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Xbox One update will ditch the console’s signature Snap mode

The Xbox One’s Snap mode was a major selling point on launch — it was supposed to your console into a multitasking powerhouse that lets you play a game while watching TV or tracking achievements. It’s a resource hog, however, and Microsoft now believes that it’s time for a change. The company’s Mike Ybarra has revealed that Snap is disappearing in order to boost performance. It’ll improve multitasking, memory demands and “overall speed,” he says. It’ll also clear resources for “bigger things,” although Ybarra offers no clues as to what that means.

Snap should disappear with the next big Dashboard update, which emphasizes performance and a redesigned Guide that fulfills some Snap tasks (such as background music controls). It doesn’t mean that simultaneous on-screen apps will never come back, though. Now that the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs can sometimes run the same software, there’s a strong incentive to run games and more functional apps at the same time. It may just be a question of how you run them.

Via: The Verge

Source: Mike Ybarra (Twitter)


Apple to Build 200 Megawatts of Solar Energy in Nevada Through NV Energy Partnership

Apple and Nevada energy company NV Energy today announced a new agreement that will see the two partnering to build 200 megawatts of additional solar energy in Nevada by 2019, which will support Apple’s data center in Reno, Nevada.

NV Energy will soon enter into a power purchase agreement for the solar power plant, and in the future, Apple will dedicate up to five megawatts of power to NV’s upcoming subscription solar program.

Image of Apple’s Reno data center via the Reno Gazette-Journal

“Investing in innovative clean energy sources is vital to Apple’s commitment to reaching, and maintaining, 100 percent renewable energy across all our operations,” said Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives Lisa Jackson. “Our partnership with NV Energy helps assure our customers their iMessages, FaceTime video chats and Siri inquiries are powered by clean energy, and supports efforts to offer the choice of green energy to Nevada residents and businesses.”

Apple has expanded its Reno data center multiple times over the course of the last few years, and is working on a second data center at the same location. Apple’s data centers, including the Reno center, are powered by renewable energy, much of which is derived from solar panel farms located nearby the centers.

Apple started building a Reno solar farm back in 2013, and will now expand on it.
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Galaxy Tab S3 leaks reveal Samsung’s next iPad rival

Samsung may finally be ready to launch its long-awaited Galaxy Tab S3. It was expected to be released way back in September at IFA 2016, but alas, nothing showed up. Since then, specifications have allegedly been uncovered by Weibo, and picked up by Sammobile.

  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 review: A genuine iPad rival?

Weibo’s source claims the iPad rival will come with Samsung’s own Exynos 7420 processor, backed up by 4GB of RAM. However there has since been a conficting report from GFXBench, which says the Galaxy Tab S3 will in fact be powered by a Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, along with 4GB of RAM.

It’s hard to say right now which processor will be used. Samsung did use it’s own for the Galaxy Tab S2, and the Exynos 7420 is one of the company’s latest. We’ll have to wait for more spec leaks or the official unveiling to find out for sure.

The GFXBench specs also reveal a 2048 x 1536 9.7in display and Android 7.0 Nougat out-the-box.

The Weibo posting says the Galaxy Tab S3 will get UFS 2.0 (Universal Flash Storage) which should result in a slight boost in speed when accessing files and opening apps. Elsewhere there should be a fingerprint scanner and USB Type-C port, there’s no word on whether it will come with a 3.5mm headphone jack. Considering the Galaxy S8 smartphone is expected to hold on to port, we’d hazard a guess and say the tablet will too.

The rear camera is said to be 12-megapixels and internal storage should be 32GB, just like its predecessor.

Sammobile has previously said there will be two version of the Galaxy Tab S3 in terms of screen sizes. The only one we know about so far has a 9.7-inch display. The Galaxy Tab S2 was available in 9.7 and 8in variants, so we expect Samsung to carry this through with the S3. There is also said to be Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi with LTE variants, too.

  • Apple iPad Pro 9.7 vs iPad Air 2: What’s the difference?
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 vs S8 edge: What’s the story so far?

There’s no official word on when we can expect to see the Galaxy Tab S3 appear, but with Mobile World Congress fast approaching, we’d hope for an unveiling or at least an update soon.


HoloLens is helping engineers visualize building blueprints

With its ability to give the real world a digital assist, mixed reality can be much more useful than the insular cocoon of VR. Microsoft is showing again how HoloLens can help designers via a collaboration with the University of Cambridge’s construction IT lab. “We’ve never been able to bring 3D models from buildings and bridges off our screens and onto the real structure,” says Cambridge’s Ionnis Brilakis. Using the HoloLens, however, engineers can overlay a design onto a real world bridge or building (or vice-versa), making inspections simpler and safer.

The researchers showed two potential use cases for the HoloLens. In the first, called “automated progress monitoring,” inspectors can actually “bring the design information to the construction site” via Microsoft’s HoloLens Sketchup Viewer, says grad student Marianna Kopsida. That way, they can visualize relevant engineering data onsite in order to check building progress and take corrective actions where needed.

In the other scenario, inspectors take high resolution photos on the building site, bring the data back to the office, and overlay it onto a 3D model of the project. “This copy is fully textured, data-rich and an exact replica that can be used for condition testing … to find problems with the structure,” says Cambridge researcher Philipp Huethwohl. That would let inspectors avoid physical inspections, keeping them out of danger and allowing bridges and other structures to remain open.

The research shows that Microsoft is positioning HoloLens as a professional tool and not just a cool way to play Minecraft. Having worked on construction sites, I can imagine the amusement if an inspector were to show up in a VR headset, not to mention the impracticality of mixed reality compared to using real plans. Nevertheless, the device has already shown tons of promise for design and architectural visualization, and given that projects will be fully digital, why not take that data into the field, too?

Source: Microsoft


Roli Blocks are fun for music making but need some fine-tuning

I’ve played instruments for most of my life, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve had less time for jamming with bands. That’s led me to consider dabbling in electronic instruments that would let me make my own compositions without needing to wrangle other musicians. Of course, both hardware and software can add up fast. (I’ve wanted Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 for years, but just can’t bring myself to drop $850 on it.)

That’s why Roli’s new modular Blocks system caught my eye. The $180 Lightpad controller is both affordable and versatile, distilling a lot of the touch-sensitive technology found in Roli’s larger Seaboard into a super-compact gadget. Your iOS device does all the heavy lifting while the Lightpad lets you perform in some unique ways. And, the modular nature of the Blocks system lets you get in at an affordable price while expanding your setup down the line.

That’s the promise, anyway, and it’s an intriguing idea. Unfortunately, after spending a week playing with Roli’s Blocks system, I’ve found an otherwise compelling concept is let down by some inconsistent hardware. (If you’re not familiar with Roli Blocks, this post lays out the basics of how they work.)


It took a lot longer than I would have liked to see this screen.

The first Lightpad that Roli sent me was a pre-production unit, and I ran into lots of trouble trying to get it to work. The recommended firmware update wouldn’t install, and without it I experienced uneven performance; basically, the Lightpad block wasn’t reliably responding to my fingers. Giving Roli the benefit of the doubt, I had a replacement sent to me that represented the sort of final hardware shoppers will receive. It worked better, but I still experienced some vexing issues.

Once again, my problems started with a firmware update. Once I connected the Lightpad block to my iPad, I tried updating the software through the Roli Noise app, but it failed more than a dozen times before it finally worked. All told, it took an hour before I could start using the system. Not a great first experience.


Things were better once I got the Lightpad working, but there’s a pretty steep learning curve here. The Lightpad’s main performance interface is either a 5×5 grid of notes (or a 4×4 grid for when you’re in drum machine mode). Each of those blocks is a pitch in the 12-note chromatic scale. Tapping a square plays the note, and you can either slide left or right to change the pitch or slide up and down to change a preset modulation effect. The Lightpad is pressure sensitive, too, so a hard press increases volume or intensity compared to a gentle tap.

It’s a system that allows for a wide degree of flexibility, which is great — to a point. The big problem I had when using the Roli Lightpad was that I rarely knew what would happen any time I tapped the block. Using what I felt was a “normal” amount of pressure usually yielded a note much quieter than I anticipated, which meant I had to jam my finger down to get a strong attack. But every so often I’d get a note much louder than anticipated, or I’d accidentally activate a modulation effect without meaning to.

I found some other problems with the interface as my testing progressed. It’s great to slide across the pad to move up and down in the scale — but not all positions on the Lightpad are created equal. If there’s a note on the right-most side of the block, there’s no way to slide up to a higher pitch; similarly, you can’t slide down in pitch from notes located on the left side of the block.

Using the up-and-down modulation feature is also imprecise for notes located in the top or bottom row of the block. If you tap a note in the middle, you have lots of room on the block to move your finger up and down, but tapping something in the top row means there’s very little room to slide your finger up and change the effect.

Even more troubling is the fact that you can still slide your finger up on that highest row of notes to change the effect — but you only have less than a half-inch to work with, which means there’s no precision. If you tap a note in the middle of the Lightpad, you have several inches on either side to drag your finger up and down to change the effect. That space is significantly reduced when playing the top or bottom row, so you can activate an effect by barely moving your finger. This is not a good thing.

Ultimately, my experience playing melodies on the Lightpad was hampered by these problems. I just didn’t know what to expect each time I put my finger down, so trying to play a repeated bass line with any degree of precision was a lot more difficult than I expected. The problem was compounded when I switched to trying to build out drum beats. For a number of the drum sounds, tapping and holding your finger down plays a pre-set rhythm (those sounds are labeled as “groove kits”). That’s all well and good, but if I wanted to try and tap out my own beat, things didn’t work out as well. Even on drum kit sounds where one tap of my finger matched up with one drum hit, the Lightpad often didn’t catch every time I touched the block.

Once I figured out the Lightpad’s various quirks, I could stop fighting them and just go with it, which made for a much more enjoyable experience. The learning curve comes from understanding as best you can what happens when you tap the Lightpad and keeping that in mind as you play. Things get a lot more fun after that. Instead of trying to tap out precise drum beats, I just put a few fingers down on the pad, moved them around and came out with a decent-sounding groove.


The Roli Blocks system also has a pretty robust recording system, which makes it easy to repeat any patterns you come up with. You’re given four tracks, each of which has a total of 12 slots to record a musical pattern. Once you’ve put down some recordings, you can use the Lightpad as a sequencer, tapping to switch between the different recordings and play them back in any order you choose.

The Lightpad isn’t the only block that Roli is selling right now. There are also two $80 add-on tools, the Live Block and the Loop Block. The Live Block gives you physical buttons to control a variety of features ordinarily tucked away in the iOS app. You can use it to switch between instruments, change the active octave or scale, turn on the arpeggio feature, add sustain to notes and more. This felt more useful to me than the Loop Block, which gives you access to various record and playback features. For most people, though, the Lightpad alone should be sufficient.


After my time learning the quirks of Roli Blocks, I went back to the question of whether or not the Lightpad is worth my $180. There’s no doubt that it has a lot of cool music-making features, and Roli says it plans to add more sounds to the companion Noise app for iOS. The company also announced last week that the Lightpad will soon work as a MIDI controller for Mac and Windows music production apps, greatly expanding its functionality.

Right now, though, I can’t quite recommend the Lightpad. The performance inconsistencies made it a lot harder to start using the Lightpad; the time I spent trying to figure out what exactly would happen when I tapped the gadget was more frustrating than fun. And the Noise app for iPhone and iPad lets you perform and record for free without even needing additional hardware. No, the touchscreen doesn’t have the same degree of pressure sensitivity that the Lightpad has — but on a 3D-touch capable iPhone, it comes close.

However, if Roli can address the pressure sensitivity issues in a future software update, I’ll seriously consider it. Just adding the ability to adjust how much pressure is needed to activate a note would make a big difference in usability. That alone would probably be enough for me to give the Lightpad a full recommendation. As it is, I suggest checking Roli Blocks out in your local Apple Store first. Or, download the Noise app to your iPhone or iPad and see what you think. At that point you should have a much better idea if Roli’s latest will work for you as a music creation tool.


You can now transfer your old Pokémon to ‘Sun’ and ‘Moon’

In a move sure to please long-time Pokémon fans, players can now transfer old Pocket Monsters to the latest games in the series, Pokémon Sun and Moon. Updating Pokébank (Nintendo’s subscription-based Pokémon cloud-storage service) gamers are now able to easily send their favourite ‘mon from X and Y straight to Sun and Moon. For the uninitiated, this service offers a cloud storage box that can store up to 3000 different Pokémon online. You can even transfer mon to different generations of Pokémon games — all for just $4.99 a year.

In a bid to lure in fans of the original games, this update also allows one-way Pokédex transfers from 3DS versions of Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow via the included Poké Transporter app. With gamers previously unable to move monsters from their Gameboy games into the DS era, this means that fans of the original 150 can finally get to see their untouched old-school teams in 3D. As the series battles have changed dramatically over the years, once transferred, older Pokémon will gain new hidden stats that help keep them competitive.

For players who still have previous generations of Pokédexes to relocate, Nintendo have provided the handy transfer guide below.

For a franchise that spends every new iteration encouraging you to catch ’em all, the idea of having to start your Pokédex afresh each time is an exhausting one. Not only does this update alleviate that, but it also provides a great way for parents to show kids what Pokémon was like in ‘the good old days’, bridging the gap between generations of Poké-lovers.

With fans still waiting to hear details about Pokémon GO’s long-awaited Sun and Moon connectivity, this update bodes well for players of the mobile game. While yet to be confirmed, this update should also reassure those hoping to be able to transfer mon from Sun and Moon to the rumoured Poké​​​​​​​mon Stars for Nintendo Switch.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to dig out my old DS cartridges and begin rebuilding the super squad.

Source: The Pokemon Company


With your help ‘Apocalypse Now’ could become a video game

Apocalypse Now was a landmark achievement of cinema. Garnering near-universal praise since its 1979 release, director Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War epic has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape, launching countless careers and impacting just about every form of entertainment since. Especially video games. Now, a veteran group of developers wants to put you in Captain Willard’s (Martin Sheen) boots as he hunts Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the jungle and witnesses the horrors of war first-hand.

Concrete details are scarce, but the Kickstarter pitch is as follows: It’s a psychological horror game that will “blend a cinematic narrative with roleplaying game mechanics.” This doesn’t sound like a typical run-and-gun first-person shooter at all. What’s more, you’ll be able to make choices that diverge from the movie’s narrative, said decisions will cascade and supposedly result in a story that’s pretty unique for each player. Lofty goals, to be sure, but if any development team can pull it off, maybe it’s this one.

Veterans from Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numeria, Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity have a hand in the project. Given how well received (and crowdfunded) the first two in that list are especially, coupled with help from Coppola himself and his American Zoetrope production company, Apocalypse Now might deliver an interactive experience the movie deserves.

The game is still a ways out, with early access planned for 2019 to coincide with the movie’s 40th anniversary and a full release scheduled for 2020. Before that, however it needs to reach its $900,000 crowdfunding goal. The source material was infamously caught in production hell, with its hardships depicted in the documentary Hearts of Darkness. Martin Sheen had a heart attack on-set, directing and editing the movie damn near broke Coppola, a typhoon destroyed sets and Marlon Brando showed up to work extremely overweight.

Video games aren’t immune to these sorts of problems either, especially crowdfunded ones. Just ask DoubleFine Productions, for instance. A behind the scenes doc will be available for folks pledging $65 and up, but in this case, the developers not tempting fate seems like a good idea.

You’re already broken, and the mission is just starting. Is it too late for redemption, or will you surrender to darkness? Your choice.

— Apocalypse Now (@apocnowgame) January 25, 2017

Source: Kickstarter


Japan Display battles Samsung’s OLED with curved LCD screens

One of Apple’s main screen suppliers, Japan Display Inc. (JDI), has revealed a 5.5-inch LCD smartphone screen that can be bent like OLED displays from Samsung and LG. While not quite as flexible and thin as OLED, the “Full Active Flex” 1080p screen could be used in phones with curved screens like the Galaxy S7 Edge, the company told the Wall Street Journal. LCD is a lot cheaper than OLED, so you could see a lot more curved phone designs when it starts manufacturing the panels in 2018.

Since LCD displays usually have a glass backing, it’s been difficult to curve them until now. Japan Display got around that issue by using plastic for both side of the liquid crystal layer. That allows not only a flexible screen, but could also help “prevent cracking from occurring when the display is dropped,” the company said. It also hopes to adapt the screens for other products, including car displays and laptops.

Japan Display also told the WSJ that it has launch customers for the screens, though it wouldn’t say whether Apple or any other company was among those. Rumors of an OLED iPhone have been bubbling up recently, but some analysts think that all the OLED suppliers combined couldn’t meet Apple’s needs until at least 2018. If Cook and company decided to try curved screens, however, the LCD models from JDI now give them a future option besides OLED.

Source: Japan Display


Bethesda’s chilling ‘Prey’ reboot arrives on May 5th

Bethesda’s creepy Prey reboot has a release date: May 5th, 2017. It’s a divisive game, throwing out the work that Human Head Studios did on the now cancelled Prey 2. In its place, Arkane Studios has developed a chilling sci-fi horror game set on a 60s-inspired spaceship. You play as Morgan Yu, a human researcher living on board the Talos 1. Of course, everything turns sour, and you’re soon left fighting for your life against an alien race called the Typhon. Thankfully, some strange experiments have left Yu with a collection of devastating and constantly evolving powers. Game on.

To mark the new release date, Bethesda has put out a fresh gameplay trailer. It’s a slick video showcasing the black, smokey Typhon monsters and Yu’s expansive combat abilities. You get a sense of the space station too, which feels like a successor to Bioshock’s Rapture. There’s a hint of Dead Space to the plot as well, with one character proclaiming: “If just one of those creatures gets back to Earth, we’re lost.” Sound familiar? Despite its obvious inspirations, Prey is shaping up to be one of our most anticipated games this Spring. It’ll be out on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Source: Prey (YouTube)


The best personal blender 

By Lesley Stockton

This post was done in partnership with Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best homewares. When readers choose to buy The Sweethome’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After spending 20 hours researching two dozen personal blenders and testing 10 models with an expert in our test kitchen, we think the NutriBullet Pro 900 Series offers the best balance of power, simplicity, convenience, and price for most people. We pureed almost 25 pounds of frozen fruit, hearty kale, fibrous ginger, gooey peanut butter, and sticky dates into thick smoothies to come to this conclusion.

Who should buy a personal blender

A personal blender is a convenience item for the dedicated smoothie lover who’s short on time in the morning. If you want to quickly make a morning smoothie and run out the door without having to wash a blender pitcher and lid, a personal blender is for you.

Personal blenders are also good for small jobs like making sauces and dressings, but their motors aren’t as powerful as the ones found in our full-size blender picks. If you want an all-around kitchen workhorse that can puree soups and sauces, and make multiple rounds of frozen margaritas, you should consider getting a full-size blender.

How we picked and tested

From left to right: NutriBullet Pro 900, NutriBullet, Cuisinart CPB-300, Jamba Juice Quiet Shield, Vitamix S-55, Nutri Ninja, Tribest PB-150, Bella Rocket Pro, Bella Rocket. Photo: Michael Hession

The perfect personal blender is powerful, hands-free, and simple to use. We looked for blenders with a small footprint to accommodate small apartments and dorms or people who don’t want a lot of countertop clutter. A sturdy cup with a secure travel lid is a major plus, especially for commuters. Finally, we scoured user reviews to get a read on durability and long-term reliability.

To see how these blenders could handle a thick smoothie, we blended frozen bananas, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and juice for the recommended running time of each specific model. If any blender couldn’t make a puree in that amount of time (usually one minute) or the base began to get noticeably hot, it was disqualified.

The Nutribullet Pro blending a shake of dates, frozen banana, ice, and almond milk. Photo: Michael Hession

For round two, we blended curly kale and water, then strained the mixture through a fine sieve. We evaluated the amount of solids and fibers as well as particle size. To see if these blenders could tackle tough fiber, we made a smoothie with ½-inch-thick pieces of ginger and frozen peaches (all the smoothies from this test had noticeable fibers). We also made a hearty shake from dates, banana, peanut butter, ice, and almond milk. Dates are difficult to puree into a smoothie, and we found that each of our picks could handle the task.

After blending each smoothie, we attached the travel lid (where applicable) and gave each tumbler a vigorous shake over the sink to check for leaks. We also tried to drink thick smoothies from the opening in the lids. We also took decibel readings while the blenders were full and running because we read some complaints about the motors being too loud. For more on how we picked and tested, see our full guide.

Our pick

Photo: Michael Hession

Out of the models we tested, the NutriBullet Pro 900 has the best balance of power, ease of use, and price. It blended everything we threw at it without straining. The Pro comes with a secure-fitting travel lid, and the large cup has a blending capacity of 24 ounces. It’s also the only blender we tested that includes two blade assemblies (when ordered through Amazon). With a 5½-inch-diameter footprint, it’ll tuck away neatly on most kitchen counters, and its 15-inch height clears standard upper cabinets. The NutriBullet Pro comes with a limited one-year warranty, but a four-year extended warranty is available.

The NutriBullet Pro had no problem blending thick, spoonable smoothies. Our banana-berry smoothie came out lump-free. The kale puree wasn’t the finest blend we saw, but it wasn’t as fibrous as the kale from the Nutri Ninja. The NutriBullet blended dates well, leaving only a few small, pleasantly chewy pearls in the bottom of the cup that didn’t clog the straw. None of the personal blenders did an exceptional job on fresh ginger fiber, but that’s an extremely tough thing to break down.

The NutriBullet’s travel lid screws on tight, and a hinged plastic cap snaps over the opening to make it easy for commuters to travel without the risk of spilling all over themselves. We shook the sealed cup over the sink and saw no leaks. We will test the effectiveness of the travel lid long-term to see how it fares in a backpack or a tote on hectic commutes.

A small, durable blender

Photo: Michael Hession

The Tribest PB-150 is a durable, no-frills personal blender. We like the Tribest for its tiny footprint and minimal clutter. At 16 ounces, the blending cups are smaller than those on both the NutriBullet and Breville blenders, and the travel lid doesn’t have a seal, so you can’t throw it in a bag. The Tribest made thinner smoothies than our top or upgrade picks because it required more liquid to get a consistent puree. That said, we think the Tribest will make a good companion appliance to a full-size blender for handling smaller tasks.

A sleek and powerful blender

Photo: Michael Hession

In our tests, the Breville Boss To Go delivered the thickest, silkiest smoothies. It’s super powerful and easy to use out of the box. The Breville is the only one of our top picks that has a metal base and driveshaft. Because the Boss To Go is brand new in the US—it debuted in 2016—it doesn’t have a ton of user or editorial reviews at this time. However, we feel confident about this recommendation because of Breville’s reputation for making quality appliances and from our own testing experience. At around $160 at the time of writing, it’s a splurge, but if you want sleeker design and velvety smoothies, it’s the one to buy.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Sweethome: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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