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28
Feb

LG G6 is simple because LG is committed to the V line


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Lessons learned will translate into two very different flagships each year from LG.

As I traveled across the web reading what everyone had to say about the LG G6 I noticed two very distinct things:

Just about everyone who has touched one is pretty impressed.

The majority of the comments on articles about it are filled with disappointment and loathing.

The first thing can make that second thing hard to understand. Yes, phones are polarizing and no matter how much one person likes a thing there will be people who don’t. But for the hivemind of the internet-of-Android to be so aligned against a thing that really does seem done well made me think a little bit. I decided the answer is actually pretty simple — there is no rule that says LG can only make one high-end global model per year.

If you’re an internet Android enthusiast, the G6 isn’t made to impress you. That’s what the V30 (?) will be built to do.

The G6 is beautifully simple

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The LG G6 is a complete opposite fo the G5. It’s simple, beautiful, and designed to be the perfect phone for people who want a really good phone. That’s far removed from experimental coatings and pluggable modules.

It’s obvious that LG was concerned about the display, the size, and the user experience more than anything else. Not having touched it, I’ll give them the display and the size — they certainly fit what most anyone would say is the standard for a great phone in 2017. Hearing others remark on the user experience part makes it sound like they’ve done a good job there as well, with a refined operating system and great camera. The G6 looks to be one of those phones that you’ll be able to recommend to most anyone who actually needs a recommendation.

The G6 is LG’s answer to the iPhone or the Pixel and it looks like they might have pulled it off.

Even the controversial moves of limiting wireless charging and high-definition audio to certain markets was a smart play. LG’s market research says that most people don’t care about either, and the people who care most have access to what they might want in their perfect phone. Not adding both options to every model keeps costs down, at the expense of different SKUs to keep track of. As does the 32GB storage space which is the size the vast majority would have bought had multiple options been available.

The G6 wasn’t designed to replace a computer or to carry around entire seasons of your favorite shows or full 32-bit uncompressed audio libraries. That’s because most people don’t want any of that, and for those who do LG will have you covered with the V series.

The niche market wants more

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And yes, enthusiasts that want more than the basics are a niche market. The V20 was made for us, and expect to see an even bigger rollout for the V30 (or whatever names gets attached).

Giving power-users a model with all the bells and whistles separate from the more consumer aligned G series makes sense in a lot of ways. For starters, LG needs to build a phone that they can sell and make some money. A phone that’s simple, looks good, and does a few things really well is the right way to do it. Toss experimental ideas into a phone designed for people who appreciate experimental features and move the best of them into your consumer model.

Some of us want more than a Pixel or an iPhone can offer and LG has that covered with the V series.

If that sounds familiar it’s because that’s exactly what Samsung has been doing for a while. Think of the G6 as a reboot of LG and a new starting point.

If research shows people love the second screen and it can be used in the G7 without taking anything away, expect to see it. Expect to see the next crazy idea from LG to be in the next V phone, so people who love crazy new ideas can use it and provide feedback. Power users are more forgiving when it comes to aesthetics and we make a great group of lab monkeys. We’re also the people who want things like removable batteries and a ton of storage to keep our music library for listening on expensive audio components.

Don’t get too hard on LG for making their version of the Pixel or iPhone, because there are plenty of people who want to buy it. Carving out a chunk of that market is tough enough without being weighed down by things like modules or extra screens at the top to scare people away. Instead, sit back and think of what crazy-genius idea they might have in store for another V phone later this year.

LG G6

  • LG G6 review!
  • LG G6 specs
  • These LG G6 features are exclusive to some countries
  • LG forums
  • Latest LG G6 news

LG V20

  • LG V20 review: Built for power users
  • LG V20 specs
  • All LG V20 news
  • LG V20 vs. Galaxy Note 7
  • Discuss the V20 in the forums!

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28
Feb

Huawei P10 Plus hands-on: Big screen, ludicrous specs and Huawei’s best camera


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Spec hounds and photographers, this is the P10 you’ll want to buy.

The Huawei P10 looks like a promising new flagship for the Chinese firm, bringing the technology first seen in the Mate 9 to a smaller form factor, with a palette of unique colors and finishes. But if you want the very best Huawei has to offer in terms of specs, camera optics and storage capacity, the beefier P10 Plus is the one you’ll want to buy.

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The P10 Plus is based on the same Kirin 960 platform as the smaller, version, but ups the RAM to 6GB, and bumps the internal storage all the way up to 128GB, which is expandable even further via microSD. And you’ll enjoy a larger, higher-resolution display as well, with the Plus packing a 5.5-inch panel with Quad UD (2560×1440) fidelity — backed up by a bigger 3,750mAh cell. The overall design is essentially identical to the regular P10, save for the difference in size, and while it isn’t quite as easy to one-hand, the ergonomic design.

And yes, we’d be lying if we said the P10 Plus didn’t bear at least a passing resemblance to the iPhone 7 Plus, with its characteristic antenna band patterns.

As we’ve already seen from the Porsche Design Mate 9, 6GB of RAM allows Huawei’s EMUI software to keep a ton of apps in memory, ensuring you’ll only rarely need to reload apps from scratch. On top of the low-level enhancements Huawei has made to EMUI 5.1, it’s no surprise to see the P10 Plus offering beastly performance in apps and games.

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But photography is where the P10 Plus really reaches above and beyond any previous Huawei phone. The core camera hardware is similar to the regular P10, which is to say it’s basically the Mate 9’s camera, with one crucial difference. Instead of using f/2.2 lenses for its 12-megapixel color sensor and 20-megapixel monochrome shooter, the P10 Plus boasts a brighter f/1.8 lens, meaning its low-light photo capabilities should be significantly improved. (That’s what makes it a “Leica Camera 2.0 Pro Edition.”)

The new ‘Pro Edition’ camera with f/1.8 lens is a big step up.

In our brief time with the P10 Plus so far, we’ve found it manages to retain more color detail with less chroma noise compared to the regular P10 and Mate 9. So signs are promising for Huawei to become really competitive in photography in the coming year. Expect further comparisons in our full review.

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The Huawei P10 Plus will sell for €699 in Europe. In the UK, we’re told it’ll be ranged on Vodafone, EE, Three and Carphone Warehouse.

More: Huawei P10 hands-on from Mobile World Congress

28
Feb

Top 10 things to know about the Moto G5 and G5 Plus


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There’s a lot to like about the Moto G5 and G5 Plus.

With the smartphone segment getting increasingly competitive, Lenovo is turning to the Moto G series to solidify its footing. The Moto G4 and G4 Plus sold in huge numbers in Latin America and India last year, and going into 2017, Lenovo is offering faster processors, more storage and memory, and a premium design with the Moto G5 and G5 Plus.

Unlike last year, there are several spec differences between the standard Moto G5 and the larger G5 Plus. That said, the fingerprint sensor is now available on all models, a much-needed inclusion. Here’s what you need to know about the Moto G5 and G5 Plus.

Full HD display

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Like last year, both the Moto G5 and G5 Plus offer Full HD displays, but Motorola has brought the size down to 5.0 inches and 5.2 inches respectively following customer feedback. Although both phones have the same resolution, the 1080p panel on the G5 Plus is better than the one on the standard version.

Moto Display is back, allowing you to preview notifications without unlocking your screen. Motorola has added a new widget, support for additional colors, and the ability to jump into a particular email or a conversation thread directly from the lock screen.

However, a point of contention is the scratch protection, or lack thereof. The Moto G5 doesn’t offer any, whereas the G5 Plus comes with Gorilla Glass 3.

Premium design

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The Moto G5 and G5 Plus finally sport a metal chassis that looks a far sight better than the plastic designs of previous years. There’s still a fair amount of plastic, particularly around the frame, but at least the fingerprint sensor doesn’t look like an afterthought anymore.

Google Assistant

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Google announced at MWC that all Android phones running Marshmallow and above will receive the Google Assistant, with new phones featuring the AI assistant out of the box. We’ve seen that with the LG G6, and the Moto G5 and G5 Plus also include Assistant.

Although the AI assistant is still in its infancy, Google has improved its functionality in the four months since its debut. Google hasn’t changed a whole lot with its implementation of the Assistant on other phones, offering similar features to what we’ve seen on the Pixel.
That includes the ability to view calendar entries, set reminders, check weather alerts, control the smart lighting in your house, and so much more. The virtual assistant pulls data from your Google account and the knowledge graph to provide you with relevant answers to your questions.

Camera

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Motorola finally included a decent camera with last year’s Moto G4 Plus, and the camera on the G5 Plus is increasingly looking like its standout feature. The 12MP camera comes with an f/1.7 aperture, 1.4 micron pixels, dual autofocus pixels, and PDAF, and the housing itself is very similar to that of last year’s Moto Z series.

The Moto G5, meanwhile, has a 13MP camera with an f/2.0 lens that may turn out to be the same sensor from last year’s Moto G4. Both phones have the same 5MP camera up front.

Internal hardware

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The Moto G5 is powered by a Snapdragon 430, a capable budget SoC with eight Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.4GHz, while the G5 Plus features the beefier Snapdragon 625, the same SoC that was used in last year’s Moto Z Play.

Both chipsets are more powerful than the Snapdragon 617 that was used in last year’s handsets, and should make the Moto G5 and G5 Plus hold up well to the competition in this segment.

Battery and charging

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The Moto G5 has a removable 2800mAh battery, whereas the 3000mAh battery on the G5 Plus is sealed in. Both phones support fast charging, with the Moto G5 coming with a 10W TurboCharge charger out of the box, and the G5 Plus with a 15W TurboCharge adapter.

Talking about charging, the phone still features Micro-USB and not the newer USB-C standard. Motorola is citing convenience as the main factor behind the move, stating that its customers would want to use their existing Micro-USB cables with its latest phones. That argument doesn’t hold water in 2017.

One Button Nav

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The Moto G5 and G5 Plus will run Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, and Motorola continues to offer a software experience that’s close to “pure” Android. You do get a lot of customization options with Moto Actions, and a new feature Motorola is rolling out is called One Button Nav.

The feature offers a gesture-based navigation system that relies on the fingerprint sensor in lieu of the traditional navigation keys. The feature debuted last year on Lenovo’s Z2 Plus, and following positive feedback from consumers, Lenovo is introducing it in the Moto G5 and G5 Plus.

With One Button Nav, you can swipe left across the fingerprint sensor to go back, swipe right to access the multitasking menu, and use a long press to invoke Google Assistant. The gestures can be customized, and while it takes some getting used to, the system is quite fun to use. You can always switch back to the on-screen nav keys if you don’t like the feature.

Memory and storage

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There are six variants of the Moto G5 Plus, each tailored for a different region. Motorola is looking to maximize profits from the Moto G series, and the result is a dizzying array of options for global markets. Essentially, you’ll get either 2GB, 3GB, or 4GB of RAM, along with storage configurations of 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. You get a microSD card with all models. Availability is going to vary across regions, and not all versions will be sold in all markets.

Regional availability

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Motorola has already announced that the Moto G5 Plus will be launching in India on March 15, and availability in other countries will be detailed shortly. The company isn’t launching both variants in all markets, and has stated that the U.S. will receive the Moto G5 Plus, and not the Moto G5.

The Moto G5 will cost €199 for the model with 2GB of RAM and 16GB storage across Europe and Latin America, and €279 for the version with 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage. In the U.S., the Moto G5 Plus will retail for $229 for the model with 2GB of RAM and 32GB storage, and $279 for 4GB of RAM and 64GB storage. The phone will work on all four major carriers — T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T — and will be sold unlocked direct from Motorola.

NFC

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Oddly enough, the Moto G5 Plus that will be sold in the U.S. will not have NFC, but the global variant will include the feature. The move doesn’t make much sense considering the U.S. is one of the few markets that has the infrastructure in place for contactless payments. If you’re looking to buy the Moto G5 Plus in the U.S., know that you won’t be able to use Android Pay or any other form of NFC-based payments system.

That’s a quick look at Motorola’s latest handsets aimed at the budget segment. Are you looking to pick up the Moto G5 or G5 Plus once it goes on sale in your country? Let us know in the comments.

28
Feb

Your kid’s new Spanish tutor is a creepy robot


A lot of well-meaning parents really, really want their child to learn a second language. However, it’s hard to teach a language when you don’t actually speak it yourself. Flash cards, videos and apps are all great, but real retention only happens through regular social interaction. Enter Flash Robotics’ EMYS, a Kickstarter project that isn’t just another mechanical assistant — it’s a friend that chats, plays and makes sure your kid walks away with some knowledge of the Spanish language.

The dome-headed robot is named for how its head resembles certain species of turtles, but its segmented skull is probably more akin to the stacked lines of an old AT&T logo. But that design quirk serves a purpose by keeping the the number of moving parts to a minimum. This makes EMYS a lot more durable, the better to keep up with the antics of children aged four to seven. Despite being comprised of only three major components, EMYS is incredibly expressive. The upper dome can represent raised or lowered eyebrows, while the lower piece stands in for a mouth by opening up for a big smile or closing up in disdain.

Most of the emotional work is done by EMYS’ large LCD eyes, which display a pair of big brown corneas and eyelids that open and close to express additional moods. It’s important that the face be as engaging as possible because that’s where the majority of children’s interaction with EMYS should be: the display at its base only shows off simple images. It’s not a touchscreen, so it can’t be used to program EMYS in any way. Parents use an app to set EMYS up and install new courses, which will be released throughout the year.

EMYS’ ability to grow and learn new things will be important to keep kids engaged. Creators Jan Kędzierski and Michal Dziergwa hope to open up the platform to developers so EMYS can branch out into more subjects, as well as adding more languages to future iterations (the current EMYS robot can only teach Spanish to English speakers, and vice versa). But while EMYS can be programmed with new knowledge, it isn’t “smart” the way Siri and Google Now are. To protect children’s privacy, EMYS is not even connected to the internet.

It’s not even really voice controlled. While children can say hello and have EMYS understand some basic commands, a child’s interaction will be more physical than vocal as the robot is outfitted with a variety of sensors to encourage more tactile interaction. EMYS likes being rubbed and petted, but hates when you touch its base, and its LCD eyes will narrow in annoyance. Kędzierski and Dziergwa say its personality might be a little more forgiving at launch, though, as they want children to be creative with how their interact with the robot, dressing it up and using included modeling clay to add their own personal spin to EMYS’ plain white surface.

Of course, the end goal of encouraging all this regular play is so EMYS can habla español with your child, and that is mostly accomplished with the use of smart tags — small tiles containing RFID chips that kids can hold up to EMYS’ screen for a brief Spanish lesson. But it’s more than just showing a picture of a dog and repeating “perro.” EMYS will create context around that word: What color is the dog? What do dogs like to eat? What’s the name of the animal that dogs fight with? Ideally the robot will teach at least one word a day, and then reinforce that knowledge by building on it in future lessons, just like a human teacher would.

Flash Robots has been working on EMYS for over eight years, and there’s still a lot of development and testing to go — it’s set to ship in June of 2018. But, parents can still reserve one today on Kickstarter for an early bird price of $399. Programmers looking to take a crack at EMYS will be happy to know that all tiers include an SDK, while the actual developer edition costs $699, ships a bit early and provides free technical support as well as lots and lots of colorful clay.

28
Feb

FCC chairman Ajit Pai calls net neutrality a ‘mistake’


New FCC chairman Ajit Pai has made his views on net neutrality clear in the past: He’s against it. But today at Mobile World Congress, Pai gave a wide-ranging speech in which he made his most pointed comments against net neutrality since taking over as chairman. When discussing the rules put into place in early 2015, Pai said they were “a mistake” and praised “light touch” internet regulation — something that’s sure to be on the FCC’s agenda going forward.

Pai also said that the new approach “injected tremendous uncertainty” into the broadband marketplace and made mention of the fact that the country saw its first-ever decline in broadband investment (outside of a recession) under the laws put into place in 2015. But, he thinks his leadership will turn that around.

“Today, the torch at the FCC has been passed to a new generation, dedicated to renewal as well as change,” Pai said. “We are confident in the decades-long, cross-party consensus on light-touch Internet regulation — one that helped America’s digital economy thrive. And we are on track to returning to that successful approach.” How exactly the FCC is “on track” to return to the times before net neutrality remains unclear, but we’ll certainly be watching to see how the agency plans to take us back.

Pai also pointed to the FCC’s decision to stop investigating “zero-rating” plans (which give consumers access to select services on various wireless or broadband providers without it affecting any data caps) as evidence that a new, hands-off approach would be better. That’s because in the weeks following that decision, both Verizon and AT&T brought back unlimited data plans after not widely offering them to customers for years.

Free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly those with low incomes, because they allow consumers to enjoy content without data limits or charges. They have also enhanced competition,” Pai said. “Nonetheless, the FCC had put these plans under the regulatory microscope… But the truth is that consumers like getting something for free, and they want their providers to compete by introducing innovative offerings. Our recent decision simply respected consumers’ preference.”

The connection between the end of the zero-rating investigation and the introduction of unlimited plans seems to be little more than timing, however. Unlimited data has been a competitive advantage that T-Mobile (and to a lesser extent Sprint) have enjoyed over Verizon and AT&T for a while now, and there’s evidence that it was beginning to hurt Verizon’s bottom line. Verizon and AT&T would have been free to bring back unlimited data regardless of whether or not the FCC investigated zero-rating plans.

But Pai continues to paint a picture of net neutrality rules that classify the internet as a utility as a backwards approach. “Rules developed to tame a 1930s monopoly were imported into the 21st century to regulate the internet,” Pai said while also calling the net neutrality ruling a “last-century” bit of regulation. It’s still early days for Pai’s leadership over the FCC, but it sounds like it won’t be long before we find out how he plans to roll back the protections put in place in 2015.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from MWC 2017.

28
Feb

With the Prius Prime, Toyota delivers nearly the perfect tech car


The Toyota Prius made hybrids mainstream. In cities like San Francisco, you can’t swing an artisanally carved reclaimed-wood stick without hitting at least one of these midsize cars rolling down the street. By sheer numbers (nearly four million sold!), it helped usher in the acceptance of internal combustion engine/electric motor combos. But more important, it made the idea of the electric car palatable to a wider audience. Its influence is impossible to overstate. Yet, from day one, I’ve found it to be an absolutely hideous-looking vehicle.

It didn’t matter that the car could potentially save me hundreds of dollars a year in gasoline and that its fans equated ownership with saving acres of rainforest while simultaneously hugging a polar bear. It looked like a wedge of Brie with wheels. It was ugly, case closed. That is, until I saw the $27,100 (before federal tax credits) 2017 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid.

The Prime looks more aggressive than previous Prius models. The lines resemble an actual car instead of a wind tunnel experiment. The front running lights are aligned like little stars in a straight line to illuminate your path. The improved design language carries to the back of the vehicle as well. The rear window, with its concave dip in the center, is subtle but stylish. As a whole, it’s not a complete departure from its roots, but it’s a huge evolutionary leap. It’s not a Porsche, BMW or Jaguar, but for a Prius, it’s quite striking.

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Not only does it look good, but as soon as you sit down and press the accelerator, it’s apparent that the car is the culmination of decades of on-the-road hybrid experience. The ride is incredibly smooth — far smoother than most of the other cars in this segment. This has to do with the addition of a one-way clutch, some software wizardry, and the fact that the Prime defaults to pure electric mode when the battery is charged. During acceleration, the car didn’t feel sluggish or lurch forward. It’s a mellow transition from stationary to in motion. The responsive steering and handling was also a pleasant surprise and made hitting freeway on-ramps and roundabouts more fun than expected.

In addition to that, the Prime comes with a plethora of safety features (pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, brake assist and auto stopping) and adaptive cruise control. Throw in some comfy seats and this Prius almost feels like a luxury car.

But once you use up the portion of the 8.8-kWh battery set aside for EV mode, the gas engine roars to life — and kills a bit of the tranquility in the process. It’s rated at 133 MPGe and 54 MPG. So no matter the car’s mode, you’re in an economy car first and foremost. Toyota says the Prime has a pure electric range of 25 miles. Indeed, during my tests in mixed driving conditions (city streets, highway speeds and in traffic), I averaged about 22 miles before the car entered hybrid mode.

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Combined, the two modes will keep the Prius on the road for 640 miles. In other words, it’s likely your body will need a break before the car needs some gas. In the week I had the car, I barely dipped into the gas tank, and then only because I didn’t plug the car in two nights in a row. In fact, during my time with the Prime, my 16-mile round-trip commute was almost entirely powered by electrons.

The car does support the industry standard Level 2 charging. But I ended up charging it at night at home with the included Level 1 charger via a 120-volt outlet. With a 5-hour-50-minute charge time, it was easy to plug it in when I pulled into the garage, knowing that by the time I left in the morning, the Prime would be ready to silently take me to work.

Really, the only issue I had with the car while driving was the incredibly annoying backup alert that plays inside the car while it’s in reverse. That’s right, it doesn’t alert anyone outside the car that it’s about to drive backwards, only the driver and passengers. The worst part about this was that I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. I looked through the car’s menu about 10 times and checked the owner’s manual. Nothing.

Still, the car looks great, it drives like something more expensive and it’s full of some exciting battery and drivetrain technology. What’s not to love? Well, it all falls apart when you reach over to the 11.6-inch touchscreen display in the center of the dash.

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Toyota’s infotainment system looks like it was developed six years ago and never updated. It defaults to navigation, which, unless you have the patience of a saint, is frustrating to use. Typing in an address takes entirely too long, but, worse, the voice recognition system doesn’t recognize natural language. You can’t say, “Navigate to 123 Main Street, San Francisco, California.” Instead, you enable it, then say “Navigation,” then say the address, then say the house number, street and city. But that information never seemed to stick with the system, and the car made me repeat the house number, then the street and finally the city again, all via their own individual prompts.

Toyota’s companion app, Entune, adds services like Pandora, Facebook, Yelp and others to the vehicle. Like the in-car display, the app doesn’t look like it’s been updated in a while. In fact, Entune was updated during my review, and I really hoped it no longer looked like iOS circa 2010. Sadly, it still did upon launch.

All of this would be fine if the Prius Prime supported CarPlay or Android Auto. It doesn’t. What you’re left with is a very large, irritating infotainment system that will play music and work with the Ensure companion on your smartphone, but not much more than that.

The whole infotainment system seems wildly out of place in a car that’s the crown jewel in Toyota’s hybrid line, which by default is really the automaker’s most technologically advanced vehicle. It’s a bit like building a spaceship, then putting a CRT television next to the controls. The saving grace is that you can display the energy consumption of the car on the screen and see exactly what’s driving the wheels and when you’re generating electricity for the battery.

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Meanwhile, the instrument cluster (which, annoyingly, is placed in the center of the dash) looks like the high-tech control center for a missile launch. I will admit that initially I felt like it shared an overwhelming amount of information. But after a few days, I found myself quickly navigating through menus via the steering wheel controls while at stoplights. I even started to get used to its placement in the center of the dash, although I’d much rather have all that information in front of me instead of off to the side. But unlike the infotainment system, the navigation and data layout felt modern and sophisticated enough to be worthy of a high-tech vehicle.

Anyone interested in the Prius Prime will have to make a decision about how important a modern infotainment system is or if they want to just put their smartphone on a windshield mount and call it a day.

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Yet even with its comically annoying infotainment system, the Prius Prime is an example of how a niche vehicle can evolve into a car that will impress not just tree huggers and the thrifty, but also the average consumer looking for a quality car that looks good. Ironically, the tech savvy might balk at the lack of CarPlay and Android Auto. But hey, Toyota improved the exterior design. Maybe next year they’ll fix the dash.

Update: An earlier version of this article indicated that the Prius Prime ships with a Level 2 charging cable for your home. The vehicle ships a Level 1 charging cable.

Source: Toyota

28
Feb

Ubisoft is building a game in the ‘Avatar’ universe


Alongside this week’s Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, Ubisoft announced its next AAA-project: a new experience set on the moon Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar universe. The game is being developed by Massive Entertainment — the Ubisoft studio behind last year’s fast-selling The Division.

Four sequels and several Disney thrill rides are in the works for James Cameron’s sprawling sci-fi fantasy epic, and the director’s Lightstorm Entertainment production company will work closely with Massive and Fox Interactive to “expand and deepen” the Avatar universe as the films unfold. Cameron, who has been known to be picky about his CGI technology, reportedly selected Massive for the project after viewing an early prototype built in the studio’s custom-built Snowdrop engine — the same platform that powers the dynamic global illumination, the real-time destruction and deep details in The Division.

“What impressed me about Massive were the group’s passion for this project and the power of its Snowdrop engine,” Cameron said in an announcement. “I believe Ubisoft’s team at Massive Entertainment are absolutely the right partners to bring the beauty and danger of Pandora to life.”

Click here to catch up on the latest news from GDC 2017!

28
Feb

Motorola’s Alexa mod is just the start of an important AI plan


Motorola might have lured people to its MWC press conference with the promise of new phones, but the real talking point came toward the end of the event. After hyping a pair of mid-range devices and some fun Moto Mod concepts, the company confirmed that it’s working with Amazon to bring Alexa to Moto phones. While the first steps of Motorola’s Alexa partnership are now well known, it’s the stuff that Motorola later told Engadget about its plans that seems most exciting.

Let’s start from the beginning. Our first taste of this Amazon/Motorola mash-up will come in the form of an Alexa-powered Moto Mod. It was the star of an all-too-short teaser video that suggested the accessory would be made by Harmon Kardon. Dan Dery, vice president of products at Motorola, then hinted that the Mod might launch alongside whatever new flagship the company releases later this year. Remember: Motorola’s first Moto Z launched in June 2016, so we might not have to wait too long.

As it turns out, developing that modular add-on might be the easy bit. Despite being part of an industry that thrives on secrecy, Dery was candid about the experience Motorola wants to build with Alexa. Part of their vision includes the typical stuff: using Alexa wake-up words to ask the assistant questions and tapping into Alexa’s 10,000 skills. Make no mistake, though, while this is in some ways table stakes for having Alexa on a phone, it requires plenty of work.

The other, more ambitious part of Moto’s plan is to offer a deeper integration where Alexa — and perhaps other assistants — can interpret data about you straight from the phone. Dery admits this is further down Motorola’s roadmap, but it’s crucial to giving users a truly valuable experience with mobile AI.

“Today when you talk to Alexa, [your commands] basically always go to services that they have in the cloud,” said Dery said. “But there is no proper, deep integration with the device.” He used a common example to illustrate his point: He can’t tell Alexa to book a table at a restaurant his colleague mentioned in an email. All of that context, stored on phones and in different apps, often exist in silos where services like Alexa can’t easily gain access.

Companies like Apple and Google don’t have to worry about the problem quite as much, since their own virtual assistants can access information from their own, first-party apps. For companies trying to integrate AI from their partners, though, figuring out how to fetch a user’s data into realms assistants like Alexa can interpret is crucial.

“The only personal device that can really start to represent you as a user to those services is the phone,” Dery said. “There is a wall between the Alexa world and my world as a user. So this is exactly what we’re trying to break.”

Even with Alexa on-board future devices, Motorola won’t force its customers to use it. Motorola’s goal, as far as Dery is concerned, is to serve users in an “agnostic way”; forcing a choice just wouldn’t be a winning strategy. He wouldn’t confirm exactly what existing Motorola devices would gain access to Alexa down the road, but noted that Motorola considers Alexa one of its “Moto Experiences” and will soon formalize backward and forward compatibility rules for those features.

For now, it’s unclear whether Motorola’s approach to Alexa integration is an exception or a rule. Huawei announced a similar deal earlier this year at CES, where new Mate 9 smartphones would come with Alexa on board and models in the wild would get an update. Beyond that, Huawei has been quiet about exactly how this partnership will work. A trusted, anonymous source points to an integration deeper than just plopping an Alexa icon on the homescreen, adding that Alexa will likely become available on Mate 9s in March.

Still, the AI push is a pronounced one across the industry. Apple and Google have Siri and Google Assistant, respectively. (The latter, by the way, is now widely available.) Huawei is using machine learning algorithms to optimize their phones’ performance. HTC’s flagship U Ultra has a second screen where its HTC Companion is supposed to live. The race is on to see who can achieve the best blend of AI and features that feed into it, and we’ll all benefit from the outcome.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from MWC 2017.

28
Feb

The Nokia 3310 stole Samsung’s show at MWC 2017


In MWCs past, the event’s news has typically been dominated by Samsung showing off its latest Galaxy flagship smartphone for the year. But the company’s delayed announcement this time around meant that the scores of tech aficionados at the show needed something else to get hyped about. Surprisingly, it wasn’t LG, or HTC or even Samsung’s own newly unveiled tablets that stepped up to fill the void. The phone that has everyone most excited here is the new Nokia 3310.

The immediate impact on Samsung in particular is obvious. In previous years, the crowds at the the company’s booth were larger — at least to our eyes — than they were this year. That may be because the company’s two tablet announcements at the show were not especially exciting. Samsung itself seemed keenly aware of how uninspired its new products were, frequently referring to its “upcoming smartphone” during its tablet press event, and even ending the keynote with an official launch date for the Galaxy S8.

On the other hand Nokia — via current brand owners HMD — delighted fans by unveiling the revived 3310. Although we had already heard rumors about the old-school device making a comeback, it was still exciting to get our hands on the actual handset. There’s something about picking up the new version that transports you to a simpler time, and that feeling is perhaps what drew the crowds that mobbed the company’s booth on the convention floor. Plus, Nokia still clearly has hordes of loyal fans that wanted to see this happen.

Whether it’s nostalgia, curiosity, or simply the need to find something cool to post to Instagram, something is driving people to the Nokia 3310. And since the phone will cost just €49 when it arrives in the second quarter of the year, it’s extremely possible, given the hype here at the show, that the handsets will sell out the day they’re available.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from MWC 2017.

28
Feb

Vive Studios’ ‘VR Sports’ is exactly what it sounds like


The unmitigated phenomenon that was the Nintendo Wii had an everlasting effect on any medium with motion controllers: if you have hardware that can track hand movements, it needs to have its own “Wii Sports” game. Enter Vive Studios latest virtual reality game, VR Sports — a light hearted, but surprisingly realistic feeling ping-pong and tennis simulator. On March 15th, the game kicks off Vive Studios’ spring line-up of VR games, which also includes a WWII defense shooter and a port of Sixaxis’ virtual reality CAD program.

All three experiences are good, but can feel a little dated. VR Sports, for instance, does an excellent job of simulating physics — both its tennis and ping-pong modes feel remarkably like playing the actual sport, accurately simulating ball spin and bounce. It feels natural and fun, but the simplistic gameplay reminds me of an early room-scale SteamVR demo. Similarly, Front Defense is a competent room-scale war shooter, tasking players with defending an objective while ducking behind barricades to avoid enemy fire. The concept feels a little dated, but the execution still has style. Players can use the Vive’s controllers to grab weapons with two hands, adding stability when firing the rifle or rocket launcher.

Finally, there’s MakeVR — a virtual reality 3D modeling program made by Sixaxis. The game was actually designed as a showcase and use application for the company’s STEM motion controller, a derivative of the Razer Hydra designed specifically for VR. Unfortunately, the VR motion controller it was designed for still hasn’t made it to market, so the app was retooled to work with HTC’s Vive controllers. The demo I was shown at GDC is effectively the same thing Sixaxis showed off in 2013, and will still export directly to Shapeways for easy 3D printing.

The entire experience kind of reminded me of what VR looked like at SteamVR’s first HTC Vive showcase. None of the games Vive showed off at GDC were bad, but none of them felt particularly deep, either. Still, I can’t be too harsh. After all, high-end consumer virtual reality has only been around for about a year. Players looking for some virtual table-tennis will be able to play VR sports on March 15th — and MakeVR will hit the Viveport store on the 27th. Both titles will sell for $19.99. Fans of Front Defense will have to wait a little longer: that game will be hitting arcade partners first in April, and won’t be available to the general public until June.

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