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25
May

ACW Star Wars Bluetooth speakers preview: Joined soon by Vader and Master Chief


There have been a few Star Wars themed speakers over the years but few quite as visually impressive as the first duo of Bluetooth loudspeakers from British audio firm AC Worldwide.

It revealed to Pocket-lint that it will be releasing additional models in the range, designed around Darth Vader and star of the Halo games Master Chief, and if they are any bit as visually stunning as the two already available, we’re in for a treat.

The first two are based on the heads of C-3PO and a Stormtrooper from the first trilogy rather than the Force Awakens design. The C-3PO is life-sized, at 30cm high, and an awesome sight.

The Stormtrooper helmet is fractionally smaller at 28mm and is therefore three-quarters the size of the real thing. It is equally striking, however.

Inside each speaker is a 2.1 audio system. There are two tweeters, sited behind each eye of the respective models. They are capable of outputting 3W apiece. There is also a down-firing ported 15W subwoofer to give that extra growl.

READ: May the 4th be with you: Best Star Wars gadgets and toys to celebrate

The eyes also glow blue when you have connected a Bluetooth device – be that a smartphone or tablet. You’ll also get a related phrase, with C-3PO stating “I do believe they think I’m some sort of god” from Return of the Jedi. The Stormtrooper simply barks “move along” after pairing.

Pocket-lint

NFC pairing is available for those with supporting devices. There’s also an auxiliary port to connect a wired audio source, such as a games console.

Both speakers have rechargeable batteries so can be placed anywhere, although it’s worth considering that each of them weighs 2.3kg. Battery life is claimed to be four to five hours of playback on a charge. The charge time is claimed to take around two to three hours to fully restore it.

If you opt for both speakers, they can be paired to make a stereo system.

First Impressions

Although we didn’t get much of a chance to hear either speaker in action during out brief demo, we will be reviewing one of them in full in the near future.

They are very capable in volume though, that much was apparent and they are incredible looking – enough to make every Star Wars fan out there to salivate over.

The Star Wars Bluetooth speakers are available from retailers such as Amazon, Forbidden Planet and The Fowdry for £149 each.

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25
May

Samsung Galaxy X roll-out OLED screen shown off, just 0.3mm thin


Samsung is rumoured to unveil a new smartphone that can fold shut like a wallet thanks to a new super flexible OLED screen. Now the company has shown off that very display at the SID 2016 event in San Francisco.

While Samsung uses a flexible OLED in its edge handsets, the Galaxy X is rumoured to be bendable. The screen shown off here can be rolled up thanks to its 0.3mm thin build and 10R rolling radius. While the handset could work this way, like a scroll, it’s rumoured to fold up.

The display, despite its size and flexibility, is able to pump out a 1080p resolution on a 5.7-inch screen. This is without a touch control layer though so how that part will be added, and made flexible, is still unclear. Also any glass cover presumably won’t be bendable so that’s another hurdle to jump between now and release.

The race is on to release the first fully flexible smartphone with a decent display. LG is also working on these types of displays. The Samsung Galaxy X is expected to be one of the first to bring foldable phones to the market and should appear next year at some point.

READ: HoloFlex is the world’s first flexible holographic smartphone

25
May

Kanex GoPower Mac: USB Type-C portable battery charger for MacBook


Kanex has been making Apple accessories for quite some time now, but its latest could be seen as a Godsend for all those with 12-inch Retina MacBooks.

The Kanex GoPower for Mac is a 15,000mAh portable battery that can fully charge a MacBook and iPhone or iPad at the same time. It has two USB Type-C ports, one to connect to the laptop, the other to recharge the GoPower itself.

It also has a 2.4A USB port which is capable of charging any other Apple device (or rival smartphone or tablet, come to think of it).

There are built-in safety features, so your devices are protected while charging. There is surge protection and priority charging, meaning that when powered and connected to multiple devices, the power passes through in order to charge them before charging itself.

READ: Apple MacBook (2016) vs MacBook (2015): What’s the difference?

The whole unit is beautifully made, in the same style aluminium casing as the MacBook itself.

At present it only comes in Space Grey, to match one of Apple’s colour schemes, but should there be demand Kanex told us it would consider others.

The battery is capable of charging a MacBook completely around twice before needing more charge itself. It can also charge an iPad Air 2 1.7 times, an iPad mini 4 2.4 times and an iPhone 6s up to seven times.

First Impressions

The Kanex GoPower Mac is exactly the sort of device we’ve been looking for to pair with the new MacBook. Yes, the Apple notebook has a claimed 11 hours of battery life built-in, but on a long haul flight and with heavy use, we’re not sure it would last the entire duration.

The Kanex solves that issue and also provides plenty of charge for our additional devices.

Our only major quibble is that it is not light. Nor is it cheap.

It’s roughly the same weight as an iPad Air 2 – maybe even slightly heavier. Considering many will have been attracted to the MacBook because it is so wonderfully light, it seems a shame that extra ballast is being added in the shape of an external battery charger.

It certainly solves a genuine need for more power on the move, however. And the cover price of £99 might be justifiable for many users.

25
May

Xbox One Slim set for E3 2016, more powerful Xbox upgrade coming 2017


There has been plenty of talk of late about an upgraded 4K PlayStation, with rumours suggesting it will debut at E3 next month, but fewer facts have emerged about Microsoft hardware plans. Until now.

Kotaku claims that its sources tell it that the company will release two new consoles over the next couple of years.

An Xbox One Slim, with a smaller body shape and possible 2TB hard drive, will also be announced at E3 2016. It won’t be as big a leap in technology terms to Sony’s PlayStation 4 plans, but it will give the US gaming giant a shiny new box to flaunt at the show.

READ: E3 2016: All the launches, games and consoles to expect

The more advanced, upgraded model will then follow in 2017. Kotaku states that it will have a more powerful GPU and would be technically capable of supporting the Oculus Rift. There might even be a partnership with Oculus in the pipeline – after all, Oculus was present at the Xbox Showcase in San Francisco in February.

It could also be 4K-ready, much like the rumoured PlayStation Neo, or PS4.5 as many have taken to call it.

Kotaku also claims that “people familiar with Microsoft’s plans” suggest the company will adopt an Apple approach to hardware, by releasing annual upgrades rather than stick to one massive new generation machine every five years or so.

We’ll be at E3 to find out. It starts on 14 June but the Xbox Media Briefing is on the Monday. 13 June.

READ: Xbox E3 2016 Briefing: How to watch it and what to expect

25
May

Watch Hugo Barra unbox Xiaomi’s first Mi Drone quadcopter via livestream


Chinese company Xiaomi entered a new category today: drones.

Xiaomi has unveiled its first quadcopter, and it’s called Mi Drone. It features a three-axis gimbal, 4K camera with a detachable module, replaceable 5,100mAh battery that provides 27 minutes of flight per charge, a remote control that turns your Mi phone into a viewfinder, GPS and GLONASS, and a visual-positioning system that maintains stability when a satellite signal is lost.

Xiaomi

Going back to that camera, it uses a Sony 12.4-megapixel sensor and captures video at 3,840 x 2,160 at 30 frames per second. It can also take RAW photos. As for the detachable gimbal, it’s able to correct itself 2,000 times per second. Other features include autonomous capabilities, including these flight modes: takeoff, landing, return to home, waypoint navigation, and orbit.

The controller that comes with drone has dedicated buttons and switches for take off, landing, and returning the drone to home. While the flagship 4K drone is priced at 2,999 yuan ($460), there’s also a 1080p version that will cost 2,499 yuan ($380) after it is crowdfunded on the Mi Home app starting 26 May. Also, the 4K drone will apparently enter an open beta testing period in July.

May has been a big month for Xiaomi. It launched a mammoth 6.44-inch Mi Max smartphone, announced a Mi Box set-top box capable of piping 4K content, and revealed it will build a virtual-reality smartphone that supports Google’s Daydream platform. Not stopping there, it’s now going after the drone market with Mi Drone.

Watch the Vice President of Internal at Xiaomi, Hugo Barra, who is a former Googler, unveil his company’s first drone via the Facebook livestream below to learn more details about the new quadcopter.

25
May

EU wants Netflix to offer 20 percent European content


The European Union is updating its broadcasting laws to cover online services like Amazon and Netflix. As part of the move, the union is looking to prevent these firms just leeching money out of the 28 member states without putting something back. That’s why the new rules mandate that 20 percent of each company’s content library needs to be European in origin. Rumors of the ruling prompted fears that on-demand businesses would have to pay millions for obscure content that nobody wanted. But it turns out that Netflix is already doing more than the bare minimum to promote European film and TV.

The proposals cite data from the European Audiovisual Observatory, which conducted a survey of on-demand businesses last year. It found that Netflix actually had 21 percent of European-made films in its back catalog, thereby satisfying the new regulations. It’s not much above the minimum, sure, but enough to prove that the company had nothing to fear from the rule change. It should probably be worth mentioning that plenty of Hollywood blockbusters, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens, are filmed across the pond. Perhaps that exaggerates the tally a little, since those films would, surely, qualify as European.

As well as devoting one fifth of their respective libraries to European content, video services will be required to “give a good visibility” to homegrown media. That means both making it easier to find and letting people search for European-only content, or simply adding a promotional banner encouraging everyone to watch Marseille.

Source: On Demand Digital Markets, Europa, European Commission

25
May

Riding shotgun in a DIY self-driving car


“I’m an idiot.”

Superhacker and Comma founder George Hotz is standing in a Las Vegas suite, and he’s wearing a suit. That’s saying something: He was the first person to hack the iPhone and PlayStation 3 while using the hacker name GeoHot. He doesn’t wear suits. But now he’s running a company that’s built its own semi-autonomous AI-trained vehicle in a garage. Today it has employees and investors, and plans to release hardware by the end of the year. “This is a big deal, so he dressed up,” Jake Smith, head of operations, told me on my way to the meeting.

The reason Hotz is telling me he’s an idiot — while dressed out of character, no less — is that he set up test drives for reporters in Las Vegas without doing all of his homework. He didn’t realize that Sin City doesn’t use white lines to outline lanes. Instead, the state uses raised markers called botts dots instead of paint.

That’s a problem: The Comma test vehicle has never driven on roads with bumps instead of paint. Hotz was so worried about this that he barely slept the night before.

On the morning of our meeting he had to take the car out to “teach” it to drive using botts dots as lane markers. He just drove it around. That’s the main conceit of Comma’s semiautonomous driving system: teaching the car to drive by actually driving it. But it’s also a flaw. The company has just one vehicle and it’s only been on the road for about 100 hours. Right now it has about the same amount of on-the-road time as teenager, and we all remember the horrible decisions we made while driving in high school.

To close the gap between what Comma’s AI system has actually seen in the real world and what it needs to launch commercially later this year, Hotz and his team came up with a very Silicon Valley solution: an app.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Chffr app (it was originally called Chauffeur, but the company realized no one knows how to actually spell that word) will crowdsource the driving data Comma needs. Drivers mount their smartphone running the app to their windshield and drive. The information is then anonymously shared with the company via WiFi. Hotz’s team then uses those trips to train its AI. “It’s a great way of being part of self-driving cars,” Hotz told Engadget. “You’re helping literally teach our system how to drive.”

The app also doubles as a fancy dash cam that records video and trips for later perusing. And if that isn’t enough to get you on board, Hotz also announced that the company would incentivize the system: For each minute someone is behind the wheel, she getshz a “Comma Point.” When the app and companion site launch at the end of June, there will be a leaderboard for power users and a forum. As for what these points are actually worth, Hotz just grinned and said, “People who are at the top of that leaderboard, they’ll be happy they are there. Let’s just say that.”

Initially the app will be available only on the Galaxy S6, Nexus 6P and Galaxy S7, with iPhone support coming later. Hotz said half of the people who signed up for the beta were iPhone users, so getting an eventual iOS version out is imperative. Comma also needs as many users as possible to make the AI good enough that average drivers will be confident enough to put their lives in the hands of a box that drives your car for you. Throwing a car together in your garage is one thing; selling products is another.

Hotz knows this, which explains the PowerPoint deck, suit and press event in Las Vegas. “There’s a big leap going from a hack built by one person in a basement over a few months to a product that’s actually shippable to a large number of people with a code base that’s maintainable and will continue to scale throughout the entire problem of driving not just one small subset of it,” Hotz told Engadget.

But even the grown-up, taking-care-of-business version of GeoHot is still a ball of energy: lots of non sequiturs and asides peppering his prepared statements. After telling me in a very serious voice, “This is no longer a hack, this is a startup,” he followed up with: “We’re gonna ship products. We’re not just going to sit there on our VC dollars and sip fancy fruit juice all day.” There’s still a lot of GeoHot behind that tie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I took the updated version of his Acura ILX sedan out for a drive to see how it works, he ran around the car talking a mile a minute showing off updates and changes to the system. The car no longer has a joystick or LIDAR (the spatial-measuring system that uses lasers was for training purposes only). He was keen to show off the DIY methods he used to mount a battery in the trunk (it was surrounded by bits of styrofoam). He also pointed to the LTE antenna on the trunk and radar attached to the bumper (both held in place with mounds of black tape). Additionally, there’s a gaming PC in the trunk and an amp for “480 watts of sound.” He’s having fun and it’s infectious.

As we’re about to take the car on the freeway to show off its semiautonomous features, I ask if he minds if I do a Facebook Live video. I’m the first person in the car since he trained it that morning. “Not at all,” he says. A few seconds later: “Actually, let me think about that. All right, I guess we’ll do live stuff.” The car could have failed spectacularly and he knew it. After we get on the freeway and I start the stream, he yells out, “Yeah, self-driving. What’s up?”

The actual drive was impressive. Without thinking about the amount of technology or research that’s been put into the car, Comma’s system is almost as good as Tesla’s Autopilot but without the lane-changing capability or the road-sign reading found on other systems (features Hotz calls gimmicky). After all, Hotz started this on his own in September of last year with off-the-shelf components. Now the company has with six employees. If Chffr takes off and the startup gets the data it needs to teach its AI to be a better driver and it can get its sub-$1,000 system for folks who can’t afford the luxury of a Model S, it’ll be a huge achievement. It might even help ease the longer-term transition to fully autonomous vehicles.

Comma’s motto is: Ghostriding for the masses. That’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to jumping out of a vehicle and letting it roll down the street while the driver dances alongside. It’s funny, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the slogan changes before the company ships any hardware. Cars are dangerous hunks of metal hurtling down the road. There’s nothing funny about people being hurt in a car accident. Hotz may have called himself an idiot for not anticipating the botts dots of Vegas, but he’s far from stupid. Running a company that actually ships stuff is a sign he’s looking toward the future. He’s getting ready to take on the grown-ups of the automotive world, but will probably keep having fun along the way.

25
May

A single European market won’t lead to a single European Netflix


The European Commission (EC) today published a large number of proposals in its ongoing pursuit of a Digital Single Market — the notion that a person or company in one European nation should be able to buy goods from any person or company in another. Chief among them were new rules regarding geoblocking that would make accessing sites from other European countries easier. But while this might make it easier for a Brit to buy video games in France, it’s not likely to make a huge difference when it comes to streaming services, which the EC has identified as one of the areas “most affected by geoblocking.”

To summarize the problem, let’s look at Netflix in the EU. While the popular streaming site’s expansion in the region has been rapid — the entire continent is now covered — not all Netflixes were created equal, and the library of available content differs vastly from country to country. For an example of how annoying this can be, a Netflix user in Spain can’t watch the latest season of perhaps the company’s flagship show: House of Cards. That’s because in Spain the rights to the first run of that show belong to a local TV broadcaster.

Europe’s dream of a single market would fix that. Everything would be available everywhere. Companies in different member states could compete on price and quality of service. And Spanish people could watch House of Cards whenever they wanted.

But although the proposed new rules would effectively outlaw “geoblocking and other forms of discrimination on the grounds of nationality, residence or establishment,” the EC specifically notes that this won’t be able to be applied to every sector. That’s because this geoblocking isn’t a commercial issue, it’s a licensing issue.

Media rights, before the internet, were typically divided nationally, by TV networks for non-physical media, and by various publishing houses for video cassettes. While the method by which media is delivered has moved forward, the licensing deals that make that delivery happen for the most part are still bound by the physical restrictions of national TV networks. That means that Netflix and Amazon are buying rights as though they are traditional players with the same regional specificity — indeed, some big shows like Breaking Bad and Mr Robot aired exclusively on Netflix and Amazon Prime in parts of Europe.

There are ways forward. Music, the EC notes, is typically solid through multi-territorial licenses that serve the entire European market. How long it’ll take for the video market to follow suit isn’t clear, but it’ll likely be a long time, especially while European broadcasters continue to spend big to syndicate shows from US companies like HBO and AMC. And even with music, there are exceptions that make the French Spotify differ slightly from the Italian one. Likewise with e-books, rules on pricing differ from state to state, and gambling is legal in some places and illegal in others. Europe won’t just wake up one day to discover that every company in the region is open for business.

Ironically, given the Digital Single Market branding, one thing the rules will do very effectively is ensure that Europeans can mostly buy physical goods — clothes, video game discs, cars, etc. — from any country they please. In that way, outlawing geoblocking will have a huge impact — no longer will you attempt to visit the German version of a retailer and get redirected to the British one because of your location. They’re also looking to promote cross-border parcel delivery services and increase pricing transparency for shipments between countries.

And for Netflix, too, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Legislation currently being mulled over separately by the EC would mean that, for example, a user abroad would have access to the same library of content no matter which member state they were currently in. Essentially if I, a British Netflix member, were in Spain, I could watch House of Cards just fine, while James Trew, an Engadget editor who lives in Spain permanently, could not.

While it’s not perfect, the proposed legislation would certainly go a way to fixing some of the weirdness you encounter when travelling through Europe. Oh, and the EC being the EC, it’s also proposing that the various streaming services operating in Europe should have quotas that ensure one fifth of their content is European.

Source: Europa Press

25
May

You can play the new ‘Legend of Zelda’ early in New York City


You won’t be left out of the E3 festivities just because you can’t make it to Los Angeles for E3 Live. Nintendo is giving gamers in New York City an opportunity to play The Legend of Zelda for the Wii U between June 14th and June 19th if they’re willing to jump through a few hoops. To start, you’ll have to show up for a “Super-Fan Signup Day” at Nintendo’s New York store on the morning of June 11th to have a chance of playing. If you’re one of the 500 people to make the cut, you’ll have to line up at the store on June 14th to get a wristband and make an appointment for some hands-on time.

Don’t despair if you aren’t part of the privileged few. There will be guided Zelda demos for everyone between June 15th and June 19th, and there are hints that “several fans” may get to participate. You’ll very likely get to see the game first-hand — it’s just a question of whether or not you get your mitts on a controller.

Source: Nintendo (BusinessWire)

25
May

Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists have 40 million listeners


Everybody hates Mondays, but Spotify listeners probably hate them a bit less than most. That’s when the service’s “Discover Weekly” playlists get refreshed, which offer a selection of personalized tracks based on your listening habits. Since launching last July, Spotify says 40 million users have streamed almost 5 billion Discover Weekly tracks. Not bad for something that just started out as an in-house experiment. (And yes, I’m listening to my Discover Weekly playlist as I type this.)

The feature has also ended up being a decent hook for keeping listeners engaged. Spotify says over half of Discover Weekly users come back the following week, and a similar amount saves at least one song to their own libraries. I suppose that shouldn’t be too surprising though — having millions of tracks to stream is both a blessing and a curse. So something like Discover Weekly, which knows your habits and can apply it to Spotify’s entire library with machine intelligence, can be a huge help for finding music you’d actually like.

Spotify says the feature has also helped smaller artists get discovered. More than 8,000 artists have had half of their listeners from Discover Weekly in the last month. And some, like BØRNS and Halsey, have gained over a million listeners thanks to the feature.

Source: Spotify

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