Skip to content

Archive for

27
Feb

Mega Man Mobile: A Mega Disappointment (Review)


Being a child of the 80’s, Mega Man was one of the cornerstone games to which I compared other games. Jumping, shooting, insane difficulty, creative bosses and the ability to copy boss abilities. It quickly became a favorite game series. Recently Capcom has re-released it’s original 6 Mega Man games on a variety of platforms, the latest of which was mobile phones. I was extremely excited to jump back in and blast on baddies on the go, but all I got was a lot of disappointment. What went wrong? Let’s jump in.

Developer: Capcom Mobile
Price: $1.99 (per game)
Download: Google Play, iOS

Overview

Okay, let’s get down to it. This version of the game is a nightmare to play. The game does not have a consistent framerate at all. Jumping and moving around the screen is super choppy, and that is before anything else is on the screen but you. Once you start moving forward, the screen scrolling and enemies just confound the problem, making the framerate drop even more. I found it very difficult to aim my shots with the constant stuttering and ended up taking a lot of cheap hits all because I was unable to jump and shoot properly. I couldn’t make it through an entire stage without learning how to play the game all over again to adjust to the handicaps I was now faced with, and with aiming and dispatching enemies being increasingly difficult, I found myself not running-and-gunning through the whole level, but rather running and hoping to dodge enough enemies to survive to the next health pack before dying. Bosses are nigh impossible under these situations and it’s only by sheer dumb luck that I managed to hit and destroy Ice Man before he could nuke me.

Dead.

I couldn’t believe that this was what my childhood was reduced to, so I, of course, downloaded 2 different entries in the series to see how they fared and found that I faced the exact same problems in Mega Man 2 and 4 that I faced in the original. It’s at this point that I should mention that these games are not bundled in any way. Each Mega Man game is its own app, and each one costs around $2. There are 6 main series games here, so that would be $12 for the complete set of practically unplayable games. It’s for reasons like this that the refund window on Google Play exists.

Graphics & Sounds

On thing this game has going for it is that it stays true to the original Nintendo sprites. Mega Man, boss portraits, everything retains its original sprite look. Your control pad on the left side of the screen looks like Mega Man’s Mega Buster (his arm gun), while the right side buttons show pictures of shooting and jumping to correspond to those actions. There’s also a fast swap button to switch weapons without opening a menu. The sounds are very similar to how they were in their original release, but I have noticed a few skips in the music. I have heard that the music is off-beat, off-pitch, and skips horrible depending on which device you are playing on, so your mileage may vary.

Dead.

Controls

The controls themselves are decent. When I push right, Mega Man moves right. Jump button makes his jump. The animations do stutter, but the controls themselves do not seem to be the problem here. My biggest gripe about the controls is the “Switch Weapons” button I mentioned before. The weapons scroll through in an arbitrary order, and unless you know that order, you’ll spend too much time hitting the button until you see the right one come up. It takes too long and it’s much easier to just hit the menu button right next to it and pick the actual power you want than to hit the switch button 8 times, then another 16 times because you accidentally went past the one you wanted. Part of that is user error I know, but in the heat of battle, switching weapons on the fly is extremely useful and this system just isn’t efficient enough to be useful. If there was an additional switch button to scroll backward through the list, this would help alleviate the problem a bit (and I would accept full responsibility for being a moron).

Soon to be dead.

Longevity

The best thing to come from this atrocity is the inclusion of a Boss Rush mode. You get placed in a room with a random boss. You have all powers, but your life and weapon ammo are limited to whatever pickups happen to drop when you kill a boss. It’s a cool feature, but shoddy framerates make boss fights extremely difficult when they weren’t always a walk in the park to begin with. Still, this game mode was the polish on the turd. The framerate issues were still heavily present, but I still managed to make it through 3 rounds of all six bosses before finally not having enough weapon energy left to take them down. If the game ran smoothly, I could probably pull out another round or two, but without the leg up of having super effective weapons, the bosses are just too deadly. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, and at this point you may be thinking “I get it, framerate is an issue”, but the fact of the matter is that it’s such a big issue here to the performance that the entire game is almost impossible to play. This game will only last you as long as you have patience to keep playing it, which hopefully is still within the before mentioned refund window, because with so many other ways to play these classic games (still on the go if you have a Nintendo 3DS), the mobile versions are not worth even $2.

Conclusion

Something somewhere went wrong. These games are debilitating framerate issues which prevent you from playing the game properly. You may make it through a level after repeated, repeated attempts, but it won’t be fun. The magic of the old games is gone and is replaced with unfair deaths caused by choppy gameplay and cheap hits. Save your money and buy a digital copy somewhere else if you want to play these classics again. You’ll thank me later.

27
Feb

Facebook is working with local partners to build infrastructure in Uganda


Why it matters to you

Connecting the world has always been at the core of Facebook’s mission, and now, it’s taking that mission to Africa with hopes of building new mobile infrastructure in Uganda.

It may have over a billion monthly users, but Facebook still isn’t done connecting the world. That’s particularly true in developing nations like those in Africa, and on Monday, the social network announced a new initiative “to build shared fiber backhaul connectivity in Uganda.” This, Facebook hopes, will help address the issues of capacity that many operators in Uganda have expressed.

By way of a partnership with both Airtel Uganda and Bandwidth & Cloud Services Group, a wholesale bandwidth provider with an East African focus, Facebook is embarking upon a journey to build a 770km fiber in northwest Uganda. Upon completion, this fiber is expected to “provide backhaul connectivity covering more than 3 million people in Uganda and enable future cross-border connectivity to neighboring countries.”

More: A technical glitch left some Facebook users locked out of their accounts

By working on backhaul capacity, Facebook hopes that a number of different service providers can take advantage of this infrastructure, rather than the build exclusively benefiting the social media company (it’s clearly learned from the backlash it encountered with Internet.org). Facebook also noted that it would be working alongside multiple operators, and has invited others to take part as well through an open access and shared infrastructure framework.

There’s no word yet on exactly what the timeline for the project will be, but when all is said and done, Facebook says that performance will be improved from 3G to 4G in places where operators are constrained by bandwidth.

“This initiative in Uganda is part of our broader strategy to improve connectivity everywhere, including in countries where access to submarine and international capacity has been limited,” Facebook wrote in an announcement. “Based on the learnings and results from our work in Uganda, we will engage with other operators in additional countries to scale this model, with the ultimate goal of helping local operators provide robust network coverage.”

27
Feb

MIT’s ‘Super Smash Bros. Melee’ AI can beat world’s top-ranked players


Why it matters to you

AIs are being trained to excel at increasingly complex games, demonstrating the ongoing evolution of research in this field.

Most fighting games feature computer-controlled opponents that players can use to hone their skills before they’re ready to go head-to-head with a human. Usually, these bots don’t put up too much of a fight — but a new research project has managed to train an artificial intelligence that’s capable of hanging with the world’s best Super Smash Bros. Melee players.

A team of researchers working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has taught a neural network model how to play Super Smash Bros. Melee, a game chosen because of its intricacy and depth. The abstract of the paper based on their research makes direct reference to the title’s complex dynamics, as well as the added complication of partial observability.

More: Can AI smart enough to play poker be weaponized without turning Terminator?

The researchers trained the AI by supplying it with coordinates of crucial objects and items like other players and ledges that it could fall from, according to a report from Tech Crunch. Strategies that resulted in victory were incentivized, fostering the sort of play that could worry even top-level competitors.

The AI was pitted against several players who are ranked among the top 100 Super Smash Bros. Melee players worldwide, and managed to win more games than it lost. This is undoubtedly a big achievement — although there are a few major holes in the way the computer plays the game.

For one, it’s apparently unable to work with projectiles, forcing it to use fan favorite character Captain Falcon who does not have access to any such ranged attacks. It also has a strange quirk that forces it to jump to its death whenever an opponent heads to a corner of the stage and crouches for a long period of time, which team leader Vlad Firoiu cites as evidence that AIs trained in simulation might have unexpected behaviors when let loose in the real world.

Of course, those comments speak to the fact that this particular project wasn’t really about Super Smash Bros. Melee, or even video games as a whole. This kind of research is about establishing how we teach AI to tackle a particular task — and games like Melee, Go, and Texas Hold ’em poker are just placeholders for the more important jobs AIs will be tasked with further down the line.

27
Feb

HTC talks release dates, pricing for Vive peripherals, offers headset payment plan


Why it matters to you

HTC is fortifying its Vive line with useful new peripherals, as well as offering a payment program designed to broaden its audience

mwc17-topics-banner-280x75.jpg

The Vive Tracker, a peripheral designed to make it easy for developers to integrate real-world objects into their virtual reality experiences, will be showcased this week at the Mobile World Congress, as well as at the Game Developers Conference.

Developers will be able to pre-order the Vive Tracker from March 27 at a price of $99.99, while consumers will have to wait until later in the year. “Building an object that can be tracked alongside the Vive can be complex,” said Valve programmer Joe Ludwig. “But the Vive Tracker makes tracking objects in VR so simple that anyone can do it.”

More: Qualcomm’s VR developer kit specs blow Vive and Rift out of the water

In January, HTC opened up the application process for early access to Vive Tracker hardware to developers. At the time, it was announced that 1,000 units would be handed out, and on  Monday the company revealed that more than 2,300 applications were received over the course of the two-week submission period.

The Vive Deluxe Audio Strap will be available to pre-order starting May 2, and will be available in June. The strap combines integrated audio with new design features intended to enhance the user’s comfort, including a sizing dial that makes it easier to adjust the device for different users.

From here on out, the Vive Business Edition will include the Deluxe Audio Strap as standard, without increasing the overall price of the package. Sold separately, the strap will cost $99.99.

HTC also announced plans to offer a payment plan for the Vive headset. The finance program will allow buyers to pay around $66 per month for the hardware, with no-interest financing for 12 months and zero down. At $799.99, the headset is no small investment, so HTC is hoping that a payment plan will help more users buy into VR.

27
Feb

Spectators no more: New feature lets you buy games on Twitch


Why it matters to you

Twitch has long allowed users to watch the action. Now, by selling games directly, it’s giving them a chance to be a part of it, too.

Don’t just watch others play games on Twitch. Play them yourself, too. On Monday, the Amazon-owned live-streaming video platform announced its entrance into the computer video game market. While the company has never been on the sidelines as far as gameplay is concerned, it’s now solidly in the fray in the business aspect of the industry as well. Now, when you watch a stream of a game, you’ll have the option to buy the game or in-game content (if it’s available on Twitch) via a new “buy” button. It’ll appear below the video on the channel page, if you’re looking for it.

“Ever since our first baby steps onto the internet, our goal has been to make Twitch the ultimate hub for gaming on the web. What started as a simple streaming platform has become a living, breathing social community,” the company wrote in an announcement. “Soon we’ll be taking another step to further strengthen the community and benefit streamers and viewers alike. Twitch has always been the best place to watch, share, and play games. Soon, it will be the best place to buy games as well.”

More: Get ‘The Banner Saga’ and its sequel free with your Twitch Prime membership

Twitch is also offering revenue share to streaming partners who have opted into the new program, so if you buy a game, the streamer gets 5 percent of the revenue. That means a new way for you, the video game fan, to support your favorite streamer, simply by buying a game via his or her channel. Moreover, any purchase you make over $5 gets you a Twitch Crate, described as “a digital loot box with a special reward like a game-specific emote, a chat badge, or some Bits.” Each Crate will be different, as the contents are randomly generated.

All games purchased on Twitch will be available for download and play with the Twitch launcher, or through existing services. At launch, partners include Ubisoft, Telltale Games, Digital Extremes, Hi Rez Studios, Double Fine Games, Fred Wood, 11Bit, Jackbox Games, tinyBuild, Raw Fury, Devolver Digital, Gambitious, Trion Worlds, Blue Mammoth Games, iNK Stories, Versus Evil, Proletariat, Paradox Interactive, Vlambeer, and Campo Santo.

27
Feb

Cricket joins other carriers in throttling unlimited data users past a threshold


Why it matters to you

Cricket customers should be wary of the carrier’s data-saving measures coming in April, especially if they’ve signed up for an unlimited plan.

Cricket Wireless has just announced a change to its unlimited data plan that could bother some of the carrier’s most loyal customers. Starting April 2, those enrolled in the $70-per-month tier will see their speeds throttled at peak hours if they use more than 22GB of data in a billing cycle. Cricket calls the practice Congestion Management, and is rolling out the change alongside a new feature that is designed to diminish data usage when streaming video on the AT&T prepaid carrier’s mobile network, called Stream More.

Stream More automatically reduces the quality of high definition video to 480p, and will be activated for all customers by default when Cricket begins implementing the data-saving measure in April. Customers can turn Stream More on or off by managing their account online or using the myCricket app. Alternatively, Cricket is allowing content providers to opt out if they so choose.

More: Cricket customers now get more data for the same low price

The carrier says it will notify customers every step of the way as these new measures begin to take effect over the coming weeks. When unlimited data users top 16.5GB, they will be warned that they’ve used 75 percent of their throttle-free data allowance. Cricket will also send out reminders about Stream More twice before it is activated and once on launch day — though the company says it expects to “notify (users) before October 2017.” This indicates that it might take many months before Stream More reaches all customers.

Although Cricket is likely to come under fire for adding a caveat to its unlimited data plan, the news does fall in line with the practices of many other carriers, including all of the established postpaid options. Verizon and AT&T begin throttling their top-tier customers at 22GB, Sprint at 23GB, and T-Mobile at 28GB.

The commonality between these networks, including Cricket, is that they deprioritize data speeds for unlimited customers who have passed the threshold and are accessing the network during times of congestion. Once the stress lessens, normal throughput is restored. It is important to note, however, that Cricket users are already restricted to top speeds of 8Mbps over LTE and 4Mbps over HSPA+, compared to the 12 Mbps AT&T’s post-paid customers reportedly average on LTE. As a result, throttling might result in slower speeds on the prepaid carrier than it would elsewhere.

27
Feb

I used VR to walk through a $10 million painting, and it was literally surreal


The floorboards creaked under my feet. A cruel wind blew through the open window to my left, billowing the pure white curtains out as I walked slowly across a room. This was all happening at a time when I wanted to be as quiet as a mouse, because in front of me was a huge, majestic lion, and from the sounds it was making, my presence wasn’t welcome. Yet I continued to move towards it. The lion raised its head, focusing its stare on me. I got ever closer.

More: Why virtual reality must go wireless

No, I wasn’t trespassing at the zoo, I was immersed in a special virtual reality experience that put me squarely at the center of Magritte’s utterly fabulous Le Repas de Noces work. Lion and everything. It was the final scene in a collection of four vignettes, each set inside a famous surrealist painting, made to promote a unique auction at Sotheby’s in London. Magritte’s work is joined by Paul Delvaux’s Filles au Bord de L’eau, André Masson’s Hôtel Des Automates, and arguably the star of the show, Salvador Dali’s Moment de Transition, which alone is expected to fetch up to eight million British pounds, or nearly $10 million. And I’d wandered about in all of them.

Making a 360-degree experience

The result of five weeks intense work, the Masters of Surrealism: A 360 Degree Virtual Reality Experience is the first of its type for Sotheby’s, and was made to celebrate the coming together of such eclectic works of art. What’s fascinating is that after being transported into these pictures in VR, I couldn’t wait to get out and examine the pictures in person. I’m not an art connoisseur, so to have this reaction was unexpected and only emphasized the power and potential of virtual reality to open up new worlds to people in an unexpected, but very immersive way.

After being transported into these pictures in VR, I couldn’t wait to get out and examine the pictures in person.

However, VR is a 360-degree experience, and these works of art are not; so how do you bring them to life in this way while remaining true and respectful to the piece itself? The task was given to Nigel Hilditch, Sotheby’s Europe’s director of video, and Conrado Galves, creative director at film production company FGreat. Hilditch told Digital Trends he had been ready to work on a VR project for a while. “I was almost waiting for a Surrealist exhibition,” he laughed, “these are the paintings you want to be immersed in, where there’s so much going on.”

Working as a team, the two examined the pieces, picking out all the crucial details, then reconstructed it all in 3D, 4K resolution video. Textures used in the painting are repeated in VR, and the position of key elements are mapped out. Art experts were on hand to point out aspects that needed special treatment. For instance, in Dali’s painting, the cart can be interpreted as having a driver, or that we’re seeing part of the city in the distance through the opening. It’s an aspect subtly highlighted in the VR world.

First VR experiences

However, the paintings don’t show the entire environment around them, which meant the team had to use their own talent to fill in the blanks. Hilditch described it as, “Imagining what might be there, but keeping it simple.” Galves, who worked on the 3D environments, said, “The paintings tell you so much, we didn’t create anything new, just tried to imagine what would be off to the sides.” While only basic visuals were added to make a complete 360-degree environment, audio effects have been used very creatively. From the howling winds in Dali’s painting to the lion’s roar in Magritte’s work, it all fits with the surrealist style. Happily, audio was chosen over a spoken description. “You don’t need a voiceover from an art historian,” Hilditch told us, adding he was also mindful of people’s reaction to VR. “You can only take so much in,” he said.

sothebys virtual reality surrealist art film sotheby vr

sothebys virtual reality surrealist art film sotheby vr

sothebys virtual reality surrealist art film sotheby vr

sothebys virtual reality surrealist art film sotheby vr

This led to another important consideration in making the films. This may be the first VR journey taken by a substantial portion of the audience, which meant making slow, considered movements, while still adding the crucial extra dimensions VR provides. That didn’t hamper creativity though. Each painting neatly transitions into the next, and you leave Dali’s world by ascending towards the sky, giving first-timers a taste of VR’s disconcerting ability to fool the mind into thinking what you’re seeing is real.

I watched the VR film on an Oculus Rift immediately before I looked at the paintings in any detail, and before speaking to Hilditch and Galves. We talked about the project, and took in the paintings together at the time. As we talked about certain aspects, and little details were pointed out to me, I wanted to watch the VR film again to see how they had been converted over. It made me appreciate the art, and the work of the artists, in two different ways.

Different reactions

For me, walking through Magritte’s painting towards the lion was the most visceral scene, appealing to my love of intense VR and how it added an extra surreal element  — the window and the curtains, specifically — to the original painting. However, Sotheby’s head of European sales Isabelle Paagman had a different reaction. She didn’t like the liberties taken with the scene, arguably the most digitally augmented of the four, and preferred the purity of the still art, or to use her own imagination. It was her first time using VR, in the same way it was my first time enjoying surrealist art. Our differing opinions didn’t matter, because without the VR film, it’s highly unlikely we would have ever had the ensuing conversation.

More: We play Project Arena, the future of VR eSports

Is Sotheby’s first experiment with VR a success? I came away feeling very positive about it. After all, it made me want to see the rest of the exhibition and learn more about the pieces on display. We can get caught up thinking VR is only about games, but in the right hands, it can expand our world in a fascinating way. The virtual reality movie is only the start for Sotheby’s too. It’s dedicated to using digital platforms to help people view and engage with art, and for Hilditch, the next stage is to use augmented reality to bring all aspects together. Gallery visitors could see the art, read accompanying texts, watch videos, and potentially even place bids in AR, he imagined. “This is in the future, though,” he added.

The four pieces of art talked about here, the VR film, and all the other pieces in the collection, are on display to the public at Sotheby’s London ahead of the auction on March 1. Potential buyers will need at least 15 million British pounds, or nearly $19 million, in their wallets to secure the four paintings featured in the film.

27
Feb

Google’s Project Zero publishes another Microsoft vulnerability


Why it matters to you

If you use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Edge browser, you should know that the Google Project Zero team just publicized a bug that could leave you vulnerable to attack.

Google’s Project Zero is the company’s initiative to identify and eventually publicize security vulnerabilities in software and systems, with the express purpose of compelling developers to fix them. Project Zero staff notify developers about “zero-day” bugs, or those that a developer is not aware of and can be exploited, and the team then gives that vendor 90 days to fix it before it’s publicized.

Microsoft has been at the receiving end of a few of Project Zero’s efforts, raising some questions as to whether Google’s team of white hat hackers is acting irresponsibly by revealing bugs that a developer simply hasn’t had time to fix. The most recent Microsoft zero-day bug is one involving the company’s Internet Explorer and Edge browsers, as MSPU reports.

More: Stop refreshing Windows Update! Microsoft’s February 2017 Patch Tuesday is cancelled

The bug, which causes browser crashes and allows nefarious parties to execute arbitrary code, was identified by Project Zero on November 25, 2016 and then published on February 23, 2017. At that time, Microsoft had already cancelled its Patch Tuesday release of bug fixes for Windows operating systems for February 2017, pushing it off until a month later — leaving systems vulnerable to this and other bugs right as Google has notified the world of the bug’s existence.

According to the Project Zero team, exploiting the vulnerability appears to be a relatively trivial task, requiring only 17 lines of HTML code. The details are meaningful mainly to developers and those who would exploit the code, but it basically involves modifying table properties. The post does not indicate precisely which versions of Internet Explorer and Edge running on which Windows operating systems are affected.

The net result is that hackers now have all of the information they need to attack vulnerable systems. Until Microsoft issues a bug fix, which could come in the next Patch Tuesday in March 2017, there’s not much users can do to avoid the bug. As MSPU points out, you can utilize or create a separate admin account on your Windows machine and then use it to make sure your primary account is running at a limited security level. That would take away much of the damage that browsers could wreak on a system, but of course could also impact how other applications function.

27
Feb

Fairphone has sold 125,000 modular phones and is rolling out Android 6.0


Why it matters to you

If you believe in fair-trade food or ethically produced clothing, why not similar treatment for phones?

mwc17-topics-banner-280x75.jpg

Fairphone, the social enterprise dedicated to manufacturing modular, ethically sourced smartphones, held a press conference at MWC in Barcelona on February 27, but, characteristically for the environmentally-conscious company, there was no new device on display. Instead, CEO Bas van Abel revealed that more than 125,000 Fairphones have been sold so far.

More: Fairphone 2 review

Any Fairphone 2 owners out there will be glad to hear that the device is set to get an Android 6.0 update in the “next few weeks.” We bemoaned the aging version of Android that the device was released with in our review, so that’s good news, although we could point out that Android 7.0 Nougat is available now.

The sustainability message was front and center, and we learned that Fairphone has shipped nearly 100,000 waste phones back from Ghana to date in order to extract and reuse the minerals within. It also continues to work to find alternatives to conflict minerals and to improve the efficiency of the supply chain to reduce the environmental footprint of its devices.

The modular design of the Fairphone 2 makes it very easy to repair, in fact it’s the only device to get full marks from iFixit for repairability.

“This is the first and only smartphone to receive a perfect score from us, and the modular design is a major factor,” explained iFixit Director, Matthias Huisken. “It was very impressive to be able to replace the display in seconds without any tools.”

Easy repairability and modularity is all about trying to extend the life of the device. That means the forthcoming new camera module, which includes the front and back cameras, will be easy for owners to fit, requiring just three screws.

Fairphone offers a wide range of modules for core phone functions, including the battery, which Huisken described as a “death clock” for devices with batteries that can’t be replaced. Fairphone has sold 70,000 spare parts so far and DIY repairs have scored a 95-percent success rate.

A number of Fairphone partnerships were also highlighted during the conference, including with Ubuntu, Jolla’s Sailfish, and Teclib’s Uhuru Mobile.

In the immediate future, Fairphone intends to improve its modular-part ecosystem, hoping to make it as easy as possible to extend the life of its products. It’s also working to strengthen business links where there’s fresh interest in the idea of an easily maintainable phone that will last for five years or more.

27
Feb

Sony Xperia Ear open-style earbuds let you listen to music, the world around you


Why it matters to you

Sony’s new Xperia Ear open-style concept earbuds may one day provide a convenient, safe means of interacting with a voice assistant.

mwc17-topics-banner-280x75.jpg

These days, the toughest thing about AI-powered assistants is choosing a device to use. Amazon’s Alexa powers not only Amazon’s Echo artificial intelligence, but the AI in smartphones, smart home products, and smartwatches. Microsoft’s Cortana is integrated tightly with Windows 10 machines. And Google recently announced that its voice-activated, artificially intelligent Assistant will make its way to Android devices running newer versions of Android.

But Sony thinks there’s room for one more assistant-touting wearable.

More: Sony Xperia X series hands-on impressions

At the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona this week, the company took the wraps off a new version of the Xperia Ear “open-style concept,” which are earbuds that sport Sony’s Agent digital assistant. Unlike the off-the-shelf headphones you’re used to seeing packed in with a new phone, they’re completely “hands-free” and “eyes-free” thanks to “open ear” technology that transmits sound “directly to the ear canal.” You can hear not only audio, but the noises around you.

The prototype Xperia Ear achieves the bizarre effect with a spatial acoustic conductor: a driver unit that generates sound and a C-shaped duct that transfers that sound to a ring-shaped bit of plastic that fits inside your inner ear. Effectively, it’s a form of conduction, vibrating your skulls’ bones and amplifying whatever audio the Xperia Ear earbuds are playing.

We tried a pair, which we weren’t allowed to photograph, at Sony’s Mobile World Congress booth. And the effect, safe to say, is disconcerting: When you listen to music, it seems as though everyone around you can hear it, because you can hear them. When a Sony representative wore them, however, we weren’t able to hear any sound leaking from the earbuds’ plastic cone.

More: Bluetooth earpieces get a brand new bag in Sony’s new Xperia Ear

The quality seemed good, though it was difficult to tell over the roar of MWC’s crowds. They’re obviously not ideal for a jam session, a fact Sony is well aware of.

Company reps told us that the open-concept Xperia Ear earbuds aren’t meant to replace a standard pair of headphones. Rather, they’re intended as a convenient, safe, and quick way of interacting with digital assistants on the street, in the office, or any environment where being able to hear ambient noise is important. The company sees them as an especially great fit for physical activities like running that require you keep an eye — and ear — on your surroundings. You’ll be able to cross the road safely, for example, or pretend you’re listening to a co-worker while streaming Aerosmith.

The Xperia Assistant component of the Xperia Ear wasn’t functional in the units we tried, but Samsung said it will be able to do things like let you know when you’ve got appointments or meetings, give you turn-by-turn directions to nearby places, and let you record reminders. If and when the open-style Xperia Ear comes to market, it’ll support the Google Assistant, too, for users who prefer the search giant’s assistant to Sony’s.

More: Coros’ smart cycling helmet doubles as a pair of bone-conduction headphones

Unfortunately, that’s all Sony was willing to disclose. Company reps refused to talk about the Xperia Ear concept’s battery size and sensors, and in fact said the earbuds were at the “working prototype” phase — they stressed that the finished product would look different (and weigh a little more).

Whether they make it to market isn’t a sure thing. The Xperia Ear open-style’s availability and price will depend on its reception, Sony said. So if the idea of open-style earbuds strikes your fancy, you’d best show your interest on social media.

As for owners of Sony’s older Xperia ear earbuds, new features are coming down the pipeline. Sony announced Anytime Talk, which will let you start a group conversation by pushing a button or gesturing with your head, will launch in beta “in the coming months.” And the company said it’s working with the developers of messaging app Line on “a new integrated voice experience.”

%d bloggers like this: