Friday, 15 July 2016

Moto G4 and G4 Plus review: Bigger and better

When it comes to getting the most smartphone for your dollar, the Moto G line has been your best choice for the past few years. We adored the previous model, which came in at a mere $180. Now with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, Motorola is literally aiming to make its budget lineup bigger and better. They've got larger and sharper screens, improved cameras and, of course, speedier processors. With those upgrades come compromises, though. For one, they're more expensive:
The G4 starts at $200 and the G4 Plus at $250. Motorola also made some curious design decisions, which in many ways feel like a step back. Still, they both manage to carry the mantle of Smartphone Value King. Motorola's latest Moto G (4th generation) follows the industry trend of releasing two different versions of one phone: standard and plus. Only in this case the "Plus" has nothing to do with size; instead it's a slightly more expensive model with a superior camera, better memory options and a fingerprint sensor. If the Moto G4 is a standout mid-ranged phone, the Moto G4 Plus starts to blur the lines between mid-range and high-end. Read on for our review.We love how the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus feel in hand. We sing the praises of all-metal, all-premium unibody phones as much as anyone (for good reason ... they look phenomenal), but these two plastic phones are a pleasure to hold. It helps that they don't feel at all like cheap plastic: The back is an almost leathery-feeling material with fine cross-hatched detailing, while the side is a faux-metal plastic that, in hand, can almost pass for aluminum. Motorola had to take shortcuts somewhere to keep these prices down, and going with a plastic build – albeit one that's attractive, light and feels more comfortable in our hands than most premium phones – is probably the smartest place to start.There's nothing budget about the 5.5-inch 1080p displays on the G4 and G4 Plus. They're not quite as fancy as the quad HD displays we're seeing in some flagships, but they still pack in 401 pixels per inch, which is plenty sharp for typical usage. Colors were bright and bold, even in direct sunlight, and viewing angles were surprisingly great. I didn't notice much of a difference between my iPhone 6S while reading long articles from Pocket and the New York Times app. Videos also looked uniformly great.
The big downside is that they're less capable when it comes to mobile VR. It's no wonder they're not Google Daydream ready (though nothing is stopping you from plugging them into a Google Cardboard headset). On the sound front, Motorola made the curious decision of replacing the last Moto G's solid stereo speakers with a single one. It's plenty loud, but it doesn't sound nearly as good as before. Now that Bluetooth speakers are cheap and small, I'd recommend just snagging one as an accessory. One nice feature that I never thought I'd have to call out in 2016: both phones have headphone jacks! For the uninformed, you use them to connect a wide variety of audio devices, including headphones. Someone should tell Motorola that these audio ports, which have been universally supported for decades, would be a nice addition to their flagship Moto Z lineup. That's especially true for the Z Force, which is thick enough to fit a headphone jack. (Yes, the Moto Z comes with a dongle, but that comes with plenty of compromises. You won't be able to charge the phone when the dongle is plugged in, for example.)

Motorola delivered a nearly stock OS on the G4 and G4 Plus, specifically Android 6.0.1. Marshmallow. The phones are devoid of the junkware and sponsored apps you often find on budget devices. None of this is new for Motorola, it's been trying to deliver vanilla versions of Android since it was under Google. But it's nice to see the company stick with that philosophy under Lenovo. Motorola's unique gestures, which made their debut on the original Moto X, once again make an appearance. Twisting either phone twice, similar to turning a door handle, quickly loads up the camera from anywhere in the OS. Making a double-chopping motion turns their flashlights on and off. What's particularly nice is that both features work consistently even when the phones are in standby mode.


Fight offline with friends in new 'Star Wars Battlefront' mode

The 'Skirmish' game-type makes bot matches of Walker Assault and Fighter Squadron on July 20th.

With the Battlefield 1 closed alpha raging on and the full game launching in October you might think that developer DICE is forgetting about its other shooter, Star Wars Battlefront. That's not the case. Come July 20th, the game will have a new offline gametype dubbed "Skirmish." A post on the EA Star Wars site says that Skirmish is playable against bots, either solo or with a co-op partner in Walker Assault and Fighter Squadron modes.
The free update is welcome, of course, but I'm not sure how many people still playing this are jonesing for a new AI-based bot mode. Or if they've abandoned the game, if this could win them back. This is a problem of publisher Electronic Arts' own making, though. The last time EA mentioned the Death Star expansion pack we had a vague "fall 2016" launch date, but that was it. Now the fog has cleared a bit and we know that it's coming out in September. Next month, EA will probably give us an exact date. It's frustrating, but that's unfortunately how this stuff tends to go. The post goes on to say that the pack will feature ground-and-space based maps (fingers crossed for a trench run gametype a la Walker Assault's Battle of Hoth reenactment), new weapons and a pair of shiny heroes. Specifically, "one larger-than-life character we know you've been patiently waiting for." Who could that be, hmm?


'Star Wars: Rogue One' sizzle reel loves practical effects

If you fell in love with Star Wars: The Force Awakens' gorgeous melody of practical sets and VFX, then good news: Rogue One seems to be following in its footsteps.
A new sizzle reel released at Star Wars: Celebration looks behind the camera to highlight the film's use of practical effects, props and stunts. It's nearly three minutes of explosions, sets on moving hydraulics, fantastic creature costumes and gorgeous shooting locations.The short video lauds the use physical sets, the creative doors opened by levering the advantages of each specific location and the realism achieved by having the actors perform stunts in a fully realized world, rather than just on a green screen. Director Gareth Edwards expanded upon the method at the film's Celebration panel -- explaining how shooting in the Maldives and at London's Canary Wharf station let the crew depict a fantastic, futuristic world without relying exclusively on digital effects.

 The reel may not have been the trailer we expected to come out of the convention, but it's still an awesome look at how the film is shaping up. However Star Wars' first standalone film turns out, at least we know it's going to look gorgeous.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

Microsoft starts downgrading OneDrive's free storage to 5GB

You might have to say goodbye to your 15GB camera roll bonus, too. Heads up: if you didn't sign up to keep the 15GB worth of OneDrive storage Microsoft gave out in 2014, you'll soon see a big change in your account... if you haven't yet. Redmond is not only killing your 15GB camera roll back-up bonus, it's also slashing 10GB off your account, bringing it down to 5GB.
The company started sending out emails about the change earlier this year, with a warning that your unpaid storage capacity would become even smaller than its original 7GB offering by either July 13th or July 27th. To be fair, Microsoft gave people a chance to keep their bigger storage and camera roll bonus by opting out of the July change.
If you remember signing up for that before January 31st this year, there's no need to worry: you'll still get to enjoy both. But if you received an email like the one below, you may want to back up your photos ASAP. Sad, but you do have a lot of other options if you need a cloud service that offers a big free storage capacity. Google Drive, for one, will give you access to 15GB upon signing up.


The new Moto E is the largest one yet

£99. Android Marshmallow. 5-inch display.

Motorola's entire smartphone lineup is getting a refresh in 2016. Following the new Moto Z and Moto G families, the company has unveiled the Moto E3, an update to its most affordable handset. It sports a 5-inch HD display, up from the 4.5-inch panel in the previous model, a quad-core processor and a 2,800 mAh battery, which Motorola claims will last you a full day. The rear-facing camera has been stepped up to eight megapixels, while a 5-megapixel selfie-snapper sits on the front. The internal storage is a mystery for now (don't expect much) but it will come with a microSD card slot.

The phone is set to grace the UK in "early September" starting at £99 (roughly $132) in select retailers including Tesco, Amazon and Argos. An international release seems likely; the Moto E is an important phone for the company, given its position at the low-end of the market. With Lenovo in charge, the Moto team has a lot to prove with this year's phones. The Moto Z and its modular accessories are a grand departure from the Moto X line, and initial reviews of the Moto G4 have been less than positive. Here's hoping the new Moto E can continue the legacy of its capable predecessors.

NASA investigating greenhouse gases across eastern US

Airborne flights will aid in the investigation to collect data.

NASA is beginning an experiment this month involving special flights meant to improve how well scientists understand the sources of two greenhouses gases and their interaction with the atmosphere. The campaign, known as Atmospheric Carbon and Transport-America (ACT-America) is meant to stretch over multiple years as it measures concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane as they relate to weather systems across the US.
The study will obtain real-time measurements from both ground stations and airborne crafts to try and get to the bottom of the sources and sinks of the gases themselves. The flights will utilize NASA's C-130H and King Air B-200 aircrafts. Both will collect data to compare with other measurements taken from satellites at the same time and location. The special ACT-America flights will be based at three separate locations as well, including NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia and Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia. Additional flights will be based out of Lincoln, Nebraska and Shreveport, Louisiana. These flights are the first of five that are planned for the future, and each will take around six weeks to complete.

NASA is making a small carbon nanotube telescope for CubeSats

It might take a while before it's ready, though.

A team of NASA Goddard scientists are developing a lightweight and low-cost telescope small enough to fit inside CubeSats. Those mini satellites provide the agency an inexpensive means to send various experiments to outer space. By creating a small telescope sensitive to ultraviolet, visible and infrared wavelength bands that can fit inside a CubeSat, NASA will be able to explore space for cheap. Obviously, the images it sends back won't be as high-res as the photos taken by Hubble or by one of the humongous ground-based telescopes.

However, the team says it could be a great "exploratory tool for quick looks that could lead to larger missions." It will also likely be the first one to use the new carbon nanotube mirror the team designed. Other telescope mirrors are made of aluminum or glass, but the team's was created using carbon nanotubes embedded in an epoxy resin. Since carbon nanotubes are exceptionally strong, the team's mirror is tough and is an efficient conductor of heat. It also doesn't require polishing, which is a time-consuming process, bringing costs down even further. While NASA's scientists plan to use off-the-shelf components for the telescope, it might still take a while before we see the finished product. Their carbon nanotube mirror is a brand new technology and requires loads of testing before it's ready for space.