Exclusive interview with the VP of Scion Jack Hollis

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Jack Hollis is senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota Motor North America, Inc., where he is responsible for leading all sales, ...

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'Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga' will arrive on April 5th

Two years after the game was initially supposed to debut, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga will finally arrive on April 5th. The long-awaited title from TT Games adapts all nine movies in the Skywalker Saga, and you'll be able to choose which trilogy to start with (so you might want to get the prequels out of the way first).

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is coming to PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC. It's said to be the biggest Lego game to date, and publisher Warner Bros. Games provided an in-depth look at what's in store with a gameplay trailer.

There are new combat mechanics, including ways to string attacks together and defend yourself with counter moves "in styles tailored to your favorite characters." Expect fresh blaster mechanics, with an over-the-shoulder perspective and third-person aiming reticle, and a cover system. Of course, there'll be a ton of lightsaber action, space dogfighting battles and many opportunities to use Force powers as well.

Many levels will have multiple paths to explore and you'll be able to take on side missions. Class-based abilities are upgradable and there are more than 300 playable characters to unlock. There's also a Mumble Mode, which will replace intelligible voice lines with mumbling, à la previous games in the series.

Based on the gameplay trailer alone, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga seems like a huge game. However, despite the lengthy delays, the development team was still required to work long hours (or "crunch"), according to Polygon

Several current and former employees told the publication that TT Games has had a "challenging work culture over the last decade and a half" and that, during crunch periods, work weeks of between 80 and 100 hours weren't rare (though overtime is said to have been limited in recent months). TT Games has also reportedly had a high level of staff turnover since work started on Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga nearly five years ago.

Oura’s third-generation Ring is more powerful, but not for everybody

The wearables business is hard, especially if you’re a small startup with a device you could, perhaps uncharitably, call “niche.” Oura, which makes activity-tracking rings worn endorsed by a numberof celebrities, recently released its third-generation model. This new hardware is a technical marvel, packing many of the features that most wrist-worn devices take for granted. But the need to keep the cash rolling in has seen Oura, like Fitbit, Apple, Wahoo and others, pivot to a recurring-revenue model. Oura says that this is key to shift from the idea of buying a device that never changes, to supporting its broader goals of building an evolving fitness ecosystem.

Hardware

Image of the inside of the Oura Ring (v3)
Daniel Cooper

Before we get into the specifics of this new Oura ring, let’s take a moment to remember that this device is still a marvel of engineering. Taking the sensors from a smartwatch or fitness tracker and shrinking them into a ring is worthy of enormous praise. For all of its imperfections, it’s amazing to see Oura push the limits of what is capable in such a small form factor. And there’s much more tech crammed in this time around, despite the size and weight remaining the same as the second-generation version. The headline features these new sensors enable include continuous heart-rate tracking, temperature monitoring, blood oxygenation and period prediction.

The sizing process is the same for pretty much every smart ring I’ve ever tried: The company sends you a set of plastic dummy rings you have to wear for a couple of days. Once you’ve determined the correct fit, which is tight and secure around the base of your index finger, but not to the point where it’s uncomfortable, you can order the real thing. This actually was the most stressful part of this review, since I felt that one size was too loose, the other too tight, but I opted for looseness rather than sacrificing a digit to the gods of fitness tracking. Oura says that the index finger is the best place for its ring, but you can stick it elsewhere if you prefer.

Unfortunately, the one thing you can’t do much about is the size of the ring itself which is a bit too big. I’m a big-ish guy with big-ish hands, but it feels a bit too ostentatious on my fingers, enough that people notice and ask me what it is as soon as they spot it. If you have more slender hands, I’m sure you might have a similar issue with folks pointing it out. I suspect that the smart thing to do is visit Parts Of 4 to get some more adornments to balance out the look.

Software

Without a screen, Oura is yoked tightly to the iOS or Android app where all of this data will be displayed. The Oura app is clean and tidy, only giving you the deepest data when you go looking for it. The app breaks down all of the information generated from your finger and compresses it into three scores, which are shown on the homescreen. These are for Readiness, Sleep and Activity, representing how prepared you are to face the day, how well-rested you are and how much exercise you’re doing.

The only other thing you’ll find on the homescreen is a breakdown of your heart rate across the day, showing you where the peaks and troughs are. You’ll also get advice on your ideal bedtime, which is useful when you’re working late nights and need to juggle sleep with getting things done. You’ll also get periodic reminders to move if the app detects you’ve been still for a while, and advice when it’s time for you to wind down for the day.

Go into one of the categories, like Readiness, and you’ll get scores for your recovery index, sleep, as well as your HRV balance, body temperature and resting heart rate. You can also see that my figures dropped quite substantially during a three-day period when I got food poisoning from a New Year’s Eve takeaway meal. During that period, I was given plenty of warnings telling me I wasn’t rested or well enough to do much else – not that I felt like I was gonna go for a run or anything.

As part of Oura’s plan to add extra value to its platform, the company is adding a series of video and audio guides for meditation, breathwork and sleeping. These guides, which are essentially guided meditation audio tracks, can be backed with a white noise option of your choice. You can pick the hum of a train station, the crunch of a forest stroll, the sound of the tide lapping at the land or rainfall, amongst others. These are a thing for people who find those things useful to fall asleep and feel restful but I, personally, do not find them that great.

That said, where Oura differs from its rivals in this space is that it’ll break down your vital signs during your meditation. If you’re wondering how to get better at meditating then you’ll be guided to more appropriate tracks that’ll help prod you toward nirvana.

Oura is working on adding more features to the Ring v3 over the next year, including more content as well as more accurate sleep and period tracking. These will not actually appear as new features so much as they are behind-the-scenes improvements in the underlying systems. Finally, at some point this year, the ring will be able to identify your blood oxygenation (SpO2) while you sleep in order to help detect disorders like sleep apnea.

In use

Image of the Oura Ring V3 on its charging plate.
Daniel Cooper

The best thing about the Oura ring is that, once you’ve worn it a few days, you quickly start to ignore its presence. And while you’re not paying attention, it begins worming its way into every corner of your life, learning your working patterns and getting ready to make helpful suggestions. If you feel like crap in the morning but don’t have the mental wherewithal to comprehend why, you’ll be told as soon as you look at your phone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing here that other platforms don’t do as well, but this is certainly an elegant implementation of the idea.

Sleep tracking is generally fine, by which I mean it works by tracking movement and therefore can’t tell when you’ve been rudely awoken but haven’t moved. As part of this new pivot, however, Oura is promising that the sleep tracking will soon become vastly more accurate as a consequence of behind-the-scenes changes. This will not be readily visible to users, however, since all you’ll get is a pop-up telling you that things just got more accurate. Still, it offers a fairly good indicator for how the night went, although I find the activity tracking to be a little more on the generous side. Yesterday morning, for instance, it told me that my morning shower was a strength training workout with plenty of burned calories for my trouble. Similarly, it’ll tell me around lunchtime that I need to take a half-hour brisk walk to finish my activity for the day, and then by early evening, having done nothing more than stand at my desk, make dinner and put my kids to sleep, it’ll tell me I’ve completed my goal.

One of the features that Oura is tempting its users with is Workout Heart Rate, which I find inadvertently amusing. Because the ring is so chunky, and it has such a hard edge, that I really don’t find it comfortable to wear during workouts. For instance, if I’ve got a pair of free weights, or I’m doing an incline push up on a Smith machine bar, the ring just pushes into the fleshy parts of my hand. For most of the proper “gym” workouts I’ve done, the ring has had to come off, lest I tap out too early or draw blood from the chubby parts of my fingers. But for more ring-friendly jobs, like running, walking, or cycling, you should find this to be a big help.

In terms of vital-signs tracking accuracy, I think it’s always wise to remember that wearables will not be as inch-perfect as a clinical-grade device. But in a number of random spot-tests, the Oura offered the exact same figures as the Apple Watch on my wrist. In fact, Oura’s reputation for accuracy has always been pretty high, and one of the reasons that the company hasn’t released some of these features is to ensure they’re ready to go when they do arrive.

Oura quotes battery life at seven days, although I rarely managed to get past five without having to drop it on the charging plate. Certainly, real-world stamina is a bit far from what the company is saying, but then it’s hardly a deal breaker since you can charge it full in two hours. It’s become common for me to take the ring off while I’m standing at my desk on Monday and Friday mornings and let it re-juice while I’m working.

Economics

The third-generation Oura ring will set you back $299, which gets you the ring in one of four finishes: Silver, Black, Stealth or Gold. In the box, you’ll receive the charging plate and a USB-C cable, and as part of the deal, you’ll get a six-month trial of Oura’s subscription service. Membership, which costs $5.99 a month for new users, will entitle you to “daily health insights,” “personalized recommendations,” as well as more video and audio sessions. Any existing Oura user who upgrades to the new ring will get a lifetime membership thrown in for free.

I want to be fair here and say that I understand why Oura is pivoting to this recurring revenue model. It’s not as if other companies in this space, like Fitbit, aren’t doing the same in the hope of bolstering their bottom lines. And that’s before we get to talk about how much lock-in the Apple Watch gets as a consequence of Fitness+. But I also think there’s a difference between the sort of product that those rivals are offering compared to Oura’s product.

After all, Apple and Fitbit can both offer coaching both on their devices and on bigger screens, which Oura can’t. Not to mention that Oura is really only able to offer guided audio clips (and short videos) through its app. And that while Apple and Fitbit are selling their devices as (having the potential to become) Capital-F Fitness gear, the Oura really isn’t. But, then again, that’s not what Oura is pitching here – it’s for the meditator, the runner, the cyclist, who doesn’t want to strap something beefy to their wrist.

Wrap-Up

Here’s the problem with reviewing Oura: It’s not a device that every fitness person will love. If you want something with more versatility, you’d buy a smartwatch and have done with it. Oura is more of a subtle product, for people who want to be less ostentatious about their health, or simply want something that slips into their lives and does the job. Honestly, since I’m not a gym bro, I really like the data the ring offers me without any fuss or muss.

As for the subscription, it’s likely that Oura will have to keep squeezing as many new features and insights as possible out of this new hardware. Between that, and vastly improving its currently slender content library, it’s worth it if you’re a paid-up member of the Oura family. But, and this is more a comment on the industry as a whole rather than a slight against Oura itself, I do find this need for every company to squeeze some rental income out of their users to be a little bit grating.

What we bought: a rice cooker whose greatest trick isn't actually rice

Every month, Engadget features what our editors are currently into, whether it be video games, podcasts or gadgets. These are not official reviews; they’re simply our first-hand experiences. This week, Senior Editor Nicole Lee gives her take on the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker.


A long-standing joke among my family and friends over the past couple of decades is that I’m not a true Asian. Why? Because I didn’t have a rice cooker. Since rice is a staple of the Asian diet, rice cookers are commonplace in most Asian households. But for years, I refused to get one. That is, until recently, when I finally gave in and got a $195 Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. And ironically, what I ended up liking most about it isn’t rice at all.

The reason I held off was mostly that I didn’t think I needed it. Since I only live with my husband, I told myself I didn’t need a single-purpose appliance. After all, I could already make rice on the stove with just a saucepan. I’ve become adept at making small portions of rice over the years. Plus, it only takes 18-or-so minutes. A rice cooker, on the other hand, can typically take 35 minutes or longer. So even though I enjoy rice enough to make it regularly, I just couldn’t quite justify the seeming inconvenience.

This, however, was challenged over this past winter break. We had our family over on Christmas Eve, so I ordered takeout from a local Chinese restaurant. At one point, we ran out of rice, so I set about making more on the stove. I had to make rice for around 10 people, which I’m not used to doing. Long story short, my calculations were off, and the rice I made ended up crunchier than I would like. Of course, my family didn’t complain, but I was still a little upset with myself. That’s when I reconsidered getting a dedicated rice cooker.

Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker
Engadget

After some research, I opted for the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. Sure it’s expensive – you can easily get basic models for less than $50 – but I wanted one that can cook all kinds of rice such as short-grain and medium-grain white rice, long-grain jasmine rice, sweet (or sticky) rice, brown rice and more. More importantly, I wanted a cooker with “fuzzy logic” (yes, that’s an industry term), which essentially means that the device has a computer chip. This gives it the smarts to adjust temperature and cook time to accommodate other variables, such as human error (like what I experienced over Christmas), to ensure perfectly cooked rice every time.

I’ve now had it for a few weeks, and I love it. It really does make cooking rice so much easier. Instead of having to fuss over the stove, I can just rinse the rice, add water, push a button and walk away. It also has a “Keep Warm” function that lasts over five hours, giving me plenty of time to prepare dinner as the rice cooks. It also comes with a handy guide that tells you the proper rice and water ratio for all the different kinds of rice. On top of that, it has a timer so you can have the rice ready whenever you want it.

Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker
Engadget

But I’d argue the killer function of the Neuro Fuzzy isn’t rice at all. I’ve discovered that it actually makes amazing oatmeal from steel-cut oats. I learned about this from an NYT Cooking recipe for “Rice Cooker Steel-Cut Oats,” (link requires subscription) and it is really such a game changer for me. Steel-cut oatmeal usually takes 20 or so minutes to make, and I don’t usually have time for it in the mornings. But with the rice cooker, I just dump in one cup of oats followed by four cups of water and a teaspoon of salt before I go to bed, set the timer for 8AM, toggle the menu to the Porridge setting, press Cook, and I get to wake up to fresh oatmeal every morning. What’s more, the resulting oatmeal is the best I’ve ever had. The texture is so creamy and smooth, making it the perfect vehicle for both sweet and savory applications. I like mine with spam, spinach and furikake

Additionally, and it admittedly sounds silly to talk about a rice cooker this way, but the Neuro Fuzzy is just adorable. Its long oval shape gives it a rounded, egg-like appearance that I find aesthetically pleasing. It also plays a tune whenever it starts or ends cooking. My favorite design feature, however, is its power cord: it’s retractable! This way you can store it away without a nest of cables to contend with.

Perhaps the only real downside of the Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker is that it’s pretty slow. White rice takes around 40 or so minutes to cook, while brown rice can take 90 minutes or longer (stovetop timing on the other hand, ranges from 18 minutes for white rice to 45 minutes or so for brown rice). Still, that’s a small price to pay for perfectly cooked rice, creamy morning oatmeal and, hopefully, no more ruined Christmases.

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