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26
Jun

Apple CarPlay explored: Taking iOS on the road


Apple CarPlay has been around for a few years now but things have moved on significantly in those years, with more and more manufacturers offering compatibility and not just in premium models either.

We’ve been using it in the 2017 Kia Sportage to give you a run down of everything Apple CarPlay can do and how it works if you’re someone who already has a CarPlay-compatible car, or if you don’t, why it’s a technology you’ll want your next car to have if you’re an Apple user. 

What is Apple CarPlay?

Apple CarPlay is the tech giant’s foray into in-car technology. It puts certain features of your iPhone onto a CarPlay-equipped car’s built-in display, allowing drivers to do what they want on their phone while driving.

You can get turn-by-turn directions, make calls, send and receive messages and listen to music without having to touch your iPhone at all. Each app, which includes Phone, Messages, Music, Maps, Podcasts and Audiobooks, as well as a couple of third party ones, have all been redesigned for the car so they can be used while your eyes and hands stay where they should be.

At the heart of CarPlay is Apple’s personal assistant Siri, enabling you to do tasks such as make a call, dictate and send a message or have a received message dictated to you all through voice control. CarPlay can also be controlled with the knobs, dials and buttons in your car though, as well as the touchscreen.

Naturally, CarPlay only supports Apple iPhones and is compatible with models from the iPhone 5 and newer running iOS 7 and above. If you have an Android device, such as a Samsung Galaxy S7 or S8, you’ll need to read our feature on Android Auto explored instead. 

  • Android Auto explored: Taking Google on the road

Apple CarPlay: How to set it up

Apple CarPlay set up is very simple. Unless you have the new BMW 5 Series, you’ll need a Lightning cable, which you’ll need to plug into a USB socket in the front of the car and then into your iPhone. The Apple CarPlay icon should then appear on your car’s built in display and from here you’ll be able to get to the CarPlay interface with a simple tap. Wireless functionality has been available for CarPlay since iOS 9 but the BMW 5 Series is currently the only model to offer it.

If you’re having issues, head into the Settings icon on your iPhone > General > CarPlay. From here, there is a My Cars section where you should see your CarPlay-compatible car appear. You can also press and hold the voice control button on your car’s steering wheel to start setup.

Tapping on your car in the list on your iPhone will then offer more settings options. You can choose whether to allow CarPlay to work when your iPhone is locked, as well as move around the order of how the CarPlay apps appear on your car’s display.

As you would on your iPhone, pressing and holding the icon you want to move will allow you to put it in the order you want it. This will then be replicated on your car’s touchscreen.

Apple CarPlay: User interface and controls

Apple CarPlay essentially turns your car’s built-in display into a giant iPhone. It’s also as intuitive as your iPhone and works in a very familiar way, though not identical to your iPhone. The biggest difference is that only a few of the apps on your iPhone will appear on your car’s display through CarPlay.

Sadly, there isn’t much compatibility for third party apps at the moment, except a very select few, which include Spotify, At Bat, Stitcher, Overcast, Audiobooks.com, Audible, Vox, NPR One, Clammr and Downcast. The only icons you’ll see on your car’s touchscreen will therefore be Phone, Messages, Apple Music, Apple Maps, Podcasts, Audiobooks and any of the third party apps listed. 

You will also see an icon for the car manufacturer of your car. Tapping this will take you away from CarPlay and back to your car’s main infotainment system, offering access to its navigation option or settings for example.

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When in one of the CarPlay apps, you’ll see a small icon of the app you’re using in the top left corner, with two of the most recent apps you’ve been using below it. You’ll also see the time, signal strength of your iPhone and a home button for returning to the main CarPlay dash.

This home button looks similar to how the original home button looked on iPhones before Touch ID appeared with a small square in the middle so it’s easily recognisable. In terms of control, you can either use touch, voice if you push the steering wheel button, or your car’s knobs and buttons, as we mentioned previously.

Apple CarPlay: Notifications

Certain notifications will appear from your iPhone when connected to CarPlay, such as event alert reminders, new message alerts and of course incoming calls.

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We dive into a little bit more detail on the Messages front a little further down, but a pop-up banner will appear at the top of any CarPlay app screen if you get a new message or event alert through Apple Calendar.

The banner will disappear after a few seconds, as it does on your iPhone, but if you tap it, Siri will ask if you would like it to read the new message or open Maps to launch directions for an upcoming event. 

Apple CarPlay: Calling

Being able to make phone calls in the car is nothing new. It’s been possible for years thanks to Bluetooth so the Phone section of Apple’s CarPlay is perhaps the least exciting. That said, you couldn’t possibly have something like CarPlay without the ability to make and receive calls so it’s a fundamental part of the system too. 

There are several ways to make a phone call using CarPlay, the first of which is to press the voice control button on your steering wheel, after which the Siri screen will appear. You can then tell Siri to call the name of the person you wish to contact.

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Alternatively, you can tap the Phone icon in the CarPlay menu. The Siri screen will then appear again, only this time it will specifically ask who you want to call, or whom you would like to speak with. Again, you say the name of the contact and Siri replies with “Calling [contact name]”.

You can also opt to find the contact yourself, or type in the number on the keypad yourself. In order to do this, you’ll need to tap the Phone icon and head to the “Show Contacts” in the top right of the Siri screen. From here, five tabs will appear at the top of the car’s touchscreen: Favourites, Recents, Contacts, Keypad, Voicemail.

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The tabs replicate what you would see within the same five tabs at the bottom of the Phone app on your iPhone. Therefore, whoever your favourites are on your iPhone will be the same ones that appear on the CarPlay screen. Arrows on the right of the CarPlay screen allow you to scroll and there is also an A-Z button within the Contacts tab that when pressed will pull up each letter of the alphabet on your car’s display, allowing for easier searching.

During a call, your car’s display will look very similar to how your iPhone screen does during a call, though a few of the options are lacking, such as FaceTime. The name of the person you are talking to appears in the centre of your car’s display, with the red circular end call icon and three circular options beneath comprising mute, keypad and add call.

Apple CarPlay: Messages

Sending and receiving messages is one of the features of CarPlay that is a little more exciting than being able to make and receive calls. Like calling though, there are a couple of ways in which you can compose a new message to someone in your contacts. 

The first is the same as calling in that you can use the voice control button on the steering wheel and tell Siri you want to send a message to the name of the contact you wish to text or iMessage.

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Another option is to press the Messages icon on the CarPlay main menu and Siri will instantly greet you with: “To whom shall I send your message?” or similar. As you would expect, you then say the contact’s name and Siri will ask what you want to say.

Dictate your message to Siri as prompted and when you finish talking, Siri will read back your message and ask if it should send it. You then have the option to send the message as it is, cancel it, or change it in case Siri has misunderstood you, or you have changed your mind about what you want to say.

As with the Phone icon, you can click on “Show Messages” in the top right of the Siri screen when you open the Messages icon to see a list of the contacts you have recently sent or received messages from. Again, it looks like your iPhone Messages screen does but the message itself won’t be shown beneath the name of the contact and you won’t be able to read the last message by clicking on the contacts name either.

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Instead, tapping on the contact will result in Siri asking you what you want to say in a message to that particular contact, giving you another way of composing a new message. There is also a pen and paper icon in the top right hand corner of this screen that will also pull up the Siri screen asking you who you want to compose a new message to, followed by asking you what you want to say.

When it comes to receiving messages, a banner alert will appear at the top of your car’s touchscreen if a new message comes through, no matter what CarPlay app you are in, whether Apple Maps or Spotify. The banner alert will show the name of the contact the message is from and a number in a red circle will appear on the main Messages icon too, as it would on your iPhone.

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You can either directly tap the banner alert as it comes through, or tap the Messages icon. If you tap on the banner alert, Siri will then say you have a new message from the respective contact and ask if you would like it read to you. If you tap the Messages icon, Siri will ask if you would like your new messages read or if you would like to compose a new message.

You’ll be able to ask Siri to read the message again, as long as you do it straight away, and you’ll also be asked if you would like to reply, after which you can dictate your reply. Three option icons will also appear on the car’s touchscreen, comprising call, read again and reply.

Apple CarPlay: Apple Maps Navigation

Apple CarPlay offers navigation through Apple Maps, just as Android Auto offers navigation through Google Maps. Apple Maps through CarPlay works in a similar way to Apple Maps on your iPhone in that it pulls in information from where it can, such as events in your Apple calendar, emails, contacts and messages.

Upcoming events will appear in the bottom left of your car’s display when in the Maps app, and tapping on them will allow you to select guidance or to clear them. This is also where directions to Home will appear, again allowing you to tap on the small black box and request turn-by-turn guidance from where you are to get you home should you need it.

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In the top right of the Maps icon is the option to show Destinations. From here, you’ll see a list of anywhere you have recently searched for on your iPhone or an Apple Mac computer linked to your iCloud account, as well as suggestions based on information pulled in from various places, such as emails or messages.

Arrows on the right allow you to scroll through, and if you can’t find where you want to go, you can press the Siri voice icon in the top right hand corner and Siri will ask where you want to go. You can then say the name of a place or a postcode. You can also access your favourites from the heart icon in the top right corner.

At the top of the list of recent destinations there are also icons for finding local amenities, such as Petrol, Parking, Food and Drink, Coffee Shops and Supermarkets, similar again to what you would find if you launched Apple Maps on your iPhone.

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Apple Maps through CarPlay is good but it isn’t quite as advanced as TomTom, Google Maps or apps such as Waze when it comes to knowledge of traffic or problems. It does work better than some car navigation systems though and if you’re an Apple Maps user on your iPhone, you’ll find the CarPlay version very familiar, easy to use and easy to follow.

Apple CarPlay: Music

Apple CarPlay supports both Apple Music and Spotify, with both icons on the main CarPlay dash. Spotify appears on the second page by default, but you can change this if you follow the setup instructions we mention at the beginning of this feature.

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Under Apple Music, there are three tabs at the top of the main screen after you click in the Music icon: Library, Playlists and Radio. Within the Library tab, you’ll find everything from recently added songs to individual menus for artists, albums, genres, songs and downloaded music. The Playlist tab shows a list of your playlists, while Radio allows you to choose various radio stations, providing you have mobile data turned on for Radio.

Spotify follows a similar structure, again with three tabs at the top of the screen when you tap on the Spotify icon: Your Library, Browse and Radio. The Your Library tab then has four separate menu options, comprising Playlists, Songs, Albums and Artists, allowing you to browse through your songs as you would in the Spotify app.

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The Browse tab within the Spotify icon lets you see new releases, as well as flick through various recommendations, while the Radio tab shows recently played stations, whilst also allowing you to see recommended stations and specific stations in genre.

With either Apple Music or Spotify, you’ll be able to tap a song, artist, album or playlist and it will play away through your car’s sound system. Music will stop during calls, navigation instructions, or when you’re dictating or having a message read to you, as you would expect, but otherwise it’s a very seamless experience.

Apple CarPlay: Podcasts and Audiobooks

If you’re an audiobook or podcast fan, CarPlay supports these too, which is great because what better time to listen to a new book or podcast than on a long car journey.

In terms of Podcasts, tapping on the Podcast icon will present three tabs at the top: Unplayed, My Podcasts and Top Charts. From these tabs, you’ll be able to find any podcasts you’ve downloaded, as well as search for new ones you might like to listen to through the Top Charts tab.

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Once you’ve selected what you fancy, the name of the podcast will appear on your car’s display, along with rewind, fast forward and play/pause buttons underneath, much the same as when you play a track on Spotify or Apple Music through CarPlay. A Now Playing tab will also appear in the top right of your car’s display as it does when playing music.

In terms of Audiobooks, you’ll need to download some before they appear in the Audiobooks app but any that you have already will appear as soon as you open the app. As with Podcasts, tap on the one you want to listen to and the story of Harry Potter could come blasting out of your car’s sound system in no time.

Apple CarPlay: Which cars is it compatible with?

Apple CarPlay is compatible with more than 200 car models from manufacturers including: Abarth, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Citroen, Ferrari, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Porsche, Renault, Seat, Skoda, Subaru, Suzuki, Vauxhall, Volkswagen, Volvo and more.

You can find the full list of compatible models from each manufacturer on Apple’s website here.

Apple CarPlay: Final thoughts

Apple CarPlay is a great bit of technology that brings your iPhone to life when in the car. The interface is lovely, navigation is super simple and the whole experience is seamless, making various tasks in the car much, much easier.

Is CarPlay the best it can be? Not quite yet in our opinion, but it’s still fantastic. We’d love to see support for a few more third party apps, such as navigation apps like Waze and messaging apps like WhatsApp seeing as Siri is capable of reading your latest WhatsApp messages already on iPhone. 

We’d expect things to develop over the coming years though and even as things stands currently, if you have an iPhone, CarPlay is something your new car shouldn’t be without.

26
Jun

Nintendo SNES Classic Mini confirmed: Release date, price, games and more


After the incredible success of its miniature, remade NES console, Nintendo has announced a follow-up; this time based on the much-loved Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES for short.

A Nintendo Classic Mini: SNES will be available later this year and we’ll be queuing for one, that’s for sure.

  • See it on Amazon US – See it on Amazon UK

Here’s everything we know about the machine and a list of the confirmed games that will come pre-installed. We’ll also update you when pre-orders go live.

SNES Classic Mini: The background

Nintendo released a miniature version of its first household games console in November last year and it sold out almost immediately. The Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom in Japan) was priced at £50 in the UK and came with 30 Nintendo games pre-installed. An included controller, shaped like the one that came with the 80s original, was included in the box and an optional second could be added for two-player games.

Apart from its size, the NES Classic Mini also included an HDMI port to connect it to a TV and clever picture upscaling technologies to ensure the 8-bit games looked good, even when expanded to fit a 55-inch or more.

Unfortunately, because it was extremely popular, gamers who didn’t manage to pre-order one prior to release were unlikely to get one for the original price. They still fetch anywhere up to £250 each on reseller sites such as eBay – five times the original retail price. Nintendo has also confirmed that it has no plans to manufacture new units in any territory.

That was more than likely because it is concentrating on a sequel instead. Like the NES was followed by the SNES in the early 90s, so too will the Classic Mini version.

The Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES Classic Mini for short, will be a smaller, self-contained version of one of the greatest games consoles of all time. It’ll come with 21 games pre-installed including, for the first time, the previously un-released Star Fox 2.

The European version looks like the EU SNES released in the 80s, while the US and Japanese versions will also ape their regional variants.

  • Can’t buy a NES Classic Mini? How to build your own retro console for just £50

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SNES Classic Mini: Release date

Although it was expected that we’d hear about the SNES Classic Mini at E3 2017, Nintendo waited a couple of weeks after the show finished to officially announce the new machine.

The SNES Classic Mini will be available in UK and US from 29 September 2017.

SNES Classic Mini: Pre-order details

We’re still waiting for pre-orders to go live but will update as soon as they are available. The NES Classic Mini pre-orders went live on 21 July last year, so expect around the same date.

It’s worth bookmarking the official UK website here, for when it updates. The US website is here.

SNES Classic Mini: Price

We’re still also waiting for the confirmed UK price of the SNES Classic Mini, but it is priced at $79.99 in the States – a little more expensive than the NES Mini last year. As that translates to around £64, we’d expect it to be between £60 and £65.

The extra cost is due to two controllers being bundled with the system this time around. You had to buy a second separately for the NES Classic Mini.

SNES Classic Mini: Games list

The NES Classic Mini featured 30 games (although you could add more by hacking the machine), all accessible through a smart, easy-to-use scrollable menu system. You could also pause a game, return to the menu and pick it up again later.

The SNES Classic Mini will feature 21 games. As previously stated, Star Fox 2 has never been released before.

Here is a complete list including extra details on some of our favourites:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

The games highlights…

Super Mario World

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The crown jewel in the Super Nintendo era, Super Mario World was the 2D platformer that set a very high bar few others managed to match. For many, it was the game that convinced them to buy a SNES over the rival Sega Mega Drive.

Super Mario Kart

Nintendo

Changed co-operative racing forever. The original Super Mario Kart still holds its own today as a party game guaranteed to cause a giggle or two.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Nintendo

As top-down RPGs go, A Link to the Past is one of the very best. It might ot have the fancy graphics of the Switch masterpiece of today, but it retains the spirit and scope.

Super Metroid

Nintendo

A sideways-scrolling shooter/platformer of the highest quality. It’s often been included in lists of the greatest games of all-time.

Donkey Kong Country

Nintendo

Rare’s attempt at a 2D platformer feels very different to the Mario games. It uses more chunky, clay-like characters and some clever gameplay tropes to deliver something fresh and fiendishly difficult.

Yoshi’s island

Nintendo

Sometimes called Super Mario World 2 but isn’t really – it’s actually a prequel to the SNES Mario classic. It also features a baby Mario riding on the back of his dinosaur chum Yoshi.

F-Zero

Nintendo

To be honest, we never really liked F-Zero that much but as a forerunner to WipEout and games like it, this needs to be included.

Star Fox

Nintendo

Graphically impressive and complex for its time, this 3D space shooter is still our favourite Star Fox game ever.

26
Jun

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Which should you choose?


With the Nintendo Switch doing remarkably well and Microsoft to release the Xbox One X on the build up to Christmas, you could be forgiven for being stumped when it comes to your next console choice. The PS4 Pro is even winking at you from another corner of your local game store.

And then there is the Xbox One S and standard PS4, for those on a tighter budget. It’s enough to make your head spin faster than the waltzer at a travelling fairground.

That’s why we look at the three major games consoles and their variants to see which would best suit you.

  • Nintendo Switch review: Return of the king?
  • Nintendo Switch vs Wii U: What’s the difference?

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Hardware

The Nintendo Switch is markedly different from its rivals in hardware terms. Without going too deep into the specifications, it has a mobile processing architecture from Nvidia that is a heavily modified Tegra X1 chipset, while the PS4 and Xbox One consoles all opt for more conventional computing power.

What this means in real terms and how most games will run will be established more over time.

Our initial experiences are that games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild run in 900p 30fps on the Switch in TV mode and 720p in 30 frames per second in handheld mode. Other games, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe have the potential of running in 1080p/720p 60fps. Most Xbox One S and standard PS4 games run at 1080p these days, with some achieving 60fps.

The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are capable of stretching that up to 4K resolutions.

Both the Xbox One consoles and PS4s are capable of high dynamic response (HDR) graphics too. The Switch is not.

Where the Switch has a distinct advantage over its direct rivals is in portability. It doubles as both a home console and handheld games machine so is the only one you can take on your travels with you, to play the exact same games on its built-in 6.2-inch screen.

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Disc drives and storage

The Xbox One S, Xbox One X, PS4 Pro and PS4 have physical disc drives, with the Xbox One consoles even able to play 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays. Weirdly, Sony, even as a founding member of the Blu-ray Disc Association, decided against adding a 4K deck to its latest consoles. They are still able to play conventional 1080p Blu-rays, however.

The Nintendo Switch can do neither. The Japanese firm has opted to dispense with discs altogether, with games coming on cartridge instead, much like the 3DS and Nintendo consoles of yore.

Games are also be available via download stores, but considering how stingy Nintendo has been with on-board storage, you’ll have to invest in a microSD card to store more than a couple at a time.

  • Nintendo Switch storage full? The best microSD card offers to buy and avoid download disappointment

The Xbox One S can be spec’ed from 500GB to 2TB, although the 1TB version is the max you’ll really find in stores. The Xbox One X will also come with a 1TB drive on release in October.

The latest PS4 and PS4 Pro can be spec’ed up to 1TB. All Xbox and PlayStation machines have the ability to increase the storage through third-party hard drives – via external USB 3.0 HDDs. The PS4s can also be expanded through swapping the internal 3.5-inch internal drives.

The Switch, on the other hand, comes with 32GB of built-in storage. 32GB. The new Zelda takes up around half of that if you buy it from the Nintendo eShop. 

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Games

When it comes to quantity of games, the Xbox One and PS4 consoles clearly win hands down thanks to being around for more than three years apiece. The Nintendo Switch is only just starting its life cycle.

But the Switch’s line-up is expanding at a rapid pace, and the confirmed games list for the rest of 2017 is actually looking healthy. More than 100 games are coming before the end of 2017.

  • All the Nintendo Switch games: Launch titles and every game for 2017 revealed

Quality is more subjective. Nintendo has some bone fide triple-A titles out now or coming up that you won’t find on any other platform, such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Odyssey. The former is on Wii U too, but won’t appear on any non-Nintendo machine.

Of course, both Xbox and PlayStation have their own exclusives, with Forza Motorsport 7 and Sea of Thieves coming soon for the Xbox One and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy coming for PS4. The PlayStation also has the superb Horizon Zero Dawn, which is available now.

The area where Nintendo Switch needs to improve upon, over the Wii U anyway, is in having some of the same big, multi-platform games as the others. FIFA 18 is coming, for example, but there’s no sign of a Red Dead Redemption 2 or the like.

One area that Switch does trump its rivals is in motion gaming. While the other two have largely shunned the format, the Switch embraces its Wii heritage with its clip-on Joy-Con controllers also doubling as motion remotes. This could bring families back to Nintendo in their droves.

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Media

All Xbox One and PS4 consoles are great media streamers as well as games machines. They each have Netflix and Amazon Video apps, with the Xbox One S offering both in 4K HDR (as will the One X). The PS4 Pro offers Netflix in 4K HDR too.

BBC iPlayer and other terrestrial TV catch-up services can be found on the consoles too.

The Nintendo Switch doesn’t have any of the services available, at least not at present. Nintendo said that it is concentrating on games primarily and could introduce media streaming somewhere down the line.

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Price

As both the PS4 and Xbox One have been around for a while, prices have dropped dramatically since their original launches in 2013.

You can buy an Xbox One S at an RRP of £250, although it can be bought for as little as £200 if you shop around. A standard PS4 costs around £250. What’s more, they both come with at least one game.

The Nintendo Switch is £280. And it doesn’t come with a game.

The PS4 Pro will set you back around £350 with a game.

Microsoft’s Xbox One X – dubbed the “most powerful console ever” – will be priced at a staggering £450 on launch.

Game prices for all consoles range between £40 and £60. But if you shop around you can make some significant savings, even for brand new Switch games. Check out Amazon.co.uk, for example, it has many of the big titles for as much as £15 off.

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Availability

Both the Xbox One S and PS4, in both its new and PS4 Pro guises, are readily available.

The Nintendo Switch is also widely available now.

The Xbox One X will be released on 7 November 2017.

  • Xbox One X: Release date, price, specs and everything you need to know
  • Xbox One X pre-order: How, where and when to pre-order

Nintendo Switch vs PS4 vs Xbox One: Conclusion

It is clear to see that the Nintendo Switch is a very different games console to the other machines. In many ways, it could be seen as an ideal second machine for hardcore gamers.

If anything, from what we’ve seen so far, it could be a Nintendo 3DS or PS Vita replacement as much as a home console alternative.

The motion gaming aspects could be a big draw too, especially if plenty of family-oriented games are made available. This is an area where Nintendo excelled with the Wii and it therefore offered something different to the Xbox 360 and PS3 of the time. The same could be true again.

The biggest barrier is price, with the Switch considerably more expensive than the standard Xbox One and PS4 thanks to being the new kid on the block. It might be worth waiting until Christmas, therefore, when Super Mario Odyssey is due to join the fray.

But then, Microsoft’s Xbox One X will be looming large around the same time, albeit at an even chunkier price point.

26
Jun

Microscope advances could prevent multiple breast cancer surgeries


A new type of microscope could drastically reduce the number of women having multiple breast cancer surgeries, researchers at the University of Washington claim.

Until now, there’s been no reliable way to determine whether surgeons have completely removed all cancerous tissue during surgery, meaning between 20 and 40 percent of women have to undergo second, third or even fourth procedures.

Current pathology techniques are complicated and laborious, often taking days to produce a result, but the new light-sheet microscope rapidly and non-destructively images the margins of removed tissue with the same level of detail as traditional pathology in as little as 30 minutes.

“The tools we use in pathology have changed little over the past century,” said co-author Dr. Nicholas Reder, chief resident and clinical research fellow in UW Medicine’s Department of Pathology. “This light-sheet microscope represents a major advance for pathology and cancer patients, allowing us to examine tissue in minutes rather than days and to view it in three dimensions instead of two — which will ultimately lead to improved clinical care.”

The microscope is also able to stitch together thousands of high resolution images per second to create a 3D image of a surgical or biopsy specimen, allowing pathologists to more accurately and consistently diagnose and grade tumours.

“Pathologists are currently very limited in how much they can look at on a glass slide,” said research co-author Adam Glaser, a postdoctoral fellow in the UW Molecular Biophotonics Laboratory. “If we can give them three-dimensional data, we can give them more information to help improve the accuracy of a patient’s diagnosis.”

Source: Nature Biomedical Engineering

26
Jun

Anki’s cute Cozmo robot can teach kids how to code


In addition to being an adorable robot companion, Anki’s Cozmo is now getting a programming platform of its very own. Starting today, Cozmo owners will have access to “Code Lab,” a visual programming platform based on MIT’s popular Scratch Blocks. Basically, it breaks down all of Cozmo’s functionality — moving, speaking and even recognizing and reacting to things around it — into blocks that kids can easily rearrange. As usual with Scratch, the idea is to get newcomers familiar with programming concepts, but it could eventually be used to build more complicated routines.

Code Lab will help kids hone their programming skills by giving them a set of challenges that can only be solved by making Cozmo act in specific ways. But of course, they’ll also be able to dive into all of the platform’s functionality to experiment. While coding tools for kids aren’t exactly new, Code Lab is a smart move by Anki, since it turns the robot into something much more than an expensive toy.

Source: Anki

26
Jun

Nintendo bolsters ‘Arms’ eSports appeal with LAN play


Nintendo’s Arms, the rollicking cross between Punch Out and Wii Sports Boxing (with beefed-up motion controls), is receiving another in a long line of promised updates. The most notable addition in version 1.1.0 is LAN play, allowing players to hookup multiple Switch consoles using a wired LAN adapter (that can be purchased separately) for extra stability during multiplayer battles.

Seeing as multiplayer is integral to the Arms gameplay experience — with Nintendo flaunting it as an eSports contender during E3 — the introduction of a LAN connection should help with competitive gaming down the line, particularly during major tournaments where stability and reaction times are critical.

The other update is slightly less exciting. “Arena Mode” basically lets up to four players join a lobby, allowing the players that aren’t trying to beat down one another to watch as spectators. You’ll be able to pick from four viewpoints whilst inactive, including a roving camera that follows the multiplayer battles. Nintendo’s take is like a very small-scale version of Twitch with an audience of just… two.

Nintendo has a lot riding on the success of Arms. Aside from the competitive gaming aspirations, it also has to sustain interest in the Switch, which launched with just a handful of titles, including the much celebrated Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Thus far, it’s met with success in its native Japan, where Arms is estimated to have debuted atop the sales charts, but has failed to match that feat in the UK, instead reportedly settling for second place behind Horizon: Zero Dawn upon its release.

Source: Nintendo

26
Jun

Facebook reminds you Messenger video chat exists with new effects


Facebook Messenger has had video chat capabilities for a couple of years now, and last December, it finally added group chat capabilities. Today, the company is unveiling even more features to Messenger’s video chat service such as animated reactions, filters and effects to hopefully make Messenger video calling a lot more fun.

Messenger video chat reactions are essentially the animated versions of the five Facebook emoji icons you probably already know: love, laughter, surprise, sadness and anger. Tap any of those emoji icons and the reactions will appear on screen as animations — the love icon, for example, will prompt hearts to fly around your head, while the laughter icon will prompt several laughing emoji heads to crowd the screen.

As for filters and effects, those who are familiar with Facebook’s Snapchat-style Camera will probably already recognize them. The filters range from mild color changes to bolder black and white transformations, while mask effects can add everything from a crown to bunny ears to your head. And if you open or close your mouth, you could even trigger some fun animations. We should note that mask effects like these have already been in Messenger video chat since last December; there’s just simply more of them now.

And as you’re having fun with all of these new video chat features with your friends, you can also now capture the moment for posterity by tapping the camera icon. It’ll screenshot the chat, which you can then post to Messenger Day, send it to the folks you’re chatting with, or share on other accounts. If you’re keen on adding more flair to your own video chats, you can try out the new Messenger features starting today.

26
Jun

Exceedingly difficult ‘TumbleSeed’ just got a bit easier


For those who have struggled through and given up on the exceptionally difficult rogue-like TumbleSeed (don’t worry, we had a hard time too), a patch was just released that makes the game a bit easier to navigate. The team behind TumbleSeed has acknowledged the game’s flaws and where they went wrong in their design, explaining the situation in a detailed blog post.

Greg Wohlwend, one of TumbleSeed’s designers, said in the post that the problem with the game is that there are too many new things introduced at one time, making it overwhelming for players. “It’s a pressure cooker filled with gunpowder that only a monk could endure,” said Wohlwend. And he notes that the difficulty has led to poor reviews and low sales.

Wohlwend goes on to say that the game’s bright colors and overall aesthetic make the game appear really accessible, but the gameplay didn’t follow through on that accessibility — something he regrets. “The whole game is designed to be accessible with the exception of that huge gap in the middle we forgot about,” he said.

To fix the difficulty issues, the TumbleSeed update adds four additional mountains that are the same every time you play rather than randomly generated. Auras are now always beneficial and eight more of them are available. There’s also a new weekly challenge along with additional changes to seed powers and enemies.

The update is available now and all of the changes are detailed on Steam.

Source: Aeiowu

26
Jun

Amazon Echo Show review: Seeing is believing


Siri may have ushered in the era of the digital assistant, but Amazon’s Echo (with Alexa) really took that concept and put it in our homes. The Echo wasn’t an immediate, breakout hit — but having Alexa around to ask questions, manage smart-home devices, play music and much more has turned out to be a pretty great thing. It’s a concept Google and Apple are now chasing (to varying degrees), but Amazon isn’t standing still.

The $230 Echo Show is the first Echo with a touchscreen, and since it was announced, we’ve been wondering how much a display will really add to the Alexa experience. It depends on what you want to do with it and where you put the Echo Show in your home. But after a week with Amazon’s latest, I’m convinced that yet another touchscreen in your life actually makes the Alexa experience better in a lot of ways — and that’s not to mention the special tricks the Echo Show brings.

Hardware

Images of the Echo Show appeared online a few days before it was formally announced, and the immediate reaction was one of disdain. Seeing it in person makes it a little bit better, but there’s no way around it: The Echo Show is an oddly angular and blocky device. It’s also strangely large, almost bulbous at the base. It’s definitely not the sleek cylinder that we’ve come to associate with the Echo. The matte-black plastic (it’s also available in white) picks up fingerprints quite easily — but this isn’t a device that you’ll be moving around often, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

It turns out, that wide base houses the Echo Show’s two speakers, which perform much better than I expected (more on that later). They make up the bottom half of the device, while the top is dominated by the 7-inch, 1024 x 600 touchscreen. That’s the same resolution as Amazon’s Kindle Fire 7 tablet, and while it’s certainly nothing to write home about, it fits the Echo Show’s purpose.

It’s not something you’ll be staring at for hours on end; instead, you’re more likely to be giving it quick glances throughout the day. To that end, I found it performed well; it’s bright and clear enough, and viewing angles are fine. Given that the Echo Show can play back video from YouTube and Amazon, a panel that hits 720p would have been nice, but I didn’t spend any time really thinking that the screen wasn’t up to par.

On top is a 5-megapixel video camera, which you’ll use for video calls and, potentially, third-party services down the line. The top features three buttons: two for volume control and one to mute the Echo Show’s eight-microphone array. The mics are set in an oval around the buttons up top, but there’s no light ring like what you’ll find on the original Echo. Instead, the bottom of the screen glows blue when you talk to the Echo Show. That works fine — it’s just not as elegant as the light ring.

Overall, the Echo Show hardware is solid and functional, but not much more. I will say, that once I placed it on my shelf, I spent less time thinking about its strange form factor. It does a good enough job of blending into the background, which is really what you want from a device like this. It’s not something that’ll draw attention, and that works for me.

In use

Setting up the Echo Show is a very simple affair and the first time that the touchscreen shows its usefulness. It’s pretty easy to go through the setup process right on the device, although the Alexa app for iOS, Android and Amazon’s own Fire devices will also do the job. Once you get the Show connected to WiFi and sign in with your Amazon account, you’re basically off and running.

If you’ve used an Echo before, everything you can do with that one is an option here, as well. I set up my location (for weather alerts), Google Calendar, my Todoist account and a few music services (including Spotify and Amazon Music) in the Alexa app and then I could easily access my personal info.

The default view on the Echo Show is a rotating view of your calendar appointments, to-do items, weather and a bunch of trending news stories. In all cases, the screen prompts you to ask Alexa for more details on whichever particular item is on display. Talking to Alexa works just as well on the Show as the standard Echo; I had very few instances where it didn’t pick up my voice right away, though there were definitely occasional moments of confusion as it tried to understand what I wanted.

A big part of the value I found in the Echo Show was how useful it was to… well, have the device show me information. When I asked about the weather, Alexa would respond and show me the forecast for the next few days. When I asked about my to-do list, I could see it and hear it as well. Having some time to sit there and digest the info in a visual way was immediately useful. It’s not necessary, but it is nice. And if you’re not right in view of the screen, you can still talk to the Echo Show and get the info you’re looking for.

The screen augments most of Alexa’s usual features, but it also enables a number of things that you couldn’t do before. Chief among those is video calling. Amazon added voice calls and messaging to the Echo family recent, but the Echo Show is the only one with a screen and camera. You can make video calls with anyone who has the Alexa app set up on their phone — regardless of whether they actually have an Echo Show yet.

Unfortunately, as of this writing the feature isn’t fully live, but I was able to do a test call with an Amazon representative, and it worked just as smoothly as you’d hope. The incoming call lit up my screen with the name of the caller, and the speaker started playing an alert to get my attention. I could pick up the call with either my voice or by tapping the button that appeared on the screen, and then the call just went on without any issues. Naturally, you can ask Alexa to place voice and video calls as well as send messages.

I don’t do video calling much, but this could be a killer feature for many families. Being able to do a video call hands-free was definitely better than holding my phone the whole time. But just about everyone has a phone that can make video calls, and that’s probably enough for most people. I could imagine this being useful for families with older relatives, though; the Echo Show is probably a bit easier to use. Of course, that means setting up yet another calling service, because the Show doesn’t support apps like Skype or Hangouts.

Another new feature that takes advantage of the screen is integration with smart-home cameras. The Echo Show will work with cameras from Amcrest, Arlo, August, EZViz, IC Realtime, Ring, Nest and Vivint. By saying a phrase like “Alexa, show the front door” you’ll be able to pull up the feed from that camera right on your Show. That’s another feature I wasn’t able to test — but given that the Echo is quickly becoming an essential hub for smart devices, households already with smart-home cameras might find the Echo Show worth shelling out for.

What’s most intriguing about the Echo Show is how third-party developers will use the new hardware. Alexa is getting more skills all the time, and seeing what makes its way to this new screen will certainly be worth keeping an eye on. Unfortunately, there’s nothing out there yet that I can try, but the smart way Amazon has used the screen to enhance existing Echo features makes me excited to see what developers do here.

Music and entertainment

One of the best things about the original Echo was just telling it to play whatever music popped into your head, and the Echo Show is even better in that regard. That’s primarily because the Echo Show’s speaker represents a solid upgrade over the original model. It’s still not in the same realm as dedicated audio speakers that Sonos is making, but it’s a lot better than the Google Home.

The screen also makes searching for music a lot easier. You can ask Alexa to show you top playlists on Spotify or the top songs on Amazon Music and a grid pops up on the display. You can then tell Alexa to scroll to the right to see more, but it’s easier to just swipe through the selections. Each item on the list has a number, and you can then just tell Alexa to “play No. 3.”

If that’s too much work, you can still just tell Alexa to play specific albums, songs or playlists, or just tell it to play music from a certain genre. Once the music is playing, the Echo Show displays lyrics from the song, though you can turn that off easily enough if you find it distracting.

Depending on where the Echo Show sits in your home, you might even want to watch video on it (despite that low-resolution screen). As you’d expect, you can just say “show me videos on Amazon Prime” or “play clips from YouTube” and things just start right up. Browsing Amazon Prime videos is similar to browsing songs or playlists: There’s a list that scrolls to the right and you can then tap or ask Alexa to play your selection.

That’s fine for casual browsing, but if you want to find a specific movie or video, you’ll need to ask Alexa to pull it up. Fortunately, the search is fairly contextual, so you don’t have to say the exact title word for word to find the YouTube clip you might be looking for. Alexa also responds to hands-free commands like skipping forward or back, adjusting volume and pausing your content. I don’t think I’d watch an entire film on the Echo Show, but if you spend a lot of time cooking and want to watch a few sitcoms while you’re at it, it’ll do the job nicely.

It’s worth noting that the Echo Show can also output audio to a Bluetooth speaker, just like the original Echo. So if you have a better speaker lying around and want to upgrade your audio setup, it’s a fairly trivial matter.

The competition

The Echo Show doesn’t have any direct competition. If you’re considering a voice-activated speaker, your choices are basically the Echo or Google Home. While Google has added plenty of features to Home since it launched last fall, Amazon still has the more-complete ecosystem here. If you’re deeply entrenched in Google’s world, Home is a good choice, but Amazon works pretty well with most Google services at this point.

If you’re trying to choose between the standard Echo and the Echo Show, you’ll want to consider where it’ll go in your home and what you want to do with it. My Google Home typically sits in my living room next to the TV, and I wouldn’t want another device with a screen there. But in a kitchen, office or bedroom, this little display could come in handy.

Another consideration is how interested you are in video calling and other future features that will rely on the screen. If you buy one without a screen, you’re locking yourself out of any potentially interesting use cases that could come down the line. For an extra $50, there’s a good chance you’ll get a lot of extra functionality out of the Echo Show, and the screen enhances plenty of the day-to-day info you’ll want to check on the device.

Wrap-up

Amazon essentially created a category with the Echo, and the Echo Show marks the first significant re-thinking of what a voice-activated home-hub can be. Ultimately, the screen isn’t essential, but it proved to be very useful. And the improved speaker quality is almost worth the $50 upgrade over the standard Echo by itself.

Aside from costing more money, the only downside to the Echo Show is that it’s more obtrusive than the slim, cylindrical Echo. But if one more screen won’t disturb your room too much, the Echo Show should be a strong contender for people looking for a virtual home assistant.

26
Jun

The SNES Classic is real, arrives on September 29th for $80


The delicious rumors are true: Nintendo is gearing up to launch the SNES Classic, a miniaturized version of the glorious original Super Nintendo Entertainment System. According to Nintendo’s Twitter account, the system will be available on September 29th with 21 games built-in — including the never-released Star Fox 2.

Super Mario World, Earthbound, Star Fox 2 + 18 more games? Now you’re playing with super power! #SNESClassic launches 9/29. pic.twitter.com/BPPGjpskPT

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) June 26, 2017

The $80 system generously includes two controllers this time (the NES Classic only came with one) and fits in the palm of your hand, just like last year’s throwback model.

In addition to Star Fox 2, the SNES Classic comes with other massive hits like Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Yoshi’s Island and more.

Interestingly, Nintendo is opting to do region-specific releases this time — the UK and other territories will get the Super Famicon styling — it’s the same console, just with some different visual flair.

Step back into the ’90s with #Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, launching September 29th https://t.co/Jf9wfMkd6i pic.twitter.com/Sq83yEVGNf

— Nintendo of Europe (@NintendoEurope) June 26, 2017

There’s no question this will be an incredibly hot holiday season item, but we’re going to be skeptical about Nintendo’s commitment to the SNES Classic after last year’s debacle. It was basically impossible to get your hands on an NES Classic from the moment it launched, and Nintendo never really caught up with demand. Instead, they just discontinued it, apparently giving up on the truckloads of money they could have made keeping it around.

We’re really, really hoping Nintendo doesn’t make that mistake this time.

Here’s the complete list of games:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man® X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter® II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts®
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

Source: Nintendo

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