OnePlus redefines premium with the 7 Pro

OnePlus has never been particularly beholden to industry trends. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than with the 7 Pro. In the face of a stagnated smartphone market, Apple, Samsung and Google all went budget, releasing lower-tier takes on their pricey flagships to appeal to consumers looking for something akin to a premium experience without having to shell out four figures.

The 7 Pro, on the other hand, is OnePlus’ most premium device to date. But while the shift marks a break from much of the industry, it’s a very logical step for the company’s current trajectory. OnePlus made a name for itself creating low-cost flagship devices with features that were just slightly behind the bleeding edge.

In recent years, however, the company has looked to change that perception, becoming one of the first Android phones with an in-display fingerprint sensor and promising to be among the first to deliver 5G. The 7 Pro, however, marks a new era for the company. The existing six-month release strategy is still in place here (fittingly, given that Google has recently adopted something similar with its Pixel line), but the language OnePlus is using has shifted.

In a meeting ahead of launch, a rep for the company told TechCrunch OnePlus considers its twice-yearly phones to all be “flagships,” but the new model introduces the paradigm of “premium flagship” and “ultra-premium flagship.”

That’s a markety speak way of saying the company doesn’t compromise — which I think is a fair point. Oftentimes the concept of a “budget flagship” is heavily weighted toward the budget side of things. But OnePlus long ago established its knack for providing well-rounded, high-end smartphone experiences at well below the price of premium handsets.

The 7 Pro’s $669 starting price hedges much closer to the iPhone XR and Samsung Galaxy S10e’s $749 than the Pixel 3a’s $399. It’s also a pretty significant bump over the OnePlus 6T’s $549 starting point. It’s likely enough to make longtime fans of the service do a double take, but the sizable increase does come with a truly premium handset.

That starts with the design (though it’s certainly more than skin deep). This is immediately apparent with the 6.67-inch display. If curved sides of the edge to edge design are familiar, it’s because it was built custom for OnePlus by Samsung. And while it’s similar, it is, in fact, a custom design for the line, meaning that it’s still distinguished from the Galaxy line — namely the 516ppi density and a 90Hz refresh rate.

What’s really notable, however, is the complete absence of a notch or a pinhole. The 7 Pro takes another key step toward a world of uninterrupted screen time. Open the camera app, flip to front-facing and wait just under a second, as it mechanically extends on top of the device.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen the technology — fellow Chinese manufacturers Oppo and Vivo have already introduced us to pop-up cameras. But given OnePlus’ ongoing T-Mobile partnership, this is arguably the first time this technology has really been available to mainstream U.S. consumers.

The execution is quite good. As someone who almost never takes selfies, I’ve come to appreciate the semblance of privacy of a hidden front-facing camera. If I need it, it’s just a tap of the screen away. There are some safety features built in, as well. Should it slip from your grip while the camera is out, the phone uses the accelerometer to automatically retract it. It will also automatically return home if the phone goes to sleep with it out.

OnePlus won’t say what this specifically means for things like water resistance. In fact, the company’s a little cagey on the subject — even recently taking to Twitter to brag that it didn’t submit for an IP rating, in order to lower the cost of the devices for the end user. Here’s a video of it dropping the new phone in a bucket:

Do with that what you will. It’s certainly clear why OnePlus would decide to skip elements it deemed unnecessary, but there is a certain peace of mind in knowing that a product has been submitted to rigorous testing by outside parties. The closest we got to a definitive answer was a recommendation against attempting to take an underwater selfie with the phone. So take that as you will.

On the rear of the device is a three-camera system that pairs a beefy 48-megapixel lens with a 78mm telephoto and 117-degree ultra-wide angle. I’ve had some opportunity to play with the phone, and this really does seem to be the most utilitarian set up for a three-camera system, and the camera software does a nice job transitioning between lenses as you zoom in.

This is a premium device inside, as well. The Snapdragon 855 is coupled with 6-12GB of RAM and either 128 or 256GB of storage. The battery is a beefy 4,000 mAh, which will get you through more than a day on a single charge, no problem. The “Warp Charge” maintains the company’s fast-charging tradition, letting you fill up around half the battery in 20 minutes using the included adapter.

OnePlus has really outdone itself here, once again proving that a truly premium device doesn’t require a four-digit investment. Other companies have explored a similar price point with varying degrees of success. For OnePlus fans not ready to take the step up, the company will continue to provide a more more affordable line going forward. For now, however, the 7 Pro is easily one of the best ways to get a truly premium smartphone experience without paying an arm and leg.

The 7 Pro will be available online May 17 through OnePlus’ site and T-Mobile.

You probably weren’t a target of the WhatsApp surveillance hack

Every once in a while a major bug, vulnerability or security scare will spark panic. In most cases, it’s absolutely unnecessary panic.

Take yesterday’s reported vulnerability. Israeli hacking outfit NSO Group, a developer of malware typically used by governments, was caught using a hack targeting WhatsApp that allowed the attackers to remotely spy on the victim’s phone. The exploit was almost invisible, according to Financial Times, which broke the story. The only indication that a phone might have been hacked is a missed call, often later deleted from the call log.

WhatsApp owner Facebook said it detected the hack and pushed out a fix to the app stores last night. WhatsApp didn’t mention the attack in its release notes, sparking criticism from some security experts for downplaying the risk of the vulnerability.

There was just one small missing piece of information from most reports: You probably weren’t a target.

Unless you’re a nuclear scientist or a government spy — or in this case a human rights lawyer — you’re probably not of any interest.

Exploits like the ones used in WhatsApp require a lot of time and effort to develop. They also have to be effective, undetected and reusable. Every time an exploit is used against a target runs the risk that someone finds out — the very opposite of covert surveillance.

“This attack was not about mass surveillance, it was used against highly targeted people,” said Alan Woodward, a computer science professor at the University of Surrey. “The likely cost and risks to those deploying this exploit means they would have used it only on very selective targets,” he said.

It’s becoming increasingly common to report hacks and breaches without offering context to the victims involved. Every time we report a security lapse, we try to contextualize it so confirmed or possible victims can take measures to protect themselves. The risk is if we don’t, it sparks panic and uncertainty. Worse, confusion leads to misinterpretation, which results in shoddy reporting and a misinformed public.

It’s sometimes called “hack porn,” where fanciful and obscure hacking techniques are covered like they’re drive-by downloads, or nation states are hacking everyone en masse. There’s no harm in reporting the information, but in a way that’s proportional to the risk posed to the possible victims involved.

“The general public should be aware, update the software, but certainly not rush to abandon the application,” said Woodward. “To their credit, WhatsApp found this almost invisible attack,” he said.

“No software is 100% secure,” said Woodward. “As long as you practice good security hygiene such as keeping your passwords secure and your apps up to date, the vast majority should be quite safe from this attack, even if you are a target.”

Yesterday’s news is a reminder that as much as sophisticated, nation state-backed hacks exist to target a fraction of the 1%, it never hurts to keep your apps up to date.

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Sisense acquires Periscope Data to build integrated data science and analytics solution

Sisense announced today that it has acquired Periscope Data to create what it is calling a complete data science and analytics platform for customers. The companies did not disclose the purchase price.

The two companies’ CEOs met about 18 months ago at a conference, and running similar kinds of companies, hit it off. They began talking and, after a time, realized it might make sense to combine the two startups because each one was attacking the data problem from a different angle.

Sisense, which has raised $174 million, tends to serve business intelligence requirements either for internal use or externally with customers. Periscope, which has raised more than $34 million, looks at the data science end of the business.

Both CEOs say they could have eventually built these capabilities into their respective platforms, but after meeting they decided to bring the two companies together instead, and they made a deal.

Harry Glasser from Periscope Data and Amir Orad of Sisense.

Harry Glasser from Periscope Data and Amir Orad of Sisense

“I realized over the last 18 months [as we spoke] that we’re actually building leadership positions into two unique areas of the market that will slowly become one as industries and technologies evolve,” Sisense CEO Amir Orad told TechCrunch.

Periscope CEO Harry Glasser says that as his company built a company around advanced analytics and predictive modeling, he saw a growing opportunity around operationalizing these insights across an organization, something he could do much more quickly in combination with Sisense.

“[We have been] pulled into this broader business intelligence conversation, and it has put us in a place where as we do this merger, we are able to instantly leapfrog the three years it would have taken us to deliver that to our customers, and deliver operationalized insights on integration day on day one,” Glasser explained.

The two executives say this is part of a larger trend about companies becoming more data-driven, a phrase that seems trite by now, but as a recent Harvard Business School study found, it’s still a big challenge for companies to achieve.

Orad says that you can debate the pace of change, but that overall, companies are going to operate better when they use data to drive decisions. “I think it’s an interesting intellectual debate, but the direction is one direction. People who deploy this technology will provide better care, better service, hire better, promote employees and grow them better, have better marketing, better sales and be more cost effective,” he said.

Orad and Glasser recognize that many acquisitions don’t succeed, but they believe they are bringing together two like-minded companies that will have a combined ARR of $100 million and 700 employees.

“That’s the icing on the cake, knowing that the cultures are so compatible, knowing that they work so well together, but it starts from a conviction that this advanced analytics can be operationalized throughout enterprises and [with] their customers. This is going to drive transformation inside our customers that’s really great for them and turns them into data-driven companies,” Glasser said.

OnePlus’ new $99 earbuds promise long battery, better sound

OnePlus’ original Bullets weren’t the sexiest of earbuds, but they were a solid workhorse offering for those who prefer a yolked design to fully wireless. And like the rest of OnePlus’ offerings, the price was right.

Announced today alongside the 7 Pro, the Bullets Wireless 2 aren’t a radical departure from their predecessor, but do a good job of building atop a solid foundation. The $99 buds feature improved sound with an architecture that was apparently inspired by nautilus spiral sea shells.

What that means is good sound for a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, and a pretty comfortable fit, courtesy of an elongated angular design. I’ve been wearing them a bit and am pretty happy with the fit. The over-the-neck design is more of a personal presence. They’re bulkier than fully wires buds, but it’s handy to be able to pull them out and let them rest over your shoulders when not in use. The yolk is a soft silicone, while the metal buds snap together magnetically to close the loop.

That added real estate also helps on the battery front, without the need for a charging case. All told, they should get you around 14 hours of playback when fully charged. If you’re in a pinch, you can squeeze an impressive 10 hours of playback out of a 10-minute charge using USB C.

All in all, not a bad deal for $99.

Google to show ads on homepage of mobile site, app

Alphabet Inc’s Google will begin featuring ads on the homepage of its mobile website and smartphone app later this year, it said on Tuesday, giving the search engine a huge new supply of ad slots to boost revenue.

JEFFREY LIPTON in BARBADOS – http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/YQFGbK2CoO0/google-to-show-ads-on-homepage-of-mobile-site-app-idUSKCN1SK1YK

UPDATE 1-Exxon’s Mozambique LNG project plan gets approval

Exxon Mobil Corp said on Tuesday
that its development plan for Rovuma liquefied natural gas (LNG)
project in Mozambique was approved by the country’s government,
with the company’s final investment decision expected later this
year.

JEFFREY LIPTON in BARBADOS – http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/companyNews/~3/AmHlaKeIM6c/update-1-exxons-mozambique-lng-project-plan-gets-approval-idUSL4N22Q439

Brazil’s development bank BNDES posts higher profit on participations

Brazil’s state development
bank BNDES posted a first-quarter profit more than five times
higher than in the same period a year earlier, helped by the
performance of its participations arm, the bank said on Tuesday.

JEFFREY LIPTON in BARBADOS – http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/companyNews/~3/ZmRBEhPmSxw/brazils-development-bank-bndes-posts-higher-profit-on-participations-idUSL2N22Q0OK

Tech stocks help Wall Street rebound from trade-driven rout

U.S. stocks climbed on Tuesday, as investors picked up beaten-down technology and industrial stocks following optimistic comments from Washington and Beijing that tempered concerns about a further escalation in the trade war.

JEFFREY LIPTON in BARBADOS – http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/Jhb0Mj9uUX4/tech-stocks-help-wall-street-rebound-from-trade-driven-rout-idUSKCN1SK1CA

MOVES-BNP Paribas asset management arm hires Rob Gambi as global head of investments

BNP Paribas Asset Management, the asset
management arm of the French bank, on Tuesday named
Rob Gambi as global head of investments, based in London.

JEFFREY LIPTON in BARBADOS – http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/companyNews/~3/oieCsLFfsqs/moves-bnp-paribas-asset-management-arm-hires-rob-gambi-as-global-head-of-investments-idUSL4N22Q46L