange phones and older international flagships like the Galaxy S21 (just not the Galaxy S22). Mediatek’s SoCs are all ARM GPU users, too, so we’re talking about millions of vulnerable Android phones from just about every Android OEM.
In response to the Project Zero blog post, Google told Engadget, “The fix provided by Arm is currently undergoing testing for Android and Pixel devices and will be delivered in the coming weeks. Android OEM partners will be required to take the patch to comply with future SPL requirements.”
The Project Zero analysts end their blog post with some advice for their colleagues, saying, “Just as users are recommended to patch as quickly as they can once a release containing security updates is available, so the same applies to vendors and companies. Minimizing the ‘patch gap’ as a vendor in these scenarios is arguably more important, as end users (or other vendors downstream) are blocking on this action before they can receive the security benefits of the patch. Companies need to remain vigilant, follow upstream sources closely, and do their best to provide complete patches to users as soon as possible.”
USB-C has made it easier to plug things in and connect them. Charging, though? Charging is still complicated. You get a different amount of power based on the device, the port, the battery level, and whatever else is drawing current. It can make you wish for a few ports that power whatever you plug in, whatever the size.
You used to need a big surge protector, packed with charging bricks crowding each other out, to get that kind of juice. But these days, gallium nitride-based chargers can put out serious power from a small space. We’ve scanned the marketplace, tried out a few of them, and have some recommendations for different power needs.
Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.
What we were looking for (and how we reviewed)
It’s not too hard to find a little cube that can deliver a good amount of charge these days, even for a 15- or 16-inch laptop. And there are multi-port chargers that can do that, too, though they typically plug in directly, require long and expensive cords, and drop their power output when multiple devices are plugged in.
We sought the best mix of size, maximum output, output across all ports, and (to a lesser extent) port variety, like USB-A or standard A/C plugs. More generally, we sought devices that could simultaneously keep a laptop powered while also charging a phone, a laptop, and, in some cases, a few other incidental gadgets, too.
Gallium nitride (GaN) chargers use a newer, more efficient technology that allows for smaller charging circuits yet produce less heat than traditional silicon models. We monitored our tested chargers’s temperatures, both with hands and with an infrared thermometer. We also listened close for any coil whine while our chargers were under heavy load.
We’ll save you the suspense: none of our tested models felt notably warm, even near their top output for a drained device. And we didn’t notice coil whine in any chargers, though that’s an issue that could develop over time.
The Ars pick
Hyperjuice 245 W GaN Desktop Charger
Buy: $150 at Hyper, B&H, eBay (ships from Japan)
Specs at a glance: Hyperjuice 245 W GaN Desktop Charger
Four USB-C (PD 3.0)
Max single port output
100 W (two simultaneous)
4.13×3.93×1.28 inches (105×100×32 mm)
1.28 lb (582 grams)
Hyper’s 245 W GaN Desktop Charger removes the guesswork from charging. It’s just four USB-C ports, each one capable of a maximum of 100 W (over Power Delivery 3.0), sharing a total of 245 W. That’s plenty for almost every loadout with a laptop, phone, and other gear, and it all fits inside a nondescript box not much bigger than most battery packs—all at a price that’s reasonable for the category.
If you have multiple battery-drained devices pulling more than 245 W across the ports (what a day you’ve had!), you’ll get proportionally less power across them. That means you can charge and run a 100 W laptop and a 60 W laptop and still have room left over to charge a pro-level tablet and standard-size phone at or near their top charging capacity. Few people will max out this power station.
The Hyperjuice’s front has no branding except on its underside, just a small power indicator light and four ports labeled with faint 100 W markings. They’re a little too faint, so if you’re working in a dark space, the device might require some DIY labeling. The shell is a smooth, lightly ridged plastic, which can slide a bit on a smoother desk texture. Its power cord is a simple two-prong C7 cable, so you can swap it for something longer or buy a second one for your bag if you want to take your charging station with you.
Hyper’s charger doesn’t come with any USB-C cords, so you’re on your own to build out a set that works best for you and your gear. Note that Hyper issued voluntary recalls for two of its power products recently, both due to overheating concerns. We didn’t encounter any heat issues during a few weeks of cycling Hyper’s desktop charger on and off our desktop.
Simple, powerful charging scheme
No branding on front or sides, blends in with most desks
Standard, easily replaced or duplicated power cord
Black Friday is in full swing, and that’s great news if you’ve had your eyes on an Apple device but have been waiting for a solid discount to pull the trigger. Apple devices are notoriously expensive, and you typically don’t see many discounts throughout the year. Fortunately, Black Friday brings notable Apple deals not only from retailers, but Apple itself. Just as we do every year, we’re cutting through the noise to bring you the best Black Friday Apple deals we can find.
Below are a few of the most worthwhile Apple deals we’re seeing as of this writing. As always, we’re focusing on products we’d actually recommend based on our time reviewing them and excluding any we don’t think are worth your money. Lastly: there haven’t been any huge iPhone deals we think are worth your time, so the focus here is on other products.
Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.
More Black Friday 2022 Coverage
Apple iPad Air 2022 10.9-inch for $500 ($560) at Amazon (discount at checkout)
Also at Apple for $680 with a $50 Apple gift card
These days, it’s not hard to make the case that Apple makes <em>too</em><em> many</em> iPad models. The lineup has gotten convoluted and confusing, and some models offer better value than others. Fortunately, if you can afford it, there’s one clear recommendation for the significant majority of would-be tablet owners: the iPad Air.
The iPad Pro’s 120Hz display, Face ID authentication, and other bells and whistles are all nice-to-haves, but they’re not essential. And on the other end of the lineup, the new 2022 iPad sacrifices a bit too much compared to the Air, given the price difference.
The Air doesn’t skimp on anything essential: it has the fast M1 chip, second-generation Apple Pencil support, a great screen, and strong accessory support. It’s currently on sale at Amazon for $500 ($60 off typical street price), but Apple’s also offering it for full retail at $680 with a $50 Apple gift card incentive.
MacBook Air 2022 for $1,050 ($1,200) at Amazon
The Mac has been through many permutations (and ups and downs) over the years, but the recent transition away from Intel processors to Apple’s own custom-designed silicon has made clear that this is as good a time to go Mac as any there ever was.
While many of Apple’s Macs (like the MacBook Pro or the Mac Studio) are specialized products for certain audiences, the 2022 MacBook Air is the Mac that makes the most sense for the most people. Its M2 processor is frankly faster than most desktop processors, and a recent redesign modernized a classic laptop—even if it did so at the cost of some its unique identity.
You can buy the Air at a $150 discount from Amazon ($1,050 for 256GB or $1,350 for 512GB) or you can buy it directly from Apple and get a $150 gift card.
If you need more power or a bigger screen, check out our Best Black Friday Laptop Deals post, where we have discounts on the well-equipped, multi-port-toting 14-inch MacBook Pro on sale for $1,600 ($400 off) and the most powerful Apple laptop, the 16-inch MacBook Pro for $2,000 ($500 off).
Apple AirPods Pro (second generation) for $249 with a $75 Apple gift card from Apple
Also at Amazon for $199 and first generation for $159 at Walmart
AirPods are more convenient than any other wireless headphones we’ve used, they offer essential features like spatial audio and transparency mode, and the sound quality isn’t generally too bad for the price, either. You can absolutely find other headphones that beat any of Apple’s comparably priced AirPods models in either sound quality or noise cancellation (though you’d be hard pressed to find anything that’s as easy to use wirelessly) but as a complete package, let’s just say that AirPods are wildly popular for a reason. Just don’t bother if you don’t have an Apple device to pair them with.
The best AirPods for most people are the AirPods Pro; they strike a perfect balance between price and performance. Both the first- and second-generation AirPods Pro are on sale right now. While both deals offer solid value, the second-generation is an objectively better pair of headphones in all relevant ways, as you might expect. If you can find use for a $75 Apple gift card, then we’d recommend grabbing Apple’s deal for the second-gen AirPods Pro.
Noise cancellation is improved, as is spatial audio performance, lending to a more immersive sound experience. The second-gen also improves listening time from four and a half hours on the first-gen to six on the latest-gen, while adding goodies like a MagSafe charging case with a built-in speaker and chip for new Find My capabilities, in case your AirPods ever go missing. The first-generation AirPods still sound very good, and noise cancelation is on the higher end of the spectrum compared to most earbuds. So, again, if you have no uses for a $75 Apple gift card, we can’t fault you for saving a few bucks and getting the first-generation Pros instead.
Apple TV 4K 2021 64GB for $100 ($130) at Amazon
Apple TV HD 2021 32GB $59 ($99) at Walmart
Apple just recently released a new revision of its Apple TV 4K streaming box, but it wasn’t a huge upgrade over the prior model unless you are using a TV that only supports HDR10+ instead of Dolby Vision. With the new one on the market, though, last year’s mostly-the-same model is steeply discounted, making it the best deal out there for a streaming TV platform. As always, its appeal compared to offerings from Roku and others is lessened if you’re not already living in Apple’s ecosystem, but if you have an iPhone or AirPods, the current discount is a steal.
If you don’t need 4K quality, the Apple TV HD is also on steep discount for the lowest price we’ve ever seen on a new Apple TV at $69.
Apple Watch SE second generation (40 mm) for $229 ($270) Amazon
Apple offers a plethora of Watch models now, including the new flashy, outdoorsy Apple Watch Ultra. But truth be told, the entry-level Apple Watch SE (available at 40mm or 44mm) includes most of the features most people would care to have. We’re not knocking the Series 8 or the Ultra—they have a lot to offer. If you want the most health-feature heavy device, the Apple Watch Series 8 is the way to go, and it’s on sale for $350 ($50 off) right now. But if you’re just looking for something to help you track your workouts and stay connected, the SE will do the job for a lot less money.