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Solar panels are more efficient than ever, with consumer options now capable of converting up to 25 percent of the sunlight hitting cells into electricity. But those efficiency rates assume that the panels are pointed directly at the sun, which is rarely the case during its arcing trek across the sky.
The EcoFlow Solar Tracker solves this with a self-powered, motorized robotic arm that keeps your solar panels at a perfect 90-degree angle to the sun. Its sensor locks onto the sun automatically from dusk to dawn, causing the two-axis machine to lift and turn your solar panels in perfect harmony. This results in 30 percent more energy produced by your existing panels, according to EcoFlow.
Be warned, though: this chatty robot costs $3,399. It also isn’t nearly as portable as the company claims, and it got confused by clouds and reflections in my week of testing.
EcoFlow describes the Solar Robot as portable, saying it can be “collapsed, folded up and transported with ease.” It backs up the claim with a poorly photoshopped image on its product page of someone casually carrying the entire assembly in one hand — by the fingertips, no less. The image is a lie.
To start with, the Solar Tracker weighs 55 pounds (25kg) without the panels installed. That makes it a two-person job to move the unwieldy robot. And even with the panel arms folded down, it’s much larger than that image would have you believe, measuring about 25.5 x 56.5 x 40 inches (65 x 143 x 101cm).
It took me about 2.5 hours to fully assemble the Solar Tracker and adjust the arms to securely hold the EcoFlow solar panels provided by the company for testing. You’ll need to partly disassemble it into two pieces to safely transport the tracker up and down stairs or inside a car. Fortunately, separating the frame that holds the solar panels from the robotic arm can be accomplished in just a few minutes by unscrewing a handful of finger-friendly bolts. Still, the EcoFlow Solar Tracker is about as portable as a 65-inch television; sure, you can move it (carefully), but it’s not something you’ll want to do frequently.
My test setup was already pushing the definition of portability to the extreme. I used a 35.3 pound (16kg) 400W folding solar panel from EcoFlow that measures 42 x 94.1 x 1 inches (106.8 x 239 x 2.4cm) unfolded, or 42 x 24.4 x 1 inches (106.8 x 62 x 2.4 cm) when folded inside a carrying case that also serves as a kickstand. That giant monocrystalline silicon panel was then wired to the robot, which fed the collected power to a 100 pound (45kg) Delta Pro portable battery, EcoFlow’s top-of-the-line power station fitted with a telescoping luggage-like handle and wheels for easier transport. The $1,199 solar panel and $3,699 battery make for a serious power generator for people with serious off-grid power needs. Adding the $3,399 Solar Tracker to the mix makes the whole thing more permanent and efficient.
On sunny to mostly sunny days, the robot works great. The Solar Tracker springs to life just as soon as the rising sun hits the raised light sensor, causing the bot’s two-axis arm to swing the solar panel into the optimal angle to collect sunlight. This enabled the 400W panel I was using to produce between 310–330W of continuous power to the Delta Pro battery all day long without suffering the peaks and valleys of power you get from having to manually reposition portable panels every few hours. The robot did all the work, powered by an internal battery that’s kept charged by the solar panel.
On cloudless days, the Delta Pro’s 3.6kWh capacity battery was charging at a rate of about 10 percent per hour. The Solar Tracker fitted with the 400W panels can easily power a laptop, phone, portable fridge, fan, and Starlink internet with enough residual energy left over to keep the battery topped up at 100 percent to continue the party long after the sun sets.
The tracking’s not foolproof, however. Far from it.
Once I watched my test robot grapple with the sun reflecting off an aluminum strip that frames the building next door. It wasn’t until I shaded the sensor from the reflection with my shirt that it locked onto the large ball of burning plasma in the sky.
Clouds also proved to be an issue, as you can see in the timelapse below. The Solar Tracker woke up fine on this particularly sunny morning but lost its lock on the sun a few hours later after the clouds rolled in, causing the robot to beep incessantly to inform me it was in search mode. It did this repeatedly throughout the afternoon, beeping continuously. Weirdly, when the robot loses track of the sun, it doesn’t fall back to an estimated trajectory. Instead, it acts like the sun fell from the sky and needs to search the entire hemisphere to find it again, beeping all the while.
Watch as the clouds roll in and defeat the sun tracker causing the robot to hunt the entire sky.
One hunt I witnessed resulted in the tracker beeping nonstop for at least five minutes at a rate of one beep per second. That beeping proved to be such a nuisance over the course of the day that two neighbors rang my doorbell to complain. (Here in Amsterdam, air conditioning is extremely rare, and open windows are the norm.) I finally had to unplug the damn thing out of courtesy before resuming my testing a few days later after the cloudless skies returned.
The robot is programmed to beep continuously when powering on, powering off, searching for light, or returning to the starting position. I know it’s for safety, alerting anyone nearby that the monstrosity is moving. But this isn’t a five-ton delivery van backing up blindly, and you can already hear the motor anytime the slow-moving robot is active. Unfortunately, there’s no way to turn off the beeping either manually or via the EcoFlow app. Too bad because it makes the solar tracker unusable on my rooftop terrace, a place that could really benefit from a solar tracker and battery combo after I renovate it, thereby avoiding the time and cash required to wire the space with electricity.
EcoFlow says that it’s possible to add an option to control the audible alerts through a future firmware update. But if noise is a dealbreaker for you, then I wouldn’t bet $3,399 on a maybe.
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As a concept, I’m completely sold on the Solar Tracker’s ability to optimize the conversion of sunlight striking solar panels into power. Despite EcoFlow’s claim of portability, its weight and unwieldy size make it best suited as a semi-permanent installation at a busy job site or remote cabin, for example. Any place where those chronic beeps won’t annoy your neighbors.
Solar charging anxiety for anyone going off-grid for a weekend or longer is as real as the range anxiety felt by EV owners. And having to constantly reposition portable panels towards the sun all day long to optimize charging is a tiresome harsher of the elusive mellow we all seek. A truly portable tracking robot that maximizes the efficiency of the portable panels used by space-starved van-lifers and weekend car campers would be most welcome. Unfortunately, the Solar Tracker isn’t that, despite EcoFlow’s claims.
Photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge
Ben Silbermann is stepping down as Pinterest’s CEO, the company announced on Tuesday. He’ll be replaced by Bill Ready, who has spent the last couple of years as head of Commerce, Payments & Next Billion Users at Google. Silbermann isn’t leaving the company, though: he’ll be Pinterest’s executive chairman, following in the path of a number of tech CEOs who have recently gone from the daily trenches of running their company to a relatively more relaxed seat in the boardroom.
“Bill’s actually going to be a better CEO than I am for this next chapter,” Silbermann told The Wall Street Journal as part of his announcement. There’s only one way to read that: the time for the product dreamer founder is out. Pinterest’s next job is to make money. A lot of money. Quickly.
Pinterest has long seemed like a missed opportunity to investors. It’s a platform with hundreds of millions of users that isn’t growing that fast or making much money, even though most of those users spend their time searching for and pinning stuff they’d like to buy. Over the years, rather than compete with retailers and shopping platforms, it has become a hugely powerful discovery and curation engine for shoppers everywhere.
There’s an enticing — and likely massively profitable — future in which Pinterest acts as something like the internet’s shopping mall: a single place for users to shop brands from around the web, facilitating purchases all over the place (and presumably taking a cut). But Pinterest was slow to embrace shopping and buying features, slow to embrace the creator economy, and generally slow to keep up with the future of commerce.
Ready, on the other hand, has a long track record of being ahead of the game in e-commerce. He was a top executive at both Venmo and PayPal before going to Google in 2020 to run its various commerce projects. Google Shopping definitely hasn’t taken over the world in the last two years, but Ready definitely had an impact: commerce became a core part of YouTube’s future, Google revamped the way Shopping works, and the company reinvested in its payment systems like Wallet.
And now, Ready seems to have big commerce plans for Pinterest. “In the next phase of our journey, we will help people engage more deeply with all the inspiring products and services they find on our platform so they can build their best lives,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post announcing his move. “As someone who has spent most of my career in commerce and payments, it’s so clear to me that Pinterest has the opportunity to build something unique—something special.”
Ready takes over the company at an interesting time, as the company has pushed hard to lead in creating a better kind of social network while also dealing with internal accusations about a problematic and discriminatory work culture. The rest of the internet is also catching up to Pinterest, as platforms like Snap and YouTube and even Twitter are embracing the shopping-ification of everything. Pinterest had an opportunity to be a major player in digital commerce and maybe still does. But the new CEO is going to have to move quickly.
I’ve always wondered why aside from a handful of peripherals like the and that weird , Sony never really tried to expand the PlayStation brand outside of consoles. And while you won’t find any PS logos on its new line of headsets and monitors, with Inzone it really feels like Sony is finally bringing its wider tech expertise to gaming.
Now the reason we haven’t seen a ton of PlayStation-branded peripherals before is because the Sony most people think about is actually a conglomerate of several companies that make everything from medical diagnostic tools to camera sensors. And in the case of Inzone, its new gaming gear isn’t being made by the same Sony that produces its iconic consoles (Sony Interactive Entertainment) but instead by the Sony that makes everyday consumer gadgets (Sony Corp/Sony Electronics) like TVs and headphones including the excellent .
That’s important because, while these devices have design cues borrowed from the PS5, including their black and white color scheme and sleek sci-fi lines, much of the tech inside has trickled down from a range of Sony Electronics’ devices. And after using a handful of Inzone’s new peripherals for about a week, it really feels like you’re getting a great mix of tech from two different branches of Sony.
Let’s start with Inzone’s headphones which consist of three different models: the entry-level $99 H3, the mid-range $229 H7 and the high-end $299 H9. As the cheapest of the three, the H3 are incredibly simple and straightforward. Unlike their more expensive siblings, they don’t support wireless audio and instead rely on either a 3.5mm cord or a USB cable for connecting to your console or PC. On the bright side, the thick padded headband and cloth earcups make the H3 a joy to wear, even during marathon gaming sessions.
Another bonus is that due to cooperation between two arms of Sony, all Inzone headsets, including the H3, support the PS5’s Tempest 3D audio engine just like you get on the official Pulse 3D headphones. That means you get spatial audio and customizable sound profiles that make it easier to hear things like the footsteps of someone trying to sneak up behind you. That said, with the Pulse 3D also costing just $99 for wireless headphones that are just as comfortable as the H3, I think they’re probably the better buy for anyone on a budget.
Where things get really interesting though is when you move up to the H7 and H9, which feature dual-mode wireless connectivity (Bluetooth and a dedicated 2.4GHz wireless dongle), a slightly more streamlined design and strong battery life. On top of that, the H9 also feature digital noise canceling using the same tech as Sony’s 1000X line, and it shows.
Now I should mention Sony was only able to send out the H3 and H9 for testing, so I’ve been using those for my comparisons. But the H7 and H9 are fairly close in terms of specs, with the main difference being the H7’s lack of exterior RGB lighting, no support for digital noise canceling and the use of cloth earcups instead of the soft fit leather padding you get on the H9 (which is the same material Sony uses on the WH-100XM5). In return, because they don’t have built-in noise canceling, the H7 offer slightly longer battery life (around 40 hours) compared to the H9 (around 32 hours).
Regardless, my time with the H9 so far has been great, and in a lot of ways, they feel like a pair of WH-1000XM5 that have been tuned for gaming. The noise cancellation works wonders for drowning out background sounds, and the super supple leather makes wearing them feel like putting a cloud around your head.
I also really appreciate some of the small details Sony added to the H9. On a lot of headphones that offer two modes of wireless connectivity, you can typically only use one type at a time. But with the H7 and H9s, you can connect to two different devices simultaneously. This means you can use the wireless dongle to connect to your PlayStation or PC, and then use Bluetooth to get audio from your phone. And because the PS5 doesn’t have native support for chat apps like Discord, this makes it much easier to talk to your friends regardless of what platform you’re on at the moment.
Additionally, the H7 and H9 are the only other headphones besides the Pulse 3Ds that can use the PS5’s on-screen status notifications, which means you can see stuff like volume levels, battery status, mic mute, and game/chat balance all at glance. So while they aren’t the PS5’s official headphones, they behave like they are, while also offering even more features and better audio quality. And just like the WH-1000XM5, you can even use your phone to take a picture of your ear, to tune their sound even further.
As for Inzone’s new monitors, there’s the $529 M3 and the $899 M9. However, since the M3 won’t be available until sometime this winter, I’m going to focus on my time with the M9. Featuring a 27-inch 4K IPS panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, the M9 isn’t the biggest or fastest gaming monitor around. But for the money, it packs a ton of features compared to similarly-priced rivals. Not only does it support VRR and NVIDIA G-Sync, it also sports a strong one millisecond gray-to-gray time, DisplayHDR 600 certification and a gamut that covers more than 95 percent of the DCI-P3 spectrum. In short, colors are bright, rich and vivid while also being largely immune from the ghosting you often see on less sophisticated displays.
However, the M9’s biggest advantage is its full-array local dimming (FALD) which is made up of 96 different lighting zones compared to just eight or 16 on competitors like the LG 27GP950 or the Samsung S28AG700. And after seeing the results side-by-side, I was kind of shocked at how much of a difference the M9’s FALD makes. A lot of gamers can spot bloom in games when something bright moves quickly across a dark background, which often produces ring of light around the object. But not only does the M9 almost completely eliminate halos, the ability to adjust lighting zones with greater precision also gives the monitor improved dynamic range. So in games like Elden Ring, I saw backgrounds that were much darker and atmospheric compared to the washed-out gray tones I saw on other monitors. This allows you to get much better contrast and black levels without needing to upgrade to more expensive QD-OLED displays like
And just like its headphones, Inzone’s first monitor has a lot of really thoughtful smaller features. It has a built-in KVM switch, which is extremely useful if you have multiple PCs connected to the same display. It also has a native FPS counter so you can easily keep tabs on performance, while the monitor’s Auto Genre Picture Mode can switch between settings like Cinema Mode and Gaming Mode depending on the content coming from your PS5. And in addition to being height and tilt adjustable, Sony even designed the M9’s stand so that its feet stick out towards the back, which means PC gamers who need to place their keyboard as close as possible to their monitor totally can.
But perhaps my favorite little touch, is the software that allows you to navigate the monitor’s on-screen display with your mouse, instead of having to fumble around with the joystick on the back of the panel. The M9 even comes with built-in stereo speakers, so you can plug in your PS5 and get straight to gaming without worrying about audio. And thanks to two HDMI 2.1 ports, one DisplayPort 1.4 jack, support for video over USB-C (DP Alt mode) and a built-in USB Hub, there’s a wealth of connectivity.
So aside from the H3 which is somewhat basic, I’ve come away quite impressed with Inzone’s first batch of PC and console gaming peripherals. That said, looking at the pedigree of these two faces of Sony, that probably shouldn’t be a surprise. It might not say so on the box, but in a lot of ways, this feels like the marriage between PlayStation and the tech from some of Sony’s best gadgets. But what might be the most promising part is that while Inzone hasn’t shared any future plans just yet, after talking to some of its reps, it’s clear Sony has big plans for its new gaming brand going into 2023 and beyond.
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The news — initially reported by Wareable — was confirmed to The Verge by Qualcomm spokesperson Lauren Miller. The Summit 3 isn’t the first smartwatch to be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 Plus platform, but it is the first to launch with Wear OS 3 already installed. The fact that it also supports iOS is a significant departure from other confirmed Wear OS 3 watches. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 lineup and the forthcoming Google Pixel Watch, for example, are exclusive to Android users.
Older Wear OS 2 and Samsung Tizen-powered smartwatches, while never incredibly popular with iPhone owners, do work with iOS. Wear OS 2 watches running on the 4100 Plus chipset can be upgraded to Wear OS 3 later this year — though it’s still unclear whether they’ll still be iOS-compatible once upgraded. The fact that the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 and the Pixel Watch eschewed iOS hinted that Wear OS 3 would be a closed ecosystem. However, Montblanc’s decision to support iPhone users suggests that other Wear OS watchmakers like Fossil and Mobvoi could follow suit for future watches or even retain some form of iOS compatibility when upgrading older watches.
According to Miller, the Summit 3 will have a dedicated companion app on both iOS and Android that will act as a “bridge between phone and watch.” That also hints that Fossil and Mobvoi may also have to develop their own apps if they want to keep iOS users in the mix.
But just because the Summit 3 will work with iPhones, that doesn’t mean iOS users will get the same Wear OS 3 experience as Android users.
“Our priority for Wear OS 3 is to focus on quality experiences within the Android ecosystem,” Google spokesperson Ivy Chen Hunt told The Verge. “The Montblanc Summit 3 will run Wear OS 3 and be compatible with iPhones. However, support for apps and experiences will vary by phone platform.” Hunt went on to explain that Google supports iOS with apps and services like YouTube Music and notifications mirroring and that the company plans to expand support in the future.
Given that, it’s probably safe to assume that Wear OS 3 won’t be quite as good on iPhones — at least, not at first. We won’t know how exactly the iOS experience will differ until the Montblanc Summit 3 launches on July 15th. That said, the watch costs an eye-watering €1,250 (roughly $1,300). So while the Summit 3 is technically the first iOS-compatible Wear OS 3 watch, you might be better off waiting for more affordable options from Fossil or Mobvoi, which could arrive later this fall.
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