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15
Dec

How to use Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 without a Samsung phone


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Get the best mobile payment solution available without a Samsung phone.

Samsung’s new Gear S3 smartwatch includes the latest in its mobile payment technology, meaning you can use Samsung Pay on your watch to pay at practically any store — no matter if it has an NFC reader or a simple card swipe reader. In a rather surprising move, Samsung has also opened up this feature to work even if your Gear S3 is connected to a non-Samsung phone, bringing the great Samsung Pay experience to anyone who wants to drop $349 on its latest watch.

The setup process is pretty simple, and once you have it loaded up your watch will be ready to tap and pay at just about any payment terminal you come across. Here’s how you get it done.

Setting up Samsung Pay on your phone

The Gear S3 is compatible with any Android phone running Android 4.4 and above — if the Samsung Gear app installs on your phone, then it’s compatible. To get Samsung Pay up and running you’ll have to go through a bit of extra configuration, though, as this is all handled through the Gear app and not through the standalone Samsung Pay app (which is still exclusive to Samsung phones).

Get your watch and phone paired and all of the proper plugins downloaded, then follow the steps below to move on to Samsung Pay

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Open the Samsung Gear app on your phone while connected to your Gear S3
Switch to the “Settings” tab, scroll down and select “Samsung Pay”
Download the Samsung Pay plugin when prompted
After download, sign into your Samsung Account (or create one from the same screen)
In the Samsung Pay screen, tap “Add” to enter your card information
Follow steps for card verification with your bank

You’ll also notice that part of the setup process is enabling a PIN on your watch. The PIN won’t need to be used every time you launch Samsung Pay, but instead just every time that the watch has been removed from your wrist. While annoying, it’s a great security feature.

If you want to come back to see purchase history or add more cards to Samsung Pay, you can simply go back into the Samsung Gear app on your phone and tap on the “Open Samsung Pay” button in the main interface.

One thing to remember here is that this doesn’t do anything to enable the use of Samsung Pay on your phone itself. This only works to bring Samsung Pay to your Gear S3, and let you manage the cards and payment history on your phone. That’s still better than it used to be, of course, and it means you don’t have to fiddle through settings and details all on the watch itself.

Using Samsung Pay on the Gear S3

Once you’ve followed all of the steps for setting up Samsung Pay on your phone, the watch will simply be ready to go. Here’s how you use Samsung Pay once you’re in a store.

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Press and hold the “back” button (at the 2 o’clock position) to launch Samsung Pay
Swipe left or right to select the card you wish to pay with
Tap “Pay” at the bottom of the screen
Place the watch on the payment terminal within 30 seconds to pay
Follow instructions on the payment terminal for a PIN or signature, if required

If the cashier for whatever reason asks for the last four digits of the card you’re paying with, you can tap on the image of the card to view a special set of four digits — remember, this is different from the last four digits physically present on the card. This is done for safety payment reasons.

Samsung Pay on the Gear S3 doesn’t require an active connection to your phone at the time of purchase, but it does have to sync back to your phone regularly. The watch holds a limited number of one-time use payment tokens, which have to be replenished by syncing back to Samsung Pay on your phone — if you run into issues, make sure your watch is connected to your phone.

15
Dec

Can a phone finally replace a computer?


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Have we reached the point where the things we do because we want to do them all can be done on our phone?

Six years ago, the late Steve Jobs said that a PC was like a truck. He was comparing tablets to traditional computers the way you would compare a car to a truck, claiming the PC was for work and to do the “heavy” things while a tablet was all we needed to do everything else. That always stuck with me, because I knew eventually he would be proven correct — if you replace the tablet with the phone.

Some folks are already there. Some people will never be there. But in general, most of what we do when we’re not doing work can be done on a modern phone. And a lot of what we do both now and in the future will only be able to be done from our phones as software companies in certain fields focus less and less on the PC market. The times they are a-changing and all that.

We went around the table here at Android Central with the simple question — outside of work, can a phone replace your computer? The answers tell us a lot about trucks and the people who still drive them.

Alex Dobie

If I’m not working, sure, I can go days without turning my laptop on. Ten years ago maybe you’d turn on your computer to check your email or browse the web. Now you don’t need to. Basically, unless I need the extra space and physical keyboard to bang out an article — or the extra computational power to edit video — a modern smartphone is more than sufficient. After all, we’re talking about communication here. Phones have grown into the ultimate communications devices, whereas a decade ago, for most people, the split was more even between phone and computer.

Andrew Martonik

Phones are bigger and more powerful than ever before, but I still feel too cramped on even a 5.5-inch phone when it comes to many things. I can go a day or two with just my phone for all of my (non-work) activities, but when I get back home I’m going to open up my laptop. Not only do I get a dramatically bigger display to work with multiple windows, I can also fire up a full calendar app, the Chrome browser with a dozen active tabs and Lightroom to process some photos I recently took.

Having a powerful phone means I don’t have to rely on my laptop as often, but I still carry around a laptop in my bag whenever I can.

Ara Wagoner

I can go days without turning on my Chromebook… vacation days, that is. Granted, I have typed parts of many articles on my phone, and it takes me a while to cramp… but it is in no way, shape, or form what I want to type everything on. If you have a work computer or work that doesn’t really require a lot of typing, then I think you could get by without a personal computer. That said, why on earth would you get rid of a computer completely when you can get a good Chromebook with low cost and lower maintenance? They’re even starting to run Android apps now!

Daniel Bader

Do I need a laptop or desktop to do my job? Yes, I do. But to ask whether a smartphone can really replace a computer is missing the point: it is a computer, and it allows me to do things that I can’t, and by virtue of its size and touchscreen, will never be able to accomplish.

Uber. Look at all the things that go into making Uber work properly. A cellular radio; GPS; a touchscreen; an app store; mobility; mobile payments. These are all inherent to the smartphone, to the very idea of a mobile computer. A smartphone replaced my computer years ago, and now I use my “computer” to work. Period.

Florence Ion

Have I ever told you about the time I switched to Windows? I missed it after a four-year hiatus. Unfortunately, I cheaped out and bought a mid-tier Dell, and less than a year later I’m sitting on my stairs with my face in my hands, defeated.

That doesn’t really answer the question, but it’s meant as an example of what happens when my computer is rendered useless. I retreat into a pit of despair. Despite the trio of phones I typically have in front of me (Right now, it’s a Pixel XL, Galaxy S7 edge, and Galaxy S7 Active), there’s no way I can get any work done in a reasonable amount of time. Sure, I could always hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to my Galaxy Tab S2 (I really need to diversify my devices), but I’ve never experienced the same multitasking fervor with a mobile device like I have with a computer. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are so much more manageable on a large desktop with a separate keyboard and mouse, not to mention the simple task of switching between files, folders, and apps. And while I’m editing vacation photos or planning out my next crafting projects, I can have a window devoted solely through my annual watch-through of Beverly Hills, 90210.

Can I get by with a smartphone? Sure. But I wouldn’t be as creative or as able to multitask, and that’s ultimately more important to me than cutting down on devices.

Harish Jonnalagadda

Phones are plenty capable these days, but they just don’t have the raw processing power of an overclocked computer. And you’re going to need that if you want to play The Witcher 3, Doom, or Fallout 4 in Quad HD with all the settings cranked up to the maximum. That’s what I do when I’m not writing words here, and although mobile games have improved drastically, they don’t come close to AAA titles on the PC. And I don’t see that changing for a very long time.

Jerry Hildenbrand

I drive a truck.

The things I do when sitting in front of my computer that I don’t call work are goofing off programming electronics and goofing off playing games on Steam. Both can be done fairly well on a Chromebook (using a Linux tab or an app like CrossOver for Android) but a Chromebook is still a computer and therefore is a truck. A small truck from Nissan or possibly even a Volkswagen Rabbit truck from the 1980s, but still a truck.

Most of the time when I’m not working and in front of a screen I’m on my desktop PC with everything cranked way up just because it can be. A phone just isn’t there yet.

Marc Lagace

I have two computers — my work computer and my personal computer. I rely on my work computer heavily throughout the day for writing words and editing pretty pictures to accompany my words, and I used to rely on my personal computer to unwind after work watching Netflix or YouTube, and browsing Reddit and social media. But that’s simply not the case anymore.

I almost exclusively rely on my phone for nearly everything I do outside of work now, because a) I know I’ll always have it on me, and b) I find it to be just as capable of handling pretty much anything I typically throw at it. But I’m also pretty easy, in that on an average evening I’m bouncing between binging my favorite shows, wasting time on Reddit, listening to music or podcasts, and playing games until I pass out and it’s time to go back to work. Not only can I do all that on my phone (with a major assist from my Chromecast-enabled devices), but I can do any of those things while also making myself food, doing chores, or while hanging out with friends (despite how this probably reads, I DO have friends). If anything, I’m too dependent on my phone, and need to, like, pick up a book or something instead every other evening…

15
Dec

Kamigami: If Sphero Was A Bug


Kamigami! While the name conjures images of giant mechazoids ravaging the Tokyo skyline, these cute little robots are way more fun then they are terrifying. Build them yourself, control them with your phone, and program your own games!

MrMobile gets all robo-entomologist on these fun little critters, just in time to stuff some stockings. Do you like bugs? Do you like robots? Do you like Michael Fisher? I’m going to assume you answered yes to all three, so you really should watch this video!

Stay social, my friends

  • YouTube 
  • Le web
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram

15
Dec

Save over 30% on these great Bluetooth headphones right now!


Anker is currently offering a few of its Bluetooth headphones for as little as $19 at Amazon, which is a savings of more than 30%. There are three different pairs of headphones to pick between, all of which are highly rated from previous buyers. They are all sweatproof and offer noise cancellation for the best sound quality possible. Per charge, each headset should give you a minimum of six hours of life before needing to be recharged.

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Whether your new phone has no headphone jack or you just want to rid yourself of wires, you won’t want to miss out on this awesome deal. Which set will you be picking up? Let us know!

See at Amazon

15
Dec

BlackBerry officially signs its life away to TCL


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BlackBerry wants to make it work in the Android world. It knows the best way to do so is to partner with an already established brand.

TCL, the parent company behind smartphone brands like Alcatel, announced that it’s officially entered into a long-term licensing agreement with BlackBerry. BlackBerry will license its security software and apps like the BlackBerry Hub, while TCL will continue to handle the design, manufacturing, and retail component of BlackBerry’s smartphone business.

Here’s the statement from Ralph Pini, Chief Operating Officers and General Manager of Mobility Solutions at BlackBerry:

“This agreement with TCL Communication represents a key step in our strategy to focus on putting the ‘smart in the phone’ by providing state-of-the-art security and device software on a >platform that mobile users prefer and are comfortable with…TCL Communication is the natural choice to license BlackBerry’s software and brand on a global scale. We successfully >partnered with them on the DTEK series of secure smartphones and we’ve been impressed with their excellence in hardware design, development, and manufacturing. With our unparalleled >expertise in mobile security and software and TCL Communication’s vast global reach and consumer access, we are confident that BlackBerry-branded products developed and distributed by >TCL Communication will address the needs of BlackBerry users and expand the availability of BlackBerry Secure products throughout the world.”

The agreement is a smart move for the Canadian company, as it’s still attempting to pave its way in the new smartphone climate. TCL and BlackBerry can work together on a mutually beneficial strategy. Perhaps the first part of that strategy should be reconsidering the marketing prowess of a name like “DTEK” for a smartphone.

15
Dec

Go Rogue with these Star Wars themes


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I find your lack of Star Wars theme disturbing.

Rogue One is coming. You’re all ready for your midnight showing: got your tickets, got your perfect Star Wars shirt picked out, or maybe a whole ensemble if you’re aiming to win that costume contest… but is your phone as decked out as your lovely self? No? Let’s fix that.

  • Darth Vader theme
  • K-2S0 theme
  • Death Star theme

Darth Vader

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You don’t know the power of the dark theme. This theme is as dark, delicious, and daring as it is elegant. Darth Vader is one of the best villains ever, and so long as we don’t have to suffer through any more Anakin brooding, we’re happy to see as much of him on screen as Disney is willing to give us. We could all use a little more Vader in our lives, and our home screens are no exceptions. Here’s what we need:

  • Darth Vader wallpaper by Gaurav Seth
  • Whicons
  • Death Star app drawer icon
  • 1Weather
  • KWGT
  • Vader Music Preset for KWGT
  • A file explorer for moving KWGT files into the proper folders.
  • A launcher that allows for third-party icon packs, replacing individual icons, resizing widgets, and at least a XxX home screen grid. These instructions are drafted for Nova Launcher but can be easily adapted for other launchers like Action Launcher.

Once you’ve got everything that you need downloaded, it’s time to dive in!

Long-press on your home screen until the Wallpapers option appears at the bottom of the screen.
Tap Wallpapers.

Tap Pick image.

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Navigate to your downloaded Vader wallpaper and select it.
Make sure the image is centered before tapping Set wallpaper.

Open Nova Settings.

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Tap Look & feel.
Tap Icon theme.

Tap Whicons.

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Return to the home screen and long-press the app drawer icon.
Tap Edit.

Tap the icon to edit it.

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Select Gallery apps.
Select Documents/Files.

Navigate to your saved Death Star icon and select it.

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Ensure the entire icon is within the confines of the white bounding box before tapping Done.
Tap Done to confirm your icon change.

Return to your home screen.

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Long-press on your home screen until the Widgets options appears at the bottom of the screen.
Tap Widgets.

Find 1Weather in the list and tap and hold to set the widget position on your home screen.

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Drag the 1Weather Compact widget to the top of your home screen.
In the configuration window that appears, set Background Color to Dark.

Set Background opacity to 0%.

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Set Accent to White.
Tap Done.

Return to the home screen.

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Long-press on your home screen until the Widgets options appears at the bottom of the screen.
Tap Widgets.

Find KWGT in the list and press and drag the KWGT 4×2 widget to the bottom of your home screen.

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Tap the widget to configure it.
In Exported, select Vader Music Preset.

If the scaling of your widget is off, tap Layer.

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Adjust the widget as needed.
Save your widget by tapping the floppy disc on the top bar.

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K-2S0

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K-2S0 is the droid we’ve been looking for: a Droid that makes us laugh, even as he decides which of a thousand ways he’s going to kill us. He’s gritty, he’s goofy, and he’s prone to gore.

  • K-2S0 wallpaper
  • Tha Metal by Tha Phlash ($1.49)
  • 1Weather
  • KWGT
  • K-2S0 Music Preset for KWGT
  • A file explorer for moving KWGT files into the proper folders.
  • A launcher that allows for third-party icon packs, replacing individual icons, resizing widgets, and at least a XxX home screen grid. These instructions are drafted for Nova Launcher but can be easily adapted for other launchers like Action Launcher.

Long-press on your home screen until the Wallpapers option appears at the bottom of the screen.
Tap Wallpapers.

Tap Pick image.

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Navigate to your downloaded K-2S0 wallpaper and select it.
Make sure the image is centered before tapping Set wallpaper.

Open Nova Settings.

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Tap Look & feel.
Tap Icon theme.

Tap Metal.

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Return to the home screen and long-press the app drawer icon.
Tap Edit.

Tap the icon to edit it.

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Select Metal.
Scroll down to S and select Star Wars.

Tap Done.

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Long-press on your home screen until the Widgets options appears at the bottom of the screen.
Tap Widgets.

Find 1Weather in the list and press and drag the 1Weather Compact widget to the top of your home screen.

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In the configuration window that appears, set Background Color to Dark.
Set Background opacity to 0%.

Set Accent to Blood Red.

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Tap Done.
Return to the home screen and long-press until the Widgets options appears at the bottom of the screen.

Tap Widgets.

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Find KWGT in the list and press and drag the KWGT 4×2 widget to the third row of your home screen.
Long-press and resize the widget fit above the split Rebel/Empire logo.

Tap the widget to configure it.

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In Exported, select K-2S0 Music Preset.
If the scaling of your widget is off, tap Layer and adjust as needed.
Save your widget by tapping the floppy disc on the top bar.

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Death Star 2: Electric Wookie-loo

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That’s no moon… it’s an electronic discotheque Death Star home screen theme that’s bound to blow the place so we can go home. There are boring black and white Death Star themes, but we’re too cool for monochrome. That’s what we have Vader around for. Now, here are the plans for the Death Star. We must get them back to the alliance!

  • Star Glow by elreviae
  • Supreme by Drumdrestroyer Theme ($1.49)
  • 1Weather
  • KWGT
  • Disco Death Star Music Preset for KWGT
  • A file explorer for moving KWGT files into the proper folders.
  • A launcher that allows for third-party icon packs, replacing individual icons, resizing widgets, and at least a XxX home screen grid. These instructions are drafted for Nova Launcher but can be easily adapted for other launchers like Action Launcher.

Long-press on your home screen until the Wallpapers option appears at the bottom of the screen.
Tap Wallpapers.

Tap Pick image.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-01.j

Navigate to your downloaded wallpaper and select it.
Make sure the image is centered before tapping Set wallpaper.

Open Nova Settings.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-02.j

Tap Look & feel.
Tap Icon theme.

Tap Supreme.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-03.j

Return to the home screen and long-press the app drawer icon.
Tap Edit.

Tap the icon to edit it.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-04.j

Select Supreme.
Scroll down in the Bonus section and select the red icon featuring two squares with an X in the middle.

Tap Done.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-05.j

Long-press on your home screen until the Widgets options appears at the bottom of the screen.
Tap Widgets.

Find 1Weather in the list and press and drag the 1Weather Compact widget to the top of your home screen.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-06.j

In the configuration window that appears, set Background Color to Dark.
Set Background opacity to 0%.

Set Accent to Royal Blue.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-07.j

Tap Done.
Return to the home screen and long-press on your home screen until the Widgets options appears at the bottom of the screen.

Tap Widgets.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-08.j

Find KWGT in the list and press and drag the KWGT 4×2 widget to the bottom of your home screen.
Tap the widget to configure it.

In Exported, select Disco Death Star Music Preset.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-09.j

If the scaling of your widget is off, tap Layer,
29 and adjust as needed.
Save your widget by tapping the floppy disc on the top bar.

rogue-one-theming-deathstar-screens-10.j

Are these not the themes you’re looking for?

We also have a trio of Star Wars themes from The Force Awakens, including the most adorable BB-8 theme you will ever see! We also delve into a refined Rebel Alliance theme, a sinister and sharp Sith theme.

May the Force – and the themes – be with you!

15
Dec

What can I do with PlayStation VR besides gaming?


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Gaming is great, but it isn’t everything!

PlayStation VR has been selling like crazy, partly thanks to a great collection of games. Do your best Batman impression, see what it’s like to live an eagle’s life, survive the zombie apocalypse, and race hundreds of high-performance cars — these are just scratching the surface.

While you’re taking a break from gaming, you might be wondering what else your glowing headset can do. Here are a few non-gaming things you can try out to get the most out of your PlayStation VR.

Read more at VR Heads

15
Dec

Riding inside the Lucid Air luxury EV


Exposed wires and metal beams are typically not what you want to see in a car. But as a Lucid engineer punched the accelerator (only Lucid employees are allowed behind the wheel), the preproduction Air I sat in tore down the road of the Fremont industrial park. The vehicle was only operating at half power.

That’s about where Lucid Motors is at too. It has unveiled its luxury electric vehicle and started taking preorders, but the factory it needs to build those cars doesn’t exist yet and it’ll be 2018 before production begins on the Air, its debut vehicle. Actually, the company is operating at about 30 percent of power. Maybe 20 percent.

What it showed off at its event was impressive, though. The Air is a bona fide luxury vehicle, with leather trim and wood accents throughout the interior. The metal exterior gives way to a swooped-back glass roof, creating the feeling of more space to the already roomy passenger cabin.

I’m six foot, three inches, and finding a car with ample room in the front is difficult. The Air’s front and back seats accommodated my long legs and rather large head with no problem. That’s not surprising, since the car is aimed squarely at the BMW 7 Series, which also has a spacious interior. What was a surprising addition was the back seat that reclined, similar to the seats in first-class aircraft.

It’s an odd feeling lying in the back of a vehicle, staring up through its glass roof. But I could get used to it. In fact, who could be bothered to ride shotgun when you can nap your way to your destination? But the Air isn’t just about going fast and being comfortable (both of which are an integral part of the American dream). There’s a lot of technology inside of these cars.

While I was sitting behind the driver’s seat (but not actually driving), three displays filled the dashboard. It’s a touchscreen experience except for the climate controls (but those can be moved to the touchscreen as well). If that’s not enough, an additional iPad-sized fourth display will emerge from the center dash at the push of a button. The controls on all of these screens are easy to reach and self explanatory. Yes, it’s fancy, but it’s not overdesigned. That feeling permeates throughout the whole car.

Everything has its place. Even the touchscreen between the rear seats that controls how far you recline — while a bit over the top — makes sense. Clearly the company has taken cues from Tesla to help determine how much whizbang it should add without being ostentatious (even going as far as grabbing former Model S lead engineer Peter Rawlinson and making him CTO).

That’s not all it’s borrowing from Tesla. Its strategy for autonomous driving is to ship the car with the sensors, cameras, radar and LIDAR needed for semi-autonomy. But when it goes on sale, only a few of those features will be live. Additional self-driving services will be added via over-the-air updates. If you weren’t already aware, the future of car ownership is filled with DLC.

Back in the preproduction Air, the Lucid engineer was showing us how the car can drive itself down the road, around the corner and into the parking lot. It would have been more impressive if it wasn’t a predetermined path. Still, it was good to see a company with actual working prototypes of vehicles it’s unveiling. In the back seat, if you ignored the wires, chunks of metal and lack of carpet, it felt like a car. But it’ll be a long road from building a few cars to drive journalists down closed streets to spinning up a factory and producing automobiles at scale.

It’ll be a while before the Air is in the hands of drivers and their napping passengers. The factory should start building the cars, which cost more than $100,000 in late 2018. If it can get those cars on the road in a timely fashion, the luxury EV market will be a lot more exciting.

Source: Lucid Motors

15
Dec

Super Mario Run review: Is Mario on iPhone worth £8?


When Nintendo announced that it was to move into the smartphone app arena this was the game that we wanted the most. We didn’t expect Super Mario Run specifically, but the Japanese gaming giant was always going to bring its biggest franchise to mobile sooner or later.

More of a surprise came when Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto appeared at the launch of the iPhone 7, to announce and demonstrate his lovable plumber’s first gaming appearance on a phone. And that it would, initially at least, be exclusive to iOS.

An Android version will emerge eventually, but only Apple device owners will be able to guide Mario through all-new adventures for now. There are going to be some green-eyed gamers out there for a while, that’s for sure, those who don’t have the right kind of device to play it on. Maybe there’s still a market for the iPod touch after all?

But why should jealousy rear its ugly head? Is Mario’s mobile debut really worth all the fuss? And more importantly, is it worth a penny shy of £8 to unlock the full game?

Super Mario Run review: Price

The latter question is the hardest to answer as that kind of price is almost unheard of with smartphone games. In a market when people frown at having to spend 79p on a game, £7.99 is tantamount to business suicide. For anyone other than Nintendo, that is.

It made the bold decision that, instead of requiring in-game purchases for items, coins and the like, it would charge a one-off fee if you want the entire experience. At the same time, the company still adopts a form of freemium model in that the base game doesn’t cost a bean to buy. You get plenty of action for nothing, but with the confidence that you’ll be hooked enough that you’ll happily part with eight squids.

It’s a bold strategy and one that is bound to work as Super Mario Run is as addictive as chocolate coated crack cocaine.

Super Mario Run review: Gameplay

The game itself is staggeringly simple to play. You tap the screen. That’s it. Short taps and longer taps are the only controls you need. They make Mario jump while everything else is handled automatically. It is, in essence, an endless runner, except it’s not endless and Mario doesn’t always run.

Each level in the World Tour is recognisably Mario, with layouts, platforms and even graphics that could have been lifted straight from any of the New Super Mario Bros games. But the screen is portrait rather than landscape, and there are no direction controls – you have to keep moving forward.

There are also a hell of a lot more coins to be collected, because that’s the real aim of the game. Instead of simply getting from A to B in a set time, you are encouraged to nab as many coins on the way. There are also special coins to be found and secured, which reward you with in-game swag if you manage to get all five on a level. They come in three different colours and difficulties, starting with pink, then purple and finally black, so give you plenty of excuse to return and play through the same level many times.

Indeed, you’ll find you need to as collecting all five special coins is tricky, especially as Mario doesn’t stop to enjoy the view. You’ll need a couple of run throughs to learn the layout and locations. But there’s another mechanism that helps too. Like with the more recent 2D Mario titles, you get bubbles that can either be manually activated or spent when you lose a life.

These take you backwards through the level, floating in the sky. Pop the bubble where you want to revert to and you have a chance to take another run at a special coin or tricky jump, without having to do the entire level again. You have to be conscious that there are only a couple of bubbles to be used per level, and the timer doesn’t replenish so you might not give yourself enough time to finish, but it’s a handy extra feature to have in an emergency.

Super Mario Run review: Levels

At launch, the single-player World Tour mode has six worlds, each with four levels, including at least one boss level per world. And only three of the levels in world one are available for free – everything else unlocks after you pay the £7.99 entrance fee.

There is another mode that you can play for free though: Toad Rally. In this, the gameplay itself is similar – you travel across a level collecting coins – but this time you are competing with the ghost character of another real-world player. And style is rewarded as much as coin collection.

Perform cool manoeuvres and you’ll earn the adulation of toads – a crowd of them will expand at the bottom of the screen as you play and their support will be added to your coin score. The winner is the one with the biggest score.

You are limited to how many times you can play a Rally, with in-game tickets paying for each go. But these replenish over time and Nintendo makes good on its promise that there is no encouragement to buy more with real money.

There are further rewards for playing either of the modes. The coins you collect in the game can be spent on buildings and scenery for your kingdom – a little area that doubles as a personalised screen and menu. And some of the objects you place can give you additional levels and bonuses, such as a Bonus Game House you’ll get near the beginning which sends you to a bonus coin-gathering level that is available a few times every day.

You can also link the game to your Nintendo account and purchase further in-game items through completing achievements – we quickly found we could afford a new character – Toad – to play with instead of Mario himself. Again none of these ask for real money to be spent, which will come as a godsend for parents.

Super Mario Run review: No offline mode

Bar the price to unlock the rest of the game, there is one other caveat that cannot be left unsaid. Miyamoto and Nintendo decided that, to combat piracy and bake the social aspects of the game into every mode, Super Mario Run will only work when your device is connected to the internet, either via Wi-Fi or mobile broadband. It doesn’t need an especially fast connection, but needs one nonetheless.

That means you cannot even play the single-player mode when offline – when on a Tube train or plane, for example. And you might want to reconsider if you’re thinking of playing it abroad in a country with astronomical data roaming fees. It basically means that you cannot play the game in many circumstances where you’d want to most. And when you’ve coughed up £7.99 for the privilege you’d like to be able to play it whenever you want.

Verdict

Issues aside, Super Mario Run is a fine example of Nintendo and Miyamoto’s mastery in level design and gameplay. It is so simple a concept that a young child could pick up and play it, while the structure is clever enough that you’ll be studying levels for every nuance and routes to earn the maximum amount of wonga.

Yes, it is very expensive for an iPhone, iPad app, but it’s actually cheap in comparison to Mario games on Nintendo’s own consoles. We wish you’d got more for the free version – at least the boss level at the end of world one – but there’s still plenty to do and see. And there’s more than enough of a tease for you to consider loosening your purse strings.

Indeed, it will be an enormous hit no doubt, maybe even on a par with Pokemon Go. And let’s hope that Nintendo updates it with additional content as regularly as Niantic does its megastar mobile game. An offline mode certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

Until then, we’ll be thoroughly absorbed and addicted like everyone else.

It took a while for Mario to arrive on mobile, but now he is, we feel he’s here to stay.

15
Dec

ASUS’ ROG Strix GL502VS is a mid-range (and VR-ready) gaming laptop


The idea of a “gaming laptop” usually brings to mind one of two images: an oversize laptop with enough power to rival a desktop machine, or a shockingly thin (and expensive) notebook that punches above its weight. Somewhere in between you’ll find 15-inch systems like the ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS, a gaming laptop small and light enough to lug around, yet thick enough to house the sort of powerful internals you’d need to play just about any game you want. Though it’s not a premium machine by any means, the Strix strikes a nice balance between power and portability.

Design

Spotting a gaming laptop in a crowded coffee shop is easy — just look for the loudest, most garish machine in the room. Indeed, ASUS’ Strix wouldn’t take long to find: The laptop’s otherwise subdued chassis is adorned with glowing neon orange highlights. Colorful touches against a dark frame are a common design trope in gaming notebooks, but the Strix’s obnoxiously bright shade of orange is the ultimate “look at me” color, with accents everywhere from the speaker grilles, logos, WASD keycaps, and keyboard lettering to the touchpad. It’s also the machine’s only visual flair; apart from the dim red hue of the Strix’s air vent, the rest of the chassis is a study in black plastic and straight lines.

The Strix lacks the premium feel of an aluminum milled machine, but the trade-off is worth it: The plastic chassis makes this relatively light for a midsize gaming laptop, weighing in at just over five pounds. It doesn’t feel cheap for the sake of the material either — a brushed plastic palm rest mimics the look and feel of the single aluminum plate adorning the lid. It’s a handsome machine, and a fairly portable one too. All told, its 1.18-inch-thick frame is just thin enough to comfortably fit my backpack’s laptop sleeve.

Those thick edges leave plenty of room for connectivity too, including three USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, an SD card reader, Ethernet and outputs for HDMI and Mini DisplayPort. Worried the next generation of peripherals will leave you in the dust? Don’t. The Strix also has a single USB Type-C connector. Not bad.

Keyboard and trackpad

You could use the Strix’s keyboard to write home, but you wouldn’t. It’s nothing special. That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with it; the Strix’s well-spaced keys offer 1.6mm of travel and land with a firm but not hard stop. It’s a perfectly serviceable keyboard with little to add to the experience apart from a dark red backlight. In fact, the only thing that sets it apart from any other is an ASUS standard: The company has replaced the ten-key pad’s Num Lock toggle with a dedicated button for calling up its ROG Gaming Center software (more on that later).

It’s mostly a harmless change, but vigorous typists may accidentally find themselves launching ASUS’ gaming suite when they mean to strike the backspace key. Well, I did anyway. The keyboard at least has standard “gaming keyboard” features, including a set of colored WASD keycaps (draped in the same obnoxious orange as the rest of the laptop’s highlights) and anti-ghosting support for up to 30 simultaneous key presses.

The trackpad, on the other hand, can be a bit flighty. The large, smooth mousing surface works fine for basic cursor manipulation, but I found it unreliable when it came to multi-touch gestures. On more than one occasion, the surface misread two-finger scrolling as a zoom pinch. At least once, too, it misinterpreted my attempt to pinch the zoom back to normal as a scroll. Most of the time, it reads either gesture just fine, but these are the kind of issues that have long given Windows touchpads a bad reputation. Combined with the pad’s stiff buttons, this trackpad feels like a step backward.

Display and audio

The display here has everything you could ask for from a gaming laptop: a non-reflective screen with wide viewing angles, deep contrast and bright, beautiful colors. In fact, ASUS says the Strix’s panel covers 98 percent of Adobe’s RGB color space and 100 percent of the sRGB standard. That’s great for gamers, but even better for folks using the machine to do video editing or Photoshop work.

Laptop audio is almost never remarkable, but the Strix’s speakers are somewhat notable. Instead of flanking the keyboard, like on most laptops, the Strix’s speakers live on either side of the touchpad. It’s sort of clever: The speakers’ already clear sound pops just a little more by dint of being closer to the user. It’s nice. Beyond that trick, however, the audio seems to be on par with that of other gaming laptops: clear, but not particularly deep. As always, a good equalizer goes a long way; turning off the ROG Gaming Center’s audio enhancements leaves the machine sounding a bit dull.

The Strix also comes equipped with a trio of microphones designed to filter out ambient sounds, but the array failed in my recording tests to remove noise from a fan on the other end of my house or even the sound of passing traffic. There may be three laptop microphones in this gaming rig, but at the end of the day they’re still just laptop microphones.

Performance and battery life

ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS (2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ , NVIDIA GTX 1070 620) 5,132 6,757 E15,335 / P13,985 25,976 2.14 GB/s / 1.2 GB/s
HP Spectre x360 (2016, 2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,515 4,354 E2,656 / P1,720 / X444 3,743 1.76 GB/s / 579 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga 910 (2.7GHz Core i7-7500U, 8GB, Intel HD 620) 5,822 4,108

E2,927 / P1,651 / X438

3,869 1.59 GB/s / 313 MB/s
Razer Blade (Fall 2016) (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,462 3,889 E3,022 / P1,768 4,008 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
Razer Blade (Fall 2016) + Razer Core (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, NVIDIA GTX 1080) 5,415 4,335 E11,513 / P11,490 16,763 1.05 GB/s / 281 MB/s
ASUS ZenBook 3 (2.7GHz Intel Core-i7-7500U, Intel HD 620) 5,448 3,911 E2,791 / P1,560 3,013 1.67 GB/s / 1.44 GB/s
HP Spectre 13 (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,046 3,747 E2,790 / P1,630 / X375 3,810 1.61 GB/s / 307 MB/s
Dell XPS 13 (2.3GHz Core i5-6200U, Intel Graphics 520) 4,954 3,499 E2,610 / P1,531 3,335 1.6GB/s / 307 MB/s
Razer Blade Stealth (2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, Intel HD 520) 5,131 3,445 E2,788 / P1,599 / X426 3,442 1.5 GB/s / 307 MB/s

So how do you make up for a gaming laptop’s gaudy orange highlights and the disappointment of a mediocre touchpad? By overshadowing them with high-end internals and excellent gaming performance. With a 2.6GHz Intel i7-6700HQ CPU (3.5GHz with Turbo boost), 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage on top of a 256GB SSD boot drive, the Strix handled my workload with aplomb. Still, we don’t buy gaming laptops to manage cloud documents, chat applications, music players and Photoshop; we buy them to play games. So how’d ASUS’ kit do? Just fine, thank you.

The Strix’s NVIDIA GeForce 1070 GPU didn’t completely shrug off my PC game library, but it certainly kept pace with it. Games like TitanFall 2, Just Cause 3, Hitman and Battlefield 1 all maintained solid frame rates of 60 to 90 fps on their highest graphic settings, though Battlefield 1 could occasionally drop into the high 40s on busier multiplayer maps. More demanding titles like The Witcher 3 and Watch Dogs 2 dipped just below the 60-fps threshold on “Ultra” settings, but could be coaxed above it with a few tweaks. All told, there wasn’t a single game in my library the Strix couldn’t comfortably play at its highest settings. Well, at least not until you put those games in virtual reality.

That’s right, we’re living in a new era of gaming laptops — an age when any machine worth its salt will bear a “VR Ready” sticker. The Strix is the first of this breed to land on Engadget’s review desk. With a score of 6,135 in VRMark’s “Orange Room” benchmark (and 1,640 in the more intensive “Blue Room” experience), the GL502VS is indeed a VR-capable gaming PC. It can run pretty much everything available in today’s consumer virtual reality market. It can’t, however, play all those VR games at their highest fidelity.

The laptop can run most virtual reality titles at their default settings, but configuring games like Raw Data and Serious Sam VR on Ultra can give the Strix serious pause. Pushing these games to the max turned their virtual landscapes into laggy, stuttering realities, resulting in the kind of head-tracking delays and low frame rates that can lead to nausea and VR headaches.

Fortunately, you’d really have to go out of your way to get a bad experience: Few VR games offer configurable graphics for this very reason, and everything I ran on the Strix played beautifully on default settings. That’s more than good enough for the first generation of PC VR games, but you also shouldn’t consider the machine future-proof by any means. Still, it’s good enough for now. Keep your virtual worlds tuned for performance, and not visual fidelity, and you’ll be happy.

Battery life

ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS
3:03
Surface Book with Performance Base (2016)
16:15
Surface Book (Core i5, integrated graphics)
13:54 / 3:20 (tablet only)
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, no Touch Bar)
11:42
HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2015)
11:34
Surface Book (Core i7, discrete graphics)
11:31 / 3:02 (tablet only)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch, 2015)
11:23
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (15-inch)
11:00
iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2015)
10:47
HP Spectre x360 15t
10:17
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 (13-inch, Touch Bar)
9:55
ASUS ZenBook 3
9:45
Apple MacBook (2016)
8:45
Samsung Notebook 9
8:16
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
7:15
HP Spectre 13
7:07
Razer Blade Stealth (Spring 2016)
5:48
Razer Blade Stealth (Fall 2016)
5:36
Dell XPS 15 (2016)
5:25 (7:40 with the mobile charger)

Gaming laptops rarely get good battery life, and the GL502VS is no exception. In Engadget’s standard battery test (where we loop an HD video at fixed brightness until exhaustion), the Strix barely lasted three hours. Sadly, that’s barely below par for the majority of larger gaming laptops, but still: It’s disappointing. When competitors like Alienware, Razer and HP can make high-performance rigs that last between six and eight hours, three is just underwhelming. ASUS can, and probably should, do better.

Software

As the years go on, manufacturer pack-in software has become less and less necessary. Most laptop builders have done away with branded update tools, display managers and audio filters. ASUS hasn’t, but its software suites get slimmer year by year. In the past, ASUS’ ROG Gaming Center application served as a hub for half a dozen purpose-built programs for adjusting the audio equalizer, tweaking screen settings and configuring keyboard macros. Now all of that is simply integrated into the main application. Unfortunately, that app is unintuitive and messy and doesn’t even do much.

The ROG Gaming Center will let you adjust the color temperature of your screen (including normal, vivid, manual and “eye care” modes); choose from five audio presets; and disable the Windows key. But that’s about it. There’s an “advanced tuning” button as well as a system resource monitor, but these features just replicate the functions of the built-in Windows Task Manager. Being able to tweak screen and audio presets in one place is nice, but it’s not useful enough to warrant a dedicated keyboard button. If only the software suite included a key mapper — at least then the laptop’s ROG button might be able to do something useful.

The Strix does pack in one more standard ASUS gaming application: the Gamefirst network manager. This program isn’t necessary, but it is sort of neat, offering users an overview of their PC’s internet activity. Want to know what programs are using the most bandwidth, or prioritize Steam over Chrome for downloads? You can do that here.

Configuration options and the competition

My $1,700 review unit came with the maximum specifications ASUS offers for its Strix laptops: an Intel Core i7-6700HQ 2.6GHz CPU (3.6GHz with Turbo Boost), 16GB of RAM, 1TB of onboard storage with a 256GB SSD boot drive, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics chip. Downgrading the GPU on that machine to NVIDIA’s GTX 1060M will save you $200.

To cut the price by another $120 and change, be prepared to give up the “VR Ready” sticker, cut the solid-state storage in half and settle for last year’s GTX 970M GPU. Finally, bottom-dollar buyers can find a $1,200 model with the same CPU and RAM as our review unit, sans solid-state drive and paired with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX970M graphics card. ASUS says additional configurations exist too, but they vary from one country to another.

Not sure this is the right 15-inch gaming rig for you? You have plenty of other options: Dell’s Alienware 15 comes in an array of VR-Ready configurations between $1,350 and $1,750, with plenty of RAM, fast processors and NVIDIA GTX 1060 graphics chips — but you’ll need to shell out $2,150 for the top model if you want to match the Strix’s GTX 1070. MSI’s GT652VR Dominator is a close match to our review laptop as well, but it’ll cost you $100 more and leave you with half the RAM.

If you don’t mind having a slightly larger screen, the best bang-for-your-buck alternative might be HP’s 17-inch Omen, which can be configured with the same processor and GPU as the Strix for only $1,500. The trade-off: It ships with only 512GB of storage.

Wrap-up

ASUS’ Republic of Gamers brand has a strong pedigree for reasonably priced, powerful gaming laptops, and the GL502VS Strix is exactly that: a mid-range gaming rig that can handle just about anything you might throw at it, even virtual reality. Some garish flourishes, subpar battery life and a disappointing trackpad keep it from being a truly excellent machine, but for those looking to split the difference between the category’s large, overpowered gaming rigs and its expensive ultraportables, the Strix is a solid choice.

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