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‘Fallen London’ and the secret to writing an infinite gothic game

Writing a video game is nothing like penning a novel. But writing a never-ending, nonlinear, text-driven video game about a hellish alternate London stuffed with gothic intrigue and nearly a decade of backstory? That’s a different beast altogether.

“Novels follow protagonists, but in Fallen London, the protagonist is the player, and they’re a mystery to us,” Failbetter Games narrative director Chris Gardiner says. “While we know some things about them — mostly the decisions they’ve made in the game — there’s still a lot we can’t assume. Novels have a plot; there’s no spinal plot to Fallen London, no single story we’re telling and will finish. We’re exploring a setting, establishing its status quo, then letting the player kick bits of it over. Novels are complete, while Fallen London is a living game. We add new stories and events to it constantly.”

Fallen London debuted as a free browser game in 2009, though back then it was called Echo Bazaar. It’s still available in browser form, but it’s also on iOS and Android, and it’s spawned a successful spinoff mobile franchise starting with Sunless Sea. Just this week, Failbetter announced it would place renewed focus on Fallen London, tying up some of its stories and systems.

Fallen London is a deep choose-your-own-adventure game with no moving pictures to guide players into new worlds. Instead, it’s text-based, allowing fans to decide how they’ll react to certain scenarios while they wander around a Victorian version of London that was pulled into an underground dimension by a swarm of bats.

Fallen London blends Lovecraftian monsters with the eloquence of Poe and a dark sense of wit that’s entirely unique to the game world. Here’s a taste of its tone, courtesy of Gardiner:

There’s a scene in a story called The Gift where the player ventures under the royal palace and learns what’s become of Queen Victoria’s children. The player ends up disguised as a servant at a banquet. They’ve been instructed to keep their back to it, and under no circumstances to turn around.

There’s a mirror in front of them. And in the mirror, fine lords and ladies are eating an elegant dinner. But the sounds you hear behind you are very different. Slobbering. Cracking bones. The thud of wet meat on the table. The mirror is lying. Three times we ask the player if they want to turn around, and warn that the consequences will be terrible. It’s entirely their choice. And because they’re our players, they generally turn. Bless them.

Gardiner is the narrative director on Fallen London, but he isn’t putting this deliciously grotesque universe together himself. The entire project is the brainchild of Alexis Kennedy, an acclaimed video-game writer and designer who’s helping build the new Dragon Age. Kennedy founded Failbetter in 2010, as Fallen London was gaining a sizable cult following, and over the following years, he tended to the game’s story alongside a small team of writers and fans-turned-employees. He left Failbetter in 2016 on good terms, placing Fallen London in Gardiner’s hands.

“His were very big shoes to fill,” Gardiner says. “Failbetter was his baby, and he was involved in every aspect of it. Even when his duties meant he didn’t have much time to write content, Alexis was always the arbiter and guardian of Fallen London’s lore and tone. Maintaining that tone has been a crucial priority for us, and I was concerned about it. I’d been head writer for a while, so the team wasn’t left without a lead experienced in writing for Fallen London. And, fortunately, Alexis left us a game consisting of hundreds of thousands of words of stories, which is as comprehensive an authority as you can get.”

Today, the Fallen London team maintains a living document of every event and arc in the game, constantly growing it as new activities are introduced. The doc is streamlined, containing only basic, businesslike information about any particular event — and still, it’s 131 pages long.

“Every time we write a new story, we add to it, like the ever-expanding occult tome of a very well-organized sorcerer who believes highlighters and Post-It notes are true magic,” Gardiner says.

If necessary, writers can also dive directly into the game’s back end and search for specific text or mechanical elements, though given the size of the story, this is a laborious process.

“Increasingly, we rely on the expertise of the writers,” Gardiner says. “Each writer tends to become an authority on different parts of the lore.”

There are four writers working on Fallen London, including Gardiner, plus an analyst and a handful of freelancers who chip in as needed. They operate in a multistep editing loop that ensures each piece of the story fits into the overall Fallen London universe (and that it’s as eerie, romantic or disturbing as possible).

This week, Failbetter announced its renewed focus on Fallen London. The game has been on the back burner for a while as developers worked on Sunless Sea and its sequel, Sunless Skies. Some of the mechanics and stories have languished in the meantime, and Gardiner says it’s simply time to dust off the cobwebs and dive back into the Echo Bazaar.

Throughout 2017, the Fallen London team promises to continue a few storylines, such as “The Cheery Man” and “Last Constable,” “The Dilmun Club, A Return to the Empress’ Court and the Light Fingers ambition. This is on top of the game’s expected stories and events, including the next mayoral election, a large-scale affair where players chose the leader of Fallen London. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Failbetter is improving its own writing tools.

“Everyone’s been in the role at least a year, and our process is well-established and polished,” Gardiner says, noting that the team has expanded to include freelancers like Emily Short. “Failbetter has grown in all other areas, too — tech, analytics, art, production. We’re now in a place where we’re able to commit dedicated resource to some things that otherwise would have missed out to higher-priority tasks.”

Besides, Failbetter wants to reward veteran players who have been clamoring for these updates for a long while. “We’ve always seen this content as an unpaid debt, and it’s time to pay it off,” he says.

Fallen London never sleeps. Since its inception in 2009, it’s continued to evolve, gathering new stories, items, characters and creeps under the city’s yellowed gas lamps. Kennedy, Gardiner and Failbetter have written more than 1.5 million words for Fallen London so far, and they’re nowhere near done.

Fallen London is the story of a city, and a city doesn’t stop,” Gardiner says. “There are definitely stories that will conclude, but London won’t. Some players will feel a natural stopping point when some stories — like the ambitions that drove them to London — are at an end, but the game won’t force them to leave. We want players to spend as much time in Fallen London as they choose. And if they want to leave and come back, that’s fine too. We’ll always make you welcome, Delicious Friend.”


Recommended Reading: The bright future of free over-the-air TV

Free Over-the-Air TV
Is Going to Get Better

James K. Willcox,
Consumer Reports

Thanks to a new standard known as ATSC 3.0, over-the-air TV broadcasts will include all the newfangled tech like 4K and HDR. Consumer Reports has the run down on what that means for OTA, including whether or not you may have to pay for it.

Who Are the Shadow Brokers?
Bruce Schneier, The Atlantic

If you need to catch up on the group that’s leaking the NSA’s cyber efforts, The Atlantic has you covered.

How Facebook Can Fight the Hate
Jeremy Kahn , Bloomberg Businessweek

Facebook is dealing with fake news, violent videos and more, but Bloomberg offers some thoughts on how the social network can deter hate speech and extremist content.

How Instagram Explore Became the Realest Place on the Web
David Pierce, Wired

The Explore tab on Instagram may know you better than your know yourself.

Mossberg: The Disappearing Computer
Walt Mossberg, The Verge

Walt Mossberg is retiring after an amazing career as a tech journalist. His final column for The Verge is absolutely worth a read.


British Airways IT failure cancels many flights out of London

Airline glitches and the ensuing pandemonium are nothing new, but they’ve just hit one of the world’s largest travel hubs. British Airways has suffered a global IT system failure so serious that it cancelled all its flights out of London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports before 6PM local time on Saturday. Some parts of BA’s website and check-in features were unavailable, too, and passengers on London-bound BA flights also faced delays. They frequently can’t even book new flights to make up for the old ones.

It’s not certain what triggered the outage, but BA says it hasn’t seen evidence of an attack on its network.

To say this is causing chaos would be an understatement. It’s a bank holiday weekend in the UK, so the terminals were chock full of travelers hoping to visit friends and family — the cancellation likely just wrecked their plans. While many of them will get compensation, that’s not much comfort given the timing.

And this is a dire situation for British Airways, of course. It’s the sixth major crash for its recently installed system in the space of roughly a year, and the timing makes it one of the highest-profile incidents to date. It suggests there’s something fundamentally flawed with its newer infrastructure, and that there’s no simple fix. It also underscores the importance of reliability for transportation tech. Even a relatively rare crash bug can become a serious headache if it tarnishes an airline’s reputation and results in expensive payouts to angry travelers.

UPDATE: Following a worldwide @British_Airways IT system issue, all British Airways flights pre-6pm (UTC+1) have been cancelled at Heathrow.

— Heathrow Airport (@HeathrowAirport) May 27, 2017

@British_Airways this queue goes up one side, down the other as far as you can see and the same distance again left!

— Lee Warner (@LeeJWarner) May 27, 2017

Via: The Guardian, BBC

Source: Heathrow Airport (Twitter), British Airways (Twitter)


The top 10 best gadgets used by Roger Moore’s James Bond

Sir Roger Moore, who died this week at the grand old age of 89, was best known for playing the British secret agent James Bond in seven movies during the 1970s and 80s. (That ties him with Sean Connery for the record for playing Bond the most number of times — if you count Connery’s unofficial Bond movie, Never Say Never Again.)

Moore starred in some of the silliest, but most entertaining movies in the series, and nothing typified Moore’s Bond more than the zany gadgets used in the films. Here are our picks for the top 10 most memorable.

10. The walkie-talkie watch (For Your Eyes Only, 1981)

In last place on our list is the walkie-talkie Seiko watch Bond wears in For Your Eyes Only. While not a bad film, this 1981 Bond outing is probably the least Roger Moore-esque of all the movies he starred in. Part of that meant paring the gadgets down to make it all seem faintly more believable. True, a watch you can use like a miniature phone is pretty neat, but it can’t measure any higher than 10th place on this roundup. Even if a parrot does use it to speak with Margaret Thatcher in the movie’s climactic scene.

9. Acid-dropping fountain pen (Octopussy, 1983)

The pen certainly turns out to be mightier than the sword in the controversially titled Octopussy, during which Bond is given a pen containing concentrated nitric and hydrochloric acid. Again, this isn’t a terrible gadget by any means, but it’s far from the wacky heights Roger Moore’s other gadgetry would reach. AWe do have to give Q props for designing a fountain pen with acid that’s strong enough to eat through the steel bars of a cell, but not through the pen itself. There’s probably a Kickstarter campaign in there somewhere!

8. The “Identigraph” (For Your Eyes Only, 1981)

Facial recognition and high-end computer graphics are seemingly everywhere these days, but the world was a very different place in the early 1980s. For Your Eyes Only’s “Identigraph” is one of those cool, rare Bond gadgets that actually has a trace of real-worldliness to it. It lets Bond describe a person of interest in his own words, and then renders a 3D composite of their face. Very neat stuff.

7. Mink-lined submarine (View to a Kill, 1985)

A View to a Kill is a weirdly gadget-free movie, although we do get one superb entry for our list. That’s James Bond’s mink-lined submarine, which is disguised as an iceberg. Central features? A Union Jack and a double bed. It is a James Bond movie, after all.

6. Scaramanga’s Golden Gun (The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974)

Unless you’ve got a thing for fake rubber nipples (which turn out to be a weirdly important plot point), the best gadget in The Man With The Golden Gun has got to be Scaramanga’s Golden Gun itself. We’ve ranked it lower on this list because it’s not actually used by Bond, but it’s certainly worth a mention. The stealthy gun consists of a ballpoint pen, cigarette lighter and case, and cuff link. The bullet is hidden by Scaramanga in his belt link. In the original source novel, the gun was a golden Derringer, with bullets coated in deadly snake venom — which is pretty badass as well.

5. Aerostar (Octopussy, 1983)

The second best vehicle in a Roger Moore movie, the Bede BD-5J “Aerostar” jet is flown during the pre-credits sequence of Octopussy. It’s kept in a horse trailer, disguised by the fake mechanical backside of a horse, which lifts up when Bond needs to make a getaway. This one earns our admiration for not just being a great Bond gadget, but actually a genuine aircraft that was, at one point, the smallest functioning jet plane in the world.

4. Compressed-gas shark gun (Live and Let Die, 1973)

Live and Let Die was Roger Moore’s first Bond movie and, weirdly, is missing a lot of the regular Bond tropes. There’s no Bond in the pre-credits sequence, no sighting of Bond in a tuxedo, no briefing in M’s office, no Q scene at all, no John Barry score, and no Martini, either shaken nor stirred. What there is, however, is a brilliant gadget in the form of a compressed-gas shark gun. When one of the capsules is stuffed into the mouth of the villainous Kananga, the results are one of the silliest, yet most memorable deaths in the whole franchise.

3. The dart gun watch (Moonraker, 1979)

Bond sports a digital Seiko watch in Moonraker, just as he did in The Spy Who Loved Me. The Moonraker Seiko doubles as a stealth dart gun, and is activated by nerve impulses. It comes with five blue darts with armor-piercing capabilities, and five red ones that are tipped with cyanide. In a bit of a cheat moment, since it’s never alluded to earlier, it also turns out to have a fuse and explosive hidden inside, which helps Bond and Dr. Holly Goodhead escape from certain rocket incineration.

2. The magnetic buzz-saw watch (Live and Let Die, 1973)

The Rolex Submariner 5513 from Live and Let Die slightly edges out the watch from Moonraker, in part because a Rolex is a whole lot more attractive than a clunky early digital watch. This one packs dual uses. (Well, three if you count something as boring as “telling the time.”) Not only does it have an ultra-powerful magnet built in, but there’s also a nifty buzz-saw bezel. That’s great if you’re slowly being lowered into a shark tank while tied up just loosely enough to wiggle your wrist; less so if you’re a forgetful sort who just wants to glance at the time.

1. The underwater Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977)

Although we’ve got a personal soft spot for the weird hovering tea tray that Q demonstrates in one scene in the film, the undisputed star gadget of The Spy Who Loved Me — and this list — is the Lotus Esprit. Not only does it look fairly boss on dry land, it can also swim underwater, spray concrete, fire missiles, drop mines, and pollute the ocean with a cloud of ink. They didn’t worry about things like that in the 1970s.


Family fight: Microsoft’s Surface Pro battles the Microsoft Surface Laptop

Microsoft just released the new Surface Pro, a minor but nifty revision of the popular Surface Pro 4. The Surface Pro joins the new Surface Laptop as the youngest member of the Microsoft Surface family, and in some ways, these two machines are as similar as they are different. As a Windows 10 2-in-1, the Surface Pro — which officially drops Microsoft’s numbering scheme — aims to provide additional flexibility, whereas the Surface Laptop wants to be the ultimate notebook for traditionalists.

Inside, the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop bear a striking resemblance to one another, especially given both have adopted new color schemes and matching accessories. They’re also similarly equipped in the hardware department, when it comes to processing power, RAM, and storage. It’s as if Microsoft engineered two different species from the same genetic material.

But which machine is right for you? Below, we pitted the two directly against one another in an effort to suss out the details.

Specifications by-the-numbers

Surface Laptop

Surface Pro (2017)

12.13 x 8.79 x .57 (in)
11.50 x 7.9 x 0.33 (in)
2.76 pounds
1.69 – 1.73 pounds
7th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7
7th-generation Intel Core m3, i5, or i7
4G, 8GB, or 16GB
4GB, 8GB, or 16GB
13.5-inch PixelSense display
12.3-in PixelSense display
2,256 × 1,504
2,736 x 1,824
128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD
128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, optional LTE
USB Type-A 3.0, mini-DisplayPort, Surface Connect port, 3.5mm headset
USB Type-A, mini-DisplayPort, Surface Connect Port, 3.5mm headset jack, microSDXC card reader
720p HD with infrared camera for Windows Hello support
5.0MP 1080p front-facing camera with infrared camera for Windows Hello support, 8.0MP 1080p rear-facing autofocus camera
Operating System
Windows 10 S, upgradeable to Windows 10 Pro
Windows 10
Up to 14.5 hours
Up to 13.5 hours
Available June 15
Available June 15

Similar designs, different materials

Microsoft has done a masterful job in creating a design aesthetic for the Surface line that maintains the brand’s identity but isn’t simply cookie cutter. The Surface Pro and Surface Laptop are obviously of the same family, but each looks and feels like it should for the kind of machine it is. They’re both solidly build with the usual Surface quality and attention to detail, and they both incorporate a splash of color with Alcantara fabric surrounding the keyboard.

Of course, they’re also completely different machines. The Surface Laptop is — as the name implies — a traditional clamshell notebook without any kind of convertibility. The Surface Pro, on the other hand, is a tablet that turns into a notebook-style machine when the Type Cover keyboard is snapped on. In fact, Microsoft stopped calling the Surface Pro a “tablet that can replace your notebook” and just refers to it generically as a “laptop.” Tricky.

In terms of specifics, the Surface Laptop is machined from a chunk of aluminum, eschewing the magnesium alloy used on other Surface devices. It’s very thin for a notebook at 0.57 inches, and light at 2.76 pounds, making it thinner and lighter than Apple’s MacBook Pro 13. The Surface Laptop is a wedge design, meaning that it tapers from its thickest point at the rear down to very thin at the front, which results in a more comfortable typing angle. It also incorporates the aforementioned Alcantara fabric on the keyboard deck that comes in four colors — platinum, burgundy, cobalt blue, and graphite gold — and the optional Surface Pen comes in the same color scheme. Notably, the Surface Laptop carries the same color scheme throughout its chassis and is, therefore, a very colorful machine as well.

The Surface Pro is made from the company’s usual magnesium alloy, and it’s very similar to the previous generations, only with slightly rounded edges. It’s a touch thinner and lighter, at 0.33 inches and a maximum of 1.73 pounds, but not by much, demonstrating that Microsoft found a comfortable mix of design and materials and then stuck with it. Attach the new keyboard and the combination weighs in at 2.41 pounds, which is similar to the Surface Laptop when fully assembled.

Speaking of, the new Signature Type Covers are slightly improved over the previous models and are covered in Alcantara fabric in platinum, burgundy, cobalt blue, or black. The Surface Pen can be color matched as well, but isn’t included with the tablet — or rather, laptop — this time around. The Surface Pro itself is the same magnesium silver as past Surface devices, and thus features a more muted design overall.

It’s hard to pick a winner between these two machines. They’re both similarly thin and light when all of the required accessories are taken into account, and they’re both well-built and very attractive machines. You can’t even fault one over the other in terms of notebook versus 2-in-1 because either form factor can be right or wrong depending on a given user’s requirements.

Winner: Tie

Great display vs. even better display

If there’s one thing Microsoft got right with the Surface line, it’s its choice in displays. First, it switched to the 3:2 aspect ratio with the Surface Pro 3, which is taller than the common 16:9 widescreen ratio and better for productivity. There’s some letterboxing when watching video, but you get to see more of your documents. Second, Microsoft uses high-resolution and high-quality displays that are sharp, offer excellent contrast with deep blacks, and provide solid color support. No matter which Surface you buy, you’re guaranteed to get one of the best displays around.

The display on the Surface Laptop is a 13.5-inch PixelSense panel with 2,256 x 1,504 resolution, or 201PPI. It features Corning Gorilla Glass for scratch and shatter resistance, and it supports 10-point multitouch and the Surface Pen. A 720p HD webcam sits above the display where it belongs, and an infrared camera provides Windows Hello support via facial recognition.

Surface Laptop First Impressions

The Surface Pro sports a 12.3-inch PixelSense display with 2,736 x 1,824 resolution, or 267PPI — making it one of the sharpest “laptop” displays around. It’s also protected by Corning Gorilla Glass, and offers 10-point multitouch and Surface Pen support. The Surface Pro’s active digitizer has been enhanced with a hardware accelerator and quadruples the pressure sensitivity at 4,096 levels, and so it’s the best-performing and most accurate of all the Surface devices for drawing and handwriting on the screen. A 5-megapixel, 1080p HD webcam is on front, with Windows Hello support via infrared camera and facial recognition, and there’s an 8-megapixel camera with autofocus and 1080p video support on the back.

Again, it’s difficult to pick a winner here. These are excellent displays with high resolutions — albeit, neither are 4K UHD — and the same 3:2 aspect ratio. They both support touch and pen input, although both make far more sense on the detachable Surface Pro. You really can’t go wrong with either. We’re going to give the nod here to the Surface Pro, however, given its higher sharpness and its superior pen specifications. Plus, it’s simply a more natural device for Windows Inking.

Winner: Surface Pro

Very similar for typing and touching

Microsoft’s most recent Type Covers have always provided a solid typing experience, with some points taken away for providing a slightly less stable experience when the keyboard is magnetically attached at an angle.

Microsoft has used a similar keyboard design on the Surface Laptop, and of course, the use of Alcantara fabric across the board means that the Surface Pro and Surface Laptop are going to feel very similar when in use. Both keyboards offer 1.5-millimeter travel, and a similar feel.

The touchpads are also similar, with Microsoft Precision Touchpad support, multitouch capability, and a glass surface. The Surface Laptop’s touchpad appears to be a bit larger, however, and that counts for something.

It’s becoming a theme in this comparison, but again, picking a winner is difficult. If you went back and forth between the two machines, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference in the typing and touchpad experience. However, the Type Cover does bounce around a little when typing, and isn’t as spacious, so we think the Surface Laptop edges out the Surface Pro here.

Winner: Surface Laptop

Almost identical hardware

The Surface Laptop utilizes Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, with the former offering Intel HD 620 graphics and the latter bumping up to Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics. UP to 16GB of RAM can be configured, and up to a 1TB PCIe SSD can be selected (eventually, but just 512GB for now). All of that makes the Surface Laptop competitive on paper with other thin-and-light notebooks.

The Surface Pro offers a wider range of processors, including the low-power Intel Core m3, Core i5, and Core i7. Notably, the Core m3 and Core i5 models are fanless, meaning they’ll be completely silent in operation but could theoretically slow down more quickly when they heat up. The Core i7 also promises quieter fans than previous generations. The Surface Pro can be configured with up to 16GB of RAM and up to a 1TB PCIe SSD, and it also offers Intel Iris Pro 640 graphics with the Core i7 option.

Obviously, it’s reasonable to expect these peers to perform similarly. The big difference is the availability of a less powerful Core m3 chip in the Pro, which is not available in the Laptop.

Winner: Tie

Both are limited to the past when it comes to plugging in

Microsoft has taken a curious position regarding the increasingly ubiquitous USB Type-C connection. While most manufacturers are moving steadily in the direction of this futuristic connectivity, Microsoft believes that the USB Type-C connection is basically too confusing for its customers. We tend to think that’s a bit silly, and that it’s a real shame that Microsoft left off a port that would provide some additional longevity.

That said, the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro both offer similarly limited connectivity. Both have a single USB 3.0 Type-A port, a mini-DisplayPort, the Surface Connect port, and a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. The Surface Pro, however, includes a Type Cover connector and microSD card reader.

We’re disappointed with the connectivity of both machines. However, the Surface Pro can at least more easily transfer some images from a camera given its microSD card reader, and so we’ll grudgingly give that machine the win in this category.

Winner: Surface Pro

The laptop lasts longer than the 2-in-1

As mentioned above, both the Surface Laptop and Surface Pro are thin and light machines for their respective categories. And, when you attach the Type Cover to the Surface Pro, the two machines become even more alike in terms of tossing in a backpack and carrying around. The Surface Laptop is a larger machine because of its larger display, but there’s remarkably little difference between the two machines otherwise.

The same can be said for battery life, where Microsoft has made some promising strides. On paper, at least, and depending on the configuration, Microsoft is promising 14.5 hours of battery life with the Surface Laptop and 13.5 hours with the Surface Pro. That gives the Laptop a small victory here.

Winner: Surface Laptop

Pricing and availability

The Surface Laptop was introduced at Microsoft’s recent education-oriented event, which was odd considering that it’s not at all an inexpensive machine. Microsoft anticipates that it will be popular among college students who might otherwise gravitate toward a MacBook, but otherwise, it’s not going to make its way into many classrooms. It starts at $999 with a Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD, and jumps all the way up to $2,199 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD.

The Surface Laptop comes standard with the limited Windows 10 S, which only allows apps to be installed from the Windows Store. That’s not going to be popular with many buyers of this class of machine, and it makes us wonder exactly what Microsoft is planning. It’s easy enough to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, however, and that’s free until the end of 2017 when the upgrade will cost $49.

The Surface Pro is priced similarly to the Surface Pro 4, though the as-yet-unpriced new Surface Pen is no longer included. Pricing starts at $799 for a Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD, and jumps all the way up to $2,699 for a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. It is, therefore, a real mix in terms of pricing, offering decent pricing at the low end but then heading straight for the stratosphere when more attractively configured. Keep in mind that the Signature Type Cover runs $160, meaning that a fully-equipped, entry-level Surface Pro will cost around $960, plus whatever price Microsoft attaches to the new Surface Pen.

Winner: Tie


It might not seem fair to pit these two against each other. They’re aimed at different markets with very different use cases. Yet they’re very similar machines, and we bet many are wondering if it makes sense to leap to the Surface Pro’s 2-in-1 design, or stick with the more traditional Laptop.

Our comparison tilts slightly in favor of the Surface Pro. It has a better display, a wider range of configuration options, and a more versatile package. In exchange, it’s not quite as enjoyable to use as a laptop, and drops an hour of quoted battery life. Weighing the pros and cons can be difficult, a choice must be made — and the Pro is the one we’d buy.


5 solutions to fix your Huawei P10’s problems and get it back to normal

The Huawei P10 and P10 Plus are an impressive pair of smartphones, which aim to compete with the current offerings from Samsung, Google, and Apple. The devices haven’t been around for very long, and they’re currently unreleased in the United States, but that didn’t stop us from putting our ears to the digital ground to hear the complaints of the masses. You may have seen a couple of these Huawei P10 problems already, especially if you’re considering upgrading, but it never hurts to know what the big issues are, find out if they’re actually problems, and see whether solutions are available now or coming soon.

Problem: Slow memory speeds

This particular problem has been noticed by Chinese owners and reported on by both Engadget and Android Central. It’s not something most people would notice, but the basic issue is this: The Huawei P10 and P10 Plus should have decent flash memory speeds, or speeds that outperform older Huawei phones like the Mate 9. However, some of the company’s new handsets have not met expectations, which prompted many to wonder if something was wrong with their new smartphones, or if Huawei wasn’t being as truthful about their device’s technical specs.

Official solution:

  • The Huawei P10 and P10 Plus can have one of two chips, the older eMMC 5.1, or the newer UFS 2.0/2.1. Due to supply shortages, Huawei had to substitute the UFS chips with the eMMC, resulting in the aforementioned slower speeds. It’s unclear if newer batches of the phone will all have the UFS chips, but for right now, either you got lucky and your phone has the latest chip, or you were unlucky and have to deal with the eMMC chips.

Problem: Device doesn’t work after unlock

After unlocking the Huawei P10 using the fingerprint sensor, the phone will occasionally cease to function correctly. The user can still swipe on the home screen, but cannot open apps, navigate menus, or even lock the phone. Instead, the screen can just be turned off.

Temporary solution:

  • Restarting the phone has been said to briefly fix the problem. After an unspecified amount of time, however, the problem will return.

Potential solutions:

  • Wipe the cache partition:
    • Start by turning your phone off completely.
    • Press and hold the Volume Up and Power keys until the Huawei logo appears and the screen turns black.
    • Release the keys and “EMUI” should appear, meaning you’ve triggered the phone’s recovery system.
    • Use the Volume Down key to highlight wipe cache partition and use the Power key to select it.
    • Confirm your selection, and wait for your phone to finish the wiping process. Afterward, it should restart automatically.
  • Factory reset:
    • If you’re still able to navigate through your phone’s menus, go to Settings > Advanced settings > Backup & reset > Factory data reset > Reset phone. Be sure not to tap “Erase internal storage,” as this will wipe all of your music, photos, and videos.
      • If you wish to back up your data before the reset, go to Backup > Internal storage > Next. Then, choose what you want to save and tap Back up.
      • You can also connect your phone to your PC using a USB cable, if you want to back up your data.
    • If you’re unable to navigate the menus, Huawei has a program for the PC called HiSuite, which can be used to back up your phone, restore your data, update the firmware, and even factory reset it.
  • Boot phone into Safe Mode, as a third-party app could be causing the issue:
    • To boot into Safe Mode, start by turning your phone off.
    • Press and hold the Power key.
    • When the Huawei logo appears, release the Power key, then hold down the Volume Down key. If done correctly, you should see “Safe Mode“ on the screen.
    • If your phone can be unlocked and functions normally, it’s possible that a third-party app is the cause of the malfunction. Delete other third-party apps one by one until you discover the culprit.
  • Contact Huawei Support.

Annoyance: Device asks for PIN/password instead of fingerprint

Threads on the XDA Developers and Android Central forums have people asking about a scenario in which the Huawei P10 asks its user to unlock the device using a method other than the fingerprint sensor. According to both threads, every three days the device will require a PIN or password to unlock, instead of the set fingerprints.

Official solution:

  • This is a feature built into the EMUI software running on Huawei phones, and is meant to act as a security measure. The user manual for the P10 even states that you can only use a fingerprint to unlock the phone “when the unlock method is set to PIN or password.” So, while PIN or password security is always on, you’re just being allowed to use the fingerprint sensor for a time. Should you ever restart your device, or the fingerprint scan fails, you’ll always have the PIN or password as a backup. For now, however, there doesn’t seem to be a way to extend how long you can go without using the PIN or password. B. Diddy, an Android Central forum user, notes that this requirement also happens on Nexus phones, so it’s not something exclusive to Huawei.

Issue: Volume unusually loud for app notifications, alarms, and media

A handful of people on the XDA Developers forums have all run into the same issue involving their P10 and P10 Plus’ volume levels. Users are able to adjust the volume for the phone’s ringer as intended, but are unable to control how loud sounds are for other aspects of the device, such as app notifications, alarms, video calls from apps like WhatsApp, and more. For some, sounds still play, even when they’re supposed to be muted, or when the phone is in Silent Mode (Settings > Sound > Silent Mode).

Potential workaround:

  • If sounds — other than those tied to your phone’s ringer — are too loud, simply turning them off via the “Do not disturb” feature may provide some peace and quiet. Enable and configure the feature in Settings > Do not disturb, and toggle Do not disturb on. Afterward, tap Do not disturb mode and you can configure settings for incoming calls and messages, and adjust which alarms are allowed to play when this mode is enabled.

Potential solutions:

  • A future update issued by Huawei for EMUI may fix this issue, or perhaps a future Android update.
  • Restart your phone and head to Settings > Sound > Volume to adjust your phone’s system volume. Here, you’ll find volume sliders for alarms, ringtones, media, and calls.
  • Reset your phone to its initial factory settings and see if you can adjust the various volumes to your liking.
  • Reach out to Huawei support.

Glitch: Fingerprint sensor not working

For one reason or another, some Huawei P10 owners have found they’re suddenly unable to use the fingerprint sensor, and the option found within the phone’s menus is gone as well. It’s unclear what causes the issue, and whether Huawei is aware of this problem, which seems to be afflicting a small number of people.

Temporary solution:

  • A factory reset has been said to bring sensor functionality back.

Potential solutions:

  • Restart your  phone and try the fingerprint sensor again.
  • Boot your phone into Safe Mode and see if the problem persists. If not, a third-party app may be causing the issue, and you may have to find and delete the app to resolve it.
    • To boot into Safe Mode, start by turning your phone off.
    • Press and hold the Power key.
    • When the Huawei logo appears, release the Power key, then hold down the Volume Down key. If done correctly, you should see “Safe Mode” on the screen.
  • Reach out to Huawei Support to ask about a replacement phone, or to have your phone repaired, as your fingerprint sensor may be faulty.


Want to know your Uber passenger rating? Here’s how to check

Since its inception, people have hailed Uber as an innovative replacement for the taxi services of yesteryear. Promising consumers quick service with upfront pricing — and car owners a chance to make easy money on their own schedule — the ride-sharing service has become one of the most recognizable brands of the 21st century. And while some might retort that Uber’s business model relies on skirting labor laws and responsible business practices, and that the sharing economy it has helped propagate is ultimately a negative for workers, it’s doubtful that people will stop using it anytime soon. After all, it’s far too convenient.

While Uber helps users find quality drivers through its five-star rating system, the grading goes both ways. Drivers can also rate riders, helping future drivers avoid any unsavory characters. If you want to find out what your rating is, you can check it easily from within the app. Here’s how.

Looking up your Uber rating

Step 1 — While viewing the map screen, tap the menu button — the three horizontal lines — in the upper-left corner of your display.

Step 2 — Tap the Help button in the resulting pop-up drawer.

Step 3 — Tap Account and Payment Options on the following page.

Step 4 — Tap Changing My Account Settings from the list of options.

Step 5 — Select I’d like to know my rating near the middle of the following page.

Step 6 — Here, you will be given a disclaimer about how ratings work. Once you’ve vetted the information, tap the Submit button to see your rating.

My rating is low! What can I do?

If you are unsatisfied with your rating, don’t let it get you down. There’s still time to repent and atone! Reflect on your boorish behavior — maybe you spilled hamburger on your driver’s seat and didn’t apologize, maybe you drank too much and said some vulgar things about their chosen profession — and follow some basic tips to get your rating up.

First, be punctual. Have you ever summoned an Uber driver and had them show up within minutes? That sort of timeliness is convenient, and so it might irk your driver if you dawdle. You may annoy your driver if you take a few minutes to get ready, for instance, and your rating could suffer a penalty as a result. Being ready to leave before you call an Uber is generally the best way to go.

Don’t eat in the car. As tempting as it may be to scarf down some greasy food after a night of partying, remember that your driver’s car is their personal ride, and nobody likes strangers — or clients, for that matter — spilling food in their car. Refrain from doing so until you step out of the vehicle and into your own home.

Compliment your driver when they do a great job — and not just in real life! The Uber app now sports a “compliments” feature. When you give a driver a five-star rating, you can also compliment them via various stickers, essentially handing them a badge for such deeds as having a cool car, or playing great music. Doing so could foster a good attitude in your driver, leaving them more likely to rate you favorably.

In general, just be polite. As with any business transaction, you’re dealing with another human being, and an exchange of money and services is no reason to abandon common decency.


Mophie Juicepack for Pixel XL: A beast of battery burden

What do you get someone who has a nearly perfect phone? More battery life, of course.

Google’s Pixel XL is a lot of things. It’s the phone to have if you’re into tinkering. It gets updates before any other phone. It’s got a camera that’s considered one of the best available today.

But battery life? That’s not always been its strongest asset, even considering its 3,450mAh capacity.

For years, the Mophie Juicepack has been the go-to battery case. Mostly for the iPhone, but more recently for Samsung’s Galaxy S line. And now, it’s available for the Pixel XL.

What you need to know: This case will make the phone thicker. Longer. Heavier. It’ll make the fingerprint sensor harder to get to.

And it’ll increase battery capacity by more than 75%.

Notice I don’t say “battery life.” Actual usage time is one of those things that very much will vary from person to person, even with the extra 2,950mAh. But with that sort of increase, you know that you’ll be running much longer than you would have otherwise. (And reminder that you gain wireless charging with this thing.)

The soft-touch coating on the case is exactly what we’ve come to expect over the years — just about perfect, if still prone to the oil from your fingers. The seam where the top half of the case meets the bottom is well out of the way and nicely matched in any event. And the case itself should do its usual protection job.

Oh, this doesn’t feel like a Pixel XL anymore. There’s nothing svelte about this phone when it’s wearing a Juicepack. I’m now showing 9.75 ounces on the scale (up from the naked phone’s 5.83 ounces). The flat back is demolished by what I want to describe as something more whale-like.

We’ve all seen these cases before. They’re beasts.

See at Amazon

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Get a lifetime subscription to premium web development courses for $50

A career in web development is a career well-invested in today’s marketplace. Many companies are moving to an entirely online business model, and if you’re looking for job security, you’ll want to get in on the development side if you’re at all interested. Or maybe you’re already a developer, but you have been for 20 years and haven’t kept up with current technology and trends.

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If you want to stay relevant in the web development world, you need to update your skills and learn the latest techniques. Check out SitePoint Premium Courses, but don’t check them out for $450. Check out a lifetime subscription at Android Central Digital Offers for $49.99 and don’t forget to use coupon code MEMDAY15 at checkout for an additional 15% off!


The Morning After: Weekend Edition

Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

Welcome to the weekend. If you have an extra day off, then that may provide time to catch up on our new Tomorrow section, plus the latest Google Search feature and Apple’s plan for AI.

Let’s talk about the future.Welcome to Tomorrow, the home of stuff that hasn’t happened yet


This week we launched a brand new section on Engadget, which is dedicated to bringing the future into focus. Our launch week stories have covered everything from prosthetics to binge watching to the art of nuclear war — and there’s much more to come.

You think?Apple is reportedly working on a dedicated mobile chip for AI


On-device machine learning is suddenly a highlight feature for smartphones, and unsurprisingly there are rumors Apple is going to improve the iPhone’s capabilities in that area. Google and Qualcomm have a bit of a head start in AI, but we’ve already seen the folks in Cupertino whip up dedicated hardware to boost things like motion tracking and wireless audio. It’s unclear how soon the “Apple Neural Engine” could arrive, but we’ll be looking for more information at WWDC.

Wonder what we’ll find there?Google Search has a new tab: Personal


Given how much data Google probably has accumulated about you, there’s no surprise that its latest search option is all about one person. If you take a look at the Personal search (currently available on the web for most), it will pull up results from your Gmail, Google Photos and other linked sources. It could be more convenient than switching tabs, or just when you want an NSA-level view on everything you’ve shared with big G.

Guac is still extraChipotle finds malware exposed credit card info across the US


Another day, another restaurant’s credit card systems have been hacked. This time Chipotle is up, and if you ate at one of its locations during March or April, your card information might have been exposed.

Helium, not hydrogenSergey Brin’s big airship plans

The latest set of rumors around Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s dirigible project suggests that when completed, it will be the largest flying object in the world. At 200m long, it should be easy to see when Brin takes it out for a test drive, or in normal operation splitting time between deliveries of humanitarian supplies and luxury air yacht trips for the exec’s family.

Too real to kill.Truly intelligent enemies could change the face of gaming


Using AI to create nuanced and challenging virtual rivals could make games more realistic than ever — but have we considered all the possible downsides?

But wait, there’s more…

  • Nokia’s throwback phone is too basic for 2017
  • NASA’s Juno mission discovers Jupiter is really weird
  • Bad Password: The Facebook president and Zuck’s racist rulebook
  • Everyone’s favorite useless Pokemon gets its own game
  • Microsoft’s new Surface Pro is both lighter and quieter

The Morning After is a new daily newsletter from Engadget designed to help you fight off FOMO. Who knows what you’ll miss if you don’t subscribe.

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