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31
Jul

Curt Schilling’s defunct game studio won’t face criminal charges


Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios has run into plenty of trouble since declaring bankruptcy in 2012, not the least of which is an SEC lawsuit this year. However, criminal cases won’t be contributing to its headaches. The Rhode Island State Police have determined that they won’t file charges over the failed $75 million loan for Project Copernicus, the massively multiplayer online game that was to have followed Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. There were “no provable criminal violations” in the way the developer secured its cash, the police say. The decision isn’t completely shocking (federal officials decided against charges back in 2012), but it eliminates what chances were left of staff facing prison time.

Not that 38 Studios is getting away scot-free. It already agreed to a settlement that partly compensates burned creditors, and Rhode Island law enforcement is quick to stress that this doesn’t affect any civil lawsuits like those from the SEC. The fallout from the ill-fated government-game creator partnership isn’t over — however, it is starting to settle down.

Via: WPRI, Gamasutra

Source: RI.gov

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31
Jul

‘Pokémon Go’ Updates With Avatar Customization, Removal of Footstep Counter, and More


An update to Pokémon Go rolled out to iOS and Android devices today, bringing new features to the game along with a few slight shifts in the user interface. One of the biggest new additions is the opportunity for players to customize their avatar (which was previously only allowed when starting the game), giving the chance for added personalization in Pokémon Go.

One of the longest-running gripes surrounding Niantic and The Pokémon Company’s new mobile game was a glitch that suggested all “nearby” Pokémon were three steps away from the player. The intended game mechanic was meant to vaguely point players in the direction of an elusive character, with the steps shrinking to two, one, and eventually none when the Pokémon was nearby. Niantic doesn’t seem to have an exact fix for the three-step glitch as of yet, and has simply removed the footstep counter from the nearby menu altogether.

The developer also took some constructive criticism from gamers and moved the transfer button from the very bottom of a Pokémon’s profile, and it now resides in a circular hamburger menu at the bottom right of the screen. When tapped on, players can choose to favorite the character, or transfer it to receive the candy of that Pokémon. Favorited Pokémon are also now protected from being transferred accidentally.

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Once inside of the new update for Pokémon Go, users will notice a few other minor tweaks as well. Niantic has changed the font inside some of the game’s menus, making character combat power and names slightly easier to read. The company also tweaked a few of the game’s medals, adjusted the battle damage of some Pokémon, improved the app’s memory issues so it loads quicker, and a handful of other things.

Check out Pokémon Go on the App Store [Direct Link] for the full list of updates in version 1.1.0 of the app.

Previous Coverage: Pokémon Go Set App Store Record for Most Ever Downloads During its First Week of Availability

Tag: Pokémon GO
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31
Jul

Google brings Maps’ multi-stop feature to iOS


Google is rolling out Maps’ multi-stop feature to the iOS app, making it easy to plan for road trips or even for a dreary day of running errands. The tech titan introduced the ability to set multiple destinations on Android back in June. Now that it’s also out for Apple’s mobile platform, you can simply tap “Add stop” and even rearrange destinations by holding and dragging them around if you have an iPhone. Just like when it was initially released, you might not be able to access the feature immediately. It might take a few days or so for the update to show up — for now, you’ll just have to plot routes the old way.

Source: Google Maps

31
Jul

Moto G4 versus Moto G4 Plus: The features that make a phone


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Being on a budget doesn’t mean a lack of options.

Picking up a decent phone on a budget isn’t the trial that it was even a few short years ago. What do you do when two nearly identical phones come out at the same time though? That’s the question when it comes to the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus. Both are largely identical, with just a few additions to the Moto G4 Plus that its little brother lacks.

So we’re going to take a look at them side by side and see if the additions to the Moto G4 Plus make it worth the increased price tag, or whether you want to stick with the Moto G4.

Design

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When it comes to the design of these two phones, they are nearly identical. They have the same screen, size, and even branding. The one big difference, and the one that matters, is the addition of a fingerprint sensor on the bottom of the Moto G4 Plus. This is actually the big draw about grabbing the Moto G4 Plus over the base Moto G4.

There are a few big differences between these two Lenovo phones on the inside, like the options for memory, the rear camera, and of course that sweet fingerprint sensor. But in looking at them, the only way to tell them apart is by the presence of the fingerprint sensor on the bottom of the Moto G4 Plus.

Hardware

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Now for the most part, the hardware on the Moto G4 and Moto G4 plus is identical. Much like the design, there are a few areas where they diverge. The differences that do exist however, are fairly major ones when it comes to changing how they work every day.

Now, while you can get either of these phones with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of on-board storage, the Moto G4 Plus also has an option for more storage. You can choose to snag the 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage model if you wish. For some people, this difference isn’t enough to sway them from the Moto G4, but the option is nice to have.

It’s also worth noting that while there is only 16GB of on-board storage initially, both phones have access to the Adoptable Storage feature in Marshmallow. This means that with the addition of a solid SD card you can properly extend your internal storage to the external card as one big piece of accessible storage.

Display 5.5-inch Full HD display, 401PPI Gorilla Glass 3 5.5-inch Full HD display, 401PPI Gorilla Glass 3
SoC 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 SoC (eight Cortex A53 cores) Adreno 405 GPU 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 SoC (eight Cortex A53 cores) Adreno 405 GPU
Memory 2GB RAM/16GB storage microSD slot up to 128GB 2GB RAM/16GB storage 3GB RAM/32GB storage microSD slot
Operating System Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Camera 13MP camera 5MP front shooter 16MP camera PDAF and laser autofocus 5MP front camera
Connectivity LTE with VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 Fingerprint sensor LTE with VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery 3000mAh with Turbo Charging 3000mAh with Turbo Charging
Dimensions 153 x 76.6 x 7.9 mm 153 x 76.6 x 7.9 mm
Weight 155 g 155 g
Colors White/Black White/Black

Cameras

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For plenty of people, the camera on their phone can seriously influence a decision. You use your camera to capture moments with friends and family alike, and having a phone with a great camera is necessary for that. You want a camera that can grab shots indoors, and outdoors without any issues. Having one with a fast focus that won’t leave you with tons of blurry shots is also integral.

We’re happy to say that both the Moto G4 and the Moto G4 Plus have great cameras on them. They don’t have the same camera though. Instead the Moto G4 Plus has a 16MP to the Moto G4’s 13MP. A great addition that they’ve both gotten is having access to manual controls on both. That means that whether you go for the pricier phone or not, you can still snag fantastic photos.

Moto G4 (left) / Moto G4 Plus (right); click images to view larger

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It’s worth being said that overall, the Moto G4 Plus delivered fantastic results with less reshooting than the Moto G4 did. Both delivered great results, but the Moto G4 Plus had a faster focus, and less issues with photos turning out blurry because of movement. It also had the added benefit of showing off better colors than the regular Moto G4 was able to.

Which phone should I buy?

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So when it comes down to it, which phone is the right phone for you? The Moto G4 is available for just $199.99 and for that price it’s a fairly solid device. However, when you consider that the Moto G4 Plus has access to more RAM, a better camera, and that fingerprint sensor, the $249.99 price tag makes sense.

Of the two phones, the Moto G4 Plus is the better bang for your buck. If you don’t really care about an extra 3MP on your camera, or the fingerprint sensor, then it makes sense to maybe save $50 with the Moto G4. The big thing to remember, is that aside from a few differences, the phones are identical. The only real reason to grab the Moto G4 Plus over the Moto G4 is if you’re taking plenty of photos, or if you want the superior camera.

See the Moto G4 at Amazon
See the Moto G4 Plus at Amazon

Moto G4 and G4 Plus

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Moto G4 Plus:

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31
Jul

Huge Pokémon Go update adds avatar re-customization, removes Pokémon footprints


You can’t argue with bug fixes … but some won’t like the removable of footprints.

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Pokémon Go is picking up a big update today on Android that makes a couple of big changes to the game experience and joins with them a pile of bug fixes. The big change that’s rubbing players the wrong way is that now you’ll no longer see “footprints” of nearby Pokémon, meaning you won’t be able to rely on those hints as to where the monsters are waiting to be caught. After seeing plenty of anecdotes about Pokémon Go players trespassing and generally going places they shouldn’t just to track down Pokémon, Niantic has made this change and also added various new start-up warnings to hopefully help people make some better decisions.

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On the upside, you can also now re-customize your avatar, so if you’re like me and rushed through the setup process on Day 1, you can now go back in and tweak your character to your personal preference. Niantic has also tweaked some Gym animations, modified battle damage calculations and adjusted battle move damage for some Pokémon.

Here’s the full list of changes, from Niantic:

  • Avatars can now be re-customized from the Trainer profile screen
  • Adjusted battle move damage values for some Pokémon
  • Refined certain Gym animations
  • Improved memory issues
  • Removed footprints of nearby Pokémon
  • Modified battle damage calculation
  • Various bug fixes during wild Pokémon encounter
  • Updated Pokémon details screen
  • Updated achievement medal images
  • Fixed issues with displaying certain map features
  • Minor text fixes

Now this definitely won’t help with all of the ongoing server issues, but at least when you’re connected you’ll hopefully have a better overall experience in the game. Beyond the connectivity issues Pokémon Go has been a pretty buggy game, so it’s great to see these maintenance-type fixes rolling out. Go grab the latest version — v0.31.0 — in the Play Store today.

Pokémon Go

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31
Jul

Tesla reportedly eyes brakes in fatal Model S crash


Tesla is considering two possible scenarios that would explain the fatal Model S crash in Florida, and according to Reuters and The New York Times, neither is about Autopilot. During a meeting with the US Senate Commerce Committee, the automaker reportedly presented two theories. First is the possibility that the car’s automatic emergency braking system’s camera and radar didn’t detect the incoming truck at all. The other theory is that the braking system’s radar saw the truck but thought it was part of a big structure, such as a bridge or a building. It’s programmed to ignore huge structures to prevent false braking, after all.

If you’ll recall, the Model S in this incident collided with a tractor trailer while Autopilot was on. Since the company’s semi-autonomous driving system is a fairly new technology, both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating the incident. According to NTSB’s preliminary results, the car was speeding when it crashed into the bigger vehicle.

It’s worth noting that the automaker considers its braking system a separate entity from Autopilot, which is in charge of steering and changing lanes. Tesla has always denied that the accident was caused by Autopilot, though it ended up breaking things off with the company that made its image recognition hardware. A statement Tesla released in June only said that “Neither [the feature] nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”

Source: Reuters

31
Jul

Kanye West wants Apple and Tidal to stop fighting over exclusives


Kanye West may be best known on Twitter for starting feuds, but now he’s trying to end one… and it’s even a rivalry he helped create. In a flurry of four tweets, the rapper griped that the competition between Apple and Tidal over streaming music exclusives is nothing but a “dick swinging contest” that’s “fucking up the music game.” Yes, that’s right — the man who released his latest album as a Tidal exclusive (if only temporarily) now wants peace. He’s even suggesting a meeting with Jay-Z, Tim Cook and other bigwigs to make it happen, and wishes that Apple would just buy Tidal to end the fighting once and for all.

It’s just talk at the moment, and there’s certainly no guarantee that Apple or Tidal will pull a Taylor Swift and bend over backwards to listen to what Kanye has to say. However, this still represents a big-name artist rebelling against the all-too-common trend of releasing albums through just one service, however briefly. It’s not hard to see why he’s changing his tune. Kanye’s own The Life of Pablo saw a huge surge in demand the moment he ditched his Tidal exclusive, making it clear that fans wouldn’t automatically follow him anywhere he went. He and other musicians may have little choice but to bite the bullet and go where the listeners are.

This Tidal Apple beef is fucking up the music game.

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 30, 2016

I need Tim Cook Jay Z Dez Jimmy Larry me and Drake Scooter on the phone or in a room this week!!!

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 30, 2016

Fuck all this dick swinging contest. We all gon be dead in 100 Years. Let the kids have the music.

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 30, 2016

Apple give Jay his check for Tidal now and stop trying to act like you Steve.

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) July 30, 2016

Via: Pitchfork

Source: Kanye West (Twitter 1), (2), (3), (4)

31
Jul

Gear S2 watch face roundup: Deathstar, Overwatch and more!


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Finding an awesome watch face doesn’t mean you have to spend money.

There are hundreds of watch faces that are currently available for the Samsung Gear S2. You might not have the time to go scrolling through the Gear store to find the right one for you though. That’s totally okay though, because we’re here to help you out! This week we’re taking a look at watch faces that are available now for absolutely free.

You don’t need to spend a penny to grab any of these fantastic watch faces, so take a look! Just remember that to download them, you’ll need to search the Gear Manager store on your connected phone.

Overwatch Style

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One of the most popular games available right now for fans of first-person shooters, is Overwatch. If that’s the case for you, then you’re in luck because our first watch face this week is themed for Overwatch. This watch face displays a ton of information in a way that isn’t overwhelming, and is really well done. You’ll find a pedometer, weather, messages, the time, the date, and even more on top of that.

The background is the Overwatch sigil, with icons and information laid over it. At the top of your screen is your step count. The left side gives you an icon for messages, along with the distance you have traveled today. On the right side, is an icon for current weather, along with a heart rate monitor. The bottom contains icons for music, and location, as well as your current battery percentage. The time is displayed in a 24 hour format down to the second on a diagonal slant on the left of your screen, and the date is displayed in a diagonal slant on the right of your screen.

Aquarium Live

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The Aquarium Live watch face is for anyone who loves marine life. This animated watch face delivers gorgeous backgrounds filled with swimming fish, along with delivering the time, the date and a reading from your heartbeat monitor. You’ll also notice three small fish that will indicate the time, around the edge of your watch face. While you don’t get much information displayed, that’s because the animated fish really steal the show.

There are actually several backgrounds of photos of fish, or the animated aquarium background that will pop up when you open the watch. You can easily move between them by tapping on the phone to choose the background you really want. Seeing fish swim around on your wrist is more enchanting than it has any right to be, but does tend to drain your battery a little bit faster than the static images.

Friends with Snoopy

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Let’s be honest here guys, plenty of people are attached to Peanuts. With good reason too. If you’re of a mind for Peanuts with Snoopy on your smartwatch then the Friends with Snoopy watch face should be right up your alley. You get Snoopy hanging out with Emily, Schroeder, and Linus.

The only information that is displayed on this watch face is the time, and your current battery percentage. Each scene shows Snoopy hanging out with a different Peanut, along with a small animation. For Linus, you’ll see the pair of friends snoozing, with Emily the clouds drift back and forth and with Schroeder you’ll see musical notes floating in the air.

Deathstar

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We’re only a few short months away from the next installment in a galaxy far, far, away, we bring you the Deathstar watch face. It doesn’t feature a lot of information but it does have an animation of BB-8 and R2-D2 that cross your screen every few seconds. If you’re already counting the days until Rogue One releases in theaters, take a look.

You get an analog watch face, with white tic marks around the edge of the screen and white hands for the second, minute and hour. Both R2-D2 and BB-8 also cross the screen to indicate seconds passing. On the left of the screen, you’ll see your current battery percentage. On the right, you’ll see the day of the month. The time is also laid out in a 12-hour digital format at the bottom of the screen inside a grey box.

Galaxy

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Have you ever wanted to be able to glance down at your watch and see a galaxy swirling across it? Well, then be sure to take a peek at the Galaxy watch face. It features 4 gorgeous shots of galaxies that will have you looking to the stars. You get a fair few bits of information that are displayed on your screen along with the time and date that will help to get you through the day.

You can choose which of the four backgrounds that you like to run with by tapping on the screen to switch between them. The time and date are displayed right in the middle of your screen, with the emphasis on the time. Just underneath you’ll see three icons, each of which has a blip of information for you. The left has your battery percentage, the middle is your step count from the pedometer, and on the right you’ll see your heart rate monitor.

Those were the five free watch faces that caught our eye this time in the Gear Manager store. The important thing to remember is that there are hundreds of watch faces available, which means there is one out there for everybody. While the selection is a bit more limited than Android Wear on the Google Play Store it’s growing every day. In fact you may see many watch faces from Android Wear starting to make an appearance on the Gear store.

Did any of these watch faces pique your interest? Is there a watch face that we should know about? Let us know about it by dropping us a line in the comments!

31
Jul

The Axon 7 finally fulfills ZTE’s ‘affordable premium’ promise


Over the years, smartphones have either been high end and expensive, or dirt cheap and shoddy. But, two years ago, the industry shifted and midrange phones that had great specs for lower prices started to fill the gap. ZTE has long been a proponent of what it calls the “affordable premium” device, and has thrown out middling handset after middling handset that met only the “affordable” part of that promise.

Last year, the Chinese company debuted its Axon line, which was stuffed full of features to fulfill the premium promise. But the Axon Pro fell short, with an oddly hollow metal body, glitchy software and short battery life. It was also more expensive than last year’s OnePlus. This year’s Axon 7, however, is shaping up to be a far better contender, with the same $399 price as the OnePlus 3 and offering a higher-res screen, sharper camera and more premium design.

The Axon 7’s design is the result of a team up between ZTE and BMW DesignWorks, and it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor. My gold review unit has a smooth matte finish on its metal body that helps it reject fingerprints and is accented by eye-catching glossy chrome edges that are also around the camera and recessed fingerprint sensor. It looks and feels gorgeous in an elegant way that upstages the OnePlus 3.

Just like its predecessor, the Axon 7 has a row of dot cutouts on the top and bottom of its front face, but unlike the Pro, these grilles actually hide speakers. (The old Axon’s grilles misled a lot of people into thinking it had dual speakers, but it only had one.) Below the display are capacitive keys for Back, Home and All Apps. There’s also a dual SIM card slot on the left edge — a welcome feature for frequent travelers.

ZTE says the Axon 7 will eventually be ready for Google’s “Daydream” mobile VR platform, and its display certainly seems prepared for the task. The 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen was a great canvas for my Netflix binging and Instagram sprees, but it was unfortunately dim in sunlight. Although it doesn’t fix the lack of brightness, the Axon offers built-in software that lets you customize the display’s color output. The tool lets you pick from three saturation profiles — “Natural,” “Colorful” and “Gorgeous” — as well as “Warm,” “Normal” and “Cool” color temperatures. I set the screen to “Gorgeous” and “Normal,” which delivered higher contrast levels and deeper hues.

Complementing the screen is a HiFi audio setup. Not many smartphone makers pay attention to quality sound, but ZTE is so proud of its system that it devoted six pages out of a 33-page reviewer’s guide to it. The only other component that got as much love was the camera. For the most part, the coverage was justified.

The Axon’s dual front-facing stereo speakers pumped out distinct, clear sound that drowned out my laptop’s speakers while both devices were set to their maximum volumes. The phone’s speakers were so clear, in fact, that I could easily hear the crinkling of wrapping paper in the background of a scene over dialogue and overlapping music. The Axon was also loud enough to hear from another room. Dolby Atmos enhancements created a surround sound that is more immersive than I’ve experienced on other devices. One of the few other phones to place such a heavy emphasis on audio is the HTC 10, which lets you tailor music output to your hearing.

Continuing its quest to outdo the competition, ZTE also stuffed a 20-megapixel rear camera into the Axon 7. That sensor is sharper than what you’ll find on the iPhone 6s, Nexus 6P and Galaxy S7. The Axon 7’s camera has phase detection autofocus (PDAF), with optical and digital image stabilization that, when combined with the high megapixel count, should theoretically result in crisp pictures. However, real-world image quality was hit or miss. My shot of mosaic art at the 8th Street NYU subway station was clear enough to show individual tiles on the wall, but landscapes with buildings in them sometimes looked blurry.

The camera struggled in low light, too. Upper East Side buildings looked like grainy, dark brown, blobs in a nightscape, and the whole scene was covered with artifacts. Other phones, such as the similarly priced Alcatel Idol 4S, fared better in the same situation.

Up front, the Axon 7’s 8-megapixel front camera takes decent portraits that have accurate colors and are sharp enough to see details such as my individual eyelashes. Thankfully, the “Beautify” mode erases imperfections on your face without going overboard and making you look like a painted-over caricature. Unlike most of this year’s smartphones, though, the Axon doesn’t offer a front flash feature for low-light selfies.

Armed with the same Snapdragon 820 chip as this year’s Android flagships, the Axon 7 was impressively responsive. I relished taking down an enemy Pokémon Go gym as well as catching an oddly evasive Pidgey without any annoying lag — in both cases with a host of apps running in the background.

Even when I used AZ Screen Recorder to capture my exploits while switching between the game and a Netflix video, the Axon kept pace without missing a beat. The only app in which I encountered delay was Pokémon Go, but that appeared to be a server issue rather than the device’s performance.

You’ll be able to enjoy day-long Pokémon Go expeditions without fear of running out of juice, too. The Axon 7’s 3,250mAh battery typically lasted about a day and a half of light use, and I was surprised by the hours of “White Collar” I was able to stream (an impressive 6.5) before the low-battery alert popped up. When powered up with the included charger, the Axon 7 can get back up to 50 percent life in just 30 minutes, the company said.

Although it runs a pretty clean version of Android 6.0.1, the Axon 7 comes with some ZTE-made software changes that I was surprised to find helpful. Most interesting of these is the Power Manager that not only lets you monitor your battery consumption but also gives you the option of setting “power-saving policies” for individual apps such as disallowing autostart, scheduled background wake-up and allowing deep sleep.

A cool Mi-Pop tool adds a floating shortcut to the screen that you can place within reach of your thumb so you can access essential navigation buttons such as Back, Home and All Apps without stretching across the phone. This is a handy tool because trying to reach across the Axon’s face can cause you to drop the phone.

There’s also an intriguing “Voiceprint” function that’s supposed to let you unlock your phone with your voice, but after I excitedly went through the setup process and said my keyphrase three times for the Axon to store it, the method never worked. No matter how many times I said, “Hello there” to the phone, whether its screen was on or off and regardless of the angle at which I held it (ZTE recommends 45 degrees away from your face), I couldn’t get into my phone.

A small thing that infuriated me: Taking a screenshot doesn’t automatically save it to your phone. You’ll have to tap a checkmark below a preview of your snapshot to keep the file. What a waste of time.

Though software glitches like this exist, they’re thankfully rare, and overall the Axon 7 feels like a dependable, well-made handset. If you want a cleaner OS and can live with a less-sharp screen, the OnePlus 3 is a better bet at the same price. But those who prefer a great multimedia experience and a distinct aesthetic will find a more suitable companion in the Axon 7.

31
Jul

A digital ‘totem’ leads the way in one of New York’s oldest museums


Museums, for all the wonders they contain, have a reputation for being staid and musty. At their worst they’ve even been described as mausoleums. That’s a problem when it comes to exhibits about an active, living culture like the Haida people of British Columbia. The American Museum of Natural History has taken it upon itself to change that perception of the native groups of the Pacific Northwest, implementing new technologies in its oldest hall to educate millions of visitors about these thousands of people living on the other side of the continent.

It’s easy to think of the cultures portrayed in the AMNH as being firmly in the past. That’s because the museum itself is a relic, with many exhibits having remained unchanged for decades. The Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the oldest extant gallery of the museum, opened in 1900 and showcases a variety of artifacts from tribes such as the Kwakwaka’wakw, the Tlingit and the Tsimshian. The scent of old wood is strong in the room, and it’s kept dark in order to protect the items housed inside the antique glass cases. It’s not exactly the friendliest hall, which means it’s not uncommon for visitors to pass through quickly on their way to brighter, more exciting displays.

It became clear that the room was in need of revitalizing when the museum began to receive complaints from First Nation tourists. But the hall’s historic nature and the cost of renovating it made any kind of extensive redesign impossible. The museum opted instead for a lighter, more technological approach — something that could work around and respect the facility’s historic architecture.

The centerpiece of this initiative is the “digital totem,” an interactive monolith that sits in the middle of the hall. It doesn’t resemble a traditional-looking totem pole so much as those giant kiosks that made their debut in New York’s subway system a few years back. And that’s fine: According to curator Peter Whiteley, “totem” is an Ojibwe word that white settlers took from the east and applied to the native sculptures they found in the Pacific Northwest. It doesn’t have strong cultural significance for the cultures portrayed in the gallery.

However, if you’re looking at it as a source of information about a tribe, the digital totem in the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians has plenty of stories to tell. Each side of the totem is occupied by a large touchscreen, with the home page displaying a map of the northwest region and a series of icons depicting the various topics the various topics a visitor can explore. They can learn more about particular First Nations individuals the museum interviewed, including artisans, educators and linguists. Or they can play with audio common to the area, mixing and matching sounds like the cry of an eagle with drum beats and rattles to create a unique beat. Most relevant to the hall itself is the ability to zero in on particular artifacts, rotating them and zooming in to examine the fine details that visitors often miss because these objects spend their days behind glass in a dark corner of a case.

There’s a lot to do on the totem, which carries the risk of visitors spending too much time there, at the expense of other parts of the hall. So the totem isn’t the only piece of tech the AMNH has introduced to further engage visitors. Once a month, an employee of the Haida Gwaii Museum will virtually wander the hall using a telepresence robot, approaching groups to help educate them about the displays they might be looking at and answer any questions they have. There’s also a mobile app with some AR functionality: Children color in worksheets depicting artifacts like a bird mask and, when the camera is pointed at the sheet, the app will display a 3D representation of the mask, complete with all the colors and scribbles added by the child.

The AR feature and the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians are merely the tip of the iceberg for the AMNH’s Explorer app. Although still in beta, the app is filled with features intended to enhance your visit to the museum, like ticket sales and exhibit information. There are maps — but instead of a static image for you to puzzle out, the app uses Bluetooth to connect to beacons throughout the museum, marking your location on the diagram. It then populates with bubbles representing notable artifacts in the room, which you can then tap on for more info, along with directions to that spot in the room.

Digital architecture director Matthew Tarr worried that visitors might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information, but instead staff found that people browsed it like they use Instagram, scrolling through images and “liking” the ones that intrigued them the most. The app has a bookmark feature so visitors can revisit the parts of the museum they enjoyed even after they leave.

Lots of museums have experimented with technology to further engage the public, and the American Museum of Natural History will continue to push forward on that front. The staff hopes to expand projects like the digital totem into other areas of the museum, increase the amount of artifacts available to look at the in the app and experiment with other technologies as well. In the end it’s all about making connections: bringing the museum closer to its visitors, joining people in New York to living cultures all across the world and also bridging a museum founded in the 19th century to the 21st.

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