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The Nissan Leaf Plus adds more EV range but not more fun

While other automakers were debating the merits of the electric car, Nissan was already selling the Leaf (the little EV hit the market in 2010, two years before the Model S). The automaker has sold over 400,000 units since then. That’s impressive. But in the past nine years, the EV market has changed, and when the latest version of the vehicle was unveiled, it had a range of 151 miles. That’s clearly not enough for our new over-200-mile-range vehicle world. So in January of this year, the Leaf Plus (starting at $36,550) with 226 miles of range appeared. Problem solved, right? Well, maybe.

Gallery: 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus | 11 Photos

At its heart, the Nissan Leaf Plus is a great little electric hatchback. During my tests, I found it to be a capable car that delivers on nearly all of its promises. It’s efficient, full of most of the latest tech with a surprisingly spacious trunk. But it’s missing something: fun. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

First, the good. The actually really good. Nissan introduced ProPilot Assist last year, and it immediately impressed me. Mostly because the first car to get the newest driver’s assistant was the Leaf. It’s one of the best semi-autonomous systems for an electric vehicle in this price range. The lane-keep assist does a great job centering the car in its lane and can handle most highway curves. The adaptive cruise control feature is smooth; it responds when a car merges in front of the Leaf. I’m also a fan of the steering wheel button as the main on/off switch for the system.

Another great driving feature is e-Pedal, which allows for one-pedal driving. The system works like this: Once activated, the vehicle’s regenerative braking power is cranked up to slow the car down to a complete stop whenever you’re not accelerating. It’s a smooth transition from accelerating to stopping so you’re not being jarred around in the car.

When using the e-Pedal — especially in the city and after some practice — a driver could get around without ever having to use the foot brake. It takes a bit to master the system so that when the Leaf comes to a halt at an intersection you’re not too far back or in the crosswalk. But, the added efficiency you get while in this mode makes it worth the effort to learn.

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus review

For EVs, efficiency is the name of the game (aka, battery life). The Leaf Plus’ 62kWh cell delivers up to 226 miles. That’s a solid upgrade from the 151 of the regular Leaf, but short of Hyundai’s 258 mile Kona EV and Kia’s 240 mile Niro EV. Nissan made a smart move with the Plus, but it’ll have to do better next refresh or risk being left behind (again).

Inside, the automaker’s NissanConnect infotainment system sits behind an 8-inch touchscreen, and instead of just copying a tablet, each screen mimics a home screen with one main feature surrounded by other options. The system offers up more information in larger easy-to-glance-at squares.

There was some latency between my taps and something launching, but it wasn’t enough to become a nuisance. The only real issue I had was with the voice assistant clearly not understanding me about 70 percent of the time. Fortunately, CarPlay and Android Auto are supported so you can just yell at those instead, after you get tired of Nissan’s hard-of-hearing in-car assist.

While I was unable to satisfactorily talk to the car, I was impressed by the dash cluster that shares a majority of the important information you want from an EV — including charging progress and real-time efficiency numbers. Throw in the ProPilot Assist driving information and the Leaf’s dash cluster is the most important screen in the car.

Nissan has done a great job infusing tech into its latest Leaf. This is likely thanks to it being one of the only EVs on the market with any sort of history. This vehicle is an evolution of the Leaf brand. I just wish Nissan had added some pizazz to the EV.

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus review

Don’t get me wrong. The Nissan Leaf Plus performs exactly as you would expect. Its 214 horsepower and 250 foot-pounds of torque give it a nice initial burst of speed. But it’s short-lived and for the most part, the acceleration and steering are uninspired. The car is a well-written reference book instead of a piece of great fiction. Some people like reference books and cars that perform as advertised. For those folks, the Nissan Leaf delivers. But I like character and the Leaf Plus is lacking.

At least, while you’re sitting in the car, you’re comfortable. The seats, while situated a little high for my taste, are pleasant. A lot of Leafs will end up as commuter vehicles and having a seat you don’t mind sitting on is important. If you’re someone that hauls a lot of stuff, you’ll be happy to know that the Leaf has 23.5 cubic feet of space. The Kona EV, for comparison, only has 19.2 cubic feet. The Nissan gets all that extra room thanks to a deep trunk well. That space is usually taken up by the battery pack in other cars and it’s nice to reclaim it for groceries, sports gear or furniture from Ikea.

After a long day of driving, the Leaf has the requisite level 2 charging port. But its quick-charging port is the CHAdeMO standard. It can be a bit tougher to find compatible charging stations, but the added benefit is that I was able to use fast-charging stations without waiting in line behind a bunch of Chevy Bolts.

2019 Nissan Leaf Plus review

The Leaf Plus supports up to 100kW of fast charging. Most stations right now are 50kW. But hopefully, soon we’ll see these quicker stations. Even if CHAdeMO doesn’t catch on like the DC combo charging port, at least Nissan dealerships will be someplace Leaf owners can top off in a jiffy.

The Nissan Leaf is a smart mid-cycle upgrade to the latest Leaf. The car is the best-selling EV ever and Nissan has taken most of what it’s learned over the years to make it better. That includes a first-class driver’s assistance package. But, the market is getting crowded, and when it comes to range and fun behind the wheel, the Leaf falls short of its competitors.

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Microsoft revived and killed Clippy in a single day

STAN HONDA via Getty Images

The dream of the ’90s was alive in Microsoft Teams this week when Microsoft’s old office assistant, Clippy, showed up. If you used Microsoft Office between 1997 and 2001, you likely remember Clippy as the animated paperclip that popped up and offered tips for using the software. Microsoft did away with Clippy in 2001, so people were surprised to see Clippy stickers appear in Microsoft Teams this week. And they were even more surprised when, just a day later, Microsoft offed the little guy again.

As The Verge reports, on Tuesday, Clippy appeared as an animated pack of stickers for Microsoft Teams. The stickers were released on the Office Developer GitHub page, but by the next day, they had vanished. Clippy was around just long enough to rally old fans, and there’s now a user petition to bring Clippy back.

The stickers seemed harmless enough, like a fun little inside joke for those who remember Clippy. But it looks like the broader (and probably more corporate) branding side of the company was not pleased. In 2001, Microsoft called Clippy “the little paperclip with the soulful eyes and the Groucho eyebrows.” The company described the paperclip as an “electronic ham” who “politely” offered hints for using Microsoft Office. Like any popup that offers unsolicited content, though, Clippy could also be a nuisance. It looks like Microsoft wanted to squash any memories of its misguided office assistant, but it might be too late for that.

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Homeland Security warns of critical flaws in Medtronic defibrillators

Homeland Security has issued a warning for a set of critical-rated vulnerabilities in Medtronic defibrillators which put the devices at risk of manipulation.

These small implantable cardio-defibrillators are implanted in a patient’s chest to deliver small electrical shocks to prevent irregular or dangerously fast heartbeats, which can prove fatal. Most modern devices come with wireless or radio-based technology to allow patients to monitor their conditions and their doctors to adjust settings without having to carry out an invasive surgery.

But the government-issued alert warned that Medtronic’s proprietary radio communications protocol, known as Conexus, wasn’t encrypted and did not require authentication, allowing a nearby attacker with radio-intercepting hardware to modify data on an affected defibrillator.

Homeland Security gave the alert a 9.3 out of 10 rating, describing it as requiring “low skill level” to exploit.

It doesn’t mean that anyone with an affected defibrillator is suddenly a walking target for hackers. These devices aren’t always broadcasting a radio frequency as it would be too battery intensive. Medtronic said patients would be most at risk when patients are getting their implant checked while they’re at their doctor’s office. At all other times, the defibrillator will occasionally wake up and listen for a nearby monitoring device if it’s in range, narrowing the scope of an attack.

More than 20 different Medtronic defibrillators and models are affected, the alert said, including the CareLink programmer used in doctor’s offices and the MyCareLink monitor used in patient homes.

Peter Morgan, founder and principal at Clever Security, found and privately reported the bug to Medtronic in January. In an email, Morgan told TechCrunch that the bugs weren’t easy to discover, but warned of a potential risk to patients.

“It is possible with this attack to cause harm to a patient, either by erasing the firmware that is giving necessary therapy to the patient’s heart, or by directly invoking shock related commands on the defibrillator,” he said. “Since this protocol is unauthenticated, the ICD cannot discern if communications its receiving are coming from a trusted Medtronic device, or an attacker.”

A successful attacker could erase or reprogram the defibrillator’s firmware, and run any command on the device.

Medtronic said in its own advisory that it’s not aware of any patient whose devices have been attacked, but that the company was “developing updates” to fix the vulnerabilities, but did not say when fixes would be rolled out.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates medical devices, provided a list of the affected devices.

It’s the latest example of smart medical devices taking a turn for the worst, even as spending in healthcare cybersecurity is set to become a $65 billion industry by 2021.

The FDA rolled out non-binding recommendations in 2016 to advise medical device makers into practicing better cybersecurity to prevent these kinds of flaws from occurring in the first place, advising companies to “build in cybersecurity controls when they design and develop the device to assure proper device performance in the face of cyber threats.”

Yet, this latest government alert marks second time in two years Medtronic was forced to respond to security flaws in its medical devices. In October, the company finally shuttered an internet-based software update system that put its pacemaker monitoring devices at risk.

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Could Walmart be the next big company to launch a game streaming service?

Google stole this spotlight at this year’s GDC with the launch of Stadia. What the game streaming service lacked in specifics, it more than made up for in buzz. The software giant certainly isn’t the only one eying the space, however. A new report from US Gamer puts Walmart in the running, as well.

The retailer has spent the last several years making a push into the high tech sphere. It’s made some high profile acquisitions, including, in a bid to compete with the likes of Amazon. The company has even been testing out inventory checking robots in around 50 or so of its stores. And with the recent exit of CTO Jeremy King, it could well be looking for the next big thing. 

According to the reports, Walmart has been meeting with developers and publishers at GDC. It’s tough to say how advanced these talks are, and those involved with the leaks have understandably wished to remain anonymous. The company certainly has the back end infrastructure to attempt a service. It also has a loyal base of customers in the U.S. to whom it sells a lot of video games.

But given how it abandoned plans for a video streaming service as of January, the talks could be little more than just talk.

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