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17
Jun

‘The Last Night’ is a stunning take on 16-bit games for the 4K generation


Indie darling The Last Night stepped onto the big stage this week at E3. The game was announced as an Xbox exclusive during the same event that Microsoft officially revealed its powerful new 4K console: the Xbox One X. After those proceedings, we sat down with Odd Tales’ Tim Soret for an update on the “cinematic platformer” and to discuss the recent controversy about his tweets.

You’ve heard us say this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: The Last Night looks amazing. It’s one of the most visually stunning games I’ve seen in a long time, and watching parts of the game in the 4K trailer makes it look even better. The 16-bit aesthetic, set inside an immersive cyberpunk world full of depth, lighting and texture is an intriguing mix of old and new. That’s exactly what Soret is going for — right down to the side-scrolling navigation.

“I wanted to create a glorified game, in a way,” Soret told me at E3. “It’s like the old games as you remember them, not as how they really are. Imagination makes everything better than it actually was.”

Unfortunately, we won’t be able to play The Last Night until next year, when it’s scheduled to arrive on both Xbox One and Windows. Yes, the game has been in the works for a couple of years, but the team at Odd Tales is incredibly small. Not to mention the fact that when he started working on The Last Night, Soret didn’t have a studio and wasn’t really a game developer per se. However, his background as an effects artist is on full display here.

When it is available, expect to get lost in a world where your interactions with other characters have consequences both immediately and later on in the game. Soret explains that the characters remember how you treat them and if you’re a real asshole, they’ll remember the next time you see them.

“I don’t want systemic gameplay, I wanted to make only unique situations,” he explained. “We have branching dialogues in the game.” Soret gave me an example of knowing that a character you’re talking to in the game had information but is hiding it. You can choose to try and persuade her to give it up through conversation or you can choose to threaten her.

“We have a system where every NPC has a memory that recalls every choice you made and everything you did to them,” he said. “If you threaten someone, imagine having to go back to ask him for something. It might not be in your favor.” Soret said the characters also share information, so word-of-mouth is something else you’ll have to contend with. As the game goes on, the world becomes increasingly restrictive due to factors like politics, the police and others, so you feel more and more like you’re trapped.

Soret has recently come under fire for some of his tweets on feminism, equality and other hot topics. Both he and The Last Night publisher Raw Fury released statements this week admitting that Soret used a poor choice of words and those posts don’t reflect who he is now or the overall premise of the game. Soret has also had very public and very heated debates with Anita Sarkeesian regarding her efforts battling sexism in the gaming industry.

“I’m trying to clarify any misleading statements I made in the past,” he said. “Twitter doesn’t lend itself to understanding all of the context and the mindset I was in when I was talking about those things.” Soret admits the backlash during E3 was rough, but he says that he’s for equality and that The Last Night has nothing to do with the negative side of the issues he discussed in a social-media setting.

“I’m not trying to push any agenda anywhere,” he explained. “I hope that by the time the game arrives, everything will be clarified and people will understand it’s worth it.”

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

17
Jun

IndieCade’s ‘resist’ theme at E3 holds a mirror to society


IndieCade CEO Stephanie Barish operates at the heart of the independent-development community, running shows throughout the year that highlight some of the most innovative, thoughtful and beautiful games the industry has to offer.

This year, IndieCade sponsored the #ResistJam, an international competition “about creating games that resist oppressive authoritarianism in all its forms.” The #ResistJam took place in March, not long after President Donald Trump unexpectedly signed a contentious, and ultimately unenforceable, executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the US. Protests sprang up around the nation, and the jam was meant to give game developers a unique outlet for activism, organizers said.

But, the “resistance” theme wasn’t something IndieCade or any of the jam founders forced on developers, Barish told Engadget at E3. Instead, she said the theme was a reaction to developers themselves — they were building experiences about marginalized communities and demanding an outlet to express their political displeasure.

For these same reasons, the IndieCade booth at E3 was packed with personal projects and socially aware stories, including Borders, The Cat in the Hijab, RIOT: Civil Unrest, Tracking Ida and O for Oppression. Some of these games — The Cat in the Hijab and O for Oppression, for example — actually popped into existence during the #ResistJam itself.

For many developers creating resistance games, these projects aren’t just themes or stories; they’re reality. One developer, SnowVR creator Ali Eslami, decided it was too much of a risk to travel to the United States from his hometown of Tehran, Iran, considering the President’s attempts to block and detain people from the region.

“They could not attend based on all the travel restrictions and visas and personal concern for coming,” Barish said. “So, we’re so delighted because other developers — it’s so collegial and so kind — came to showcase their game for them. It’s really neat to have this community and everybody coming together.”

IndieCade has a history of supporting games with a strong stance on political issues and providing a space for social commentary. Last year, the full IndieCade festival highlighted titles including Killbox, a game about the dehumanizing aspects of drone warfare, and 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, an award-winning game that was recently included in a UN-commissioned paper on digital conflict resolution.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

17
Jun

How to make candles in your microwave


When you buy someone a candle at the store, it’s a thoughtful gesture. When you make a someone candle with your own two hands, it gives your gift an extra, personalized touch.

When most people think about making candles, though, they think about following tedious instructions, and purchasing a ton of expensive supplies at the craft store. While candle making kits typically cost between $20 and $100, and individual supplies can certainly add up, you don’t need to have a craft store full of supplies in your home to make candles. Even though some methods require materials like wax beads, premade wicks, molds, and wax-melting pots, not all candle making methods require you to be a master chandler, nor do they require a lengthy list of expensive supplies.

You can make candles at home using supplies you already have lying around the house.

Here’s what you’ll need.

Ingredients for making candles:

Crayons you’re not using anymore
A source of wax — old birthday candles you’re no longer using will work perfectly
A container to hold your candle — a small glass, a coffee mug, or a small jar is ideal
A small, microwave-safe cup or bowl
A Popsicle stick, wooden skewer, or a utensil that you’re willing to throw away
A microwave

Ingredients for making a candle wick:

Cotton string
A source of wax, like birthday candles
Scissors
A microwave-safe cup or bowl
A pair of tweezers

Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Step 1: Prepare your wax. Peel the wrappers off of your crayons, and break them into small pieces. You can soak your crayons in water to make the wrappers come off easily, according to Evermine. Prepare your birthday candles by breaking them into small pieces, as well. Be sure to remove the inner wick from the birthday candles as you break them apart.

Step 2: Make your wax into shavings. You want to make your wax pieces into small wax shavings. To do this, you can put your wax pieces into a plastic bag and gently hit them with a hammer or a wooden spoon. You can also use a cheese grater to make your wax into shavings, but grating your wax is tedious and time consuming. Plus, hitting it with a hammer is much more fun.

Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Step 3: Make your candle wick. Cut a piece of cotton string to your desired wick length. Your wick should be approximately two inches longer than your candle holder. After you cut your string, melt three birthday candles in the microwave on high heat, for two-to-three minutes, in a microwave-safe cup or bowl. Be careful when removing the container from the microwave, as the container and the wax will be extremely hot.

You may also need to stir the wax to melt any leftover pieces that did not fully melt in the microwave. Submerge your cotton string in the melted wax. Once the string is fully covered in wax, remove the wax-coated string with tweezers and hold it up in the air with your tweezers until it begins to harden (this will take approximately one minute). Do not put your wick down until it begins to harden. This allows the wax to dry evenly on your wick, and prevents excess wax from building up in certain spots.

Step 4: Allow your wick to harden completely and set aside.

Step 5: Start your candle. Place two tablespoons of your wax shavings in your microwave-safe container. Add approximately one crayon worth of crayon pieces on top of your wax shavings. The crayon serves as your candle’s color pigment. Microwave your wax-crayon mixture on high for two-to-three minutes, or until your mixture is mostly melted. The container will be hot when you remove it from the microwave, and so will the wax. Stir your wax and crayon mixture until it is smooth and the color is even. If you want a scented candle, you can add about 10 drops of essential oils to the mix after you’ve stirred the mixture and it’s cooled a bit. Then, pour your mixture into your candle holder. Place your wick in the center of your wax, and hold it there for a moment until it stays in place. You have completed the first layer of your candle. Wipe out your microwave-safe melting container.

Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Step 6: Add additional layers to your candle. Once again, melt two tablespoons of wax and crayon pieces (use a different color) in the microwave like you did in step 5. Stir your mixture until it’s smooth, and then pour it on top of your first layer. Repeat this process to add additional layers.

Step 7: Finish and decorate your candle. Place your candle in the refrigerator so it can harden completely. After that, cut the wick to the appropriate length and add any decorations. You can add wax shavings on top of your candle to make it look like your candle has sprinkles, or you can add a custom label on the outside of your candle for a more professional look.




17
Jun

7 tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium


Sony’s top-of-the-line flagship, the Xperia XZ Premium, has finally landed, and it was worth the wait. The high-end Android phone packs a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, a 4K screen with support for high dynamic range (HDR) content, and a 19-megapixel camera with five-axis image stabilization and Sony’s Motion Eye Technology, which can capture super slow motion video.

But the XZ Premium has a lot more to offer, and enabling some options requires a little digging. That can be a challenge if you don’t know your way around Sony’s software. We’re here to help. We’ve compiled a list of the Xperia XZ Premium’s hidden gems — and detailed instructions on how to take advantage of them.

Double tap the home screen to sleep

While you can’t double tap the screen to wake the Sony Xperia XZ Premium from standby mode yet, you can double tap the home screen to turn the screen off. This is a handy alternative to reaching for the indented power button, when you want to quickly turn the display off.

To do this, press and hold down on the home screen. You should see some customization options for your Home screen here — tap the Settings icons and scroll all the way down until you see Double-tap to sleep. Toggle it on, and you can now double tap anywhere on the home screen to turn your display off.

How to extend the Xperia XZ Premium’s battery life

The Xperia XZ Premium may have a 3,230mAh battery and Qualcomm’s rapid-charging Quick Charge 3.0, but it doesn’t last forever. To get the most out of the handset’s battery, you’ll have to fiddle with its settings.

Sony offers two battery-saving modes on the Xperia XZ Premium: Stamina and Ultra Stamina. The first disables non-essential features such as GPS (when the screen is off), video image enhancement, background data, and vibrate on touch, while throttling your phone’s processor. Ultra Stamina, the more extreme of the two, disables data and Wi-Fi connectivity, and you’re relegated to a completely different home screen where only select apps — such as the dialer, contacts, text messages, the camera, the clock, and a few other apps — are available. When you get out of Ultra Stamina mode, your device will restart.

Alternatively, you can take a more hands-off approach. The Xperia XZ Premium ships with Smart Stamina Mode, which tries to make predictions on how long your phone will last by monitoring key behaviors. Your phone will automatically prompt you to switch on Stamina Mode if it thinks it won’t last the day, and taps Sony’s Battery Care technology to charge the phone gently — and extend its lifespan.

How to calibrate the Xperia XZ Premium’s screen

The Xperia XZ’s Triluminos screen is bright, vibrant, and colorful. That’s partly thanks to the built-in HDR technology, which produces about 138 percent of the color spectrum so that dark and bright areas of images are represented equally well. There aren’t a lot of apps that support the feature — Amazon Prime and Netflix are two among a very exclusive club — but it makes for one of the best viewing experiences you can get on a mobile device.

You shouldn’t worry if the Xperia XZ’s out-of-the-box color settings aren’t to your liking, though. If you want to change them, tap Settings > Display and look for Color gamut and contrast — the phone will be on the Standard mode, which uses the Triliuminos display, but you can choose between the Professional or Super-vivid mode as well.

If the white balance of the display isn’t to your liking, you can tweak it. Go to Settings > Display > White balance, and you can tweak the RGB scale to get the white balance you prefer. For videos, the XZ Premium uses X-Reality for mobile technology by default to make them sharper and add more contrast — if you’re not a fan, you can turn it off  by heading to Settings > Display > Video image enhancement and toggling it off.

How to free up the Xperia XZ Premium’s memory

The Xperia XZ’s Snapdragon processor and 4GB of RAM should be enough to juggle most apps with ease, but your phone will begin to fill up with temporary files and background apps over time.

That’s where Sony’s Smart Cleaner, a memory-optimizing app, comes in. Enable it by tapping Settings > Storage and Memory > Smart Cleaner, and it’ll take care of the rest. Smart Cleaner automatically shuts down infrequently used apps that are still running in the background, and frees storage space by clearing unnecessary or temporary cache data.

How to use the Xperia XZ Premium’s super slow-motion video

The Xperia XZ Premium’s Super Slow Motion is one of the most impressive features of the device. The camera can shoot up to 960 frames-per-second (FPS), slowing real-world action to 1/40 of its actual speed. For comparison’s sake, that’s three times faster than the slow motion mode on Samsung’s Galaxy S8, which shoots 240 fps.

Press and hold the button on the bottom right of the device to quickly turn on the camera. Then, swipe to the right until you’re in Video mode. Near the camera shutter icon at the bottom, you’ll see another circular icon to the right — tap it to trigger slow-motion mode. From here, you can either start and stop recording by pressing the shutter button, or you can tweak your settings a bit more to your liking. Press the Settings gear icon on the right, and you’ll get options to choose the Color and brightness, the Video resolution, and you can toggle more features like Auto capturing video, Grid lines, and more.

One thing to note — you can’t continuously shoot a slow motion. When you press the shutter icon, the camera will start recording normal video — then tap the slow-motion icon to capture a moment, and then tap it as many times as you want after to keep capturing more slow-motion moments in the same video. Tap the shutter icon again to stop recording. Sony says for best results, shoot in a bright environment with lots of light. Keep in mind, these videos will be limited to 720p resolution (1,280 x 720 pixels).

How to change the Xperia XZ’s colors and themes

The Xperia XZ Premium’s default theme is fairy innocuous, but if you are unhappy with it, you can change it. To swap the home screen wallpaper, touch and hold an empty area on your home screen until your phone vibrates. Afterward, tap Wallpapers and select a wallpaper from the resulting list of options. You can add your own photos as your wallpaper from here, just tap Album. You’ll need to use Album to change your lock screen wallpaper.

To swap the XZ Premium’s theme, touch and hold the home screen until your device vibrates. Afterward, tap Themes and select an option from the resulting list. You can buy more themes from the Xperia Theme store. Want more or less space between apps on your home page? Touch and hold the home screen, and tap Grid to choose a different size.

Get news alerts from the Xperia XZ Premium’s News Suite

If you’d like to stay on top of world events and breaking news, you’re in luck — the Xperia XZ Premium’s News Suite app makes it easy.

Launch the News Suite app from the home app drawer. Afterward, tap Settings and Edit tabs to curate the news items across sports, gaming, and other categories. You can also add your own news streams by tapping the My Feeds section of the app, and setting up a stream on a key search term. By default, you’ll also get breaking news alerts from the app — you can toggle this off by heading to Settings > Notifications > Breaking News, Today’s Topics and other info of interest.




17
Jun

‘Dragonball FighterZ’ looks dangerously close to the anime


There have been so many Dragonball (Z or otherwise) games that it’s hard to tell most of them apart. While the latest Xenoverse titles attempted to spin out Akira Toyama’s characters into alternate universes with online play, Dragonball FighterZ is an easier-to-explain premise: a 2D fighter with the anime’s top-flight characters, with assistance from the same talent that made BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, both well-regarded competitive 2D fighters.

DFZ aims to be a properly crafted fighting game, but one with a huge injection of creative thought and polish. Producer Tomoko Hiroki explained to Engadget how the team focused on making the new game feel and look as close to the anime as possible.

Hiroki says that the way her team tried to re-create this anime look centered on what she calls 2.5D: a 3D-rendered game (made in the Unreal engine) that plays in 2D. Battles include camera-‘angle changes and other adjustments to add cinematic flourishes to high-powered attacks, finishers and other moments that would get special attention if a fight were actually in an animated feature.

My favorite of these comes when you defeat a character from your rival’s three-player squad. Instead of the next character nonchalantly stepping into the stage to continue the fight, there’s a dramatic pause, and your character turns around to see another enemy fly at high speed toward them.

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Making the game with the Unreal engine meant that the team could add light effects to the characters midbattle with ease, as well as increase the scale (smashed-in buildings, demolished planets etc). These techniques and graphical additions, Hiroki says, were only now possible due to current-generation consoles.

It’s not only technical skill that inches the game closer to looking like a standalone anime — games like Naruto: Ultimate Storm are also approaching the style of the cartoons and comics that the characters are born from. However, what’s most notable with Bandai Namco’s latest Dragonball game is how the creators have intentionally made frame-by-frame animation a little rougher during cinematic close-ups and special moves. This matches how animators add a sense of speed and movement by a technique known as double-framing.

It’s tricks like this that seem to fool my eyes into making the game seem closer to Japanese animation than any I’ve played — even the same company’s other new title, Ni No Kuni 2. The team even used recent Dragonball Z animated feature films for inspiration, noting both the framing of characters during battle and how animators ramped up the dramatic tension during battles.

It’s not a completely flawless transformation just yet: Pesky jagged lines on characters break the anime illusion at times, but it looks just as insanely bombastic as the teaser trailer when you play it in person. These extra cinematic touches (like we’ve seen in Street Fighter 4 and 5), all add to the drama of the fight.

Dragonball FighterZ will launch for public beta testing this summer, aimed at balancing both the characters, as well as inviting broad feedback from fighting-game enthusiasts and Dragonball fans — it then has six months or so to go to ensure it’s ready for pro-fighters and fans alike at the start of 2018.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

17
Jun

Apple Announces ‘Lose Your Wallet’ Apple Pay Shopping Event With Merchant Discounts in San Francisco


Apple has announced a special shopping event, called “Lose Your Wallet,” to be held in San Francisco next weekend, on June 23-25, with a collection of discounts for Apple Pay users. In Hayes Valley and the Marina anyone who has Apple Pay set up on their iPhone or Apple Watch will be able to take advantage of the exclusive discounts and offers at a variety of merchants (via Apple Insider).

Some of the Hayes Valley merchants with exclusive Apple Pay offers running next weekend include Aether (get a free gift card), Smitten Ice Cream (take 25 percent off your order), Blue Bottle Coffee (take 15 percent off your order), Sugar ($5 martinis and beers), Double Decker (get large fries for $1), and more. The offers will be enacted immediately when users check out at each store with Apple Pay.

In the Marina, some locations participating include David’s Tea (take 10 percent off and get free tea of the day), Ghirardelli (get a free chocolate pouch), Marina Deli (get a free cookie with a sandwich), Peet’s Coffee (take $1 off all beverages), United Liquor and Deli (get a free cork puller with every bottle of wine), and more.

In total, twenty stores in Hayes Valley and sixteen stores in the Marina will have Apple Pay-related offers and discounts for users June 23-25. Check out Apple’s new webpage for the “Lose Your Wallet” event to see the full list. The site also lists a few exclusive app and partner offers, including Caviar (take $5 off your order) and an invitation from Square to visit its pop-up on Hayes Street and in the Marina for more exclusive Apple Pay offers.

Related Roundup: Apple Pay
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17
Jun

The Morning After: Weekend After E3 Edition


Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

Welcome to the weekend. The E3 2017 show floor has closed, but gaming news will continue to flow all weekend as we wrap up our coverage of the event. Of course, that’s not the only thing that happened this week, so check below for a few more highlights.

You’ll need a Galaxy S8 to get inSamsung starts testing voice features for its Bixby AI

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Despite tons of hype, Samsung’s Bixby virtual assistant launched with only some of its promised features enabled. Now, Samsung is ready for an “early preview test” of voice search and control, which Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus owners can register to join. The company has ambitious goals for Bixby, and this will be our first chance to see if it can really play in the arena with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa.

Hope you like seeing 2018 gamesWatch Sony’s E3 2017 event in under 15 minutes

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Sure, you could worry about what wasn’t in Sony’s E3 presentation (The Last of Us 2), but there is another option. Just enjoy a sleek preview of what’s coming to PlayStation next year, with a few 2017 releases dropped in. In just a few minutes, we’ll make sure you see the best of what Sony showed, including a new Spider-Man game, another Shadow of the Colossus remake and the next God of War.

Atari 2600 fans get the revival console they deserveTime to dust off those old carts, just leave E.T. where it is.

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If you want to play retro Atari 2600 games, there’s plenty of options, but a new console offers support for the original cartridges with all the modern day perks. The RetroN 77 plays most, if not all, of the original game cartridges in glorious 1080p, at a modern aspect ratio right out of the box.

Two weeks left to applyMeet the people behind Engadget’s $500,000 immersive art grant

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We’re at a critical moment in the development of new creative platforms. Companies like HTC, Sony, Microsoft and Google are fundamentally altering the way we experience the world through AR, VR and AI. Meanwhile artists, musicians, filmmakers and developers are pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling, embracing those technologies to explore worlds beyond our own.

Engadget wanted to shed a light on that work, so we reached out to some of the people making that work possible and with their input created the Engadget Alternate Realities grant program. From now until June 30th, we’re accepting submissions for new, existing or altered works that make creative use of new technologies to explore the theme of alternate realities. Those projects will debut at The Engadget Experience, a one-day event at the United Artists theatre in downtown LA on Nov. 16th, 2017.

Don’t slow down.Snipers, tanks and turrets don’t exist in ‘Lawbreakers’

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According to Lawbreakers lead designer Dan Nanni, “The first thing we wound up doing was throw all the rules away.” That’s why this team shooter is lacking many of the tropes you’ve seen in games like Overwatch, Monday Night Combat and Team Fortress 2. That’s why this game not only defined roles like sniper or tank, but also crouching, sight aiming and sprinting. Here, everything is about “vertikilling” across low- and zero-gravity zones of the map. Each character moves in a way that almost feels like it belongs in its own game. We only had a few minutes with the title, but it felt exciting and fresh.

Pirates are back.‘Skull and Bones’ is about pillaging your friends’ ships

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Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones takes the ship battles of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and turns them into grand-scale, five-on-five multiplayer naval warfare. Mat Smith got a peek at some of the game’s five-on-five multiplayer action, but he’s still waiting to find out if Ubisoft can spin this feature into an entire game.

Meet Quill.The most promising VR adventure yet stars an adorable sword-wielding mouse

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It’s difficult to create new characters that players can instantly love, but Polyarc managed to do just that with Quill. She’s the star of Moss, an upcoming PlayStation VR game that harkens back to classic adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and The Secret of Mana. You exist as a character in the game that Quill interacts with, while also controlling her from afar. The game is made by a team including ex-Bungie and Rockstar employees and feels like it was ripped from one of Studio Ghibli’s films. Interested yet?

Wearable devices can mean new challenges.Engadget at E3: Making virtual reality accessible for everyone

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Amy Kneepkens, head video creator at AbleGamers, joined us onstage at E3 2017 to give us a view into accessibility issues affecting virtual reality. If it’s not the gesture controllers, it might be how camera controllers are typically transplanted to the headset itself. If you can’t move your head and neck easily, how are you supposed to look around your virtual world?

But wait, there’s more…

  • This worm grew a second head after a trip to space
  • After saying “it’s not our primary battle,” Netflix is rejoining the net neutrality fight
  • Tesla Model X earns a perfect NHTSA safety rating
  • Xbox One X vs. the PlayStation 4 Pro
  • Samsung’s art-inspired Frame TV goes on sale Sunday
  • iPad Pro 10.5 review: Where execution and ambition meet
  • Elon Musk brings his Mars plan before the scientific community
  • Dat 4K ‘Minecraft’ water doe
  • Who wants to buy Microsoft’s Xbox One X?
  • The Xbox One X will be great … next year
  • ‘Need for Speed: Payback’ and the business of car crashes

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.

17
Jun

Voltaic OffGrid Solar Backpack review


Research Center:
Voltaic Systems OffGrid Solar Backpack

Companies have been trying to push solar panel backpacks and accessories for years. For the most part, this effort resulted in wave after wave of underperforming, overpriced products. However, now that the technology cost has dropped substantially, there are finally affordable and functional solar panel backpacks to choose from. That said, when we came across the Voltaic OffGrid we couldn’t wait to get our hands on this bulky beaut.

To test Voltaic’s latest entry in the solar backpack market, we decided to give the thing a whirl in our hometown of Portland, Oregon for a few weeks. Despite the fact Portland saw a particularly cloudy and rainy winter, we still managed to come across a few sunny days which allowed us to fully evaluate the OffGrid’s capabilities. While we walked away marginally impressed, the pack is a step in the right direction for an industry ripe for innovation.

The backpack itself

A clean overall flat black build with subtle splashes of red along the straps, buckles, and guts sets the $200 OffGrid apart in a field of exceedingly utilitarian competitors. While the aesthetic touches are appreciated, at 19 inches in height and a not-so-sleek 7 inches deep, the bag is rather bulky and looks slightly conspicuous. Add a glinting solar panel front-and-center and it certainly looks like your backpack is up to something. It didn’t take us long to figure this out. Take the OffGrid on a casual jaunt around town and you’ll certainly be reminded that there is, in fact, a solar panel on your bag.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Nonetheless, as a pure backpack, the OffGrid is outstanding. The bag unzips along the front all the way to the bottom, going full-on convertible. You can then easily stow, pack, and reorganize rather than blindly sifting through a bag top-to-bottom. On the inside, there are a pair of mesh sleeves against the backside, perfect for an iPad mini or similarly sized tablet. Above that, a small mesh zipper pocket keeps all smaller items within reach.

A structured bulbous compartment on top of the bag is perfect for delicate items like sunglasses, however, when riding a bike this protruding compartment (when fully extended) has a tendency to get in the way of your helmet. A modest yet noteworthy design flaw.

All bulk and clunk aside, overall the OffGrid has a rather thoughtful and convenient build. A small compartment in the back of the OffGrid is designed to easily stow a laptop (up to 15 inches). The shoulder straps are well reinforced and an adjustable buckle connecting the two allows you to maintain an ergonomic fit. There are even a pair of straps along the bottom to pack a sleeping bag for overnight endeavors.

The battery

The OffGrid comes standard with a Li-Polymer V15, 4,000mAh USB battery pack. The pack is stored inside of a small secondary side pocket and the strap holding the battery in place is adjustable in case you choose to upgrade to the Voltaic V44 battery — or a larger battery from a separate manufacturer. You can charge the battery via the micro USB cable connecting the unit to the solar panel or simply juice up the unit via a USB cable and cube, or compatible device.

It is important to note that the Full indicator light actually illuminates when the battery is charged at just 85 percent.

Four LEDs along the top allow for a quick check of the pack’s capacity. One light simply means the unit is charging. A second, third, and fourth light illuminate when the battery reaches low, half, and full charge, respectively. However, it is important to note that the Full indicator light actually illuminates when the battery is charged at just 85 percent.

When connected to a wall outlet via USB, the V15 took roughly four hours to completely charge. We then tested this full battery against the manufacturer’s charging tables on a series of products. A full battery resurrected an iPhone not once but twice. A single charge also replenished an iPad mini a little more than 50 percent.

Both of these tests were on par with Voltaic’s stated capacities. Additionally, an individual charge sufficiently maxed out a GoPro with enough energy left to top off our other devices. There’s even a series of rubberized ports throughout the bag and battery compartment enable you to connect all of your devices to the battery — via USB — while stowed.

The panel

The prospect of testing a solar panel backpack in the seasonally drab Pacific Northwest was certainly a daunting task to undertake. Thankfully, we had a few sunny days to properly run this bad boy through the gauntlet. The solar panel itself is a urethane coated 6-volt model. The main overall structured, boxy build keeps the solar panel situated at the proper angle at any given time. If the bag were slack, the panel compartment would sag rendering its solar capacity useless.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

To get a feel for the actual charging ability of the solar panel, we waited for optimal conditions. On a perfectly sunny afternoon, we placed the OffGrid in direct sunlight for three and a half hours. Afterward, the readout on the battery stated it was half charged. We then connected an iPad to the battery and were able to get a 36 percent charge meaning the battery was actually juiced closer to 75 percent.

Again, this test was performed in choice conditions. If you’re trekking under a dense canopy or hiking toward the sun, this charging capacity only diminishes. In this instance, situating the pack in direct sunlight while either setting up camp or taking a quick breather is paramount to achieving an ample charge. This certainly isn’t a deal breaker — the market is still relatively in its infancy — meaning subsequent releases from Voltaic (and its competition) should only see improvements on this front.

Warranty information

The OffGrid does come with a 1-year warranty for the battery and a 2-year warranty for the backpack, panel, and parts.

Our Take

If you don’t mind looking like you’re from the future or having your backpack continuously become an unsolicited talking point with strangers, the Voltaic OffGrid is a spacious and capable solar panel backpack. However, with a base weight of nearly four pounds, the simple addition of the most basic hiking or camping supplies could easily push the total closer to 20 pounds.

As for the solar aspect, with a near four-hour direct sunlight recharge time, the solar panel does work albeit rather inefficiently even in ideal conditions. Upgrading to a larger battery for $29 dollars adds more utility to the backpack, thus giving you greater leeway during trips under denser canopies or less than optimal conditions. But at this point, are you truly utilizing a solar panel backpack, or simply using a backup battery that just so happens to be situated inside of a solar panel backpack?

Is there a better alternative?

Voltaic isn’t the only manufacturer of solar panel backpacks, and there are certainly cheaper models to choose from. Most importantly, the OffGrid performs as advertised and when it comes to overall design and aesthetic, this model is definitely one of the best options under $200 dollars. Similarly, with camera compartment insert sleeves, larger batteries, and USB flashlight accessories to choose from, the OffGrid has plenty of aftermarket customization to work with.

Voltaic also offers the Array, a more powerful 10-watt solar panel variant. The build is virtually identical with a larger section of solar panels along the front. So, yes, there is a better alternative, however, making the leap to a more expensive model is certainly a matter of taste and necessity. If you’re going to go all-in on a solar panel backpack, we recommend just making the upgrade to the Array.

How long will it last?

The OffGrid is waterproof and UV resistant, and the textured fabric exterior make the backpack more prone to scuffing rather than all out tears or snags. The panel itself sits in a slight indentation, with a subtle lip along the perimeter, protecting it from direct hits when you inevitably drop the bag. That said, the OffGrid should be able to handle normal wear and tear from the trail (and then some) for years to come. How well the panel and battery withstand the test of time is anyone’s guess.

Should you buy it?

Photographers will certainly appreciate the spacious interior and the slide-in compartment accessories, however, outside of this specific market, the Voltaic is a tough sell. Overall, it’s a bit too bulky to function as a daily duffel. In general, we’d recommend simply stowing a higher capacity backup battery with a traditional backpack rather than utilizing the solar component of the OffGrid.

Do buy the OffGrid if you could use a little extra juice to cushion your electronic devices on day trips or short, sunny weekend getaways. Don’t buy this product if you’re expecting to be wholly reliant on this unit for charging purposes. You’ll be sorely disappointed.

17
Jun

Bill Nye will be back on Netflix to save the world with science


Bill Nye’s Netflix talk show was met with mixed reviews, but it must have done well enough, because it’s coming back for another season. The streaming platform has released an official teaser for Bill Nye Saves the World’s second season, which the science educator has posted on Facebook. It starts by showing anti-science tweets and those calling Nye a “totalitarian eugenicist in a fake lab coat,” “Bill Lie the Pseudoscience Guy,” a quack and even Satan, to drive home the point that the world needs more saving.

Unfortunately, Netflix won’t be announcing its launch date until later this year. That means we still don’t know whether the show will retain the first season’s format and whether it will use all the criticisms it received to deliver a better second season. If you’ll recall, the show was criticized for not delving deep enough into the topics it’s trying to discuss, with Nye frequently yelling his stance at the audience.

Vox praised his attempt at explaining controversial topics, though admitted that his approach could use some refinement. Polygon defended him against those who think he’s “trying too hard to be cool,” though, pointing out that part of Bill’s charm and schtick are his awkwardness and dad jokes. In case the the next season is anything like the first, expect the scientist to welcome more celebrity guests from various backgrounds to help him dispel myths and talk about hot-button topics like climate change and anti-vaxxing.

Via: Variety, The Hollywood Reporter

Source: Bill Nye (Facebook)

17
Jun

How to Build a Budget Gaming PC for Less than $1,000


Buying versus building gaming PCs is really up to personal preference. Some people prefer to buy already built machines because it’s mostly convenient and you don’t have to spend time looking for different parts. Also, if you have zero hardware experience, you should really buy a PC instead of trying to build one. Building a machine from scratch has its own distinct advantages. You might be able to assemble a PC that performs really well for a certain price compared to a manufactured PC that cost the same.

If you are on a limited budget, building a gaming PC might be the better solution. Manufactured gaming computers typically cost well over $1,500. There are budget range gaming desktops you can get for around $1,000, but these may not have the specs that you need. If you are interested in building your own gaming PC, here are brief suggestions on how to go about doing it:

Set the Budget

First of all, you will have to decide on how much you are willing to spend on all the parts. You will have to spend the most money on the processor and the graphics card. You can build a gaming PC for around $400, $700, or $1,000. The lower the cost, the lower the performance will be, obviously. It all depends on your needs. For example, you can invest in a low-cost processor and a graphics card for now, and later when you have more to spend, you can upgrade your custom PC. Or you can invest in the latest tech now. It’s up to you.

But do not set your budget too low and purchase second-hand or knock-off products. Buy the best parts your wallet allows. Keep in mind that you might want to futureproof your product.

Choosing the Right Parts to Buy

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to buying PC parts is whether one should stick to brand names. This is a rather complicated situation. Whether you should worry about the brand name really depends on the computer part in question. For example, when it comes to processors, gamers should go with Intel over AMD. This is not promoting a particular brand over another. It’s been proven again and again that Intel processors are significantly superior to AMD, especially when it comes to gaming. Even AMD’s surprisingly amazing Ryzen processor cannot beat Intel’s Core i7 performance.

Picking brands for non-processor parts are a bit of a tricky matter. For example, whether you should buy a NVIDIA or an AMD graphics card depends on your preference. AMD graphics cards are cheaper, and are therefore better suited for budget PC builders. However, you should always compare an individual card’s performance rather than rely on the brand name when it comes to graphics cards.

You might want to pay attention to the brand name when buying the motherboard or RAM due to reliability, proprietary features, and warranty.  For example, an MSI motherboard may have a better warranty than an ASUS one. However, it’s recommended to first compare specs for individual parts, and then compare if one brand offers certain benefits over another.

The Processor

As established above, you should invest in an Intel processor for your gaming PC. You can buy an Intel Core i3 processor for around $100 for a really low-cost custom built PC. A Core i5 would cost around $200, and a Core i7, the ideal processor for a gaming PC, would cost around $300. When Intel reveals Core i9 processors later this year, the prices for the older processors will probably go down if you can wait until then.

The Graphics Card

You should definitely spend money on this as much as you do with the processor. The advantage with desktops is that you can always change the graphics card. So even if you can’t buy the ideal card right now, you will be able to get a better card later. What really matters is investing in a dedicated memory graphics card. For a mid-range PC around $600, you can get a card like NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB, which can handle most games. The dedicated VRAM is only necessary if you intend on supporting multiple monitors. AMD graphics cards are actually better for multi-monitor gaming. For a low-end PC, AMD’s Radeon HD 7950 or a similar card would be suitable. If you want a feature like PhysX, you should buy a NVIDIA card. AMD sometimes bundles games with the card, so you technically get more for the money you spend.

Keep in mind that even a cheap dedicated graphics card can perform well when paired with a good processor like Core i5 or Core i7. Don’t worry too much about getting the right graphics card. You can always upgrade with a new one and sell the old one.

RAM

You need to invest in at least 8GB of RAM for a gaming PC. It’s recommended that you go for 16GB. You can save money by buying a single 8GB card instead of buying multiple 4GB cards. Expect to spend about $50 on an 8GB RAM card.

Motherboard and Storage

This can be tricky to choose. You will have to spend some time to research and choose a card that suits your preferences. Try to buy a motherboard aimed at gamers. Always check the number of USB ports, HDMI output and similar features on offer. Be aware that not all motherboards have HDMI inputs. Set your budget for about $100 for the motherboard. You can usually buy a decent one for around $60.

As for storage, SSD is really the best for gaming. You can get excellent performance per value with even a 120GB SSD compared to an HDD. An HDD, will of course, offer more storage space. Buy you can buy an external hard drive if you need 1TB or 2TB space. The SSD will add efficiency and speedy performance. As for price, there isn’t a major difference between buying an SSD or an HDD. You can buy a 250GB SSD or a 1TB HDD for around $100.

When buying a hard drive of any type, always pay attention to the warranty. All hard drives fail eventually. Give yours at least 5 years of life and make arrangements to keep your data backed up.

Final Words

The above are the most essential parts. You would also need to invest in a good cooling system, which would cost around $100 and is usually bought in combination with the motherboard. Tower cases vary in price. A very generic tower case would cost around $30, but you can set the budget up to $100 if you want a nice looking one.

Once you have gotten all the parts, you can set your own perfect PC at home. Do keep the boxes and the packaging around. If you want a sell a part, you will need the packaging.

About the Author

Eduardo Bridges is a former computer engineer who now blogs about buying budget electronic parts and gadgets.

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