The best Apple AirTag accessories you can buy

Apple lovers who constantly lose their keys got a new way to keep track of them with the launch of AirTags. But despite how easy they are to set up, Apple’s tiny Bluetooth trackers have one critical flaw — no built-in keychain hole. That means anyone who buys AirTags will have to buy holders or cases to attach them to their stuff.

Despite how backwards this seems, it’s a very Apple way of milking as much money out of a new product as possible since many will simply buy Apple’s own AirTag holders. But those aren’t the only options available — plenty of accessory companies have already made AirTag cases. However, since the trackers are still quite new, third-party options are a bit slim. But those that are available right now are almost all cheaper than Apple’s own cases, so they’re worth considering regardless of if you intend to have one or many AirTags shadowing your valuables.

If you already bought an AirTag or two, you probably know where you want to put it. The most common place is attached to your keys, but AirTags are small enough to strap to backpacks and luggage, to slip inside a wallet or even attach to your pet’s collar. Where you want to put the thing will help determine the kind of case you should get for it.

Apple AirTag with cases
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

Let’s start with key-friendly cases, specifically Apple’s own $35 Leather Key Ring. Like most Apple accessories it’s basic, yet attractive. The AirTag nestles into the perfectly-shaped leather circle and snaps shut, and since the leather extends slightly over both sides of the tracker, there’s very little chance it will pop out unexpectedly.

But unless you simply must have all Apple everything, you can get similar leather (or faux-leather) key holders for less. I liked Spigen’s AirTag Case Valentinus because it has an almost identical design and comes with an easy to use carabiner-style key ring. It’s made of pleather but doesn’t feel cheap and its snap closure is just as secure as Apple’s — plus, it’s $15 cheaper.

Two other all-purpose key rings that stood out were Elago’s AirTag case ($9 for a pack of two) and Caseology’s $14 Vault. The former is quite minimal — it’s a soft-touch silicone circle that’s larger than the AirTag itself, which gives you a better grip on the tracker. One side of the gadget is completely covered by the case, as is the whole circumference. But that leaves one side visible, which means you can show off any emoji engravings you emblazoned on your AirTag. Elago’s case is the best no-frills option that I found when it comes to design and price.

Buy leather key ring at Apple – $35Buy Spigen Valentinus at Amazon – $18Buy Elago case (2 pack) at Amazon – $9Buy Caseology Vault at Amazon – $14

Apple AirTag with Caseology Vault
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

But if you want something a bit more elevated, Caseology’s Vault is a great option. It’s a textured oval made of flexible plastic into which you pop in the AirTag on one side. The other side has a smaller opening that attaches to the included carabiner, which is one of the best clips I came across in my testing. It’s pretty basic as far as carabiners go, but it’s better than a standard key ring — especially if you want to easily attach your AirTag to something other than your keys like straps on a backpack, or even a pet collar. Overall, the Caseology Vault is one of the most attractive holders I tested and it will be a solid buy for anyone that doesn’t need to have leather.

AirTags can also help you keep track of larger bags and luggage, and you could easily slip one into an interior pocket and call it a day. But if you’d rather hook the tracker to the outside, you’ll need something a bit larger and more flexible than a standard key ring. Apple has Loop holders in leather and polyurethane that attach similar to luggage tags, but they’re just as expensive as AirTags themselves starting at $29.

A more affordable option is Belkin’s Secure Holder with Strap, which comes in at only $13. The case opens up into two pieces, allowing you to sit the AirTag inside the circle and twist and snap the two halves together to lock it in. You can then attach the AirTag to your luggage handle, water bottle or other item with the strap, which lacks any give and feels quite strong. I appreciate the unique design of Belkin’s Secure Holder, although it was hard to twist open when the AirTag was inside of it. But that’s a good thing for daily use — your AirTag isn’t going anywhere when in the Secure Holder. I also liked its slightly raised edges, which provide extra protection against impacts and bumps.

Buy loop holder at Apple starting at $29Buy Belkin Secure Holder w/ Strap at Amazon – $13

Apple AirTag with Belkin Secure Holder and Strap
Valentina Palladino / Engadget

You may also want to slip an AirTag in your wallet, and you could do so without a case on the tracker at all. But unlike Tile’s slim and flat locators, AirTags are slightly rounded in the middle, so they won’t lay flat in the folds of your wallet. If that’s going to bother you, Amazon has a bunch of listings for credit card-sized AirTag holders which keep the tracker secure in a circular cutout while also keeping your wallet at a relatively uniform thickness.

I wasn’t able to try any of these so I can’t vouch for their quality, but I will say they are a tailored solution to a very specific problem — these cases are designed for in-wallet use and that’s basically it. For more flexibility, you could opt for a thinner pocket for your AirTag like Moment’s $20 Stretch Fabric Mount or the $16 Cyrill Shine case, the latter of which also doubles as a key ring holder.

Unsurprisingly, companies followed the same track with AirTags accessories as they did for AirPods accessories — there are many cute and custom options available. Casetify has a limited selection of customizable AirTag holders that you can emblazon with hearts, butterflies, peace signs and even the initials or name of the owner. But they’ll cost you $35 a pop — even pricier than a single AirTag. Amazon and Walmart also have silicone cases shaped like paw prints, Hello Kitty, kawaii avocados and more, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one of those costing more than $10. Plus, they may make it easier to convince your young child to hook an AirTag onto their backpack.

Buy credit card holders at Amazon – $15Buy Fabric Mount at Moment – $20Buy Cyrill Shine at Amazon – $16

Samsung’s ‘The Wall’ will be used to form a virtual movie studio

The emergence of virtual productions like those popularized by Disney’s The Mandalorian have given display giants a new niche for their massive screens. Sony, which boasts a movie production arm, is already using its modular crystal LEDs to provide backgrounds for shoots. Now, Samsung is getting in on the act through a new partnership with major Korean movie and TV show producer CJ ENM.

The pact will see Samsung provide its massive MicroLED TVs, known as The Wall, to the studio’s virtual production facility when it opens in Paju, Gyeonggi Province later this year. CJ ENM previously struck a deal with Fortnite maker Epic Games to use its Unreal Engine game engine — which also provided the digital backdrops for The Mandalorian — for future projects. 

Virtual productions are gaining traction in global filmmaking. The technique involves the use of LED stages, game engines and VR to create and control computer-generated backdrops. Currently, the massive investment has limited the tools to blockbuster shoots, but industry insiders believe that could change as people realize the savings they bring on crew travel and physical sets and infrastructure. As a result, virtual production is expected to become the norm in filmmaking within five years, according to an industry report by the Göteborg Film Festival. 

Samsung says its latest screens will deliver improved visuals thanks to their support for HDR 10+ and optimized frame rates such as 23.976Hz, 29.97Hz and 59.94Hz. The company will install an oval-shaped main display at CJ ENM’s new complex with a diameter of 20 metres and a height of seven metres or more. Samsung says its massive screen measures over 1,000 inches and supports up to 16K high-resolution content.

But, the Korean company hasn’t embraced virtual production quite like Sony. The Japanese conglomerate previously paid $250 million to acquire a minority stake in Epic Games. It also bought virtual production software maker Nurulize in 2019 and integrated it into Sony Innovation Studios, the state-of-the-art facility located on the Sony Pictures Studios lot.

The Morning After: EV-charging roads in Indiana

One problem with our electric vehicle future is the need for ubiquitous, easy-to-use charging points all over the world. After all, the only way to avoid range and lines-at-the-charger anxiety is to make sure you can get power whenever you need it. That’s what makes a project, started by Indiana’s Department of Transport, so exciting: It’s working on a road that can charge your EV as you drive.

Backed by the National Science Foundation, and in partnership with Purdue University, the team will test concrete embedded with magnetized particles. This magnetized cement, or Magment, will be produced by a German company (also called Magment). The idea will, if early tests prove successful, see Indiana’s DOT build a quarter-mile track of Magment to see if it can charge a heavy duty truck while it trundles along.

A number of countries, including the UK and Sweden, are currently testing road-based charging. If it works, we won’t need to reorder our lives to accommodate an EV. Better still, permanently available power may make it easier to build cars with smaller batteries, knowing you’re never more than a few inches from your next set of electrons.

— Dan Cooper

Steam Deck can limit frame rates to give you longer battery life

The target is 30 frames per second for an extra hour or two of juice.

Valve Steam Deck with carrying case
Valve

Steam Deck, Valve’s handheld console, brings PC gaming to your morning commute. The open question, of course, was how such a wee device would cope with the demanding, graphically intensive titles of the last few years. Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais explained that the console will ship with an option to limit the frame rate. This Frame Limiter, which has a lower limit of 30 frames per second, was tested on Portal 2, which lasted four hours without it, and six with. It seems like Valve is at least aware its handheld is more than a little ambitious and is making every effort to ensure it actually works. Continue Reading.

China plans to build the first ‘clean’ commercial nuclear reactor

Reactors using thorium and molten salt is the holy grail for clean energy visionaries.

Thorium pellets. In India, nuclear energy and secrecy literally go hand in hand. In a rare treat, photographer Pallava Bagla was given exclusive access deep into the heart of India's nuclear weapons laboratory for an unprecedented glimse into India's secret nuclear program. This new reactor, simply called a
Pallava Bagla via Getty Images

China has unveiled its design for a “clean” nuclear reactor, which is at less risk of meltdown and doesn’t require water for cooling. This reactor, which uses thorium and molten salt, is a bit of a holy grail for our clean energy future, at least until something better comes along. Tests should begin later this year, and there’s hope of seeing the first working commercial reactor in the early 2030s. Developed by the US in the early ‘60s, thorium and molten salt reactors are comparable to current uranium reactors. Why was the technology mothballed? For a couple of reasons, most notably because, unlike uranium, the technology didn’t work for weapons. Continue Reading.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has flown a total of one mile on Mars

This is one air mile you can’t trade in for extra legroom.

NASA Ingenuity helicopter on 10th flight over Mars
NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ingenuity, NASA’s Mars helicopter, has now covered a mile of distance flown while studying the surface of the Red Planet. On its latest jaunt, the 10th so far, it zoomed around taking pictures of the Raised Ridges region of the Jezero Crater. They will help mission commanders determine if the Perseverance rover can make it over the rough terrain. Continue Reading.

Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony included a light display with 1,800 drones

A globe made of drones was a very impressive sight.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 23, 2021. Drones form a shape of the world during the opening ceremony, seen above the Olympic Stadium REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Kim Kyung Hoon / reuters

The 2020 Summer Games, before all of the running and jumping and swimming started, was a feast for the more nerdily inclined. The opening ceremony featured a light show, with a fleet of 1,824 drones taking center stage. Initially forming the shape of the five rings, the craft then recombined to create a 3D globe in the air, while a rendition of Imagine, re-orchestrated by Hans Zimmer, rang throughout the stadium. And the geeky festivities didn’t stop there: The athletes walked out to orchestrated versions of classic video game songs. Continue Reading.

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LG’s new Tone Free earbuds have a case that doubles as a wireless dongle

LG may be through with smartphones, but it’s still making gear you can use with your mobile. The Korean company has unveiled its new range of LG Tone Free wireless earbuds, and this time the germ-killing UV tech isn’t the highlight. Of the three newcomers, the high-end FP9 model has a charging case that plugs into a headphone jack to work as a Bluetooth dongle. The feature could be handy during flights and in other wired environments. 

The trio, including the mid-range FP8 and low-end FP9, also come with active noise-canceling and two new spatial audio upgrades. That means you should hear musical elements as if they’re positioned in different spaces in a 3D soundstage. The results are supposed to be more “lifelike,” according to LG, but we’ll have to test them before offering a verdict. 

LG Tone Free FP
LG

In fact, spatial audio is becoming a more common feature in general. It recently arrived on Apple Music and has long been available through Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format. While Verizon claims that its spatial audio format, Adaptive Sound, doesn’t even require specific headphones, earbuds or speakers.

The big departure in the Tone Free’s design is the shorter stem, which LG reduced by 4.4 millimeters. All three also pack a trio of microphones and a new voice calling feature, dubbed Whispering Mode, that lets you hold the right earbud close to your mouth as a dedicated mic. 

UV auto-cleaning is back, too, but limited to the FP8 and FP9. It can get rid of 99.9 percent of germs in five minutes when the buds are placed inside the case, which features wireless charging on the FP8. Both the mid- and high-end earbuds also pack more battery life than the low-end- FP5: 10 hours of playback time compared to 8 hours between charges, and 24 hours with the case compared to 22 hours. 

LG says the LG Tone Free FP series will be available starting this month in colors including charcoal black and pearl white, with the FP8 and FP9 also offered in haze gold. We’ve reached out for pricing info and will update this article accordingly.

A magnetic helmet shrunk a deadly tumor in world-first test

We’ve seen helmets and AI that can spot brain tumors, but a new hard hat can actually treat them, too. As part of the latest neurological breakthrough, researchers used a helmet that generates a magnetic field to shrink a deadly tumor by a third. The 53-year-old patient who underwent the treatment ultimately passed away due to an unrelated injury. But, an autopsy of his brain showed that the procedure had removed 31 percent of the tumor mass in a short time. The test marked the first noninvasive therapy for a deadly form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma.

The helmet features three rotating magnets connected to a microprocessor-based electronic controller operated by a rechargeable battery. As part of the therapy, the patient wore the device for five weeks at a clinic and then at home with the help of his wife. The resulting magnetic field therapy created by the helmet was administered for two hours initially and then ramped up to a maximum of six hours per day. During the period, the patient’s tumor mass and volume shrunk by nearly a third, with shrinkage appearing to correlate with the treatment dose.

The inventors of the device — which received FDA approval for compassionate use treatment — claim it could one day help treat brain cancer without radiation or chemotherapy. “Our results…open a new world of non-invasive and nontoxic therapy…with many exciting possibilities for the future,” said David S. Baskin, corresponding author and director of the Kenneth R. Peak Center for Brain and Pituitary Tumor Treatment in the Department of Neurosurgery at Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. Details of the procedure have been published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Oncology.

Autonomous quadrotor beats two human pilots in a drone race

Unlike self-driving cars, autonomous drones can generally get from “A” to “B” safely, but could they beat a human pilot in a drone race? So far the answer has been “no way,” but now, researchers from the University of Zurich (UZH) have created an algorithm that allowed an AI-powered drone to beat two human pilots on an experimental race track. The work could lead to more efficient drones for rescues, deliveries and other chores. 

In the past, researchers have built simplified models of quadrotor systems or flight paths to calculate the optimum trajectory. This time, however, they fully accounted for the drone’s limitations. “The key idea is, rather than assigning sections of the flight path to specific waypoints, that our algorithm just tells the drone to pass through all waypoints, but not how or when to do that,” said PhD student and author Philipp Foehn.

For the AI versus human race, researchers let the human pilots train on the circuit so the comparison would be fair. They set up external cameras to send the drone’s exact position to the algorithm in real time. Once both humans and AI were trained, the algorithm beat the humans on every lap and had more consistent performance to boot. 

The research could lead to quicker drones for real-world applications, even in complex environments with multiple waypoints. The next step is to make the system less computationally demanding and allow it work with onboard, rather than external cameras. “This algorithm can have huge applications in package delivery with drones, inspection, search and rescue, and more,” said UZH’s head of Robotics and Perception Group, Davide Scaramuzza. 

Turtle Beach’s first gamepad pairs its audio expertise with great ergonomics

Each gaming accessory company has one thing they do well, like Corsair and its keyboards or Razer’s line of mice. Turtle Beach is known as a premium headset manufacturer, but that hasn’t stopped it from expanding its offerings, starting with its very first gamepad, the Recon Controller. And it happily still incorporates the company’s audio expertise.

It’s a wired controller compatible with XboxSeries X|S and One as well as Windows 10. As a couch gamer I’m never really thrilled by the need to be tethered, but it makes up for it with a great hand feel. The grips are covered in a tactile gray material, with a grid of triangles that help channel heat and sweat away from your palms. But what I really like are the textured buttons — the shoulder, trigger and back buttons are studded with bumps that do a good job of keeping your fingers from slipping. They also feel great, so much so that I often find myself playing with the Recon Controller even when I’m not gaming.

Turtle Beach Recon Controller in white with purple cord plugged in
Kris Naudus / Engadget

The marquee features of the Recon Controller are its audio controls, located in a small panel at the top of the gamepad. One of my editors said it looks like a modern interpretation of a Mad Catz unit and, well, he isn’t wrong. It’s not exactly attractive, with so many buttons it looks over-engineered.

What all those fiddly buttons offer is an array of options for the sound coming from the headset you’ve plugged into the controller. The bottom has the usual 3.5mm port, so it’ll work with pretty much any headset, provided you have the right cable for it. I tried it with the Recon Spark, a solid and inexpensive set of cans that’s served as my daily driver at the office for a few years now.

Turtle Beach Recon Controller in white
Kris Naudus / Engadget

At each end of the trapezoidal control panel are two toggles, the one on the left adjusts the volume and the right one handles the balance between game audio and chat. They’re far up enough on the controller such that you don’t accidentally hit the X and Y buttons. However, the buttons on the panel itself are packed in so tightly that if you overshoot you’re likely to hit one of the controls in the middle instead.

Which is less than ideal, given that the two big buttons are the mute function (not something you want to accidentally hit while communicating with your teammates) and the “superhuman hearing” button. The latter is a new feature, boosting smaller sounds like footsteps so you won’t miss a thing. The effect wasn’t as pronounced as it promises, as I didn’t notice huge changes while I played a few rounds of Among Us. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have it, and the effect may vary depending on the game you’re playing and the headset you have connected.

Turtle Beach Recon Controller
Kris Naudus / Engadget

Between those two buttons is another toggle, one that serves a variety of functions. You can adjust your EQ presets between the default, bass, bass/treble and vocal settings. You can also adjust the power of the gamepad’s vibrations, as well as the sensitivity of the thumb sticks. It’s nice to be able to adjust these things on the fly, rather than having to fiddle around in a settings program. The big drawback is that it’s not immediately clear what the icons represent, and I had to consult the instructions and experiment with them before I really understood.

Overall I was happy with the controller’s performance, and I’m enamored of the ergonomics of it more than anything. I’m just not entirely sure they’re worth dealing with a wired controller and headset when you’re used to going wireless.

Researchers are testing concrete that could charge your EV while you drive

Roads that can charge electric cars or buses while you drive aren’t a new concept, but so far the technology has been relatively expensive and inefficient. However, Indiana’s Department of Transport (INDOT) has announced that it’s testing a new type of cement with embedded magnetized particles that could one day provide efficient, high-speed charging at “standard roadbuilding costs,” Autoblog has reported. 

With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), INDOT has teamed with Purdue University and German company Magment on the project. They’ll carry out the research in three phases, first testing if the magnetized cement (called “magment,” naturally) will work in the lab, then trying it out on a quarter-mile section of road. 

In a brochure, Magment said its product delivers “record-breaking wireless transmission efficiency [at] up to 95 percent,” adding that it can be built at “standard road-building installation costs” and that it’s “robust and vandalism-proof.” The company also notes that slabs with the embedded ferrite particles could be built locally, presumably under license. 

The final phase sounds ambitious, with INDOT saying it would “test the innovative concrete’s capacity to charge heavy trucks operation at high power (200 kilowatts and above).” If the final quarter-mile test track is a success, INDOT will use the tech to electrify an undermined segment of public interstate in Indiana. 

Powering heavy trucks directly from the road without any pollution at an affordable price would be an environmental breakthrough, but there’s still a lot of work to do to prove it works. Plenty of other similar efforts are underway, as the UK has committed around $780 million for under-road charging research, for example. Sweden has also tested slot-car like technology that would contain an electrified “rail” embedded into roads. This latest efforts sounds far less complicated, provided it lives up to Magment’s claims, 

China plans to build the first ‘clean’ commercial nuclear reactor

Are you intrigued by the possibility of using nuclear reactors to curb emissions, but worried about their water use and long-term safety? There might be an impending solution. LiveSciencereports that China has outlined plans to build the first ‘clean’ commercial nuclear reactor using liquid thorium and molten salt.

The first prototype reactor should be ready in August, with the first tests due in September. A full-scale commercial reactor should be ready by 2030.

The technology should not only be kinder to the environment, but mitigate some political controversy. Conventional uranium reactors produce waste that stays extremely radioactive for up to 10,000 years, requiring lead containers and extensive security. The waste also includes plutonium-239, an isotope crucial to nuclear weapons. They also risk spilling dramatic levels of radiation in the event of a leak, as seen in Chernobyl. They also need large volumes of water, ruling out use in arid climates.

Thorium reactors, however, dissolve their key element into fluoride salt that mostly outputs uranium-233 you can recycle through other reactions. Other leftovers in the reaction have a half-life of ‘just’ 500 years — still not spectacular, but much safer. If there is a leak, the molten salt cools enough that it effectively seals in the thorium and prevents significant leaks. The technology doesn’t require water, and can’t easily be used to produce nuclear weapons. You can build reactors in the desert, far away from most cities, and without raising concerns that it will add to nuclear weapon stockpiles.

China is accordingly building the first commercial reactor in Wuwei, a desert city in the country’s Gansu province. Officials also see this as a way to foster China’s international expansion — it plans up to 30 in countries participating in the company’s “Belt and Road” investment initiative. In theory, China can extend its political influence without contributing to nuclear arms proliferation.

That might worry the US and other political rivals that are behind on thorium reactors. The US-based Natrium reactor, for instance, is still in development. Even so, it might go a long way toward fighting climate change and meeting China’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2060. The country is still heavily dependent on coal energy, and there’s no guarantee renewable sources will keep up with demand by themselves. Thorium reactors could help China wean itself off coal relatively quickly, especially small-scale reactors that could be built over shorter periods and fill gaps where larger plants would be excessive.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has flown a total of one mile on Mars

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter just marked an important milestone. Space.comreports that Ingenuity crossed the one-mile mark for total distance flown with its 10th flight on July 24th, when it traveled over the Jezero Crater’s “Raised Ridges” area. That may not sound like a lot of flying, but NASA was only planning a few test flights for Ingenuity before expanding the vehicle’s role — the robotic aircraft wouldn’t have covered nearly as much ground otherwise.

This was also the most ambitious flight to date. The helicopter had to swing past 10 different waypoints, and flew to a record-high altitude of 40ft during the 310ft journey. It also had to capture enough images to help NASA produce stereoscopic images of Raised Ridges and help inform a potential visit from the Perseverance rover.

It’s not clear just how many more miles Ingenuity can rack up. The helicopter is the first of its kind, and tends to push limits with each new flight. The one-mile threshold is significant by itself, though — it suggests the aircraft might accomplish a lot during Perserverance’s planned two-year mission, and possibly more.