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Powerbeats Pro review: An upgrade over AirPods in almost every way Review

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In many aspects, Beats’ $249 Powerbeats Pro are the antithesis of Apple’s $199 AirPods: The AirPods forgo buttons for touch controls, while the Powerbeats Pro has three buttons; the AirPods are one size fits all, while the Powerbeats Pro have interchangeable tips and are adjustable; the AirPods aren’t designed for fitness buffs, while the Powerbeats Pro are designed primarily with fitness buffs in mind; and the AirPods are minimalistic, while the Powerbeats Pro aren’t and unapologetically so.

At their core, however, the AirPods are Powerbeats Pro are very much the same product. Both use Apple’s underlying technology — specifically, the H1 chip — to integrate seamlessly with Apple’s ecosystem of products. Pairing the earbuds with every Apple product you own is a two-second process, battery life and range are incredible, and you talk to Siri thanks “Hey Siri” integration.

Design

Left: Powerbeats Pro charging case. Right: AirPods (2019) wireless charging case. 


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The first thing I noticed when opening the packaging was the size of the charging case. It’s the first thing anyone who has used the AirPods will notice. The case, and therefore the earbuds, are much larger than the AirPods. The case isn’t what I could consider pocketable. Sure, it will most likely fit in your jean pockets, but it’s not going to be comfortable.

In addition to the charging case and the earbuds themselves, Beats includes a black Lightning cable and three additional sets of ear tips. The different sized ear tips are easy to swap out, and allow you to find the right fit for each of your ears.

I started with the pre-installed tips, but eventually changed to the smallest size. I found it the be the right size for my ears and their comfort, with the added benefit of a tighter seal with my ear improving the sound quality.

I’ve never really enjoyed wearing earbuds that have an ear hook, mainly because I wear glasses. I can’t seem to find a comfortable way to position the ear hook and the stem from my glasses, leading to soreness on the back of my ear. It’s a problem amplified by the fact that I often wear a baseball hat, which then fights with my glasses and the ear hook. The same was true about my experience with the Powerbeats Pro for the first couple of days. Eventually, either my ears adjusted or I found the right alignment, and I’m finding the earbuds more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.

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I don’t run, but I did test how well the Powerbeats Pro stay in place with a couple of short jogs, and at no point did I feel as if the earbuds moved around or felt as if they were going.

Powerbeats Pro-1.jpg

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There are three total buttons on the main body of each earbud. The Beats logo doubles as a button that’s used to control playback. There’s also a volume up and down button that comes in handy when you don’t want to talk to Siri to adjust volume. A sensor on the inside of each earbud detects your ear and will auto connect or begin playing audio when you first put it in your ear. Taking it out will pause whatever you’re listening to — and, yes, that feature works for Android and iPhone users alike.

Charging the case is done via a Lightning port on the back of the case, with an indicator light on the front of the case letting you know if the case’s current level. The earbuds themselves go into the case, with magnets holding the buds in place and helping align the two charging pins with the contacts on their underside.

Performance

Pairing Powerbeats Pro with iPhone.gif

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Pairing the Powerbeats Pro with an iOS device takes just a couple of seconds. With your iOS device unlocked, open the Powerbeats Pro case and wait for an alert. Tap connect, and you’re done. As Apple does with the AirPods, the pairing is carried over to the rest of your iCloud-linked Apple devices automatically. Meaning, you don’t have to worry about pairing the earbuds with your Mac, iPad, or Apple Watch if you used an iPhone for initial setup.

Android and Windows users aren’t left out, though. You can pair the Powerbeats Pro as you would any other pair of Bluetooth earbuds. The button controls still work, and as previously mentioned, so does the automatic ear detection feature.

Beats touts nine hours of battery life, with the charging case capable of adding another 15 hours to that total. In theory, with the case and earbuds fully charged, you should have enough power for 24 hours of listening. I think the longest amount of continuous listening I achieved was just over four hours, and there was still over 50% charge left on both earbuds. If you do run out of battery, five minutes in the charging case adds 1.5 hours of power. Leave the earbuds in the case for 15 minutes, and Beats claims you’ll get four hours of use.

The range of the Powerbeats Pro was impressive, regardless of the device I was currently using. At one point during my testing, I was using the Powerbeats Pro with a Pixel 3 XL, and accidentally left my phone in the basement of my house. I went upstairs, out through my garage, and to the front curb of my house before the audio stopped. It was only when I reached for my phone that I realized it was still sitting on the counter in my basement, over 100 feet away, with several walls and layers of concrete in between. The same range and lack of interference when using the Powerbeats Pro with an iPad Pro and iPhone XS Max.

Most days, I work from home in a quiet office. Testing earbuds or headphones and their ability to block out background noise isn’t really possible in that environment, so during my testing of the Powerbeats Pro, I ventured out to a coffee shop.

The Powerbeats Pro do a better job at blocking out background noise than the AirPods, but don’t block everything out. I could still hear the the constant chatter, a random whir of a blender, and the occasional banging of a cup against the counter. The decreased background noise is a benefit of having changeable ear tips (presumably, a benefit that would increase if you’re able to find foam tips to replace the soft ear tips that come in the box).

When it comes to sound quality, the Powerbeats Pro sound slightly crisper, with better bass when compared to the AirPods. Prior to switching to the smaller ear tips, I wasn’t convinced there was a real difference in sound quality between the two. But after finding the right fit and using them for a few more days, I’m firmly of the belief that the Powerbeats Pro are the better-sounding earbuds, which goes to show that finding the right fit for your ears is key to improving the overall experience, especially when it comes to sound.

Conclusion

I’m still torn on whether or not I like using the Powerbeats Pro more than the AirPods. I like the idea of better battery life, but then again, I rarely find myself completely draining the AirPods in one listening session. I do enjoy the improved sound quality of the Powerbeats Pro, though I never really found the AirPods lacking. And I do appreciate the smaller footprint of the AirPod’s charging case and earbuds themselves, but the Powerbeats Pro case easily fits in my backpack.

I think the bottom line is this: If you hate the look of the AirPods but don’t want to miss out on the ease of pairing and switching device, battery life, and impressive range — the Powerbeats Pro are made for you.

Disclosure: ZDNet earns commissions from some of the products featured on this page.

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Facebook’s decision-review body to take “weeks” longer over Trump ban call – TechCrunch

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Facebook’s self-styled and handpicked ‘Oversight Board’ will make a decision on whether or not to overturn an indefinite suspension of the account of former president Donald Trump within “weeks”, it said in a brief update statement on the matter today.

The high profile case appears to have attracted major public interest, with the FOB tweeting that it’s received more than 9,000 responses so far to its earlier request for public feedback.

It added that its commitment to “carefully reviewing all comments” after an earlier extension of the deadline for feedback is responsible for the extension of the case timeline.

The Board’s statement adds that it will provide more information “soon”.

Trump’s indefinite suspension from Facebook and Instagram was announced by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on January 7, after the then-president of the U.S. incited his followers to riot at the nation’s Capitol — an insurrection that led to chaotic and violent scenes and a number of deaths as his supporters clashed with police.

However Facebook quickly referred the decision to the FOB for review — opening up the possibility that the ban could be overturned in short order as Facebook has said it will be bound by the case review decisions issued by the Board.

After the FOB accepted the case for review it initially said it would issue a decision within 90 days of January 21 — a deadline that would have fallen next Wednesday.

However it now looks like the high profile, high stakes call on Trump’s social media fate could be pushed into next month.

It’s a familiar development in Facebook-land. Delay has been a long time feature of the tech giant’s crisis PR response in the face of a long history of scandals and bad publicity attached to how it operates its platform. So the tech giant is unlikely to be uncomfortable that the FOB is taking its time to make a call on Trump’s suspension.

After all, devising and configuring the bespoke case review body — as its proprietary parody of genuine civic oversight — is a process that has taken Facebook years already.

In related FOB news this week, Facebook announced that users can now request the board review its decisions not to remove content — expanding the Board’s potential cases to include reviews of ‘keep ups’ (not just content takedowns).

This report was updated with a correction: The FOB previously extended the deadline for case submissions; it has not done so again as we originally stated

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Facebook faces ‘mass action’ lawsuit in Europe over 2019 breach – TechCrunch

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Facebook is to be sued in Europe over the major leak of user data that dates back to 2019 but which only came to light recently after information on 533M+ accounts was found posted for free download on a hacker forum.

Today Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) announced it’s commencing a “mass action” to sue Facebook, citing the right to monetary compensation for breaches of personal data that’s set out in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Article 82 of the GDPR provides for a ‘right to compensation and liability’ for those affected by violations of the law. Since the regulation came into force, in May 2018, related civil litigation has been on the rise in the region.

The Ireland-based digital rights group is urging Facebook users who live in the European Union or European Economic Area to check whether their data was breach — via the haveibeenpwned website (which lets you check by email address or mobile number) — and sign up to join the case if so.

Information leaked via the breach includes Facebook IDs, location, mobile phone numbers, email address, relationship status and employer.

Facebook has been contacted for comment on the litigation.

The tech giant’s European headquarters is located in Ireland — and earlier this week the national data watchdog opened an investigation, under EU and Irish data protection laws.

A mechanism in the GDPR for simplifying investigation of cross-border cases means Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) is Facebook’s lead data regulator in the EU. However it has been criticized over its handling of and approach to GDPR complaints and investigations — including the length of time it’s taking to issue decisions on major cross-border cases. And this is particularly true for Facebook.

With the three-year anniversary of the GDPR fast approaching, the DPC has multiple open investigations into various aspects of Facebook’s business but has yet to issue a single decision against the company.

(The closest it’s come is a preliminary suspension order issued last year, in relation to Facebook’s EU to US data transfers. However that complaint long predates GDPR; and Facebook immediately filed to block the order via the courts. A resolution is expected later this year after the litigant filed his own judicial review of the DPC’s processes).

Since May 2018 the EU’s data protection regime has — at least on paper — baked in fines of up to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover for the most serious violations.

Again, though, the sole GDPR fine issued to date by the DPC against a tech giant (Twitter) is very far off that theoretical maximum. Last December the regulator announced a €450k (~$547k) sanction against Twitter — which works out to around just 0.1% of the company’s full-year revenue.

That penalty was also for a data breach — but one which, unlike the Facebook leak, had been publicly disclosed when Twitter found it in 2019. So Facebook’s failure to disclose the vulnerability it discovered and claims it fixed by September 2019, which led to the leak of 533M accounts now, suggests it should face a higher sanction from the DPC than Twitter received.

However even if Facebook ends up with a more substantial GDPR penalty for this breach the watchdog’s caseload backlog and plodding procedural pace makes it hard to envisage a swift resolution to an investigation that’s only a few days old.

Judging by past performance it’ll be years before the DPC decides on this 2019 Facebook leak — which likely explains why the DRI sees value in instigating class-action style litigation in parallel to the regulatory investigation.

“Compensation is not the only thing that makes this mass action worth joining. It is important to send a message to large data controllers that they must comply with the law and that there is a cost to them if they do not,” DRI writes on its website.

It also submitted a complaint about the Facebook breach to the DPC earlier this month, writing then that it was “also consulting with its legal advisors on other options including a mass action for damages in the Irish Courts”.

It’s clear that the GDPR enforcement gap is creating a growing opportunity for litigation funders to step in in Europe and take a punt on suing for data-related compensation damages — with a number of other mass actions announced last year.

In the case of DRI its focus is evidently on seeking to ensure that digital rights are upheld. But it told RTE that it believes compensation claims which force tech giants to pay money to users whose privacy rights have been violated is the best way to make them legally compliant.

Facebook, meanwhile, has sought to play down the breach it failed to disclose in 2019 — claiming it’s ‘old data’ — a deflection that ignores the fact that people’s dates of birth don’t change (nor do most people routinely change their mobile number or email address).

Plenty of the ‘old’ data exposed in this latest massive Facebook leak will be very handy for spammers and fraudsters to target Facebook users — and also now for litigators to target Facebook for data-related damages.

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Pakistan temporarily blocks social media – TechCrunch

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Pakistan has temporarily blocked several social media services in the South Asian nation, according to users and a government-issued notice reviewed by TechCrunch.

In an order titled “Complete Blocking of Social Media Platforms,” the Pakistani government ordered Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Telegram from 11am to 3pm local time (06.00am to 10.00am GMT) Friday.

The move comes as Pakistan looks to crackdown against a violent terrorist group and prevent troublemakers from disrupting Friday prayers congregations following days of violent protests.

Earlier this week Pakistan banned the Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan after arresting its leader, which prompted protests, according to local media reports.

An entrepreneur based in Pakistan told TechCrunch that even though the order is supposed to expire at 3pm local time, similar past moves by the government suggests that the disruption will likely last for longer.

Though Pakistan, like its neighbor India, has temporarily cut phone calls access in the nation in the past, this is the first time Islamabad has issued a blanket ban on social media in the country.

Pakistan has explored ways to assume more control over content on digital services operating in the country in recent years. Some activists said the country was taking extreme measures without much explanations.

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