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.


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Warner Bros. paid YouTubers for positive game reviews

It apparently paid PewDiePie and other YouTubers for good reviews of 'Shadow of Mordor.'

Warner Bros. has settled an FTC complaint accusing the company of paying YouTubers "hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars" to make positive review videos for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. FTC filed the complaint back in 2014, after the studio ran an online marketing campaign for the game. According to the the commission, Warner Bros. required (PDF) the online influencers they hired to make a video that "promote[s] positive sentiment about" Shadow of Mordor. That video should "not show bugs or glitches that may exist" and should "not communicate negative sentiment" about Warner Bros. These influencers also had to promote their videos on Facebook and Twitter. The commission didn't release a list of the YouTubers the studio paid, but it did name PewDiePie as one of them. Since those influencers received payment for videos praising the game, their creations are classified as sponsored content.
That wouldn't have been a problem if they disclosed it, but the FTC says the company didn't require them to do so within the video itself. Warner Bros. only instructed them to place disclosures in their videos' description boxed, and most of the time, you can only see the entirety of what's written in there by clicking "Show More." In PewDiePie's case, you'll see a line that says "This video was sponsored by Warner Brother" when you view the video's whole description. Some of the reviewers didn't even say that their videos were sponsored, only that they received a free copy of the game. In all, the paid reviews raked in 5.5 million views, 3.7 million of which came from PewDiePie, who has over 46 million subscribers.
It's worth noting that Shadow of Mordor was well-received and won eight out of the nine DICE awards it was nominated for. Warner Bros. probably didn't even need to pay people to get good reviews. If you're wondering what kind of penalty the company got, well, let's just say it got off real easy. The commission only wants the studio to make sure the influencers it hires clearly and conspicuously disclose that they received payment from Warner Bros in the future. It also has to review those videos for compliance and withhold payment if they don't contain the proper disclosure stating their status as sponsored content.


Behind Facebook's efforts to make its site accessible to all

Earlier this year, Facebook launched a new feature for iOS screen readers called automatic alt text. Powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, it recognizes the objects in a photo and then describes them, which is incredibly handy for users who are blind. It arrived on Android soon after, and two weeks ago, the social network officially made the tool available in 20 other languages. These are just a few recent examples of how Facebook is attempting to make its products -- as well as the internet as a whole -- more accessible to those with disabilities. It all started five years ago when Jeff Wieland, who worked on the company's user research team at the time, discovered that there were people with disabilities who were having a rather terrible experience with Facebook.
For example, he found out that screen readers -- software employed by blind users to know what's happening on a page -- would interpret a button on a site as simply, well, "button." It would have no information on what the button does. "This is a really simple example," he said. "For an engineer, adding a label to a button is one line of code. But it changes everything." The problem, he said, was that developers were not designing the web experience with screen readers in mind. It seems like a "No, duh" explanation, but as Wieland told me, accessibility is not a subject that's often taught in computer science classes. "It's not part of the core curriculum. You have people graduating from great programs, but who have no exposure to accessibility. It's a real tragedy." Indeed, he said that almost all incoming engineers have no prior exposure to the subject. The community that needs this tech is a large one. According to the World Health Organization, about 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired, and of those, around 39 million are fully blind. And that's just those who suffer from vision loss. "Accessibility is about more than that; it's about serving those who have varying ability," said Wieland. "I discovered there was this vast community we were underserving." In response to this, Wieland set about creating an accessibility team at Facebook with the company's blessing. "Philosophically, people got it," he said, adding that the goal aligns with Facebook's mission for connecting the world. "But the big question was, how do we do this?" Over the years, the team has worked to raise awareness of accessibility issues and assistive technologies within the company.
It started out with two people, but now it's grown to more than 20. It's a cross-functional group made up of people in design, user research, data science, operations and more. Remember those unlabeled buttons? Now, Wieland said, that's a mostly solved issue (though, given the scale of Facebook, there are probably still a few unlabeled ones here and there). The key factor? Working with existing teams on Facebook to integrate accessibility across the board. That automatic alt text photo captioning, for example, required the assistance of Facebook's artificial intelligence team.
"There's this concept of alt text for photos, which used to be provided by the site owner or web developer," said Wieland. "But now the internet is all photos ... The only way we could really provide the text for photos at our scale, would be to use computers to do this." Fortunately, Facebook's AI team had been working on computer vision for at least a year and a half already and had the technology and expertise to work on the project. According to Crista Earl, the director of Web Services for the American Foundation for the Blind, most sites have incorrect or poorly designed forms. "For example, when trying to book a flight on a travel site ... the manner of selecting choices poses an obstacle to users of assistive technology." Inadequately labeled videos and images are also a problem. Other common issues are low-contrast images and tiny fonts for those with low vision. "During my experience online with accessibility issues, I have struggled with a lot of different things," said Kevin Cao, a visually impaired tech support employee for the New York Institute for Special Education. Examples include the lack of voice descriptions for images and text. A few of his favorite sites are YouTube and, a community website for low-vision Apple users, which he said have "clear label buttons, links and heading recognition." As for how he thinks Facebook is doing, he believes it's good for now but could use improvement. "I would like to add more picture descriptions with faces, people," he said. That's the same feedback Wieland heard as well. "They want to know what a person's hair is like, et cetera.
A human can describe a full context, but we're just returning a list of objects ... Hopefully in the future we can tell a richer narrative." Facebook's work on accessibility encompasses more than just vision loss. Back in 2014, the company added the ability for users to provide closed captions to videos. It's currently working on a more automated captioning system with the help of Facebook's language-and-speech-technology group. "The real lion's share work that we do is to prepare our teams to write and design applications that are accessible, to make it foundational," said Wieland. "We want to embed accessibility into all of the steps along the way, from ideation to actually shipping the product." To help this along, Facebook has now integrated accessibility to the QA process that Wieland says has been useful. "It helps push accessibility earlier in the process, without waiting to hear user feedback." As part of the education process, the accessibility team has done a lot internally to raise awareness of the issue.
There's an Empathy Lab located in the middle of the Facebook campus that's partially designed to simulate disabilities to engineers and developers. On display are assistive technologies such as a Braille display for phones, a computer that uses eye tracking for control as well as screen-reading software. "It allows them to play with some of the technologies that people use day in and day out," said Wieland. "It makes it feel real and close to home."


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Curiosity awakens from nap to resume full operations

Curiosity is back to work on Mars after it shut itself down due to a software glitch on July 2nd. Even though tech support for the rover is nearly 60 million miles away, NASA scientists weren't too worried about the issue.
As suspected, the cause was found to be a "software mismatch in one mode of how image data are transferred on board." However, other means are available to transmit image data, so the team powered up the rover on July 9th and will simply avoid using the problematic mode.
Curiosity has gone into safe mode several times before, all back in 2013. However, the previous glitches were more serious, as NASA actually had to restore its software systems from a backup. The mission was recently extended for two years to let the robot make more breathtaking discoveries and hopefully even spot some water. It could be extended even further, but it's hard to say whether we'll get Opportunity-like endurance out of Curiosity. The nuclear-powered robot's plutonium-238 power supply could last up to 15 years, but it's likely that its batteries or other parts will break down first. Many scientists think that if it's still going when the Mars 2020 rover arrives on the red planet, that would be a great outcome.

Android Wear's Latest Preview Opens Gestures To Other Apps

Android Apps Developer Preview 2 is available for your smart-watch

Are you the sort to treat your wrist as a test bed for Google software? If so, today's a grand day. Google has released its second developer preview of Android Wear 2.0, and it packs more than just some extra spit and polish. It now supports wrist gestures in third-party apps, to start. While you'll need apps to take advantage of this, it raises hope that your favorite fitness or messaging tool won't require a free hand (or your voice) for navigation.

 Other upgrades are minor, unless you really, really like easier access to action and navigation drawers. However, the biggest gripe may simply be finding a device to use with the preview. The software-based emulator will work on a computer, but you'll need either a Huawei Watch or the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE to try this beyond your PC. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until the fall to see what all the fuss is about.

Android Wear's Latest Preview Opens Gestures To Other Apps

Android Apps Developer Preview 2 is available for your smart-watch

Are you the sort to treat your wrist as a test bed for Google software? If so, today's a grand day. Google has released its second developer preview of Android Wear 2.0, and it packs more than just some extra spit and polish. It now supports wrist gestures in third-party apps, to start. While you'll need apps to take advantage of this, it raises hope that your favorite fitness or messaging tool won't require a free hand (or your voice) for navigation.

 Other upgrades are minor, unless you really, really like easier access to action and navigation drawers. However, the biggest gripe may simply be finding a device to use with the preview. The software-based emulator will work on a computer, but you'll need either a Huawei Watch or the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE to try this beyond your PC. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until the fall to see what all the fuss is about.

Android Wear's Latest Preview Opens Gestures To Other Apps

Android Apps Developer Preview 2 is available for your smart-watch

Are you the sort to treat your wrist as a test bed for Google software? If so, today's a grand day. Google has released its second developer preview of Android Wear 2.0, and it packs more than just some extra spit and polish. It now supports wrist gestures in third-party apps, to start. While you'll need apps to take advantage of this, it raises hope that your favorite fitness or messaging tool won't require a free hand (or your voice) for navigation.

 Other upgrades are minor, unless you really, really like easier access to action and navigation drawers. However, the biggest gripe may simply be finding a device to use with the preview. The software-based emulator will work on a computer, but you'll need either a Huawei Watch or the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE to try this beyond your PC. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until the fall to see what all the fuss is about.

NVIDIA's GTX 1070 is a mid-range GPU that feels high-end

NVIDIA's GTX 1070 It's more affordable than the flagship GTX 1080, and nearly as powerful.

As impressive as NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 1080 GPU is, its high price of $599 is tough to stomach for even the most dedicated gamers. That's where the mid-range GTX 1070 comes in: It's almost as fast as its more powerful sibling, but it starts at a more reasonable $379. That's still a hefty chunk of change, but for the money it can tackle pretty much every game today (and likely for the next year or two) without breaking much of a sweat. That's not too shabby for a mid-range video card.

Due to travel (Computex was quite the trip) as well as limited supply from NVIDIA, it's admittedly taken me a while to put the GTX 1070 through its paces. But now that I've had some time with it, I can say without a doubt that the 1070 is an intriguing GPU. Even NVIDIA admits that among this generation of cars, this is the one most consumers will likely end up going for. Rounding out the lineup, the company also announced the lower-end GTX 1060 this week, which is quite the bargain at $249. The GTX 1070 is NVIDIA's second card based on its 16 nanometer Pascal architecture, and it packs in 8GB of GDDR5 RAM and clock speeds between 1.5GHz and 1.7GHz. The company claims it pumps out 6.5 teraflops worth of computing power, compared with the 1080's nine teraflops.
I tested the slightly pricier $449 Founders Edition of the card, which sports the same elaborate metallic heatsink design as the 1080 Founders version. It has three DisplayPort connections, one HDMI port, one DVI port and is powered by a single eight-pin connector. Let's get to what you're really here for: benchmarks! Not surprisingly, the GTX 1070 sits right between AMD's $240 Radeon RX480 8GB card and the GTX 1080 in terms of performance on my rig (a 4GHz Core i7-4790K CPU, 16GB of 2400Mz DDR3 RAM and a 512GB Crucial MX100 SSD on a ASUS Z97-A motherboard). But it also consistently bests the Radeon R9 Fury X, which was AMD's flagship card from last year. (Unfortunately, I didn't have a GTX 970 or 980 Ti to benchmark.) Rather than pining for 60 fps 4K performance, I've settled on 1440p (2,560 by 1,440 pixels) as my ideal gaming resolution.

It's noticeably sharper than 1080p, and it's easy to get high frame rates even with every graphical nicety imaginable turned on. With the GTX 1070, I consistently reached 60 fps with ultra settings (which will still look pretty great on a 4K display). Of course, it also had no trouble scoring well in 1080p benchmarks, but that's no surprise. If you're getting a new GPU today, you're better off aiming for 1,440p performance.

 Given that AMD's cheaper RX 480 had no trouble with VR, I didn't expect any hiccups with the GTX 1070. Indeed, it didn't disappoint.

3DMark3DMark 11
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070Standard 13,918/ Extreme 7,703/ Ultra 4,110X7,778
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080Standard 15,859/ Extreme 9,316/ Ultra 5,021X9,423
AMD R9 Fury XStandard 13,337/ Extreme 7,249/ Ultra 3,899X,6457
AMD Radeon RX 480Standard 10,279/ Extreme 5,146/ Ultra 2,688X4,588

Dogfighting in Eve: Valkyrie was fast-paced and didn't show any sign of slowdown, and exploring alien environments in Oculus' Farlands felt as immersive as ever. In fact, I didn't notice any performance difference from the GTX 1080 with VR. When the GTX 1070 was announced, it seemed like the ideal affordable choice for PC gaming. Since then, though, we've seen the $200 AMD RX 480 debut, and NVIDIA announced the GTX 1060, a $249 option of its own. So where does that leave the 1070? Based on what I've seen so far, it's still a better option than the RX 480 and 1060 if you want to play at 1440p, or simply want a GPU that can handle next year's games. And, of course, you've also got the option of picking up another GTX 1070 to run in SLI mode in a year or so, as well as overclocking to get some extra performance free. It's hard to call a $379 video card affordable, but when you're comparing it to a $599-and-up card, it seems a lot more palatable. And when you put it in context, as a GPU that trounces the cream of the crop from last year, the GTX 1070 is undeniably a great value.

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe gets first dibs on Snapdragon 821 chip

ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe also have up to 256GB of storage
We knew it wouldn't be long before ASUS rolls out its latest smartphones after the Computex unveiling, but it turns out the company has saved a little surprise for us. At the Taiwan and Hong Kong launch event today, ASUS revealed that its flagship 5.7-inch ZenFone 3 Deluxe has been given a chipset upgrade -- from Snapdragon 820 to the speedier Snapdragon 821 announced yesterday.

And yes, it's officially the world's first device to feature this 2.4GHz processor, while still benefiting from the same old Cat 13 LTE radio, a slightly faster Adreno 530 GPU, dual-SIM support (Micro SIM plus Nano SIM) and Quick Charge 3.0. The metallic ZenFone 3 Deluxe comes in three flavors, with its top model offering pretty much all the best possible specs to date: 6GB of DDR4 RAM plus 256GB of UFS 2.0 internal storage (expandable by up to 128GB via microSD using the second SIM slot). But this will cost you NT$24,990 or about US$780. The remaining two variants are still based on the 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820, and you get either 4GB RAM with 32GB storage (NT$15,990 or about US$500) or 6GB RAM with 64GB storage (NT$17,990 or about US$560). It's worth mentioning that these are certified for Google's Daydream VR platform.

The rest of the features are identical, including their 1080p Super AMOLED touchscreen (with glove mode), Gorilla Glass 4, a 3,000 mAh battery, NFC, 23-megapixel f/2.0 main camera (with OIS, laser AF and dual-tone flash). 8-megapixel f/2.0 front camera and fingerprint reader on the back. The series will become available in Taiwan and Hong Kong as early as August, though we're also told to expect the Snapdragon 821 variant to arrive later.

This is a mid-range 9.7-inch tablet featuring a 2,048 x 1,536 LCD, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (with microSD expansion), an 8-megapixel main camera, a 5-megapixel front imager and Android 6.0. It runs on a hexa-core MediaTek chip (MT8176; dual 2.1GHz Cortex-A72 and quad 1.7GHz Cortex-A53) so it should be more than enough for general usage, plus it has a fingerprint reader, 802.11ac WiFi, DTS Headphone:X audio, a 5,900 mAh battery, USB Type-C port and Quick Charge 3.0 (but charger sold separately). The tablet will be available in Taiwan for NT$10,990 or about US$340 in August.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Pokemon go adds billions to Nintendo's market value

Pokémon Go is the latest hotness in mobile gaming and Nintendo is basking in its glow -- to the tune of $7.5 billion in additional market value. Nintendo stock closed up 25 percent on Monday, and by the end of last week, when Pokémon Go hit mobile devices across the US, Australia and New Zealand, the company's stock was already up 9 percent.

Nintendo added $7.5 billion to its market value on Friday and Monday alone, Reuters reports. Nintendo didn't directly develop or publish Pokémon Go, but it holds a large stake in the series' licensor, The Pokémon Company. Pokémon Go was developed and published by Niantic Labs, Google's former AR division that was responsible for the Ingress mobile game. Nintendo and Google invested an estimated $30 million in Niantic while it was working on Pokémon Go.

The stock boost is great news for Nintendo, which has been struggling to save face and money since 2011.Its living room console, the Wii U, hit shelves in November 2012 and it didn't sell nearly as well as the company expected or needed it to. Nintendo executives predicted they would move nearly 100 million Wii U consoles, but they've sold just 13 million since 2012. Nintendo lost money annually between fiscal years 2011 and 2014, largely banking on legacy titles like Mario, Animal Crossing and Super Smash Bros. Of course, market value doesn't translate directly to profit for Nintendo, but rising stock is a sign that investors still believe in the house that Mario built. Nintendo will need all the support it can get ahead of its next console launch, which we expect in March 2017. The Wall Street Journal reports that Pokémon Go will hit Europe, Japan and other Asian nations within a few days, citing people with knowledge of internal plans.

Amazon is building treehouses for its employees to cry in

These greenhouses and treehouses are for both cultivating nature and employees' moods, but how well will they work out?

Amazon is hard at work on offering its employees something decidedly out of the ordinary when it comes to office culture. Instead of something frivolous like special chairs or a cafe, employees are getting a special greenhouse, which will contain a conjoined series of treehouses.
 The New York Times reports the greenhouse will be constructed in downtown Seattle and is meant to act as a refuge for employees as well as housing 3,000 species of plants, many of them endangered. The treehouses are meant for employees to meet up and discuss work and other topics, but the climate of a greenhouse isn't really conducive to intensive thinking, or at least it doesn't seem to be. At first, the greenhouses will only be available for Amazon employees to traverse, but there are plans to open them up to the public at a later date.

 This is an interesting step to take following claims of Amazon's supposed rough treatment of its employees, also rooted in a report from The New York Times, asserting the culture at the ecommerce giant is "brutal."Amazon is looking to open up the new greenhouses in early 2018, so there's still a while to go yet before we see what effect this has on employee morale and the plants within.