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The Public Access Weekly: So this is the New Year

It’s widely accepted that with a new year comes new beginnings and now that 2016 is upon us, we’re taking that as an open door to shake things up at Public Access. We’ve been planning and plotting, and there are changes in store! Let me give you a quick run-down of what’s been happening, what’s changed, and what’s to come.

First and foremost, if you are registered as a Public Access member then go directly here to take our survey. Seriously, GO HERE NOW. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go take the survey! We’ll be leaving the survey up for about the next week or so and we really, really want to hear from all Public Access members on what you’re liking most (and least) about contributing. Listen, the Public Access page is for you and by you and this is an opportunity to weigh in and tell us what you’d like to see on the page.

We’ll also be showing love to outstanding Public Access posts by sharing them with the Engadget social channels, so be on the look out for the Public Access hashtag on Twitter (#PublicAccess, naturally) as well as a growing presence on the Engadget Tumblr page — we’ll also @ mention those members who include a Twitter handle or social media profile in their Public Access profiles, so if you haven’t included that info in your profile yet you can go here to update it.

So, what else has been happening over on Public Access since our last update? A. Lot. Like the rest of Engadget, Public Access got a redesign. While top stories are still highlighted at the top of the page, now all Public Access stories can be found in The Latest section underneath the This Week’s Top 5 box. Clicking the “More Public Access Stories” link at the bottom of the Latest feed will take you to a chronological listing of every story on the page. Below that you’ll find our cheeky Q&A section (currently featuring answers from the one-and-only Jake Solomon).

It’s not just the Public Access page itself that has been changed — we’re working on updating and changing the backend CMS that Public Access members use as well (yet another reason why it’s important to weigh in on the survey!). The first step in that direction is the addition of a Preview button, meaning that now when you write stories you can get a sneak peek at what it will look like when it goes live. Check it:

We’re working on other features as well, so keep an eye out for more details in these updates (which will go back to a weekly schedule, with a new post every Friday).

Looking for something to read? Check out:

The Complete guide to geek holidays: Penned by yours truly, and to receive updates throughout the year — let me know if I’ve missed any!

The seven people you meet on Facebook (and wish you didn’t): This (overly?) honest social media story is getting a lot of traction this week.

The Future of Ad Blocking: What Ad Blocking is Really About: An insiders perspective on advertising, the software that keeps it from your view and the balancing act between content and profit.

Looking for something to write about? Mull over:

4K Blu-ray vs Streaming Media: Some serious conversations are happening in the comments on this one. What do you think — is 4K Blu-ray over?

Biometrics vs Passwords: Are passwords really dead? Can biometrics replace them? What are your security procedures for secure passwords? And would you use a biometric solution?

Personal Gaming: This incredibly moving story about the game That Dragon, Cancer examines how a game can have a very emotional impact on the player (although that story contains spoilers so be careful). Have you ever played a game that had an emotional impact on you? What was it, and why was it so special?


How one illustrator forced Oculus Story Studio to redraw VR

During pre-production on its latest virtual reality short, Dear Angelica, Oculus Story Studio found itself in a peculiar situation: The chosen art style, illustration, had necessitated a design pivot. Rather than scan and rebuild the drawings of illustrator Wesley Allsbrook in CG — a time-consuming process the studio felt would dilute her artistic voice — the team needed a brand new tool; one that would let Allsbrook draw directly within VR. And so engineer Inigo Quilez did just that. The end result is Quill, a new VR illustration tool that’s evolving along with production on Dear Angelica and Allsbrook’s needs, and pushing the medium even further.

“This is something that’s being built completely differently to the way that Henry was built,” says Story Studio producer Edward Saatchi of Dear Angelica’s illustration-driven production.

Just one year ago, Oculus VR’s animation arm announced itself using the Sundance Film Festival and its glamorous filmmaking community of actors, writers, producers and directors as a backdrop. The idea then was to introduce Hollywood creatives to a whole new medium of immersive storytelling with Lost and educate them on the production process.

Oculus Story Studio Demos New VR Drawing Tool, Quill

Now, two VR shorts later, Story Studio is back amongst the snowy slopes and bustling Main Street of Park City, Utah to highlight how far VR filmmaking has come with Dear Angelica. It’s the story of Jessica, a young girl sitting in her bedroom and writing a letter to her movie star Mother, the ‘Angelica’ of the title. As she reminisces, her memories lead to snippets of Angelica’s past films, one of which looks like a hybrid of fantasy films The Neverending Story and Labyrinth, that the viewer can enter and experience as it’s literally drawn-in around them, brush stroke-by-brush stroke.

“The idea for the film is to have an illustration that you bring into space and time context and navigate it,” says Allsbrook.

“We started with the idea of ‘how does memory look?’” says Saatchi of Dear Angelica‘s art style. “Saschka [Unseld, the director] thought it would just look and feel like a painting.”

Unseld says that initial “idea of a stroke forming and another stroke forming, and something emerging out of nothingness” came during a chat with filmmaker Werner Herzog at Connect, Facebook-owned Oculus VR’s first developer conference. To achieve that dream-like visual design, he sought out an illustrator and found Allsbrook, known for her editorial work, after seeing a full-page Op-Ed she’d done for The New York Times.

But trouble struck when the team realized the process of transferring her work into animated VR — a process that would pass her illustrations through a character modeler, rigger, animator and then computer-assisted lighting design — would ultimately end up warping it.

Early concept artwork for Dear Angelica

“The idea for the film is to have an illustration that you bring into space and time context and navigate it,” says Allsbrook. “And we were taking my 2D work — I usually do pen, ink on paper with digital color — and trying to map it to geometry. And it was just kind of ugly and clunky and had no internal feeling to it. … Quill allows me to paint in space and paint in time. It records my point of origin. It records how fast I draw. It allows me to make every single asset that we’re going to use for this film and make it in a way that is authentic to my own style.”

Though production is still underway on Dear Angelica — Unseld says the studio’s targeting summer 2016 for release — the team was able to demonstrate the unique storytelling design enabled by Quill using select assets. The scene I experienced was essentially a playback of Allsbrook’s design process of that fantasy-like movie world. I was placed in an all-white space, but as I moved around and shifted my gaze, an image of beings riding a dragon, or a beautiful woman on the floor would begin to be drawn in all around me. This eventually culminated in a full 360-degree scene that would flow and waver as I approached it.

Interviews Executives From Pixar Animation Studios

Oculus Story Studio creative director Saschka Unseld

I was even given the opportunity to draw with Quill, using Oculus’ Touch controllers, within that space, an experience that was reminiscent of Oculus’ other design tool for sculpting in VR, Medium. The Touch controllers function as a sort of palette, with each trigger dedicated as a drawing implement. To swap colors, all I had to do was place my cursor within a stroke from any of the nearby imagery. A pleasing sound would then let me know I was successful and could begin drawing, scaling, coloring in, moving and deleting my designs.

“The way that development on this tool is working is I come up against a roadblock and then I tell Inigo what I need and he implements it. It’s an evolving tool,” says Allsbrook.

Quill’s full UI wasn’t shown off — the team had that capability disabled for the purposes of this demo — but Allsbrook says that it offers a variety of brush styles, the ability to tweak shading, luminosity and opacity, and even draw using math.

“The way that development on this tool is working is I come up against a roadblock and then I tell Inigo what I need and he implements it. It’s an evolving tool,” she says “… I’m asking right now for a lot of tools that are familiar for people who do 2D digital. But I think that probably we could modify this for [ways of] creating in VR that have nothing to do with drawing.”

[Image credits: Oculus Story Studio (Dear Angelica movie poster); Bloomberg via Getty Images (Saschka Unseld)]


A ‘Hi-Fi’ Bluetooth adapter doesn’t help Plantronics’ new headphones

When it comes to stylish premium headphones, Plantronics probably isn’t the first company that comes to mind. It’s best known for its PC headsets and Bluetooth earpieces — not exactly Beats territory. But I can still remember the first time I heard the company’s first over-ear wireless headphones, the BackBeat Pro, back in 2013. At $250, they sounded as good as far more expensive cans from Beats and Bose, and they even packed in noise-canceling, to boot. Now with the $300 BackBeat Pro+, its pseudo follow-up, Plantronics has added a USB dongle for high-quality Bluetooth streaming audio from computers. But is a tiny accessory worth an even higher price? Not quite.

Plantronics didn’t go through any major redesigns for the BackBeat Pro+. It looks exactly like the original model, except it’s now grey instead of black. That’s not exactly a bad thing, though, as its subdued design is a nice alternative to the plethora of increasingly garish headphones on the market. If you’re looking to make a style statement, these probably aren’t the headphones for you.

The BackBeat Pro+ is made of plastic, mostly, with metal arms connecting the headband. You can twist the cans to make it lay flat, but you can’t collapse it any further like more portable headsets. Be prepared to leave plenty of room in your bag, then. The earpads, while a tad thin, are surrounded by a comfortable layer of foam. Together with the foam-covered headband, I didn’t have any trouble wearing the BackBeat Pro+ for hours at a time.

Unlike many headphones these days, Plantronics hasn’t put together any special companion app. But that’s perfectly fine, since you can do everything you need right on the cans. On the left cup, there’s a large play/pause button, a switch for activating noise cancellation, and a dial for jumping backwards and forwards through tracks. You can also pair NFC-equipped Android phones with the BackBeat Pro+ by holding them up to the left cup while in pairing mode. There’s a standard headphone jack on the bottom of the cup (a cable is included in the box), as well as a micro-USB port for charging.

On the right side, there’s a large “Call” button for accepting calls (which you also hold down to activate Bluetooth pairing mode), a volume dial, and the power switch. There’s also an “OpenMic” button on the bottom of the right cup, which pipes in external audio from the real world while lowering the volume on your music input. (For when it’s simply too hard to take off your headphones.)

But back to that USB dongle: It’s just that, a tiny Bluetooth adapter (the Plantronics BT600) that instantly connects Windows PCs and Macs to the BackBeat Pro+. It comes pre-paired from the factory, so all you need to do is plug it in and turn on the headphones to make a wireless connection. While most laptops and desktops these days already include Bluetooth support, Plantronics says its dongle ensures a higher quality experience (it helps to have an external Bluetooth antenna, for example). A software update will eventually allow the dongle to support even better wireless audio using the AptX codec, which is a step above typical Bluetooth streaming.

I noticed slightly more detail and nuance in songs with the Plantronics dongle on my MacBook Air, after switching back and forth between it and built-in Bluetooth. “Like A Dog Chasing Cars” from the Dark Knight soundtrack had more bass oomph and detail instrumental detail with the BT600 adapter, whereas the bass seemed boomier and less-defined with built-in Bluetooth. I noticed the same thing with “Bim Bam Smash” from the Bourne Supremacy soundtrack, as well as songs from Bowie, Bjork and Arcade Fire. It’s not that the BackBeat Pro+ sounds bad with normal Bluetooth — it’s among the best wireless headphones I’ve heard — but the company’s dongle just added a bit more detail.

Beyond Plantronics’ Bluetooth adapter, the BackBeat Pro+ works exactly like the previous model. Flipping on the noise-cancellation mode while on the subway effectively reduced outside noise a bit, though not as much as other headphones that offer the feature. The headphones also lasted over 22 hours on a charge with wireless listening from computers, smartphones and the new Apple TV. (Plantronics claims 24 hours of battery life.) You can stream higher-quality Bluetooth audio with devices that natively support AptX (plenty of high-end Android phones and Macs offer it, but no iOS devices). It’s debatable how much AptX makes a difference, though. I can hear a slight improvement, but the difference might not matter much to some listeners.

As useful as Plantronics’ Bluetooth adapter is, the higher $300 price for the BackBeat Pro+ makes it a tougher sell in the headphone market. Samsung’s wireless Level Over headphones, which also include noise-canceling technology, currently retail between $200 and $325, depending on where you look. Those are also one of The Wirecutter’s preferred noise-canceling headphones, and based on my testing, they also sound pretty darn great.

An even stronger competitor is Plantronics’ original BackBeat Pro headphones, which now retail for around $166 on Amazon. That’s a steal, considering they originally retailed at $250. You could also snap up the BT600 adapter for $60 separately and still end up paying far less than the BackBeat Pro+. (There are cheaper Bluetooth USB adapters with AptX out there, but I haven’t had a chance to test them.)

At its current price, it’s hard to recommend the BackBeat Pro+. Sure, it’s a solid performer for wireless music listening, and the included adapter makes it easier to connect to PCs over Bluetooth. But it simply can’t compete against an identical set of headphones selling for nearly half the price.


Firefox gives you push notifications from websites

If you’ve wanted websites to push notifications whenever there’s a big update, you’ve typically had to use a browser like Chrome or Safari. As of today, though, there’s a third option: Mozilla has released Firefox 44, which brings push notifications to all desktop users. Grant a site permission and you’ll get a heads-up whenever there’s an important story or alert, whether or not a given site is open. It’s arguably an overdue feature, but it’s hard to knock having more choice.

This update isn’t just a one-trick pony. On the desktop, it’ll let you play H.264 video (Mozilla’s once-hated nemesis) if your system has a native decoder. It also ditches older, less secure web certificates. And don’t worry, Android is getting some updates too — you can finally choose a home page to display on startup, get search history suggestions and use Android’s native services for cloud printing. Whichever platform you use, you can grab the Firefox update today.

[Image credit: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images]

Source: Mozilla Blog


Make sure your device keeps up with you while you’re on the go with the LithiumCard Wallet

We’ve all been there before. We’re out and about, and know that our phone is about to die. So you only use your device sparingly, but your efforts are still not enough. You get into your friends car and need to figure out where something is at, and the phone dies. Now you’re stuck trying to figure out where to go, and they don’t have a charger that fits your device.

LithiumCard 3

The LithiumCard Wallet alleviates having to worry about your device dying while you’re out and about. As someone who travels for a few hours a day to and from work, I know the pain of having your phone die, and not being able to order that Uber or call your friends to come pick you up.

  • Keep your micro-USB compatible devices charged w/ the built-in connector
  • Enjoy the premium design crafted from durable aluminum
  • Charge your device quickly at up to 1% of battery life per minute
  • Add charging power capacity to your device
  • Simultaneously charge your device & LithiumCard w/ 2 flip-out charging cables
  • Carry it everywhere: fits into almost any wallet
  • Stick to your device w/ the NanoStik pad as an alternative to storing in your wallet

The LithiumCard Wallet also features a 3000mAh battery, which should keep most devices fully charged throughout the day. If you’re using a device with a larger battery, you’ll still be able to keep most of the charge on your device. Add in the fact that there are pull-out micro-USB ports, and you’ll be good to go, provided you don’t have an iPhone or USB Type-C charging port.



The normal price of the LithiumCard Wallet might scare some folks away since it’s priced at $60. But with today’s deal from AndroidGuys and StackCommerce, you can get this nifty little charger for only $20. At a savings of over 65%, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better deal to keep your device charged on the go.

You can find this, and many other great tech bargains through our Deals page. Backed by StackCommerce, there are daily promos, giveaways, freebies, and much more!

AndroidGuys Deals: LithiumCard Wallet Battery

The post Make sure your device keeps up with you while you’re on the go with the LithiumCard Wallet appeared first on AndroidGuys.


T-Mobile is now selling the BlackBerry Priv


Now that its exclusive carrier arrangement to sell the flagship is out of the way, BlackBerry’s Priv is being sold by T-Mobile. The carrier stated last week it would begin selling the handset on January 26, and today orders were accepted on schedule.


T-Mobile customers have a number of ways to purchase the Priv, assuming they want a handset with a slide-out physical keyboard sitting behind a 5.4-inch display. Longtime, trusted customers can get the Priv for $30 per month for twenty-four months without putting any money down. Through the JUMP! On Demand program, the monthly payments become $34 spread across eighteen months. Those building credit can pay $396 upfront and get the handset for $13.50 per month for twenty-four months. However, you can purchase it outright by laying out $719. That seems like a steep price, but it’s about right when compared to offerings from Samsung and LG.

Verizon customers have been waiting since November to see the handset become availability. It was three months ago when Big Red posted that the Priv is “coming soon.”

The BlackBerry Priv has a 5.4-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage and a microSD card slot, 18MP / 2MP cameras, 3410mAh battery, and Android 5.1.1 built into an extremely secure framework. Apparently consumers have liked the Priv because BlackBerry is expanding its availability, launching in India in two days.

BlackBerry’s early success with the Priv has pushed the company to make a direct switch to Android for their 2016 devices. A handset with the codename Vienna, which features an always-present physical keyboard, leaked a few months ago showing BlackBerry pairing Android with a form factor the company is known for.

Source: T-Mobile

Come comment on this article: T-Mobile is now selling the BlackBerry Priv


Opera Mini for Android updated with new QR system


Popular third-party browser Opera Mini has today received a rather beefy update via the Play Store. The upgrade transports compatibility for a number of additional languages, improvements for the download manager, a new QR-code reader and a whole host of other alterations which have been designed exclusively to improve a user’s overall experience when using the application to surf the web.

The most significant modification this update bears is for the integrated QR system. Once users have successfully installed the upgrade, they will be able to not only scan and open QR codes from within the app, but also have the facility to generate their own unique identification tags, which can then be shared with friends by way of social networking sites or saved for use at a later date in the format of a standard PNG file type.

If you’re an Opera Mini user and would like to install the update on your smartphone or tablet, simply open up the Play Store, toggle the hamburger menu by swiping in from the left-hand side of the screen, select ‘My Apps’ and click on the application, then tap the update button.

Play Store Download Link

Come comment on this article: Opera Mini for Android updated with new QR system


HTC One M10 to sport a similar design to the One A9


If all the leaks, rumors and speculation floating around at the moment is anything to go by, it looks like HTC is preparing to unveil its latest flagship smartphone, the One M10, at Mobile World Congress in three weeks time. Although we’ve heard some chitter-chatter about what the handset is likely to pack internally, we’ve picked up nothing on the radar regarding the device’s shell. However, reliable tipster @Evleaks has taken to his beloved Twitter account to share his latest slice of inside information.

The tweet simply states: “If you like the A9, you’ll love the M10.” This leads us to believe that the Taiwanese company has adopted the same iPhone-like slim, metal unibody arrangement for the upcoming flagship that it used in its latest mid-ranger. It could also be a reference to the firm’s new Sense user interface, which has been toned down to comply with Google’s Material Design guidelines and to give a more stock Android user experience.

Unfortunately, that’s all the information @Evleaks provided on this occasion. However, recent reports suggest that the One M10 will sport a Snapdragon 820 System-on-Chip (SoC), 4GB of RAM, a 23-megapixel rear-facing camera equipped with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), an 8-megapixel front-facing shooter, a super-fast fingerprint scanner, IP68 water/dust resistance and a 3,000mAh non-removable Li-Po battery, which will have a standby time of 410-hours whilst operating on a 3G connection.

Source: Twitter (@Evleaks)

Come comment on this article: HTC One M10 to sport a similar design to the One A9


Deal: Help keep your devices charged with the LithiumCard Wallet Battery Pack for only $20


Sometimes it can be difficult to find a power outlet when you’re out and about. So what do you do when your smartphone or tablet is running out of juice? We’d recommend using an external battery pack, those convenient little batteries you can store in your purse or backpack to help keep your devices fully charged. Some battery packs are bulky, though, and we understand not everyone carries around a backpack at all times. So if you’re looking for a convenient solution to this problem, you’ll definitely want to check out the LithiumCard Wallet Battery, now available in the AA Deals Store.

The LithiumCard Wallet Battery is just like other external battery packs, with a few tricks up its sleeve. For starters, this 1200mAh battery pack is small, durable and lightweight. It’s no wider than 5 credit cards stacked on top of one another, so you’ll likely be able to fit it in your wallet or pocket. It also has an aluminum housing and will be able to charge your MicroUSB-compatible devices at up to 1% of battery per minute. As an added bonus, you can simultaneously charge your mobile device and LithiumCard thanks to the 2 included flip-out charging cables. Sounds pretty great, right?

The LithiumCard Wallet Battery is available from the Android Authority Deals Store for only $20, which is a good $8 cheaper than what can be found on Amazon. If you’re interested in grabbing this deal, head to the link below for more information.

Get this deal now


Boost Mobile will cut $5 of your bill in exchange of home-screen ads

operating-hours Operating Hours

Looking to save a little more money on your Boost prepaid service? If you are willing to be subjected to some ads, than Boost has your back. Working with a company called Unlockd, Sprint-owned Boost Mobile will give its subscribers the option of downloading a new app called “Boost Dealz”, which knocks off $5 a month on your bill in exchange for the time you spend looking at ads.

So how do the ads work? When you unlock your phone you’ll be presented with a homescreen ad that you can click on to visit for more details, or you can simply hit the “Like” or “Dislike” button and the ad will then go away.

boost_mobile_720wSee also: Best Boost Mobile phones (November 2015)16

It’s unclear if ads will be presented each and every time that you unlock your phone, but expect them to show up frequently, if not every time you unlock your device. If you find the ads too intrusive, you can always delete the app, though you’ll lose out on the $5 discount going forward.

While not everyone is going to like the idea of surrendering their homescreen to occasional ads, there are many folks that won’t mind, as long as they are getting paid for it. Arguably a lockscreen ad (like found with Amazon’s Kindle series) would be better, but such implementation would likely require Boost to have more control over the OS/skin on the phone.

For Sprint, it’s a nice experiment that allows them to explore more passive ways of generating income from their subscribers without just jacking up the fees like many carriers are apt to do. What do you think, if you could save $5 on your carrier of choice – would you go along with this kind of incentive?

Next – Best prepaid carriers

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