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Candy Crush Jelly Saga: King stays true to its formula [Review]

There’s a very high chance that you know someone who plays Candy Crush. The game stormed the App Store and Google Play when it came out, and even after several years, it


Advanced Call Recorder: Automatically record calls, for posterity. [Review]

Overview – Advanced Call Recorder allows you to record all your calls for future recalling, with minimal setup and low maintenance. Developer: Systweak Software Price: free (Pro, $1.54) Highlights: Automatic Call Recording,


Zeiss VR One is a perfect example of how to do VR wrong


There are clever design decisions, and then there’s what Zeiss did.

There are a lot of people out there who hear the name Zeiss and immediately think quality optics, and with good reason. When Zeiss decided to make a Google Cardboard-esque VR headset where you shove whatever phone you want into a slot and enjoy, it seemed like a no brainer. Unfortunately, the Zeiss VR One is not the virtual reality superstar I was hoping it would be. In fact, it suffers from a serious design flaw that can only be fixed by released a new model.

Here’s a quick look at the Zeiss VR One, and some suggestions on how to do better next time.

Zeiss VR One is designed to be a sturdier version of Google Cardboard. The hard plastic body is well designed, allowing plenty of room for glasses to fit in the viewing area with plenty of covered air vents to keep things from getting foggy in the middle of a VR session. The Zeiss lenses on the inside are fixed, but massive. It’s a design that works well by taking full advantage of the display on the other side, which would be incredible if any of the 2560 x 1440 displays on modern smartphones fit in the body of this headset. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Rather than an open face to insert your phone like the Mattel View-Master VR, Zeiss uses cartridges that slide in and out of the side of the headset to align the phone you are using. Zeiss sent me a cartridge for the Samsung Galaxy S5, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why. The cartridge slot isn’t any wider than a Galaxy S5, which means they can’t really make cartridges for things like Galaxy Note 5 or Nexus 6P. Zeiss open sourced the cartridge design so the community could help out, so if you have a 3D Printer you can make your own cartridge for the Galaxy S6 or Xperia Z5 Premium.


This cartridge slot raises another incredible pain point, which is cleaning the lenses. Dust happens, and in most cases a quick swipe with a microfiber cloth will remove dust and get you back into the VR zone. But since you can’t easily open the Zeiss VR One, cleaning is incredibly difficult. Once dust gets on the other side of the lenses — and it will —the VR experience is negatively impacted, so all around it’s a problem. If you have something to blow air across the lenses it’s not as big a problem, but if you try to do that with your face you’re going to wind up with dust and spit on the inside part of the lens, and you will not be enjoying VR today.

Finally, the price tag for this Google Cardboard clone is $129 once you include the cost of a cartridge. That’s $30 more than Samsung’s significantly more capable Gear VR headset and $100 more than most Google Cardboard headsets you’ll find for sale. The VR One hardware feels nice, and the pair of Zeiss VR/AR apps in the Google Play Store are a clever way to get people used to this experience, but nothing about this justifies that price. Zeiss needs to drop the price, open up the body for larger phones and maintenance, and keep the amazing optics and ventilation system in the front. Until that happens, this is not the VR system you are looking for.

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Save $15 when buying two Chromecast Audios from Google Store


The Google Store is currently offering a $15 savings when buying two Chromecast Audios at the same time. That’s right, whether you are looking to expand upon your current set up, or start a new one in your home, now may be the time to do just that. With more than one Chromecast Audio in your house, you can set them up in independent zones to play different music, or the same to have the tunes play throughout your house.

Check out our Chromecast Audio review

You’ll need to add two of them to your cart for the $15 savings to appear.

See at Google

Thanks for the tip, Jeff!

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Balight’s bike LEDs light up your ride in the doofiest way possible

Twenty-nine people died in traffic-related accidents on the streets of San Francisco in 2014. Seventeen of them were pedestrians and cyclists. So when I commute through the city on a bike, there’s no such thing as being too visible. Well, maybe except for when I turn on the Balight wheel LEDs. This $170 hub-mounted safety light device goes far beyond alerting drivers to your presence: It practically screams, “Hey, everybody, look at me, I’m on a bike!” I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The system works like many other bike-light sets do: The battery and micro-controller are mounted on the wheel’s hub and, in this case, propel the four spines along which the LEDs run. Each individual LED light is capable of displaying 16 million colors, and as the wheel spins, it generates the optical illusion that you see.

You’ve equipped WHEEL LIGHTS.

Yes �?

— Andrew Tarantola (@Terrortola) Jan. 14th, 2016

On paper, there’s a lot to like about the Balight. Initially marketed as an Indiegogo campaign, where it exceeded its $30,000 funding goal, it offers a litany of features. That includes a 10-hour battery, water/shockproof operation and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing it to be used with a companion mobile app. What’s more, the light can display both still images and animated GIFs from either Balight’s curated online gallery or your own camera roll.

The Balight app also provides a number of features and a surprising degree of personalization. Users can program the light to cycle through specific photo sets at varying lengths of time by sorting images into albums. Additionally, the app incorporates a helpful battery meter for the light, includes GPS and even tracks your ride performance (distance, time and both the maximum and current speeds).

Unfortunately, many of these perks are negated by how awkward the system is to set up and use. First off, just getting the light onto my wheel was a master class in frustration. The printed instructions that come with the unit make no sense. At all. They read like LEGO assembly instructions that have been fed through Google Translate four or five times. I actually had to reach out to the company and have it send a video walk-through just to get the damn thing on; that’s how little sense the written instructions make. I mean, the light is easy to install once you know what the assortment of included screws and clips are for, but getting to that point is a challenge.

It was the same with pairing the light with my mobile device. I spent the better part of an hour alternately swearing at my phone and bike until the two randomly decided to start speaking to each other. I still don’t know what I did to get it to work, but now it does.

The app itself (available for both iOS and Android) feels equally unpolished, even on version 2.2.0. Signing in to my Balight account is hit or miss at best, and some of the functions are still said to be “under testing” but have active buttons nonetheless.

Then there are the more fundamental design flaws. Like the fact that I can’t park my bike on any street in San Francisco with this thing attached if I want it to be there when I get back. Yes, the Balight comes equipped with an anti-theft alarm. No, it isn’t going to do a damn lick of good. Even if I used a secondary cable lock to secure the rim itself, there’s nothing to stop a thief from snipping the spokes and pulling the light out. It’s enough of an issue that I figure it’d be easier if I bought a second rim, installed the light on it and swapped the wheels wholesale.

At 3.3 pounds, the light also adds noticeable weight to your ride. It’s not terrible when mounted on the rear, but install the light up front and it feels like you’re pushing a wheelbarrow. This is exactly what I don’t need when riding a single-speed around hilly San Francisco. What’s more, you need to be traveling at a pretty good clip in order for the displayed animations to not jitter interminably. I could see the benefit of the light during long social rides (i.e., during a Critical Mass-like event), but when I’m racing from light to light during my commute, there isn’t much chance to show off the Balight’s capabilities.

Overall, I like the idea behind the Balight but, as with most crowdfunded products, don’t think it’s ready for consumers yet. I mean, it’s a decent bike light. But for all the hassles that you’ll go through to install and use it, there are plenty of wheel-light systems that do the same thing for much less.


Stagefright exploit reliably attacks Android phones

You may know that the Stagefright security flaw is theoretically dangerous, but it hasn’t been that risky in practice — it’s just too difficult to implement on an Android device in a reliable way. Or rather, it was. Security researchers at NorthBit have developed a proof-of-concept Stagefright exploit, Metaphor, that reliably compromises Android phones. The key is a back-and-forth procedure that gauges a device’s defenses before diving in. Visit a website with a maliciously-designed MPEG-4 video and the attack will crash Android’s media server, send hardware data back to the attacker, send another video file, collect additional security data and deliver one last video file that actually infects the device.

It sounds laborious, but it works quickly: a typical attack breaks into a phone within 20 seconds. And while it’s most effective on a Nexus 5 with stock firmware, it’s known to work on the customized Android variants found on phones like the HTC One, LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5.

This doesn’t amount to an in-the-wild attack, and you’ll be fine if you’re running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or any other OS version patched against Stagefright. The catch is that relatively few people are in that boat — most Android users are running Lollipop or earlier, and only some of those devices have Stagefright patches. You’re probably fine if you own a relatively recent device, but your friend with a years-old Android phone is at risk.

Via: ZDNet

Source: Exploit Database (PDF)


Sometimes, a Chromebook is better


For a lot of us, a Chromebook does everything we need a laptop to do.

I really love my mom. I’d do anything for her, including walking her through how to do “stuff” to her computer. While that’s always a nice way to spend time on the phone with her, it’s something I don’t have to do anymore since I bought her a Chromebook.

Mom’s not a complete luddite — she’s been around my computers and gadgets for more years than I like to mention. She also used a computer at work for years, so she isn’t afraid to do things, she’s just unsure about some of it. When an update would go off the rails on her old laptop, or she wanted to install Firefox as the default browser, she needed someone to walk her through the process. We all have someone in our family or circle of friends who aren’t quite sure how to do more than the basics.

The final straw was when she called me because some company she never heard of from a place she’s never been wanted $79 to “decrypt her data” and relinquish control of her web browser. Thankfully it wasn’t a real extortion scheme and was just a pop-over that hijacked her browser and we were able to fix things. After she was squared away, I immediately went to Amazon and had a Dell Chromebook 13 shipped out to her, with a gift card that said “Call Jerry.”

A Chromebook can do everything my mom needs a laptop to do.

A few days later, we had her up and running with Chrome OS and a handful of extensions as well as a short explainer on Google Drive, the cloud and what she could and couldn’t do. She loves her new laptop, because it does everything she wants it to do without any fussing.

And that’s the important thing — Chrome OS can do everything she needs a laptop to do. She’s not writing software or playing immersive 3D games. She doesn’t need Photoshop — Google Photos lets her look at her pictures and share them. All her passwords are safely stored in her personal cloud (as safe as a cloud can be, anyway) and her laptop remembers who she is and signs her in when she wants to do some online shopping or visit her bank’s website as long as she’s signed in with her Google account.

For my Mom, a Chromebook is better.


We have Chrome Remote Desktop setup in case things go wrong, but (knock on wood) so far she’s not had any issues using her new computer. She turns it on, logs in, and does her thing. I imagine it makes her feel better knowing she doesn’t have to ask for help with things, and I know I feel better knowing she can be on the Internet safely and free of malware and assorted headaches. Dad’s even thinking of getting one of his own so he can do his thing without waiting for mom to finish doing her thing.

A Chromebook wont work for everyone. I don’t want anyone to think I’m insinuating anything of the sort. There are times when I have to use my MacBook because I need to do things that Chrome can’t handle, and I know that I’ll never be able to play the games I like to play on a Chromebook. But we’re not all the same and we all have different needs, and for someone like my mom a Chromebook does everything without her needing to fiddle around with anything. It’s literally plug and play.

Now she can call me just to say hello without feeling like a dummy because she needs help on the computer. And that’s the best part.

See Chromebooks on Amazon



Insomniac Games CEO on the challenges of making games for VR

As the Founder and CEO of Insomniac Games, Ted Price is responsible for esteemed console games like Ratchet and Clank, Sunset Overdrive and Fuse. Then there’s Song of the Deep, a gorgeous 2D platformer that’s slated to release this summer with GameStop as the publisher. But for Insomniac and other developers, virtual reality’s arrival onto the scene has opened up a world of new possibilities in game-making. And Price’s team is already dipping its toes in VR, with projects such as Edge of Nowhere, an insane third-person adventure designed for the Oculus Rift.

To that end, I sat down with him at GDC 2016 to talk about developing for virtual reality, the promise of PlayStation VR, Oculus, and the relationship between Insomniac and GameStop.

Ted Price.

How does working with Oculus compare to working with traditional console manufacturers?

Ted Price: I think there’s been much more mutual discovery, because we as a developer and Oculus as a hardware manufacturer are still figuring out how to create experiences in VR. It’s a brand new frontier for everybody, and as an example, when we lay out our levels we have to think very differently about the design versus in a traditional game like a Ratchet and Clank or a Sunset Overdrive.

And that’s because there are different rules that we’ve discovered one should follow when dealing with camera, when dealing with character controls, when dealing with passthrough levels, and we discovered this in sync with oculus and we collaborated with them. They’ll give us research that they’ve created by taking people through various iterations of our games and another games, and they’ll share those findings with us and we apply them in our designs.

For Edge of Nowhere, what did you find was the most challenging part of building something that immersive?

Price: The first challenge that we ran into was understanding how much we could and couldn’t move the camera, and in VR, your head is generally the camera, and as soon as you take control away from the player then it can be uncomfortable. At the same time, there are tricks that we can play that allows us to move the camera in slight ways to make the experience a little bit more visceral for players. So we had to find that sweet spot, as we were playing with our characters and controls in the very, very first iterations of Edge of Nowhere.

But the second big learning was how to lay out a space in VR. How do you do it to ensure that players have plenty of areas to discover, but don’t become uncomfortable that they’re moving backwards or laterally. Given that we were making a third-person game, those challenges were exacerbating, because we are also controlling controlling a character who is running around on the screen.

Sony’s PlayStation VR on display.

PlayStation VR has been the talk of GDC, is that a platform your studio’s exploring?

Price: We don’t talk about our other projects, but I will say that we’re really excited to see Sony reaching out to such a broad market with a peripheral like PlayStation VR. And, as somebody who owns a PlayStation 4, I’m really curious to see what other developers are doing for console VR versus what we’re doing on Oculus Rift. The cool aspect of VR in general is that it is a blind canvas for most developers. We aren’t looking at prior VR games to take inspiration; we’re actually just pulling stuff straight out of our head and asking, “Will this work? Let’s try it.”

As a console developer, how does working on VR compare?

Price: If you’re talking about the difference between developing a VR game like Edge of Nowhere and a more traditional game, the biggest difference for us has been in the design. But then there’s also thinking about controls. When you’re wearing a headset you can’t see the controller that you’re holding in your hand, so you have to be a little bit more thoughtful about how you lay out your buttons on the controller and what you ask players to do in your game, because you can’t expect people to be looking down at their hands.

With traditional games we can use more complex control schemes, but at the same time, that can be a trick because if things get too complex — especially for console audiences that are used to, say, high action games — then you can lose your players. Personally, when I encounter a game and I play maybe 10-12 hours and I take a break and go back to it, I know it’s a good control scheme if I remember what I was supposed to do without having to go look at a help screen. That’s something that, as designers, we are constantly struggling with: How do we find that balance between controls that give you a lot of options as a player and controls that aren’t too complex.

A screenshot from Song of the Deep.

Let’s switch gears and talk about Song of the Deep. How was working with Gamestop?

Price: It’s been great. Gamestop is publishing Song of the Deep, but we [Insomiac Games] are the intellectual property owners and we also have full creative control. It’s been a really straightforward and symbiotic partnership.

Do you think the relationship will grow from here?

Price: I would say that about every publisher that we work with. We have been very fortunate to have strong, long relationships with our partners. Sony is a great example with Ratchet being one of many, many games we’ve released with Sony.

I ask that because there was some concern you wouldn’t keep full creative control.

Price: We did. And I think what’s been great is that Gamestop has been very open about that as well. Gamestop has been very clear about how Song of the Deep is a story that they believe in. This pitch was basically Mark Stanley [Gamestop’s VP of marketing] and me talking about the game we were making and the vision he had for Gamestop. It was the story that really caught his attention and it was what we connected over.

I also think that Gamestop wants to bring something unique to its players. If you go into any game store these days, whether it’s Gamestop or a different game store, you tend to see AAA shooters dominating the space. It’s rare that you see a smaller scope, lower-priced game that’s stylized like Song of the Deep standing out on shelves. But I believe that Gamestop wants to bring that kind of game to players and elevate those games’ presence in the market.

[Image credits: Insomniac Games, Getty Images.]


Recommended Reading: Olivia Munn on why we’re all nerds now

Putting on Her Game Face
Connie Guglielmo,

Olivia Munn plays Psylocke in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse movie and CNET caught up with the actress to chat gaming, smart home tech and more. Munn says that there’s no reason to continue to call folks geeks or nerds now that tech is everywhere. She also has a solid solution for how to remedy traffic jams.

How Designer Headphones Became As Much of a Fashion Status Symbol As Bags and Watches
Alexander Fury, Independent

Headphones from the likes of Beats and Master & Dynamic are as much a fashion accessory as they are a way to listen to tune ons the go.

Daredevil’s Brutal Second Season Puts Superheroes on Trial
Dennis Perkins, AV Club

Daredevil season 2 is now streaming on Netflix. Here’s a look at what to expect as The Punisher and Elektra put things in perspective for Murdock.

US Army Truck Test Could Accelerate Autonomous Driving
Jaclyn Trop, Forbes

It’s not all about Silicon Valley and big tech companies when it comes to self-driving vehicles. The US Army’s test truck could prove vital in developing the tech as well.


FTC issues warning to apps covertly monitoring TV broadcasts

It’s like the those skeevy flashlight apps all over again. The Federal Trade Commission has sent out a warning to mobile software developers using the Silverpush framework that their applications could be invading the privacy of unknowing consumers. As Fortune notes, Silverfish and others of its ilk are why some apps that don’t do anything in terms of voice transmission ask for permission to access your microphone. This alone sounds a bit creepy, but trust me, it gets even more gross.

The FTC alleges that some unnamed app developers are using this tech to monitor the TV shows you’re watching. Those warning letters (PDF) mention that the apps “would be capable of producing a detailed log of the television content viewed while a user’s mobile device was turned on for the purpose of targeted advertising software and analytics.” Told you it got worse.

In case you’re unfamiliar (which is totally understandable), Silverpush is a company that uses your device’s microphone to listen for ultrasonic sounds to identify when the same person is using multiple devices like a laptop and a smartphone or tablet. This ties the two separate gadgets to the same person and creates a more comprehensive advertising profile based on his or her habits. It’s baked into the back-end of messaging app Line and presumably a whole slew of others. Apparently, it can pick up the inaudible audio beacons from TV broadcasts as well.

Silverpush claims it isn’t using the tech domestically, but that doesn’t make it any less offensive. The FTC has requested that the India-based company alert customers that installed apps could grant third parties rights to keep tabs on their TV viewing habits should said applications make their way stateside. More over, the warning letters request that developers should explicitly ask permission to use your gizmo’s mic.

Whether or not this is in use on iOS isn’t known, as the dozen notices that were sent only call out apps published on Google Play. We’ve reached out to Silverpush for more information and will update this post should we hear anything back.

Via: Fortune

Source: Federal Trade Commission (1) (PDF), (2)

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