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26
Nov

PinOut is the perfect mix of old and new


A fantastic game and an amazing value.

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I’m addicted, and my drug of choice is PinOut, the latest game by Mediocre, the small Swedish game development team that has put out quality game after quality game, if not hit after hit.

The company’s latest game, PinOut, builds off the well-worn basis for its 2014 classic, Smash Hit, an endless runner of sorts that drew catharsis from satisfyingly slinging virtual balls into breakable surfaces of many forms. PinOut combines that endless runner approach and adds another satisfying element: pinball.

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PinOut combines that endless runner approach and adds another satisfying element: pinball.

Progressing through stages as checkpoints, the pinball mechanics are fluid and responsive, and the game mixes a neon color palette with an 80s synth soundtrack that recalls Tron and, more recently, Stranger Things. While the game is free to play, a small in-app purchase allows you to resume playing from any checkpoint.

More: PinOut Tips and Tricks

The game balances a regular game of pinball with an endless runner trope by using time as its main draw: you begin the level with a set amount of “life”, and must maintain it by choosing a path through the course that yields the higher number of extended time bonus. Power-ups and mini games, all of which are drawn in a cute 80s throwback hand, can also extend the time on board.

Like all great games, PinOut starts easy and quickly becomes challenging. By the third checkpoint, the courses are varied and unpredictable, with puzzle elements that incorporate as much strategy as dextrous reflexes. It’s easy to feel like you’ve begun to build momentum only to have the ball quickly drop a few stages, forcing you to spend three-quarters of your remaining life finding your way back to your starting point with nary a power-up in sight. PinOut is a very difficult game, but it is never frustrating.

The game is attractive but not garish, and unlike many games can be adapted to suit even least powerful Android phones out there.

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The game is attractive but not garish, and unlike many games can be adapted to suit even least powerful Android phones out there. The three levels, Functional, Balanced and Extreme, are fairly self-explanatory, but while I noticed a few more jaggies on the former two, all three maintained a healthy frame rate on my Snapdragon 821-powered Google Pixel. The sound, too, is fantastic, from the thumping beat of the soundtrack to the pinging of each pinball bounce.

At a reasonable $2.99, the single in-app purchase is exactly the type of business model I think is best suited for Android. The game itself may be a bit short, and Mediocre isn’t exactly known for keeping its games updated with new content, but even as it stands you’re getting a lot of game for not a lot of money, and one that can easily be picked up and played for a minute or an hour at a time.

Download: PinOut (free)

26
Nov

Check to see if you’re covered by Google’s Project Fi network


Networks, when you think about it, come down to one thing: coverage.

If you’re not covered where you live, work and travel … well, nothing else matters. But in partnering with three U.S. carriers — Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular — Google’s Project Fi definitely has an interesting advantage. (And remember you also have calling available over Wi-Fi when you need it.)

But the question stands: will you have Project Fi coverage where you live, work and travel? And, of course, there’s a handy map for that.

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To see if you’re covered by Google’s Project Fi, just visit fi.google.com/coverage and enter your location (state, city, ZIP) on the map — and no matter where you search, you can always zoom and scroll around to see what the surrounding area is like as well.

More: What is Project Fi, and why do I want it?

Like other carriers you’ll get a color-coded map that shows you the darkest green for full LTE coverage, or lighter areas for 3G and 2G. The map is pretty good about pointing out specific areas around a state or city that may come up short on coverage, and while the actual real-world experience can never be perfectly mapped this is a great place to start.

Compare Project Fi’s coverage map to those from the other carriers, and you may find that it compares quite favorably.

Google Project Fi

  • What is Project Fi?
  • Get the latest Project Fi news
  • Discuss Project Fi in our forums
  • Phones: Google Pixel | Nexus 6P | Nexus 5X | Nexus 6
  • Sign up for Project Fi

26
Nov

‘Star Wars’ smartphone caters to your fandom


How much do you like Star Wars? Enough that you’d buy a phone that revolves around it? If so, we have good news… at least, if you’re living in Japan. Sharp is marking the imminent arrival of Rogue One with a SoftBank-exclusive Star Wars smartphone that’s clearly designed for the most devoted of fans. The slick-looking, color-shifting Light Side and Dark Side designs are just the start. The real party starts when you dive into the software. Whichever model you choose, you get a heavily customized take on Android with starfighter-based live wallpaper, custom apps and sounds, special emoji and a collectable card game. And did we mention that a free app lets you watch The Force Awakens as much as you like until December 1st, 2019?

The device itself is more powerful than some of Sharp’s other novelty phones, but you won’t get one just for the specs. The 5.3-inch handset packs a 1080p screen, a Snapdragon 820 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of expandable storage and a 22.6-megapixel rear camera — very capable, but not the absolute best. It’s ‘only’ rated for IP58 protection against the elements (it’s water-resistant, but not dust-resistant), and its biggest stand-out is the TV tuner you frequently find in Japanese smartphones.

Most likely, the biggest obstacle will be availability. Sharp’s Star Wars phone goes on sale at SoftBank on December 2nd for ¥97,920 (about $865), and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see it officially on sale outside of its home country. As it is, the smartphone would lose some of its appeal if you tried to import it. There’s no guarantee that it’ll fully support your carrier of choice, and the free movie streaming only works in its native market. Unless you live in Japan, you’ll have to make do customizing the phone you already have.

Via: 9to5Google

Source: SoftBank

26
Nov

Google Offering 4-Month Free Trial of Play Music Streaming Service


Google is offering four free months of Play Music as part of its Cyber Week deals. The four-month trial includes a YouTube Red subscription for ad-free YouTube streaming and can be cancelled at any time. The Play music streaming service usually costs $9.99 per month, giving members access to over 35 million songs.

Google recently announced an overhaul of its Google Play Music streaming platform, with new contextually aware, opt-in music recommendation features that promise a more personal music listening experience.

Users who have had a free trial or cancelled a Play Music membership in the past aren’t eligible for the Cyber Week promotion, but that doesn’t stop anyone curious to see what’s changed from creating a new Google account to take advantage of the offer.

Related Roundup: Black Friday
Tags: Google, Google Play Music
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26
Nov

Six unexpected sources of renewable energy


By Cat DiStasio

When it comes to discussions about renewable energy, solar and wind power often take center stage. To a lesser degree, other forms like geothermal energy and hydropower also get some attention. But many people may not be aware that there are many other sources of renewable energy currently in use around the world, all helping to counterbalance the enormous carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Small projects are turning to dirt and microbes, underground stores of liquid magma and even pedestrian footsteps to harvest energy that would otherwise be wasted. While none of these efforts alone can save the planet, the continued research and development to increase their efficacy may eventually help entire communities eschew fossil fuels without sacrificing much-needed electricity for light, safety, warmth and medical care.

Underground liquid magma

In Iceland, one of the world’s most ambitious (and outlandish) renewable energy projects is now underway. The tiny northern nation is taking geothermal energy to a new level by tapping into liquid magma deep under the Earth’s surface, where temperatures can reach 1,000 degrees Celsius. The hot magma is thought to be capable of producing 10 times more electricity than typical geothermal sources, so the cost-benefit is in favor of the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, which will source liquid magma from five kilometers below the surface using an enormous drill nicknamed “Thor.”

Wind energy from trees

Sourcing wind energy from trees doesn’t make much sense at first, until you learn how it works. The secret energy-generating power comes from the way trees sway in high winds. Earlier this year, researchers published the results of a study that showed how the vibrations of tree movement could be successfully converted into useable energy. The proof of concept was demonstrated on tiny tree-like L-shaped steel beams wrapped with polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), a piezoelectric material. Although the amount of electricity produced was small — around two volts — the output would be magnified if a life-size piezoelectric array could be built to work with full-grown trees in natural forests.

Bacteria and dirt batteries

Taking a cue from energy-producing bacteria, scientists at Harvard University built a battery that’s essentially powered by dirt. The creation of the microbial fuel cell (MFC) batteries is an energy storage breakthrough primed to aid residents of countries with absent or unstable power grids, such as regions of Africa where many people still live off the grid. MFC batteries are notoriously low in cost and can be constructed from local resources that look nothing like the batteries in your flashlight or cell phone. Instead, an MFC battery is built inside of a five-gallon bucket, which is filled with saltwater and holds a graphite-cloth anode, a chicken-wire cathode, mud, manure and a layer of sand to act as an ion barrier in the salty electrolyte solution.

Swedish trash

As the world’s human population continues to increase, so too does our waste production, creating a double-edged challenge to urban planners who are looking for renewable energy sources as well as efficient waste management processes. In Sweden, those two efforts are being combined and the nation is already successfully diverting 99 percent of its garbage from landfills and sending much of it to waste-to-energy (WTE) plants that turn it into electricity. Fully half of Sweden’s annual 4.4 million tons of household waste goes through the WTE process, which burns waste and harvests energy from the resulting steam. Sweden’s processes are so efficient that the nation actually imports 800,000 tons of trash from nearby countries to its 32 WTE plants, keeping even more garbage out of landfills.

Living Bricks

Could your house be an energy-generating machine? These Living Bricks take advantage of the metabolic power of microbes to convert sunlight, wastewater and air into clean energy. Similar to Harvard’s microbial fuel cell (MFC) battery made from dirt, these living bricks would put natural processes to work in order to benefit human lives. The early prototypes generate small amounts of electricity, but it’s enough to power an LED lamp or another small device. Someday, the inventors hope to develop the technology to a point where entire structures can be built from “bioreactor walls” that could which could theoretically be constructed to emit their own light.

Las Vegas kinetic streetlights

Millions of people walk the sidewalks of Las Vegas each year, and now some of those footsteps are generating clean renewable electricity. New York-based EnGoPLANET is harvesting energy typically lost to the ether by installing special streetlights powered by kinetic energy pads embedded in the walkways. These smart street lights are a world’s first, proving that even small measures can help combat climate change by reducing dependence on fossil fuel forms of energy. The solar-kinetic streetlights are one element in the broader plan to make Las Vegas a net-zero emissions city powered completely by renewable energy.

26
Nov

The best deals for Cyber Monday


Did you miss out on Black Friday bargains, or decide that packed stores and overwhelmed websites were too much? Not to worry. We’re collecting some of the best gadget bargains you’ll find on and around Cyber Monday, the online-centric shopping event that follows Thanksgiving weekend. And don’t think that you’re getting leftovers. Some of these deals are just as substantial as the ones you saw on Black Friday. Whether you’re looking for a 4K TV, a new phone or some games, we have what you’re looking for when November 28th arrives… and in some cases, beyond.

26
Nov

VLC media player now supports 360-degree videos


VLC, the app that lets you play basically any video format on practically any platform, is about to add support for a whole new medium. The company just unveiled a technical preview that enables its desktop app to play 360-degree videos, so folks can watch their dizzying footage those on their computers. The preview is now available for Windows and Mac machines, and the full version will arrive with VLC 3.0 , which is expected at the end of the month.

VLC’s creators VideoLan teamed up with 360-degree camera maker Giroptic to develop its system, which supports can display photos, panoramas and videos. You can use your mouse and keyboard to control your point of view in the footage. VideoLan says it will make these features available on its mobile apps as well, and let users navigate the clips by moving their accelerometer-carrying devices around. It also said it will support VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift, Google’s Daydream and the HTC Vive in 2017. The app is also getting 360-degree audio support “including head tracking headphones,” says the company, although it’s not clear when that will happen.

Since it’s still just a technical preview, those who are itching to try VLC 360 out should temper their expectations as it might be buggy. Even so, it’s clear that VLC is making a big push into enabling VR experiences across all its supported platforms, which should be good news for its large base of tech-savvy fans.

Source: VideoLan

26
Nov

‘TouchSwitcher’ and ‘Rocket’ Apps Let You Switch and Launch Apps From the Touch Bar


Two free third-party Touch Bar apps have been making the rounds this week that may be of interest to some owners of new MacBook Pros. The apps essentially offer alternative ways of accessing pre-existing macOS functions.

TouchSwitcher adds an icon to the right side of the Touch Bar that when tapped brings up a list of currently running apps for quick app switching, similar to the Command + Tab keyboard shortcut.

One limitation of the Touch Bar discovered by TouchSwitcher’s developer is that only one non-system control can be displayed in the right-hand strip, meaning other Apple apps compete for the same space.

iTunes for example overrides TouchSwitcher when music is played, and the TouchSwitcher app must be restarted to make it re-appear in the control strip. To manually regain access to the default media control button, users can long press on the TouchSwitcher app icon to quit it.

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Another new app called Rocket lets users launch apps from the Touch Bar. Rather than live in the system control strip on the right though, Rocket is a standalone app that can be invoked using a keyboard shortcut, whereupon it displays a list of app icons along the left side of the Touch Bar.

TouchSwitcher and Rocket (listed as a beta) can be downloaded for free directly from the developers’ websites.

Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Tag: Touch Bar
Buyer’s Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)
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26
Nov

Sphero’s Force Band can now control your home over IFTTT


Sphero’s motion-tracking Force Band can now control more than a tiny (and utterly adorable) BB-8 droid. The company has teamed up with If This Then That (IFTT) to integrate the “force” with countless apps and smart home devices. IFTTT, if you need a reminder, is a service that lets you automate pretty much anything with “triggers” and “actions.” You can use it to turn on your Hue lights as soon as you walk through the front door, or tweet your Instagrams as native photos on Twitter. With the Force Band, you can now activate these same actions with a force push, pull or stop.

Sphero has posted some basic “applet” recipes on the Star Wars Force Band IFTTT page. You can play The Imperial March with a push, or pull to “post your Jedi wisdom to Twitter.” They’re simple suggestions, admittedly, but ones that should appeal to new and lapsed IFTTT users. As Sphero’s video shows, you’ll soon be wandering around the house and waving your arms to activate the coffee machine. (Personally, I would love one to flick through playlists or open my front door for friends.) Will this new functionality be actually useful? Debatable, but it creates extra value for what is otherwise an expensive ($79.99) BB-8 remote control.

Via: Gizmodo

Source: Star Wars Force Band (IFTTT)

26
Nov

Xiaomi focusing on ‘recurring revenue streams,’ isn’t worried about shrinking phone sales


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Xiaomi is looking to the smart home segment for profits.

Xiaomi isn’t worried about shrinking sales in China affecting the company’s long-term profit growth. That’s according to global VP Hugo Barra, who revealed in an interview with Reuters that the focus is instead on creating “recurring revenue streams:”

Basically we’re giving [handsets] to you without making any money… we care about the recurring revenue streams over many years.

We could sell 10 billion smartphones and we wouldn’t make a single dime in profits.

Xiaomi’s global sales are down 12%, with Q3 sales in China declining by 45%, according to the IDC. Xiaomi’s business model relies on selling phones at manufacturing cost, with the devices acting as gateways to the company’s ecosystem. The brand has ventured into the lifestyle category, rolling out robot vacuum cleaners, air purifiers, smart rice cookers, and more under the Mi Ecosystem label.

Flagging sales may not hurt Xiaomi’s bottom line in the short term, but if the brand is unable to sell its most popular product — phones — it will be an uphill battle to convince people to buy into its ecosystem of connected devices.

For what it’s worth, the company is doing remarkably well in the Indian market, where the budget Redmi Note 3 is one of the best-selling phones of the year. The entry-level Redmi 3S also did extremely well in the $100 segment. Xiaomi launched its air purifier in the country earlier this year, and is set to launch several connected home products next year.

Back in its home market, Xiaomi is looking to regain lost ground with the launch of three phones in the high-end segment in recent months: the Mi 5s, the Mi Note 2 (which has global LTE bands), and the futuristic Mi Mix. The Mi 5s is available for $319 from third-party sellers, but the Mi Note 2 and Mi Mix are being sold in limited quantities.

Although we haven’t heard anything tangible regarding Xiaomi’s U.S. plans, the company is all set to unveil a “global product” early next month at CES.

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