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24
May

Sony drops “Premium Standard” Xperia phones to concentrate on two new flagships for 2017


Sony has revealed its smartphone plans for the rest of 2017 and it is ditching an entire category it has supported for years.

It will no longer release what it terms “Premium Standard” handsets – phones like the Xperia X and Xperia X Compact, as released last year.

Instead, it will announce two new flagship devices in the second half of 2017, that will go alongside the Sony Xperia XZ Premium and Xperia XZs at the top of the company’s line-up.

There will still be Sony Xperia Android smartphones available in the “Mid Range”, including the Xperia XA1, XA1 Ultra and L1.

Sony said that it wants to concentrate on “high value-added” flagship models during its investors meeting in Tokyo yesterday, 23 May. It also revealed that, outside of Japan, the Premium Standard phones of old were only achieving 31 per cent of original sales targets.

It makes sense therefore that the company wants to focus its efforts on the higher end market instead.

As is traditional, it is likely that Sony will unveil its two new flagship Xperia phones during the IFA 2017 consumer electronics trade show in Berlin. It is being held at the beginning of September and is often the launch pad for several new devices from numerous manufacturers.

  • IFA 2017: What to expect from Europe’s largest consumer electronics show
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24
May

DJI Spark is a very smart, tiny drone that fits in your hand


DJI has introduced a brand new drone to the world, and this time, it really is for the masses. The DJI Spark is a small, colourful drone that can take off from your hand.

Once it’s in the air, you can control it just using hand gestures. In other words: you’re going to feel like a Jedi Master flying this thing. 

DJI has been making waves in the drone market for some time now, arguably never more so than when it launched the Mavic Pro last year. It is a drone packed with all the smartest sensors and tech, but also folds so small it can fit in your backpack.

This latest drone essentially looks like a much smaller version of the Mavic Pro and, somehow, has many of the same technologies built in. 

  • DJI Mavic Pro review: One insanely powerful, portable drone

The company describes the quadcopter as a lifestyle accessory that you can take with you anywhere. And, with it weighing just 300 grams, it won’t be a burden, regardless of how you carry it. What’s more, when it launches from your hand, it automatically enters Gesture Mode, so you can control it with hand gestures.

DJI

Of course, you can also use a remote control too which has the benefit of a 1.2 mile range, and the ability to stream 720p video in real-time directly. Like the Mavic, there’s also the option of using a smartphone to control it, although that doesn’t have as long a range. 

Once in the air, there are several sensors and processors to keep it there and make flying it a doddle. It has the main camera, a downward-facing vision system to help it find its home point and altitude, as well as a forward-facing obsactle avoidance system.

For location tracking, there’s GPS and GLONASS plus 24 computing cores and a high-precision movement tracker.

  • Best drones 2017: Top rated quadcopters to buy, whatever you budget

All these sensors combine to enable the Spark to hover accurately at heights up to 30 meters from the ground and sense obstacles from 5 meters away. 

Like most of DJI’s newest drones, there’s a return to home feature. When activated, the drone returns to the point where it took off from, sensing obsactles on its way. Using the remote control, it’ll also return home when the connection is lost or when the battery is too low. 

One other new feature here is QuickShot, which creates a 10-second video, tracking a subject while performing one of four included flying manouvers. 

All four of these QuickShot flying modes are designed to create really cool video effects captured in 1080p by the 12-megapixel 1/2.3″ sensor in the camera.

Rocket mode sends the drone straight up into the air, with the camera pointing downwards. Dronie flies up and away from the subject, while Circle rotates around it. There’s also Helix, which spirals upwards and away from the subject. 

DJI

As with other DJI drones, there’s also the TapFly and ActiveTrack modes. The former lets you tell the drone which way to fly, or a specific location to fly too. The latter is the awesome technology that locks the drone’s vision on to a specific object, and then track it. 

For the brave, there’s the Sport mode which can kick the Spark up to 31mph. In this mode, the camera moves to its first person view by default and will be compatible with the DJI Goggles for real-time FPV footage beamed straight to your eyeballs. 

Each battery is built to last up to 16 minutes of flight time, which isn’t at all bad given its size. 

All in all, it’s an impressive piece of kit considering its size. Understandably then, it won’t be as cheap as the toy drones you normally get in this size. 

When it launches in June, the DJI Spark will be available in several colours, including blue, red, green, white and yellow. The basic kit, which includes the drone, battery, charger and three sets of propellers will cost £519.

There’s also the £699 “Spark Fly More Combo” kit  includes the drone, two batteries, four sets of propellers, a remote controller, propeller guards, charging hub, shoulder bag and all necessary cables.  

24
May

Xbox Game Pass: Release date, price and all the games you can play


Microsoft has launched Xbox Game Pass, a new subscription service that gives you access to more than 100 games to play on your Xbox One for one monthly fee. And unlike PlayStation Now, it isn’t a cloud service so you don’t have to rely on your own broadband speeds to play.

Well, not to stream anyway, because you’ll still need to download the games. However, when downloaded, you have complete access to a game as long as you continue to pay the monthly fee.

We’ve put together a handy guide on Xbox Game Pass, with details such as price, availability and every game currently on the platform. Hopefully it will give you everything you need to know about it.

What is Xbox Game Pass?

Xbox Game Pass is a monthly subscription service that provides access to over 100 games, curated by the Xbox team. You can download and play them as often as you like, as long as you continue to pay the monthly fee. Some of them might also become unavailable as new titles are added, but you also have the option of buying any of the collection outright at special, member-exclusive prices.

Xbox One and Xbox 360 games are part of the line-up, the latter through backwards compatibility, and considering 2K, Capcom, Warner Bros and Microsoft’s own studio are among the publishers and developers signed up, there are plenty of top titles to choose from.

  • How Xbox One backwards compatibility works: The Xbox 360 games list and more

It is available to Xbox One and Xbox One S owners. It is also likely to be available for Project Scorpio when that launches later this year.

How much does Xbox Game Pass cost?

Xbox Games Pass will set you back £7.99 a month in the UK, $9.99 in the US.

You can sign up for a 14-day free trial to try it before payment starts from xbox.com/game-pass.

When will Xbox Game Pass be available?

Xbox Live Gold members can start their 14-day trial period immediately, with Early Access to Xbox Game Pass.

Xbox Game Pass will then be available to all Xbox One and Xbox One S gamers from Thursday 1 June. You just need an Xbox Live account.

Warner Brothers / Mad Max

What games are part of Xbox Game Pass?

Xbox Game Pass will always offer more than 100 games, both Xbox One and Xbox 360 backward compatible titles. Some might be switched in future for other games, but here is the current list of all the games that are currently available:

Xbox One games on Xbox One Game Pass (as of 24 May 2017)

  • #IDARB
  • Blood Bowl 2
  • Brothers
  • D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
  • Defense Grid 2
  • DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition
  • Electronic Super Joy
  • Farming Simulator 15
  • Gears of War: Ultimate Edition – Day One Version
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Halo: Spartan Assault
  • JumpJet Rex
  • Knight Squad
  • KYUB
  • Layers of Fear
  • Lumo
  • Mad Max
  • Massive Chalice
  • Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
  • Mega Coin Squad
  • Mega Man Legacy Collection
  • NBA 2K16
  • OlliOlli
  • Payday 2: Crimewave Edition
  • Pumped BMX +
  • Resident Evil 0
  • Roundabout
  • Saints Row IV: Re-Elected
  • ScreamRide
  • Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
  • Steredenn
  • Strider
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings
  • Super Time Force
  • Terraria
  • The Book of Unwritten Tales 2
  • The Golf Club
  • The Swapper
  • WWE 2K16

Xbox 360 backward compatibility games on Xbox Game Pass (as of 24 May 2017)

  • A Kingdom for Keflings
  • A World of Keflings
  • Age of Booty
  • Banjo-Kazooie
  • Banjo Kazooie: N n B
  • Banjo-Tooie
  • Bionic Commando – Rearmed 2
  • BioShock
  • BioShock 2
  • BioShock Infinite
  • Borderlands
  • Bound By Flame
  • Braid
  • Capcom Arcade Cabinet
  • Castlestorm
  • Comic Jumper
  • Comix Zone
  • Dark Void
  • de Blob 2
  • Defense Grid: The Awakening
  • Dig Dug
  • Double Dragon Neon
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
  • Fable III
  • Final Fight: Double Impact
  • Flock!
  • Galaga Legions DX
  • Gears of War
  • Gears of War 2
  • Gears of War 3
  • Gears of War Judgment
  • Grid 2
  • Hexic 2
  • Iron Brigade
  • Jetpac Refuelled
  • Joe Danger 2: The Movie
  • Joe Danger Special Edition
  • Joy Ride Turbo
  • Kameo
  • Lego Batman
  • Metal Slug 3
  • Monday Night Combat
  • Ms Splosion Man
  • MX vs ATV Reflex
  • N+
  • NeoGeo Battle Coliseum
  • Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
  • Pac-Man CE DX+
  • Splosion Man
  • Stacking
  • Tekken Tag Tournament 2
  • The King of Fighters ’98: Ultimate Edition
  • The Maw
  • Toy Soliders
  • Toy Soldiers: Cold War
  • Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown
  • Viva Piñata
  • Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise
  • XCOM: Enemy Within
24
May

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: 4K flagship has stacks of specs appeal


The Sony Xperia XZ Premium sits at the top of the huge portfolio of Sony smartphones, pulling together advanced camera and display technology from other aspects of Sony’s business and pairing it all with the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset.

However, despite touting an ultra high-res 4K screen, the XZ Premium doesn’t break any new design boundaries like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 do with their innovative screens and more up-to-date visuals.

Can the XZ Premium’s mighty specs make up for a lack of imagination in the looks department?

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: Design

  • 156 x 77 x 7.9mm; 191g
  • Fingerprint sensor within power button on side
  • microSD and SIM slot behind cover on left

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is the best you’ll get from the Xperia range. As the name suggests, it has premium finish that surpasses the likes of the Xperia XZ and Xperia XZs with its mirrored body.

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The XZ Premium is available in Luminous Chrome, Deepsea Black and Bronze Pink, and although they pick up fingerprints like they are going out of fashion, the glossy look is fabulous.

The Deepsea Black was our review device, which is the subtler looking of the available finishes, featuring elements of blue like the Xperia XZ for a striking and deeper finish than meets the eye. Sticking true to the Sony smartphone legacy, the Xperia XZ Premium has that OmniBalance flat-slab design we’ve come to expect, although its finish is more seamless and slimmer (at 7.9mm) than its less premium sibling.

Rather than several different materials joined together, resulting in a somewhat messy design, the Xperia XZ Premium has one sheet of 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass on the rear and another on the front, creating a finish that is significantly less fussy. The edges remain flat with a slight curve, a feature that was introduced on the Xperia Z5, but the 2.5D curved glass makes everything look more considered – as does the reduction in thickness, even if neither help to show Sony moving as far along with its design as its competitors.

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Those large bezels above and below the display remain, resulting in a device that feels much wider and bulkier than other devices in the market, like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, both of which have larger displays but narrower bodies than the XZ Premium. It’s a trait all the Xperia devices feature and although it distinguishes them, we would have liked Sony to reduce them as the XZ Premium’s display deserves to be more prominent in the design.

The wider and weightier body also mean the XZ Premium is not a device that can be easily used one-handed, requiring some getting used to, especially for those with smaller hands. That said, if you like a large device, the XZ Premium certainly feels solid and you won’t misplace it easily, nor will it go unnoticed in your pocket. Pros and cons.

As Sony fans will expect, the signature side-mounted fingerprint sensor is present within the power button on the side the Xperia XZ Premium, with the camera launcher button positioned a little further down.

The fingerprint sensor isn’t the quickest on the market and it doesn’t like it if you place your finger there too quickly. It’s responsive enough and we didn’t have many issues with it, except for when our hands were wet, which is the case for any fingerprint sensors.

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A 3.5mm headphone jack sits to the right at the top of the device, while USB Type-C is centralised at the bottom. There is a microSD and SIM slot on the left of the device beneath a flap, ensuring IP65 and IP68 waterproofing.

Although Sony is no longer alone in offering waterproof smartphones, it works brilliantly and it’s a fantastic feature to have on board. We took the XZ Premium into the sea and a swimming pool with us to test out the brilliant super slow-mo video feature, which we will talk about in a minute, and had no issues at all.

  • Samsung Galaxy S8+ review

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: Display

  • 5.5-inch IPS LCD display
  • Mobile HDR compatible
  • 4K resolution (3840 x 2160; 801ppi)

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium features a 5.5-inch display with a 4K resolution, following in the footsteps of the Xperia Z5 Premium.

Sony has taken the trend for HDR (high dynamic range), an ultra-bright and expanded colour delivery technology, as found in the latest compatible televisions. With the right source content that will mean richer and more vibrant colours with better contrast and more light-to-dark detail.

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It’s not the first time we’ve seen HDR on a mobile device, as Samsung introduced it on the Galaxy Note 7’s 2K display, while the Galaxy S8 and LG G6 also offer it. However, it is the first time to be used with a 4K resolution on a mobile device.

Sony has said it will be collaborating with Amazon Prime Video, just like Samsung will, in order to offer access to content that will take full advantage of the display technology. Right now, however, that content is not yet available.

The XZ Premium’s IPS LCD panel is lovely to look at, delivering rich and vibrant colours, deep blacks and white whites. We put it next to Google’s Pixel XL, as well as Apple’s iPhone 7 and it stands its own against both. We’d even go to say it was more impressive on full brightness and in Super Vivid mode than the Pixel XL.

It is possible to select between three settings for colour gamut and contrast, comprising Professional Mode, Standard Mode and Super-Vivid Mode. The last of these was our preference for the extra punch, although the Professional Mode was better when looking at images which appear brighter on this device than they will on, say, a laptop or computer monitor.

It’s when watching native 4K content that the XZ Premium really shines. We watched several 4K clips on YouTube and the detail was fantastic.

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Those large bezels either side of the display come in useful here too as they provide somewhere for you to put your thumbs when holding the device to watch Netflix or YouTube, or play Real Racing, so they aren’t all bad. 

The XZ Premium doesn’t cope all that well in bright sunlight though. In fact, it’s very difficult to see the display when in super bright conditions despite the brightness emitted from the screen itself. Not a constant problem, but something to bear in mind.

  • Sony Xperia Z5 Premium review

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: Camera

  • 19MP Motion Eye rear camera with memory-stacked sensor
  • 13MP front-facing camera
  • Super slow-mo feature offering 960fps

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium introduces a new camera to the Xperia party, cementing its position as a flagship handset. It’s called Motion Eye and Sony claims it is the first memory-stacked sensor, which is supposed to result in faster scanning.

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There is a 19-megapixel resolution sensor to the rear, which although is a slightly lower resolution than the Xperia XZ and previous flagship Xperia devices, offers 19 per cent larger pixels (at 1.22µm). There is also a new G lens, designed for greater clarity. To the front is a 13-megapixel camera.

Overall, the results are great in good conditions. But aren’t all flagship smartphone cameras these days? Give them a bright day and a blue sky and most will nail the shot. We wouldn’t say the Xperia XZ Premium has the most impressive camera on the market, but it captures plenty of detail, represents colour well and it’s quick to focus too, even if some shots came out a little overexposed.

Sony has the hardware (most competitor cameras source Sony sensors for their camera setups) but it still doesn’t seem to have nailed the processing side of things, getting a little over-excited at times. Some detail, such as background trees, get a bit fuzzy – especially when you zoom in to the image, often looking like a painting rather than a photo.

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It doesn’t fare too badly in low-light, offering good bright images from the rear snapper, though we didn’t find the selfie camera particularly good in low-light conditions – especially with the lack of front flash.

In Superior Automatic mode, the rear camera won’t take full 19-megapixel resolution pictures unless you specifically adjust the settings, but you get around 12-megapixels for a single image, which is more than substantial enough.

There is also a manual mode, allowing adjustments to shutter speed, exposure compensation, focus and white balance. However, the ISO sensitivity control is placed elsewhere, along with HDR (high dynamic range), making things more fiddly than they need to be.

Pocket-lint

Video resolution is also in a separate settings menu when in video mode, meaning you will have to dig for 4K unless you know where to look off the bat, meaning Full HD videos are the default standard.

The most exciting new feature is the super slow-motion functionality of the main camera, which is easily accessible unlike some of the other features. It’s by far our favourite thing about this Sony device and would be the main reason we’d consider buying this phone.

Most smartphones offer 240fps slow motion, but the camera on the Xperia XZ Premium offers 960fps, which results in some really great footage when timed right with great stabilisation.

However, slow-mo resolution is a little low at 720p and it crops the frame for a zoomed-in view when in mode is active, which requires you to stand a little further back sometimes. Still, it’s very easy to capture the right moment and we absolutely loved using this feature.

  • Sony Xperia XA1 and XA1 Ultra preview: Edgy mid-rangers

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: Hardware, performance and battery

  • Qualcomm SD835, 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage, microSD
  • 3230mAh battery capacity, Quick Charge 3.0

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium runs Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chip, coupled with 4GB of RAM. That means there is plenty of power and it typically performs just as well as you would expect of a flagship.

Pocket-lint

However, there were times when the phone couldn’t quite keep up with our typing, or took a couple of seconds for images to render properly in the Sony Album app. Such lag was unexpected considering the specification, but was rare – as most other times it was as smooth as a baby’s derrière.

Things heated up a lot when in direct sunlight though. We were on holiday and, even when hiding the device under a towel, experienced device overheating issues twice.

The rear of the XZ Premium also got a little warm when playing high-end games, such as Real Racing 3, or using the AR effects in the camera, but this was less serious and not too different to what you’ll get from most devices.

Pocket-lint

In terms of battery performance, the XZ Premium impressed us. The 3,230mAh capacity cell more than got us through a day, from 08:30 to beyond midnight each day without needing to top it up. That included many times using the super slow-mo camera feature throughout the day, capturing numerous images, playing games and performing general tasks. 

Should you need additional longevity, however, then Stamina Mode will limit the processing power for greater life, while Quick Charge 3.0 means speedy top-ups at the plug.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium review: Software

  • Android Nougat operating system
  • Includes some Sony bloatware
  • No Google Assistant (at time of review)

Over the years Sony has stripped back some of its bloatware, resulting in a much cleaner and more streamlined software experience. There are still several Sony apps, however, including Album, Video and Music on top of the standard Android software – but you don’t have to get involved with them if you don’t want.

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We didn’t find the What’s New, Sony Email or Album apps were for us. Especially the last of those, which didn’t work seamlessly for sliding through videos and it also had a few issues rendering images promptly.

Overall, however, the XZ Premium offers a smooth software experience. The launcher is nice, offering useful app suggestions and bringing the most used apps to the top, so there’s really not much to complain about.

Pocket-lint

Sony also offers support for Hi-Res Audio, which is great given this is predominately a smartphone designed for entertainment. The XZ Premium’s standalone speakers could be better, but connect the device to a pair of decent headphones and you’ll get a great high-end experience.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is every bit the flagship smartphone in terms of spec, but it doesn’t bring the same wow factor as the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 or LG G6.

On the upside, the XZ Premium delivers a fantastic display that’s perfect for entertainment, the super slow-motion camera feature is exceptionally cool, the battery life is worthy of a pat on the back, waterproofing very handy, and the overall performance is great for the most part.

The big letdown is that the design is lacklustre compared to other flagship devices, despite the lovely glossy coloured glass finish. The main camera also isn’t quite as good in our view. 

Ultimately, there is plenty to love about the Sony XZ Premium, especially if you’re a Sony fan and into that flat-slab design. It’s a flagship device with some great features, some of which can’t be found elsewhere, but in the current smartphone world it’s just not quite as exciting as its competition.

Alternatives to consider…

Pocket-lint

Samsung Galaxy S8 

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is the flagship to rule all flagships. From a design perspective it’s an unbridled head-turner, delivering design that’s a step above any of the competition out there. Its display is excellent, as is its camera experience and the software has been reworked to be super battery conscious. The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is a little misplaced and not overly responsive but in short, the Galaxy S8 is a masterpiece.

Read the full article: Samsung Galaxy S8 review 

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Samsung Galaxy S8+

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is the larger sibling to the S8 with a 6.2-inch display, but it is still narrower than the Sony XZ Premium, making one-handed operation more manageable thanks to the display’s 18.5:9 ratio. It offers an exquisite design, great camera, high-quality waterproof build and top-class performance. If you’re after a big-screen device, the S8+ is a fantastic option, even if it is expensive.

Read the full article: Samsung Galaxy S8+ review

Pocket-lint

LG G6

First off the mark with this new taller aspect display was the LG G6. It pipped Samsung to the post in announcing, but the devices all hit shelves around the same time and are all now available. The Samsung is more fully featured and more powerful, but it’s also more expensive. LG brings its innovative dual camera to the party and also promises Dolby Vision content from its HDR display.

Read the full article: LG G6 review

24
May

Russia is building a secure Skype knock-off


Russia’s state-owned technology business, Rostec, is building a secure voice and video communications platform. In a statement, the company revealed that the system will be a “Russian analogue of Skype,” albeit with more security. The software is expected to set a “benchmark in terms of information security,” capable of handling voice and video calls, text messaging and file sharing. The as-yet unnamed platform won’t directly access the internet, so it won’t be “deciphered by hackers or foreign intelligence agencies.”

There’s nothing specific in the announcement beyond the news that a group of Russian companies are collaborating on the project. What’s more meaningful, however, is that the news plays into the broader technological cold war that’s currently being fought between foreign powers and the US. In the document, an expert is quoted as saying that “recent cyberattacks have made it clear that most information systems produced abroad are vulnerable.”

In this context, abroad is euphemism for America, and it’s not the first time that countries have played this particular tune. Late last year, Russia embraced Jolla’s Sailfish, a Finnish OS that emerged from Nokia and Intel’s doomed MeeGo project, for government phone use. Previously, the country has said that it wants to stop using Intel and AMD chips, very publicly dumped Microsoft products in favor of homegrown alternatives.

There’s also the fact that Russia has, uh, precedent when it comes to exploiting the weaknesses in American software. Like when Russian hackers exploited a flaw in Windows to steal a cache of sensitive NATO documents. Or when the country (allegedly) breached data systems in the State Department, or when others (also allegedly) managed to gain access to the White House. Oh, and the Pentagon, not to mention any hacking that might have taken place in 2016 that could have helped swing the election.

The Rostec release says that its new Skype clone contains no “surprises” and is “properly protected from undue external influence.” It’s expected that, when completed, this system will be used by government agencies and businesses to protect their communications.

Source: Rostec

24
May

You can fly DJI’s cutesy Spark drone with hand gestures


DJI made a name for itself with its chunky flying Phantom drones, but within the last year we’ve seen the company really embrace the value of smallness. Despite numerous delays, the Mavic Pro was greeted very positively, and now the company has another small drone — the Spark — made for first-time pilots and drone dabblers alike. DJI likes to call the Spark the “perfect lifestyle accessory,” which sounds like a stretch if we’ve ever heard one, but the company might not be totally off-base. After all, the Spark weighs less than a can of pop, comes in five colors, and can be controlled (at least a little) with simple hand gestures.

While the Mavic Pro relied on a smartphone for most of its controls, the Spark is designed to take off from the palm of your hand and interpret your hand motions as commands. (Whether a phone or other control method is needed to make the Spark take off is still unclear.) DJI’s press release doesn’t go into great detail about these gestures, but at the very least, you’ll be able to tell the Spark to fly away from you, grab a 12-megapixel portrait with its 1/2.3″ CMOS sensor and return to your outstretched mitt. The company’s hesitance to share more about Gesture Mode suggests there aren’t that many options, but we’ll continue to dig into things. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, though: you can still control the Spark with a smartphone or one of DJI’s dedicated controllers, as well as fire up one of its “QuickShot” presets for dead-simple shooting.

Seasoned DJI pilots will remember some of these pre-defined flight modes, but the Spark packs a few new ones. Rocket, for instance, shoots the Spark straight up into sky while recording image-stabilized video snippets with its camera pointed straight down, while Helix forces the drone to loop around a subject while flying up. Rather than having to crank on an edit at a computer, you’ll also be able to push those clips straight to social media straight from a phone. Sadly, speed demons should look elsewhere — the Spark tops out at 31MPH, well short of the 40MPH top speed you’ll find on a Phantom. You’ll have to charge the Spark fairly frequently too, since its maximum flying time is only 16 minutes.

GoPro’s pint-sized Karma drone edges out the Spark in both of those categories, but it’s quite a bit more expensive to boot. The most basic Spark package will start shipping in mid-June and should set you back $499 in the US, or £519 in the UK. The Karma, meanwhile, starts at $799 without the camera, and tossing in HERO5 Black brings the price to $1,100. We’re getting close to the point where anyone even mildly interested in aviation or videography can lay claim to a drone of their own, and the Spark just might be the sort of crossover hit DJI has been dreaming of. In the meantime, stay tuned: we should have some hands-on time with the Spark in just a bit.

24
May

What is mobile gigabit and why should you care?


You may have heard about this thing called a gigabit phone recently. The term was thrown around a lot during the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, since that’s the first commercially available handset to support the technology. But gigabit will also be included on Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium and other forthcoming high-end phones, which means you’ll probably hear about it a lot more later this year. And it’s going to be a big deal.

Gigabit here refers to transfer speeds of one gigabit per second — that’s 1,000 Mbps — and it’s faster even than most Americans’ home internet. But before we get into how it does that, let’s quickly go over how basic cellular data works.

Think of streaming a video or downloading a webpage as getting a bunch of people from a radio tower to your phone. Your network is the highway connecting your phone to cell towers, and the data, or people in this analogy, are passengers in cars. The goal is to get all those people to your phone as quickly as possible so that you don’t have to sit around waiting. Plus, the sooner your cars get off the road, the more space is freed up for other people to use the highway, easing congestion.

So far, carriers have been speeding up their networks by improving the highway. One way they’ve been doing that is by adding more lanes, using a method called “carrier aggregation.” This lets network operators use more than one spectrum band to send data to your phone, opening up more lanes to get people to you more quickly.

But there is only so much real estate to expand a highway sideways. Another way to ease congestion is to create lanes that stack on top of each other. That’s done through 4×4 MIMO, which stands for Multiple Input, Multiple Output. It opens up new levels to the carrier highway by using four radios and four antenna in cell towers and your phone, respectively, creating more channels to send and receive data on the same spectrum. That’s twice the number on older devices.

Despite adding lanes and stacking them, carriers still have a problem: There are just too many people using their LTE networks, and that’s causing a digital traffic jam. That leaves us with speeds of up to 30 Mbps — which is about 30 times less than the the speeds that gigabit promises. And there’s really not much more networks can do to expand the highway, since radio spectrum is limited.

So, the latest technology looks at the vehicles themselves, and this is what makes mobile gigabit possible. It’s called 256 QAM (pronounced “kw-aw-m”), which stands for Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, and it squeezes about three times more people into each car, while maintaining the same access to all four levels of the highway. That’s like replacing regular cars with clown cars: More passengers can get where they’re going without increasing traffic.

In fact, this could even reduce traffic. If more 256 QAM devices replace existing handsets, it will mean fewer, but more spacious cars on the roads. This is good news for those who still use regular cars on the highway, since there will be fewer vehicles on the road.

These three methods — aggregation to open more lanes, 4x4MIMO to stack them and 256QAM to squeeze more passengers into cars — combine to let networks achieve speeds of up to 1 Gbps in simulations and controlled environments. In the real world, though, speeds are expected to be closer to between 100 and 300 Mbps. That’s a little disappointing, but still better than most Americans’ home Internet.

In addition to the Galaxy S8, ZTE already demonstrated its gigabit-capable phone at MWC this year. That’s because those devices use a Snapdragon 835 CPU, which supports 4×4 MIMO and 256QAM. You’ll only be able to experience gigabit if you use a compatible phone, and Qualcomm expects about eight of these fancy new handsets to launch this year. Even if you buy a Galaxy S8 today, though, you’ll have to wait till your service provider rolls out the infrastructure to support it.

The good news is: You won’t have to wait too long. T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon and AT&T already said they would roll out gigabit by the end of the year. Speaking of carriers upgrading their networks, by the way, do not confuse gigabit with 5G. That’s a whole other set of standards with even more confusing terminology that deserves another explainer unto itself. For now, though, suffice to say that gigabit is coming soon, and it looks to be worth the wait.

24
May

Republicans back straight-to-voicemail robocall plan


Everyone loves getting robocalls, right? Because if there’s one thing that everybody trusts, it’s an automated system selling you something you definitely don’t need. Unfortunately, it looks as if a whole new front in the war against telemarketers could open up if the RNC gets its way. Recode reports that the Republican National Committee has moved to support a system to let advertisers dump calls into your voicemails. Yay.

The issue centers on a technology called “Ringless Voicemail,” which, clue in the name, lets companies leave voicemail messages without calling your phone. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 regulates autodialer calls to between 8am and 9pm and requires compliance with Do Not Call lists. But since Ringless Voicemail doesn’t make an actual telephone call — with ringing — marketing businesses think it’s exempt from the TCPA.

As a consequence, the FCC is being asked to rule on if the TCPA covers methods to let spammers fill your voicemail without your knowledge. Consumer groups have rallied to the FCC, saying that the tech operates the same way as a text message, which is already covered by the TCPA. In addition, an alliance of groups that includes the National Consumer Center says the messages are “just as invasive, expensive and annoying” as regular calls.

On the other hand, we have the Republican National Committee, which says that, because there is no charge and no ring, it’s not a call. In addition, because the RNC plans on using the system, if the FCC were to regulate it, the commission would be met with a first amendment fight pretty quickly.

Of course, it’ll be interesting to see where FCC chief Ajit Pai falls on the issue, given his record and personal beliefs. Then again, on May 5th, Pai made a speech in which he said that the “most common source of consumer complaints at the Commission is robocalls.”

Source: Recode, NCLC (.PDF), RNC (.PDF)

24
May

Anyone in the US can use Facebook for personal fundraising


You no longer have to be part of a privileged few to try out Facebook’s personal fundraising. The social network has just made its do-it-yourself donation campaigns available to every adult in the US. If you’d like help with a medical bill and don’t mind Facebook taking a cut (6.9 percent plus 30 cents), a donation campaign is a quick hop away on your phone or the web.

Also, Facebook is expanding the variety of fundraising you can offer. You can now pull in cash for community causes or sports, so that public garden or hockey gear might be within your reach. It’s still not as flexible as a dedicated service like GoFundMe, but there’s now a better chance that one of Facebook’s categories fits what you’re looking for. The biggest obstacle may simply be the 24-hour review period carried over from the beta — that’s fine for most, but it might not be ideal if your campaign is urgent.

Source: Facebook Newsroom

24
May

FDA approves a more ‘personalized’ cancer drug


Cancer treatments are becoming more personal. The Food and Drug Administration recently gave accelerated approval for Keytruda, a pre-existing drug from Merck, for use on patients diagnosed with solid tumors containing a specific biomarker. Rather than basing treatment on where the mutation originated, Keytruda will be used to treat microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) cancers, those that are mismatch repair deficient (dMMR) and are otherwise not able to be surgically removed. These types of tumors affect how the DNA is repaired inside the cell.

The FDA says those are typically found in colorectal, endometrial and gastrointestinal cancers, but bladder, breast and thyroid cancers can have the markers as well. However, the Administration is quick to note that only five percent of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer have the markers.

How’s it all work? Keytruda blocks a protein pathway in an effort to help the immune system to fight the cancer. Like many prescription drugs though, there are plenty of side-effects. Most concerning are colitis, hepatitis and pneumonitis — inflammation of the colon, liver and lungs, respectively.

The FDA’s priority review designation means that the regulatory body will fast-track its inquiry and hopefully “take action” within six months.

Unlike previous types of personal cancer treatment we’ve covered, this looks to be the most traditional. It doesn’t use IBM’s supercomputer to find the best care, nor does it involve injecting hydrogels into a patient, and seems the most traditional of anything we’ve seen thus far. That might explain why the FDA fast-tracked it, actually.

Via: Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society

Source: FDA, Merck

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