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Fairphone 3+ review: ethical smartphone gets camera upgrades | Technology

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The ethical smartphone maker Fairphone has released two camera upgrades for its Fairphone 3 that are available separately or as a whole new device: the Fairphone 3+.

The Fairphone 3+ costs £425 and marks a new approach for the eponymous Dutch company.

The new phone is identical to 2019’s Fairphone 3 apart from an upgraded front and rear cameras, improved audio and an increase in the amount of recycled plastic it contains – up from 9% to 40%, said to be the equivalent of one 330ml plastic bottle. It also ships with the newer Android 10, which will be available for existing devices in the first half of September.

That means you’re buying a smartphone with a dated design that’s chunky with a fairly small screen. But those compromises are necessary to make the phone user repairable, not just repairable by a service centre. The plastic back comes off easily. The battery is removable and the phone is made with six removable modules: when one is broken or you want to upgrade it all you do is unscrew it and insert a new one. There’s even the correct screwdriver included in the box.

fairphone 3+ review



The new selfie camera has a white ring around it. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 5.65in FHD+ LCD screen won’t win any awards for colour or brightness, struggling a bit outdoors, but it is perfectly fine for day-to-day usage and is covered by scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 5. The fingerprint scanner on the back works great, but is a bit high up making it difficult to reach without a bit of hand gymnastics. There’s a USB-C socket in the bottom for charging and a headphone socket in the top.

Audio is certainly louder and crisper than the original. The speaker is still in an awkward position, though, there’s no real bass, and it can sound a bit shrill and distorts at high volumes.

Specifications

  • Screen: 5.65in FHD+ LCD (427ppi)

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 632

  • RAM: 4GB of RAM

  • Storage: 64GB + microSD card

  • Operating system: Fairphone OS based on Android 10

  • Camera: 48MP rear, 16MP selfie camera

  • Connectivity: dual sim, LTE, wifi, NFC, Bluetooth 5 and GPS

  • Dimensions: 158 x 71.8 x 9.9mm

  • Weight: 189g

Android 10

fairphone 3+ review



Android 10 brings full-screen gesture support, which is good but Fairphone’s version needs some improvement. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Fairphone 3+ still has the rather low-performance Snapdragon 632 chip from 2018, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. It performs the same as its predecessor, which means it is fairly slow, but not frustratingly so. For more on performance and battery life please see the original Fairphone 3 review.

New is Android 10, which helps performance a little and makes the phone feel more modern. Although it is worth noting that Android 11 is due to be released imminently by Google, potentially before the Fairphone 3+ ships to buyers. Fairphone aims to provide five years of software updates.

Android 10 on the Fairphone is a standard stripped-back affair, free of bloat or duplicated apps and is all the better for it. You get all the standard Google apps, including the Play Store. It ships with the older Android navigation buttons (back, home and recently used apps) but you can activate the new and improved gesture navigation that is a core part of Android 10.

The software runs fine for the most part, but I have noticed a few small things that need fixing, such as the bottom search bar getting stuck overlapping the icons in the dock when you have gesture navigation active. Anyone who has used an Android smartphone in the last five years should find it immediately familiar.

Sustainability

The most ethical smartphone scores very high marks for sustainability. The phone is made out of 40% recycled plastic, fairtrade gold and conflict-free minerals, is repairable at home, not just by a service centre and users can replace the batteries (£27) themselves in about a minute. A replacement screen costs £81.95.

Fairphone also recycles old phones of other brands, even if you’re not buying a phone from the company. It has various progressive initiatives, from paying workers a living wage to fairer and more environmentally friendly material sourcing.

Camera

fairphone 3+ review



The camera app is much improved with AI scene recognition, faster autofocus, object tracking and image stabilisation, but its tap to focus and shoot is annoying. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The new cameras are a step up from the old ones on the Fairphone 3. The rear 48-megapixel camera (up from 12MP) is capable of capturing good images in good to medium light levels, with more detail, better colours and better light sensitivity than the previous version. Shots on a dull grey British day were perfectly acceptable, but low light performance is still fairly weak with no special night mode available.

Autofocus was much faster too, while the camera now supports modern features such as object tracking and scene optimisation. There’s no optical zoom, but the up to 8x digital zoom is surprisingly effective. Portrait mode wasn’t bad either. The camera shoots 12MP photos by default (combineing pixels for more light and better detail), but despite having a 48MP sensor there is no way to shoot at the full resolution.

Video captured at up to 4K at 30 frames a second was solid, but oddly there’s no option for the common FHD video at 60fps, only 30 or 120fps. Slow-mo video was decent, although not at a particularly high frame rate so the effect was not as dramatic as competitors.

It is also worth noting that in normal “Photo” mode tapping to focus also captures the shot, which I found irritating, having to switch to “Pro” to be able to focus and then shoot manually as I would on other smartphones. Pro mode does support capture in RAW format, which some more keen photographers will welcome.

While the new cameras are definitely an improvement over the originals, their performance doesn’t come anywhere near what you’d get from a £349 Pixel 4a or £419 iPhone SE.

The selfie camera is capable of capturing some of the most detailed self-portraits I’ve seen, which I love but some might find deeply unflattering. I had some issues making sure the entire frame was in focus, though, occasionally ending up with my nose out of focus.

Observations

fairphone 3+ review



The new rear camera has a white ring around it to mark it out as the new module. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The inside of the phone just says FP3, as does the software, meaning it is difficult to tell if you have a Fairphone 3+.

  • The battery was a much tighter fit. I almost broke my nail prising it out of the back.

  • The phone misidentified an EE sim as being on the Virgin mobile network.

Price

The Fairphone 3+ is available for pre-order costing £425, shipping on 14 September.

The Camera+ Module (48MP) will cost £54.95 and the Top+ Module (16MP) will cost £32.95 separately, or £62.90 as a bundle, plus shipping until the end of September for existing Fairphone 3 users to upgrade themselves.

For comparison, the Google Pixel 4a costs £349, the OnePlus Nord costs £379 and the Apple iPhone SE costs £419.

Verdict

The Fairphone 3+ has a better camera on the front and back, meaning one compromise is lessened compared with the competition. But the rest of the downsides of the original Fairphone 3 remain, alongside that one big, overriding upside: being as ethical as possible.

It is good to see the company delivering on its promise of upgrade modules, which existing Fairphone 3 users can buy and slot in. Whether they will remains to be seen. It’s not quite a night-and-day upgrade, but if you hate the original camera it might be worth it.

It’s also good to see progress on the use of recycled plastic, something other manufacturers including Google, Samsung and Apple are taking up, too.

I want to be clear: this is a 3.5-star device with 1.5-stars awarded for sustainability, repairability and ethical manufacturing. You’ll get a far better smartphone experience from a Pixel 4a or an iPhone SE for similar money. But ultimately you buy the Fairphone 3+ because you support the ideals, rather than looking for a value-for-money smartphone.

The most ethical smartphone you can buy now has a better camera, and you don’t have to bin your original Fairphone 3 to get it.

Pros: ethical manufacturing, sustainable materials, truly repairable, solidly built, dual sim, microSD card slot, headphones socket, removable battery, bloat-free, software support for five years, reasonable camera.

Cons: middling performance, chunky, expensive for the specs, camera still not as good as rivals, no 5G.

fairphone 3+ review



The screen struggles for maximum brightness outdoors and is a dust magnet. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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Part human, part machine: is Apple turning us all into cyborgs? | Technology

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At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Apple engineers embarked on a rare collaboration with Google. The goal was to build a system that could track individual interactions across an entire population, in an effort to get a head start on isolating potentially infectious carriers of a disease that, as the world was discovering, could be spread by asymptomatic patients.

Delivered at breakneck pace, the resulting exposure notification tool has yet to prove its worth. The NHS Covid-19 app uses it, as do others around the world. But lockdowns make interactions rare, limiting the tool’s usefulness, while in a country with uncontrolled spread, it isn’t powerful enough to keep the R number low. In the Goldilocks zone, when conditions are just right, it could save lives.

The NHS Covid-19 app has had its teething problems. It has come under fire for not working on older phones, and for its effect on battery life. But there’s one criticism that has failed to materialise: what happens if you leave home without your phone? Because who does that? The basic assumption that we can track the movement of people by tracking their phones is an accepted fact.

This year has been good for tech companies, and Apple is no exception. The wave of global lockdowns has left us more reliant than ever on our devices. Despite being one of the first large companies to be seriously affected by Covid, as factory shutdowns in China hit its supply chain delaying the launch of the iPhone 12 by a month, Apple’s revenue has continued to break records. It remains the largest publicly traded company in the world by a huge margin: this year its value has grown by 50% to $2tn (£1.5tn) and it is still $400bn larger than Microsoft, the No 2.

It’s hard to think of another product that has come close to the iPhone in sheer physical proximity to our daily lives. Our spectacles, contact lenses and implanted medical devices are among the only things more personal than our phones.

Without us even noticing, Apple has turned us into organisms living symbiotically with technology: part human, part machine. We now outsource our contact books, calendars and to-do lists to devices. We no longer need to remember basic facts about the world; we can call them up on demand. But if you think that carrying around a smartphone – or wearing an Apple Watch that tracks your vitals in real time – isn’t enough to turn you into a cyborg, you may feel differently about what the company has planned next.

A pair of smartglasses, in development for a decade, could be released as soon as 2022, and would have us quite literally seeing the world through Apple’s lens – putting a digital layer between us and the world. Already, activists are worrying about the privacy concerns sparked by a camera on everyone’s face. But deeper questions, about what our relationship should be to a technology that mediates our every interaction with the world, may not even be asked until it’s too late to do anything about the answer.


The word cyborg – short for “cybernetic organism” – was coined in 1960 by Manfred E Clynes and Nathan S Kline, whose research into spaceflight prompted them to explore how incorporating mechanical components could aid in “the task of adapting man’s body to any environment he might choose”. It was a very medicalised concept: the pair imagined embedded pumps dispensing drugs automatically.

In the 1980s, genres such as cyberpunk began to express writers’ fascination with the nascent internet, and wonder how much further it could go. “It was the best we could do at the time,” laughs Bruce Sterling, a US science fiction author and futurist whose Mirrorshades anthology defined the genre for many. Ideas about putting computer chips, machine arms or chromium teeth into animals might have been very cyberpunk, Sterling says, but they didn’t really work. Such implants, he points out, aren’t “biocompatible”. Organic tissue reacts poorly, forming scar tissue, or worse, at the interface. While science fiction pursued a Matrix-style vision of metal jacks embedded in soft flesh, reality took a different path.

“If you’re looking at cyborgs in 2020,” Sterling says, “it’s in the Apple Watch. It’s already a medical monitor, it’s got all these health apps. If you really want to mess with the inside of your body, the watch lets you monitor it much better than anything else.”

The Apple Watch had a shaky start. Despite the company trying to sell it as the second coming of the iPhone, early adopters were more interested in using their new accessory as a fitness tracker than in trying to send a text message from a device far too small to fit a keyboard. So by the second iteration of the watch, Apple changed tack, leaning into the health and fitness aspect of the tech.

Now, your watch can not only measure your heart rate, but scan the electric signals in your body for evidence of arrhythmia; it can measure your blood oxygenation level, warn you if you’re in a noisy environment that could damage your hearing, and even call 999 if you fall over and don’t get up. It can also, like many consumer devices, track your running, swimming, weightlifting or dancercise activity. And, of course, it still puts your emails on your wrist, until you turn that off.

Apple believes that it can succeed where Google Glass failed.



Apple believes that it can succeed where Google Glass failed. Illustration: Steven Gregor/The Guardian

As Sterling points out, for a vast array of health services that we would once have viewed as science fiction, there’s no need for an implanted chip in our head when an expensive watch on our wrist will do just as well.

That’s not to say that the entirety of the cyberpunk vision has been left to the world of fiction. There really are people walking around with robot limbs, after all. And even there, Apple’s influence has starkly affected what that future looks like.

“Apple, I think more than any other brand, truly cares about the user experience. And they test and test and test, and iterate and iterate and iterate. And this is what we’ve taken from them,” says Samantha Payne, the chief operating officer of Bristol’s Open Bionics. The company, which she co-founded in 2014 with CEO Joel Gibbard, makes the Hero Arm, a multi-grip bionic hand. With the rapid development of 3D printer technology, Open Bionics has managed to slash the cost of such advanced prosthetics, which could have cost almost $100,000 10 years ago, to just a few thousand dollars.

Rather than focus on flesh tones and lifelike design, Open Bionics leans into the cyborg imagery. Payne quotes one user describing it as “unapologetically bionic”. “All of the other prosthetics companies give the impression that you should be trying to hide your disability, that you need to try and fit in,” she says. “We are company that’s taking a big stance against that.”

At times, Open Bionics has been almost too successful in that goal. In November, the company launched an arm designed to look like that worn by the main character in the video game Metal Gear Solid V red and black, shiny plastic and, yes, unapologetically bionicand the response was unsettling. “You got loads of science fiction fans saying that they really are considering chopping off their hand,” Payne says.

Some disabled people who rely on technology to live their daily lives feel that cyberpunk imagery can exoticise the very real difficulties they face. And there are also lessons in the way that more prosaic devices can give disabled people what can only be described as superpowers. Take hearing aid users, for example: deaf iPhone owners can not only connect their hearing aids to their phones with Bluetooth, they can even set up their phone as a microphone and move it closer to the person they want to listen to, overcoming the noise of a busy restaurant or crowded lecture theatre. Bionic ears anyone?

“There’s definitely something in the idea of everyone in the world being a cyborg today,” Payne says. “A crazy high number of people in the world have a smartphone, and so all of these people are technologically augmented. It’s definitely taking it a step further when you depend on that technology to be able to perform everyday living; when it’s adorned to your body. But we are all harnessing the vast power of the internet every single day.”


Making devices so compelling that we carry them with us everywhere we go is a mixed blessing for Apple. The iPhone earns it about $150bn a year, more than every other source of revenue combined. In creating the iOS App Store, it has assumed a gatekeeper role with the power to reshape entire industries by carefully defining its terms of service. (Ever wonder why every app is asking for a subscription these days? Because of an Apple decision in 2016. Bad luck if you prefer to pay upfront for software.) But it has also opened itself up to criticism that the company allows, or even encourages, compulsive patterns of behaviour.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously likened personal computers to “bicycles for the mind”, enabling people to do more work for the same amount of effort. That was true of the Macintosh computer in 1984, but modern smartphones are many times more powerful. If we now turn to them every waking hour of the day, is that because of their usefulness, or for more pernicious reasons?

“We don’t want people using their phones all the time,” Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, said in 2019. “We’re not motivated to do that from a business point of view, and we’re certainly not from a values point of view.” Later that year, Cook told CBS: “We made the phone to make your life better, and everybody has to decide for his or herself what that means. For me, my simple rule is if I’m looking at the device more than I’m looking into someone’s eyes, I’m doing the wrong thing.”

Apple has introduced features, such as the Screen Time setting, that help people strike that balance: users can now track, and limit, their use of individual apps, or entire categories, as they see fit. Part of the problem is that, while Apple makes the phone, it doesn’t control what people do with it. Facebook needs users to open its app daily, and Apple can only do so much to counter that tendency. If these debates – about screen time, privacy and what companies are doing with our data, our attention – seem like a niche topic of interest now, they will become crucial once Apple’s latest plans become reality. The reason is the company’s worst-kept secret in years: a pair of smartglasses.

It filed a patent in 2006 for a rudimentary version, a headset that would let users see a “peripheral light element” for an “enhanced viewing experience”, able to display notifications in the corner of your vision. That was finally granted in 2013, at the time of Google’s own attempt to convince people about smartglasses. But Google Glass failed commercially, and Apple kept quiet about its intentions in the field.

Recently, the company has intensified its focus on “augmented reality”, technology that overlays a virtual world on the real one. It’s perhaps best known through the video game Pokémon Go, which launched in 2016, superimposing Nintendo’s cute characters on parks, offices and playgrounds. However, Apple insists, it has much greater potential than simply enhancing games. Navigation apps could overlay the directions on top of the real world; shopping services could show you what you would look like wearing the clothes you’re thinking of getting; architects could walk around inside the spaces they have designed before shovels even break ground.

Smartglasses could leave us quite literally seeing the world through Apple’s lens.



Smartglasses could leave us quite literally seeing the world through Apple’s lens. Illustration: Steven Gregor/The Guardian

With each new iPhone launch, Apple’s demonstrated new breakthroughs in the technology, such as “Lidar” support in new iPhones and iPads, a tech (think radar with lasers) that lets them accurately measure the physical space they are in. Then, at the end of 2019, it all slotted into place: a Bloomberg report suggested that the company hadn’t given up on smartglasses in the wake of Google Glass’s failure, but had spent five years honing the concept. The pandemic put paid to a target of getting hardware on the shelves in 2020, but the company is still hoping to make an announcement next year for a 2022 launch, Bloomberg suggested.

Apple’s plans cover two devices, codenamed N301 and N421. The former is designed to feature “ultra-high-resolution screens that will make it almost impossible for a user to differentiate the virtual world from the real one”, according to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman. This is a product with an appeal far beyond the hardcore gamers who have adopted existing VR headsets: you might put it on to enjoy lifelike, immersive entertainment, or to do creative work that can make the most of the technology, but would probably take it off to have lunch, for instance.

N421 is where the real ambitions lie. Expected in 2023, it’s described only as “a lightweight pair of glasses using AR”. But, argues Mark Pesce in his book Augmented Reality, this would be the culmination of the “mirrorshades” dreamed up by the cyberpunks in the 80s, using the iPhone as the brains of the device and “keeping the displays themselves light and comfortable”. Wearing it all day, every day, the idea of a world without a digital layer between you and reality would eventually fade into memory – just as living without immediate access to the internet has for so many right now.

Apple isn’t the first to try to build such a device, says Rupantar Guha of the analysts GlobalData, who has been following the trend in smartglasses from a business standpoint for years, but it could lead the wave that makes it relevant. “The public perception of smartglasses has struggled to recover from the high-profile failure of Google Glass, but big tech still sees potential in the technology.” Guha cites the recent launch of Amazon Echo Frames – sunglasses you can talk to, because they have got the Alexa digital assistant built in – and Google’s purchase of the smartglasses maker North in June 2020. “Apple and Facebook are planning to launch consumer smartglasses over the next two years, and will expect to succeed where their predecessors could not,” Guha adds.

If Apple pulls off that launch, then the cyberpunk – and cyborg – future will have arrived. It’s not hard to imagine the concerns, as cultural questions clash with technological: should kids take off their glasses in the classroom, just as we now require them to keep phones in their lockers? Will we need to carve out lens-free time in our evenings to enjoy old-fashioned, healthy activities such as watching TV or playing video games?

“It’s a fool’s errand to imagine every use of AR before we have the hardware in our hands,” writes the developer Adrian Hon, who was called on by Google to write games for their smartglasses a decade ago. “Yet there’s one use of AR glasses that few are talking about but will be world-changing: scraping data from everything we see.” This “worldscraping” would be a big tech dream – and a privacy activist’s nightmare. A pair of smartglasses turns people into walking CCTV cameras, and the data that a canny company could gather from that is mindboggling. Every time someone browsed a supermarket, their smartglasses would be recording real-time pricing data, stock levels and browsing habits; every time they opened up a newspaper, their glasses would know which stories they read, which adverts they looked at and which celebrity beach pictures their gaze lingered on.

“We won’t be able to opt out from wearing AR glasses in 2035 any more than we can opt out of owning smartphones today,” Hon writes. “Billions have no choice but to use them for basic tasks like education, banking, communication and accessing government services. In just a few years time, AR glasses do the same, but faster and better.”

Apple would argue that, if any company is to control such a powerful technology, it ought to. The company declined to speak on the record for this story, but it has invested time and money in making the case that it can be trusted not to abuse its power. The company points to its comparatively simple business model: make things, and sell them for a lot of money. It isn’t Google or Facebook, trying to monetise personal data, or Amazon, trying to replace the high street – it’s just a company that happens to make a £1,000 phone that it can sell to 150 million people a year.

But whether we trust Apple might be beside the point, if we don’t yet know whether we can trust ourselves. It took eight years from the launch of the iPhone for screen time controls to follow. What will human interaction look like eight years after smartglasses become ubiquitous? Our cyborg present sneaked up on us as our phones became glued to our hands. Are we going to sleepwalk into our cyborg future in the same way?


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OANN suspended from YouTube after promoting a sham cure for Covid-19 | YouTube

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YouTube has suspended the conservative news outlet One America News Network from posting new videos for a week and from making money off of its existing videos after it promoted a sham cure for Covid-19.

The video was removed under YouTube’s policies to prevent the spread of Covid-19 misinformation, which prohibit saying there is a guaranteed cure to the virus. OANN has been suspended for “repeated violations” of this policy, said YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi.

“Since early in this pandemic, we’ve worked to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation associated with Covid-19 on YouTube,” Choi said.

YouTube’s Covid-specific misinformation policies prohibit content that disputes the existence of the virus, discourages someone from seeking medical treatment for Covid, disputes guidance from local health authorities on the pandemic, or offers unsubstantiated medical advice or treatment.

Under these policies, an offending account will receive one warning for posting misinformation and then three strikes before it is permanently removed from the platform. The strikes carry progressively more severe penalties, including de-monetization. OANN previously received a warning for “similarly violating our Covid-19 misinformation policy,” according to YouTube.

The company said it has manually reviewed and removed 200,000 videos related to dangerous or misleading Covid-19 information since February 2020, including for example a widely condemned viral video published by rightwing media outlet Breitbart featuring dubious claims from people identifying themselves as doctors, telling people not to wear masks.

While the suspension from posting new videos is temporary, YouTube says the de-monitization of all OANN content will be permanent, unless the network addresses its issues.

Tuesday’s removal comes after four Democratic senators sent a letter Tuesday to YouTube’s chief executive officer, Susan Wojcicki, pressing the company to do more to crack down on election-related misinformation.

Meanwhile, after breaking with longtime ally Fox News, Donald Trump has urged his supporters to turn to news outlets such as Newsmax and OANN. These outlets openly support Trump and, without evidence, cast doubt on the validity of the election of Joe Biden. YouTube said it does not consider OANN an “authoritative news source”, meaning under its policies the account will not surface high up in search results for broad queries about Covid-19 nor be promoted in recommendations.


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HP (HPQ) earnings Q4 2020

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Enrique Lores, CEO, HP

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

HP shares rose as much as 9% in extended trading on Tuesday after the PC maker reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ estimates and provided an optimistic earnings forecast.

  • Earnings: 62 cents per share, adjusted, vs. 52 cents per share as expected by analysts, according to Refinitiv.
  • Revenue: $15.3 billion vs. $14.7 billion as expected by analysts, according to Refinitiv.

Revenue declined for the fourth consecutive quarter on an annualized basis. It fell about 1% in the quarter, which ended on Oct. 31, according to a statement.

HP is forecasting 64 cents to 70 cents in adjusted earnings per share in the fiscal first quarter, higher than the Refinitiv consensus of 54 cents.

The company’s largest business segment, Personal Systems, which includes PC notebooks and desktops, delivered $10.4 billion in revenue, flat year over year and below the $10.5 billion consensus among analysts polled by FactSet. Within that unit, sales of notebooks rose 18% to $7.41 billion, but the overall segment was pulled down by desktop and workstation declines.

HP more than doubled unit sales of and revenue from Chromebook PCs running Google’s Chrome OS operating system, said Marie Myers, HP’s chief transformation officer and acting chief financial officer, on a conference call with analysts. She replaced Steve Fieler, who left in the quarter to join Google.

Also on Tuesday, PC maker Dell reported fiscal third-quarter results and said sales of consumer devices, including PCs, were up 14% from a year earlier in the quarter that ended on Oct. 30.

Excluding the after-hours jump, HP shares are up 6% since the start of the year, while the S&P 500 has gained about 13% over the same period.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

WATCH: Cramer breaks down the runs in housing, work-from-home and cloud stocks


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