Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Big Picture: Yeah right, this was shot on a mobile phone

The Big Picture: Yeah right, this was shot on a mobile phone

The World Photography Organization has announced the winners of its 2015 Sony World Photography Awards, including those from the inaugural mobile phone category. Out of some 96,000 entries, only three shots were chosen. Incredibly, this spectacular scene captured by Janos M Schmidt of Hungary didn’t even take home top prize — that honor went to Salvatori Calafato of Italy. But trust, you don’t want to see that image in full definition.

[Image Credit: Janos M Schmidt/World Photography Org]

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Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

April Fools’ Day is nearly upon us and now’s your chance to get caught up on the last bit of serious news before the internet gets crazy. First up, we review Apple’s refreshed MacBook Pro with Retina display and find out if the Force Touch trackpad is everything we’ve hoped and dreamed. Meanwhile, Microsoft announces the Surface 3 running Windows 8.1 and Google comes up with a new way to put Chrome OS on your television. Head past the break for the details on these stories and more.

MacBook Pro with Retina display review (13-inch, 2015)

Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

Nope, it’s not the new MacBook. That review will need to wait until next month. What we have here is the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. For all intents and purposes, it’s the same one we last tested in late 2013, except for one important thing: It swaps out the old trackpad in favor of a pressure-sensitive “Force Touch” pad that responds differently depending on how hard you bear down on it.

Microsoft’s new Surface 3 tablet runs full Windows, not RT

Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

How many times have we said that the Surface would be great, if not for its OS? The truth is, the Surface RT and Surface 2 were lovely, well-crafted things, with great screens, solid build quality and long battery life. We just wished they could run the full gamut of desktop programs, in part to make up for a limited selection of Windows Store apps. Well, it seems Microsoft has finally reversed course. The company just unveiled the Surface 3 and, as rumored, it comes loaded with full Windows 8.1.

Google puts Chrome OS on your TV with its own HDMI stick

Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

Google has unveiled a whole new type of Chrome device, and it’s one that can fit in your pocket. It’s called the Chromebit, and it’s essentially a Chromebook crammed in a dongle. This tiny little package contains a Rockchip 3288 SoC, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of eMMC memory, a USB 2.0 port, WiFi 802.11 ac support, Bluetooth 4.0, a Smart Ready controller and an ARM Mali 760 quad-core GPU.

‘Un Chien Andalou’ inspires a surreal indie game from Russian devs

Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

In 1929, famed artist Salvador Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel awoke from a night of strange dreams, Buñuel recalling the image of a razor blade cloud slicing through the moon as if it were an eyeball, and Dalí describing a human hand covered in ants. They turned these images into a silent, surrealist short film called Un Chien Andalou, which opens on a woman with one eye held open, a cloud cutting across the moon and a blade slicing through the eye of a dead calf. The hand, crawling with ants, also makes an appearance. The film has no plot, but it’s rife with emotive and disturbing imagery.

Dyson’s new bladeless fan is also a powerful air filter

Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

Dyson really hates dirt, to the point that it’s now come up with a new bladeless fan that can also filter out ultra fine airborne particles – including viruses, bacteria and pollens – that are as tiny as 0.1 microns. The aptly-named Pure Cool (AM11) closely resembles Dyson’s other fan towers, with the notable difference being the cylindrical glass HEPA filter around the base. After 450 prototypes, the company claims that this filter removes 99.95 percent of ultra fine particles, and it’s good for up to 4,382 hours or about six months of continuous use.

Star Wars villains get a moody re-imagining by Square Enix

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Square Enix, the games maker that gave us the Final Fantasy series (alongside plenty of other games), also has a sideline in fancy high-end action figures. Its latest collection tackles the Star Wars universe, well, the darker side of said universe. Alongside Darth Vader (which was teased late last year), Play Arts Kai (the brand Square Enix releases them under) has revealed two more additions: a particularly stoic-looking Stormtrooper and Boba Fett.

Google Maps turned your streets into Pac-Man today

Daily Roundup: MacBook Pro review, the new Surface 3 and more!

Your streets can be an iconic arcade game right now. Google Maps has a Pac-Man option just in time for April Fool’s Day. With the click of a button, your streets will be dotted with yellow pellets and the four famous ghosts. New York City, with its perpendicular streets, is perfect for Pac-Man’s maze. I zipped around the block for a few minutes, until I ran into Pinky outside Webster Hall. Even though everyone’s streets probably won’t convert into a Pac-Man-like grid, Google might be getting better at gags after years of trying and failing.

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Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display (mid 2014)

  • Key specs
  • Reviews 5

  • Prices
  • Discussions
  • Type Midsize
  • Screen size 15.4 inches
  • Screen resolution Other
  • System RAM 16 GB
  • Maximum battery life Up to 8 hours
  • Dimensions 0.71 x 14.13 x 9.73 in
  • Weight 4.46 lb
  • Released 2014-07-29

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9average user rating
  • Speed and features 10
  • Design and form factor 9.2
  • Battery life 8.8
  • Display 9.6
  • Durability 8.8
  • Expandability 5.6
  • Noise 10
  • Portability (size / weight) 9.2

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Facebook’s ‘Scrapbook’ puts all of those baby photos in one place

Facebook's 'Scrapbook' puts all of those baby photos in one place

There are way too many baby pictures on Facebook. And they need to be organized. Starting today, the network rolled out an optional “Scrapbook” feature that lets parents sort through the digital heap of their children’s photos. On the site, under the Family & Relationships tab, a party-hat-wearing blue elephant gives you the option to add your child’s (or pet’s) name to start the album. The tool then automatically places photos tagged with that name in one place. According to the site, the scrapbook “grows with your child” so it will continue to gather your photos as long as you’re feeding it.

Given that it’s pictures of children (or humans under 13), the network lets parents control all aspects of the feature: naming, tagging and selective sharing. Facebook surveyed parents in the US and found that 65 percent of them tag their partners in child’s pictures. So you can co-own this Scrapbook and share control of the settings –- you have the option to share the collection with your friends or keep it private. For now, the feature is only available in the US.

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This is how you refuel Zero’s electric motorcycle

This is how you refuel Zero's electric motorcycle

If there’s one problem to racing a super-cool electric motorcycle, it’s that pit stops tend to be a bit slow. After all, in the time it takes a regular hot rod to refuel, you’ve probably only gained one or two percent of charge. That’s why Zero Motorcycles has created a patent pending hot-swappable battery system for the Zero FX that enables you to “refuel” the e-bike in just over half a minute. The clip below shows you how quickly this can be done out on the track, which makes us want to buy one of these $10,000 bikes even more than before.

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Zero Motorcycles’ new e-bikes can last 185 miles on a single charge

Zero Motorcycles' new e-bikes can last 185 miles on a single charge

With the bad memories of 2012 product recalls firmly banished to the past, Zero Motorcycles is today unveiling its 2015 lineup of e-motorbikes. Changes from the 2014 models include improved seats, a slight increase in price, and larger batteries that extend the bikes’ range to a maximum of 185 miles with the $2,495 Power Tank accessory (a 14-mile boost from last year). The base Zero FX model now clocks in at $9,845, while the top-of-the-line Zero SR will set you back $17,345. You won’t be able to buy any of the new bikes until December (February in Europe), but you can whet your appetite with a selection of videos below.

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Festo’s insect-inspired robots act like the real things

Festo's insect-inspired robots act like the real things

German automation company Festo is known for taking cues from nature when designing robots. This time, it has revealed futuristic-looking bionic ants, realistic robotic butterflies and a silicone gripper based on chameleons’ tongue. Just like real ants, the 3D-printed BionicANTs can cooperate in small groups to move bigger objects, though they’re much, much larger at 5.3 inches in length. They have cameras on their heads, optical sensors on their bellies that enable infrared navigation, and antennae that function as wireless chargers. Those circuits running outside their bodies are functional, by the way, and not just a design to make them look cool.

The eMotionButterflies, on the other hand, are robotic Lepidopterans that can fly pre-programmed routes inside spaces mounted with infrared cameras that serve as their GPS system. Similar to BionicANTs, they have infrared sensors to avoid bumping into one another. They’re also equipped with motors, along with other components, that allow them to flap their wings like real ones do. These robobutterflies have 20-inch wingspans and can fly for 2.5 meters per second for three to four minutes before they need to be recharged for the next 15.

Finally, the FlexShapeGripper (a joint project with the University of Oslo) is a silicone cap attached to a robotic arm that mimics the movements of a chameleon’s tongue. That cap acts as a suction that picks up objects, even flat ones like cards and phones. Festo will showcase all three machines at the Hannover Messe trade show in Germany next month, though those who can’t be there can just watch these videos to see them in action. If you’re wondering, Festo’s older nature-inspired projects include a robotic kangaroo, dragonfly, bird, elephant trunk and a fat, blimp-like penguin.

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‘Un Chien Andalou’ inspires a surreal indie game from Russian devs

'Un Chien Andalou' inspires a surreal indie game from Russian devs

In 1929, famed artist Salvador Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel awoke from a night of strange dreams, Buñuel recalling the image of a razorblade cloud slicing through the moon as if it were an eyeball, and Dalí describing a human hand covered in ants. They turned these images into a silent, surrealist short film called Un Chien Andalou, which opens on a woman with one eye held open, a cloud cutting across the moon and a blade slicing through the eye of a dead calf. The hand, crawling with ants, also makes an appearance. The film has no plot, but it’s rife with emotive and disturbing imagery.

Cut to 2014, when Russian game developers Ilya Kononenko and Yuliya Kozhemyako decided the first scene of Un Chien Andalou would make the perfect setting for their entry in a local game jam with the theme “Phobias.” Their completed game is now due out on April 3rd, called The Tender Cut.

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The Tender Cut

“We want players to dive into a surrealistic dream, where emotions overlap each other — disgust and arousal, fear and curiosity,” Kononenko and Kozhemyako say in an email. “The game contains a set of tiny experiences, and everyone has a chance to get at least one of them.”

Like its source material, The Tender Cut doesn’t provide a clear path forward. There are no instructions and the game takes place in a sparsely furnished, black-and-white room. It’s first-person, allowing players to directly interact with various objects, including a tube TV set playing bits of Un Chien Andalou, a cigarette, a lighter, a razor and a few crooked paintings hiding creepy secrets. The moon beyond the balcony winks down on a potted plant that has something other than roots buried in its soil.

'Un Chien Andalou' inspires a surreal indie game from Russian devs

Kononenko and Kozhemyako say The Tender Cut is a game, though just barely. It’s short — roughly 20 minutes long — and early in development they called it an “interactive installation.” Now, it’s an exploration game, even though there are no “right” actions and only a vague sense of winning or losing. After observing the confusion of beta players, the developers added two different endings, new cursors and some achievements to make it more approachable as a game.

“An interactive format makes you an actor instead of viewer,” they say. “It makes it possible to experience the scene from the other side and get another emotional message.”

“We want players to dive into a surrealistic dream, where emotions overlap each other — disgust and arousal, fear and curiosity.”

Kononenko and Kozhemyako are interested in the “almost-game” industry, pieces of interactive software that straddle the definitions of “art,” “experiences” and “video games.” In November, they (as their studio, No, Thanks) helped form the Not-Games segment of NextCastle Party, a gaming festival in St. Petersburg. Kononenko and Kozhemyako say that Russia’s indie game industry is on the rise, driven by support from experienced developers, large events and local game jams. Many fresh developers started their own projects last year, they say:

“And this is not about industry in Russia separately, it’s more about [the Russian-speaking] industry. A lot of events are based in Kiev and Minsk; we have many friends and colleagues from Ukraine and Belarus. There are strong communities in Twitter and other media resources. It is not so good with game journalism here. There are some major titles which write about mainstream games, but more specific products are not covered well enough.”

Art-house games about classic, creepy, surrealist films do indeed inhabit a specific category. The Tender Cut will be available for download on April 3rd via its official site; feel free to take a few days to mentally prepare.

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Limited edition ‘Batman’ PlayStation 4 scratches that superhero itch

Limited edition 'Batman' PlayStation 4 scratches that superhero itch

If you missed out on that coveted 20th Anniversary PlayStation 4, don’t fret: there’s another special-run model coming soon. Sony has unveiled a limited edition Batman: Arkham Knight PS4 bundle that gives you a “steel grey” console emblazoned with the Caped Crusader’s silhouette alongside the matching controller and, of course, the game. You’ll want to pre-order the $450 pack quickly if you want to stand a chance of getting it on its June 23rd launch day, but there is a standard $400 bundle if you’re either late to the party or are more interested in saving Gotham than showing off.

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Sony PlayStation 4

  • Key specs
  • Reviews 83

  • Prices
  • Discussions
  • Game format Optical disc, Downloadable
  • Online features Multiplayer, Voice chat, Video chat, Store, Browser
  • Drive capacity 500 GB
  • Controller type Wired, Wireless
  • Motion controls Accelerometer, Gyroscopic, Camera / optical
  • Video outputs HDMI
  • Weight 6.17 lb
  • Released 2013-11-15

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8.5average user rating
  • Game library 6.8
  • Graphics 9.5
  • Controller(s) 9
  • Design and form factor 9.1
  • Other features (media, online, etc.) 7.3
  • Noise 8.9

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Apple opens the floodgates to Watch-friendly apps

Apple opens the floodgates to Watch-friendly apps

You may have noticed a few Apple Watch-friendly iOS apps trickle out, but brace yourself: you’re about to face a torrent of them. Apple has opened up WatchKit app submissions to all developers (not just the handful of early partners from before), so anyone who has been toiling over wristwear-ready software in the past few months can finally put it on your iPhone. Given that the Apple Watch release is still three weeks away, this suggests that the App Store will be well-stocked on day one.

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Apple Watch

  • Key specs
  • Reviews 1

  • Prices
  • Discussions
  • Form factor Other
  • Operating system iOS
  • Screen size 1.32 inches
  • Storage type Internal storage
  • Maximum battery life Up to 18 hours
  • Dimensions 1.52 x 1.31 x 0.41 in
  • Weight 1.41 oz
  • Released 2015-04-24

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6average user rating
  • Features 8
  • Display 8
  • Battery life 2
  • Ease of use 6
  • Storage capacity 0
  • Design and form factor 10
  • Portability (size / weight) 4
  • Durability 4

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Buy an LG G3 in the US, get a free VR headset

Buy an LG G3 in the US, get a free VR headset

LG’s new mobile VR headset — which is basically just a plastic version of Google’s cardboard VR viewer — is finally hitting American shores. The company just announced that it’ll be throwing in a free headset, simply called the VR for G3, with the purchase of its latest flagship Android phone at participating retailers. Since it’s adopting the Google Cardboard platform, which is just a box that you can plug your smartphone in for simple VR experiences, there really isn’t much to LG’s offering. You just need to slide in a G3 unit and load up a VR app (LG will also link users to some VR gaming content). It also features a magnet that works together with the phone’s gyroscope (again, just like Google’s box), that lets you select things without interacting with the screen. Unfortunately, it’s still unclear how existing G3 owners can get their hands on LG’s VR headset (we’ve dropped a line for additional details).

It may seem a tad gimmicky, but a cheap VR headset will allow consumers to get a taste of the virtual reality experience without shelling out for an expensive accessory like Samsung’s $200 Gear VR. And while it certainly won’t compare with complex VR tech from Oculus, HTC and Valve, the VR for G3 is a reminder how small the barrier to entry for VR is getting.

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