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23
Jan

Kubik is a colorful, easy, and fun 3D puzzler (review)


OK, a show of hands: Who here has never heard of Tetris?
Nobody? Thought so.

Now, another show of hands: Who here can’t just play a single game of Tetris, but instead quickly become convinced that the turn on it will be the all-time high score. Ah, right again.

We are light years beyond Tetris’s heyday, but the basic principle still has plenty of appeal: a simple game with simple mechanics, lots of colors, short but repeatable gameplay, and even some social appeal (“I can do better than you can!”).

Enter Kubik, a game from the developer Ketchapp Games. Sight unseen, consider it a slimmed-down, 3D version of the ever-popular Tetris. The game is very family-friendly (though younger children may struggle a bit with the 3D spatial relations involved to play) but adults would also enjoy this title, too.
Ketchapp Games has dozens of games available on the Play Store, including “Don’t Step on the White Tile” (a game my kiddos still pick up and play after more than a year later).

Setup

Setup is very easy; just download from the Play Store and enter the game. There Screenshot_2017-01-09-22-15-44extremely little in the way of settings or options. Essentially you can turn the background music and subtle sound effects on or off, buy some of the premium world bases up front, and check the leaderboard. Other than that, it’s a big pulsating ‘TAP TO PLAY’ icon square in the middle of the screen to get you going.

Gameplay

Gameplay is very solid; it works just like the old Tetris, but with a 3D element added to it. You start with a bare 3 square x 3 square grid at the bottom. From above the screen drop down geometric shapes of various sizes and geometries (again these are essentially the same shapes that are in Tetris but with a 3rd dimension to them).

Screenshot_2017-01-09-22-17-53Your job is to spin the grid at the bottom using basic left and right screen swipes, lining up the shapes on top of one another to make the most efficient block tower possible. You want to leave air spaces at a minimum, as with them your tower can grow quickly. If it hits a certain height (shown by a super-imposed indicator).

I found the gameplay to actually be pretty easy. The speed at which this game moves is almost “slow”…..but it’s kinda nice respite from a lot of current games that put an almost-impossible expectation on your supposed cat-like reflexes (I don’t have any of those).

Additionally, the game also lights up the particular squares that the currently-falling block will land on. Rotate the floor, and it will update the squares that will be landed on. While this does assist in making Kubik kind of easy, it does do a great job in preventing the game from being unplayable, in my opinion. Trying to guess which squares would be landed on, only to be proven wrong again and again…..I would have uninstalled this game in short Screenshot_2017-01-09-22-19-29order. Thankfully that’s not the case at all here. If you are certain of the falling block’s location, a simple screen tap will speed it’s drop to full free-fall to get to the next piece faster.

The only real upgrade available is in the “world” that your floor happens to sit on. They don’t offer any strategic or performance enhancements, but hey, they sure are cute.

Visuals and Audio

You can probably guess by now that I’m a fan of the visuals in this game. The colors are solid but a bit muted, and the motion throughout the game is buttery-smooth. It almost can lull you to sleep it’s so nice.
Which brings us to Kubik’s audio. There are very few and subtle sound effects (little ‘plinks’ and ‘dunks’ for game action. I think the background music is love-it-or-hate-it, as it’s has a twangy new-age/zen feel to it that will either have you enjoying yourself immensely or looking for that mute button. But in the end it does work for this game, as the overall feel isn’t hyper-competitive mayhem, but relaxed distraction.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed Kubik; it knows what it wants to be, and almost completely succeeds. My Screenshot_2017-01-09-22-19-55only personal want is to manually dial the difficulty up or down, based on the player or the mood. But other than that it’s a perfect Tetris alternative in this 3D, touchscreen world we’re living in.

Download Kubik from the Play Store here.

23
Jan

New year, new gear? Keep charged up with one of iClever’s solutions


Have you recently found yourself as the proud owner of a new phone or tablet? What are you using to keep it charged up? If you’re like most of us, you likely need more than one wall charger for your stuff. We like to keep one in the bedroom, one in the living room, one at work, and one in the bag. Right?

Some of you are likely transitioning away from devices that use microUSB ports and now rely on USB Type-C connections. This means that a lot of the cords and chargers you were using last year are not going to cut it in 2017. It’s time to upgrade to new stuff.

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We’ve received, and spent time with, a handful of products from iClever, all of which are designed to help keep your gear charged up. Note that these were offered to us at no cost and under no obligation for promotional consideration. With that said, we found each of the following to be handy and affordable solutions for customers looking to juice up a phone or other gadget.

iclever_stock2UC01 30W PD USB-C Wall Charger

For those of you who need a straight up extra USB charger, this is that device. With 30W power delivery, it’s exactly what you need for a phone or tablet, or laptop. Normally retails for about $24.99 but we’ve found it for $22.99 at Amazon.

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UC02 30W Dual USB Wall Charger with USB- C and SmartID

Should you want something that charges up your USB Type-C phone and another device at the same time, you’ll want to check this one out. The back has a USB Type-C on the upper half with a USB port with SmartID speed charging below. Plug in your tablet or Quick Charge phone (USB 2.0/3.0 supported) and charge up as quickly it can handle. Snag one for about $19.99 from Amazon.

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TC04B 40W 4 Port USB Wall Charger

Powerful and compact, this one is in a 40W/8A 4-port output wall charger that delivers some up to 2.4 amps, per port, for any USB-enabled devices. Indeed, it does the trick for all four at once. Throw this one in a bag with your cables and you can leave three bulky blocks at home. Pick it up for $19.99 at Amazon.

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IC-BS03 Surge Protector Power Strip

If your situation calls for charging up multiple traditional devices and those with USB ports, the surge protector is your one-stop-shop. You’ll get six AC outlets and six USB ports, each with SmartID technology up to 2.4A charging. Comes with an 18-month warranty and a 4230 Joules Rating. A heck of a deal for $25.99 at Amazon.

23
Jan

This travel charger has a 3000mAh battery built-in for just $20 today!


Right now you can pick up Belkin’s 3-in-1 travel charger for just $20 at B&H Photo, a savings of $40 from its regular price. With a 3000mAh battery built-in, you’ll be able to charge your phones, tablets, and more while on the go with ease. Once you reach your destination you’ll be able to plug it into the wall and utilize its two wall plugs and single USB slot, while being protected from surges as well. The battery pack is super small, so you can easily stick it in your travel bag or purse and not have to worry about it.

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If you are looking to make charging while on the go easier, you won’t want to miss out on this deal. The $20 price is only good for today, January 23, so don’t wait too long to make your purchase!

See at B&H Photo

23
Jan

AT&T simplifies international roaming with $10/day plan, perfectly mirroring Verizon


Traveling internationally is extremely exciting, but can also make you cringe at your cellular bill.

AT&T is completely simplifying and improving its international data plans this week by moving to a flat daily fee structure, replacing its previous offering of charging you based on megabytes of data and minutes of calls. The new plan, called the “International Day Pass”, simply charges you $10 per day to use your phone in any supported roaming country.

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The new plan closely mirrors what Verizon switched to several months ago, which also charges you $10 per day to access your monthly domestic data bucket. Now on AT&T, when you add the International Day Pass to your account, it’s automatically activated whenever you travel abroad and auto-renews each day you remain out of the country (unless you cancel it outright). You’re only charged when you spend time internationally, which gives you a seamless experience.

More: International data: How the U.S. carriers compare

Prior to the change, you would have to load your account with buckets of 200, 400, or 800MB of data for up to $120. Now, that $120 that used to only get you 800MB of data can instead give you 12 consecutive days of worry-free international roaming, drawing from the monthly data you pay for already.

The only caveat on the plan is about data usage while abroad, which incidentally is exactly the same as Verizon’s international roaming terms:

International Day Pass feature may be removed if international voice, text, or data usage exceeds 50% of total voice, text, or data usage for two consecutive months.

So under those terms, that means you can’t go 2 months straight using a majority of your data internationally using the International Day Pass. An odd restriction for sure, considering you’re paying for your domestic data plan and paying again to access that plan internationally. If you take a few international trips over the course of 2 months, you could easily break this rule, so be aware of this restriction.

23
Jan

Google Voice receives massive redesign, rolling out today for Android, iOS and the web


It’s happening. It’s really, really happening.

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It turns out the tease was not a lie: Google Voice is receiving much-needed attention for the first time in 5 years. The redesign comes across all platforms — the web, Android, and iOS — and completely starts from scratch on the interface and features while retaining the same core experience that has kept loyal Google Voice users around this whole time.

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Continued support for Voice? This truly is a magical day.

The new interface across the web and apps looks entirely fresh and clean, with better organization of different parts of the experience. Messages, calls, and voicemails are kept in separate tabs, and conversations with a single person are grouped together into cohesive threads. After dabbling with it and having half-baked support for years, Google is finally putting its foot down to say that Voice now supports group and photo MMS messaging as well. On the app front, you’ll also find the option to directly reply from notifications.

Google says that if you’re still using Hangouts for your Google Voice experience you can continue to do so, but chances are you’ll be scrambling to try the new app and website as soon as possible. The brand new website and apps are rolling out today, but perhaps equally as important is that Google claims it will continue to iterate on the new design and introduce new features in the future. Continued support for Voice? This truly is a magical day.

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23
Jan

Best flash drives to expand your NVIDIA Shield Android TV’s storage


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It’s cheap and easy to expand the internal storage of your set top box.

The latest revision of the NVIDIA Shield Android TV may have lost its SD card slot, but it still has two perfectly good USB 3.0 ports that can work to expand your internal storage. You can attach just about anything to those ports, but with just 16GB of internal storage, many will want to fill one with an inexpensive flash drive that can be adopted into the system and work just as if it were internal storage.

NVIDIA actually makes a great set of recommendations for which flash drives work best with your Shield, and having done some research on them ourselves, we want to point out which ones are the drives to go with.

Samsung 128GB BAR USB 3.0 Flash Drive

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Samsung’s “bar” flash drives are simple and offer really good value for the money. While you can get a sturdier (and flashier) metal version of this drive, if you plan to just leave it in the back of your Shield Android TV, you can save some money and get the dark blue plastic version. As a bonus, it’ll better fit in with the dark plastic of the Shield itself.

You can get 32, 64, or 128GB of storage, ranging in price from $18 to $29, which is a great price per gigabyte (especially at the 128GB level) for a USB 3.0 flash drive. The drive is pretty compact as well, so it shouldn’t get in the way of any cable routing you’re trying to do.

See at Amazon

SanDisk Extreme 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive

sandisk-extreme-128gb-usb-3-flash-drive-

The SanDisk “Extreme” name carries a lot of weight for some people as a drive that has the best possible performance and reliability. And if that’s something that appeals to you and you’re willing to pay a bit extra for the quality, you can get a SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 flash drive for your Shield Android TV.

This one’s considerably larger than the rest on this list, but depending on your entertainment center configuration, that may not be an issue. Despite it being physically large, you don’t get more in the way of storage: choose from 16, 32, 64, or 128GB, ranging in price from $22 to $65. Once again, that’s more expensive, but perhaps you put some stock in that name and the claimed higher read/write speeds.

See at Amazon

SanDisk Ultra Fit 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive

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On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the SanDisk Extreme is the SanDisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0 drive, which is absolutely tiny. It’s about the size of a typical USB wireless receiver you may have plugged into a computer at some point, yet it still carries up to 128GB in storage capacity.

With a drive this tiny, you won’t have any chance of seeing it poking out from the back of your Shield Android TV, which could be extremely useful if you’re trying to have a slick and perfectly managed entertainment setup. You can take your pick of 32, 64, or 128GB storage for $15 to $32, which is still very reasonable. This is the one to get if your top feature is the physical size of the drive.

See at Amazon

SanDisk Ultra CZ48 256GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive

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We’ve all heard it before: “go big or go home,” right? SanDisk has the USB 3.0 drive for you with its Ultra 256GB model, doubling the max storage available from any of the other drives on this list. You still get the well-known name and speed classification, but the larger storage gives you even more room for apps, games, and media.

You’ll pay $60 for the 256GB SanDisk Ultra drive, which is a pretty solid price-per-gigabyte value when you look at it. This flash drive is probably overkill for most people who will be better served with a 64 or 128GB drive, but we’re not going to tell you that you don’t deserve a full 256GB hanging out behind your Shield Android TV.

See at Amazon

What’s your go-to?

Do you have a favorite flash drive that you’ll always go back to? What do you use with your Shield Android TV? Let us know in the comments below.

NVIDIA Shield Android TV

  • Read our Shield Android TV review
  • The latest Shield Android TV news
  • Shield vs. Shield Pro: Which should I buy?
  • Join the forum discussion
  • Complete Shield Android TV specs

Amazon

23
Jan

Android Instant Apps seeing limited launch today, will open up further over time


You’ll soon be able to run parts of apps without installing anything.

After learning about Google’s new “Android Instant Apps” initiative back at Google I/O 2016, they are finally ready for live trials in the real world. Google has worked with Android developers at BuzzFeed, Wish, Periscope, and Viki to make the first Android Instant apps.

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When an app is designed to be an Android Instant App, it lets users download and run specific parts of it without downloading and installing a complete APK file. For example, when tapping on a result in Google search, that link could load you into what looks like a complete native app to perform whatever basic functions you’re looking for. With a couple more taps, the rest of the app can be downloaded in the background and installed for full functionality.

Android Instant Apps is a huge deal, but only once it’s fully available.

Not only does this dramatically improve the on-boarding process of grabbing new users quickly, bypassing the usual barrier of downloading a large file and waiting for installation, but it also helps free up space on your phone when you only need small portions of an app for a single task.

Unfortunately for eager developers, Android Instant Apps is only launching as a trial with the aforementioned apps right now while Google collects user feedback to see how the product works in the real world. Developers can get ready for the launch of Android Instant Apps by modularizing their app into easy-to-use components and taking a few preemptive steps, but the full SDK won’t be available for a few more months.

On the user side, you won’t really notice much — and that’s kind of the idea. When following links that would normally send you either to a simplified mobile page or directly to the Play Store for an app, you may now see this simplified Android app interface instead — that’s when you know you’re using an Instant App. There’s an easy user interface flow to download the complete app, or just back out when you’re done with your first task.

23
Jan

China just made VPNs illegal


Chinese authorities block access to big-name websites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and numerous others, and to thwart these restrictions, many residents on the mainland use virtual private networks. Starting this week, that could be a crime. Use of VPNs and special cable connections in China must now be approved by the government, essentially making these services illegal in the country.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the new rules on Sunday, as reported by the South China Morning Post. Calling it a “clean-up” of the country’s internet connections, the Ministry said the new rules would go live immediately and be in place until March 31st, 2018.

VPNs are already subject to government scrutiny and interference in China. The most recent, large-scale crackdown on VPNs happened in March 2016, during the National People’s Congress meeting in Beijing, SCMP says.

As The Washington Post points out, China’s new VPN and cable regulations are purposefully vague. It’s unclear how the government will implement or enforce these rules, but the language in the announcement suggests Chinese officials are taking aim at companies who provide VPN services to individual citizens, rather than professionals working for multinational corporations in the country.

Last week, in stark contrast to the Ministry’s new VPN rules, Chinese leader Xi Jinping defended the tenets of globalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We must redouble efforts to develop global connectivity to enable all countries to achieve inter-connected growth and share prosperity. … Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air,” he said.

China isn’t the only country that censors internet access: Authorities in Egypt, Russia, Cuba, Bahrain, Turkey, Vietnam and other nations also routinely interrupt connections, particularly during times of political strife. In July, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the state-sponsored disruption of internet access and upheld online privacy as an essential facet of freedom of expression.

Via: The Washington Post

Source: South China Morning Post

23
Jan

Cassette sales actually went up in 2016


We’re barely a month into the new year, but it’s already clear some of us still want to live in the past. Case in point: US cassette tape sales actually grew in 2016, with a whopping 129,000 copies sold. That might not be as many as the number of vinyl albums sold in the same year (13.1 million!), but it’s an impressive 74 percent increase from the 74,000 sold in 2015.

There are a few reasons for this growth. Specialty cassette albums from Justin Bieber and The Weeknd certainly contributed, each selling close to a thousand copies, while re-issued versions of Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP and Prince and The Revolution’s Purple Rain sold 3,000 and 2,000 units respectively. The Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 soundtrack was the most popular, having sold about 4,000 copies each in 2016 and 2015. Fans of the movie no doubt wanted to get their hands on the album, considering it looks like an exact replica of the tape that protagonist Star-Lord plays on repeat.

Most of the tapes (43 percent) were sold online, while the rest were bought at independent retailers, non-traditional music stores like Urban Outfitters, as well as chains and mass merchants. Last year’s Cassette Store Day, which took place on October 8th, also boosted sales. A large chunk of cassettes reportedly get sent to prisons, where the old-fashioned medium is one of very few ways inmates are allowed to listen to music.

Via: Billboard

Source: Nielsen Music

23
Jan

‘Star Wars: Episode VIII’ is called ‘The Last Jedi’


Holster those blasters. Turn off your lightsaber. Something important has just happened. The powers that be at Disney and Lucasfilm have decided to reveal the full name for Star Wars: Episode VIII today, which graces movie theaters on December 15th, 2017. Ready? The Last Jedi. Yep, that’s it. We know little else about the movie, other than it’ll feature one mister Luke Skywalker and the new generation of galactic butt-kicking heroes, Rey, Finn and Poe. Oh, and presumably the angst-ridden Kylo Ren will show up too. If you’re keeping count, there’s just 326 more days to wait…

It’s official. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is the next chapter of the Skywalker saga. This December. #TheLastJedi https://t.co/ySkVwQcMTP pic.twitter.com/eHrPgbsRJq

— Star Wars (@starwars) January 23, 2017

Source: Star Wars

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