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29
Jul

Huawei Honor 6A hands-on review


Research Center:
Huawei Honor 6A

When you have only a certain amount of money to spend on a new smartphone, you want to make sure the one you choose is going to last. The Honor 6A, which replaces the old Honor 5C, is a device worth investigating. It oddly isn’t as technically impressive, yet still costs the same 150 British pounds (about $195). For that price it won’t be taking on the Honor 9, and will instead be an object of desire for those looking at a Moto E4 Plus, a Samsung J series phone, or any other number of ideal budget smartphones. Why go with Honor? In our Honor 6A hands-on review, we find it’s all about longevity.

Metal body, big battery

Honor, a subsidiary of Huawei, made the Honor 6A with a metal body, which is unusual at such a low price. It feels great in the hand, with its gently-curved body fitting neatly in my palm. It’s light at under 150 grams, and not too thick at 8.2mm. Keeping a slim and light body hasn’t meant Honor’s put a laughably small battery inside the phone. Instead, it has a 3,020mAh cell, which Honor says will offer 10 hours of continuous web browsing over a 4G LTE network, or 12 hours of video playback.

This means the battery will easily last for a day without recharging under all but the most strenuous use. What’s more, the company has worked some magic to make sure the battery stays a strong performer over two years of ownership. Batteries degrade over time, but Honor’s tests on the 6A’s battery claim it will still have an 80 percent charge capacity after 800 cycles, which works out to about two years of average use.

Having a battery that lasts for years is no good if the software has ground to a halt, which can happen with some Android phones. Since Honor is a subsidiary of Huawei, it gets to use the EMUI 5.1 user interface over Android 7.0 Nougat on the Honor 6A, complete with Huawei’s special algorithms that keep the system running smoothly — at optimal speed levels, even after 18 months of use. This is a big bonus, and a feature more usually found on expensive devices like the Huawei P10 and Mate 9. We like EMUI 5.1 too. It’s considerably more pleasurable to use than older versions, and significantly faster.

Budget specs

The Honor 6A isn’t a rocket ship though. It uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor with 2GB of RAM, and performance in our brief hands-on was adequate. It can’t compare with the Honor 9, the P10, or other high-end phones, and the speed disadvantage was obvious. You only get 16GB of internal storage, but at least the Honor 6A comes with a MicroSD card slot, along with a dual-SIM option too.

You get what you see, and it’s not hiding anything terrible underneath the body.

Also helping the battery last a full day is the 5-inch screen. It has a 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution, which is low by today’s standards; but in-line with what we’d expect from a phone at this price. The glass cover was extremely reflective and made viewing in daylight, even on an overcast day in London, difficult. The problem was compounded by the screen’s low brightness. Again, this isn’t a flagship phone with a ridiculous price tag, and concessions have to be made. But this aspect is something that may require further investigation in a long term test to assess if it’s a serious red flag against the Honor 6A.

Finally, there’s a 13-megapixel camera on the back with fast autofocus, and a 5-megapixel camera on the front with Honor’s usual beauty mode. It doesn’t have NFC, so you won’t be able to use Android Pay.

The Honor 6A is what car dealers would call an “honest” model. You get what you see, and it’s not hiding anything terrible underneath the body. We particularly liked the in-hand comfort, and the smooth metal body. We’re less convinced by the screen; and recommend trying the 6A outside before deciding whether to buy it, to see if you can live with the performance.

If the Honor 6A is within your budget, then it’ll be up for pre-order through the online Vmall store on July 31 in the U.K., with a release to come in August. It will also be sold through the Three network from August 4. If you can stretch to 200 British pounds, or are looking for a bargain device at $250 in the U.S., where it’s uncertain the Honor 6A will be sold, then take a look at the Honor 6X, a phone we rate highly that’s only a little more expensive, and take a look at our list of best cheap phones for more recommendations.

Huawei Honor 6A Compared To

Motorola Moto E4

Google Pixel

Huawei Honor 6X

Lenovo Moto G4 Play

Oppo F1

HTC One A9

Huawei P8 lite

Mlais M9

ZTE Blade S6

HTC One M8 with Windows

Asus PadFone X

HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition

Sony Xperia Z1S

BlackBerry Z30

Sony Xperia ZL

29
Jul

U.S. Navy wants to track hurricanes, tornadoes with a fleet of glider drones


Why it matters to you

These sturdy CICADA drones could change the way we study meteorological phenomena like hurricanes and tornadoes.

We’ve reviewed plenty of drones over the years, and while they are predominantly used recreationally, the tiny buzzing gadgets have plenty of real world functionality. We reported earlier this year about a series of defibrillator drones undergoing testing in Sweden to reduce death and it looks like some drones in the U.S. may be gearing up for meteorological duty. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is testing a fleet of hurricane research drones to better understand and predict the destructive forces of nature.

The Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft MK5, or CICADAs, are an inexpensive, autonomous, fleet of GPS-controlled drones. Unlike traditional aerial drones, the CICADAs have no motor or onboard propulsion system. Instead, the 1.2-ounce drones are released midair from an aircraft and then glide to their intended destination. Each CICADA has a “glide ratio” of about 3.5 to 1 — meaning the drone has the ability to glide forward 3.5 feet for every one foot it descends.

The latest CICADA prototype has flat wings and an overall flat build, enabling the “micro aircraft” to be easily stacked in canisters and deployed in large numbers. The Navy is currently using a delivery system that stacks 32 CICADAs into a single cylindrical container for deployment.

Once released from the aircraft, the drones glide to their “intended waypoint, enters an orbit, and then descends within that orbit until it reaches the ground,” according to Dr. Daniel J. Edwards, an aerospace engineer with NRL. The onboard GPS technology allows the CICADAs to navigate and land within roughly 15 feet of their intended target.

The NRL describes the CICADAs as “essentially a flying circuit board” and once deployed in the air, the drones will record chemical, biological, and meteorological information. The Navy hopes this data could be used to better understand the behavior of both hurricanes and tornadoes.

In the future, these research drones could be deployed from a host of aerial vehicles including traditional airplanes, balloons, precision guided munitions, and even other unmanned aircraft or drones. The Navy recently ran the drones through a series of tests in various locations and altitudes ranging up to 8,000 feet. You can watch the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Spectrum’s full video coverage of the event on YouTube.




29
Jul

Action Launcher is getting Google Now integration and a bunch of Android O features


Action Launcher’s had a lot of big changes recently, and they just keep coming.

action-launcher-notification-previews.jp

Action Launcher went old school with their name, made their Pixel features free by default, a butter-smooth Clock widget, and a more standardized gesture system for App Shortcuts, Covers and Shutters. But as Chris Lacy said in a podcast with Android Central, there was more to come, and it’s coming tonight.

Get ready for some Google Now action.

2017-07-28%2016_22_09.gif?itok=YuzTIXBq

Action Launcher is debuting a Google Now plugin to bring the pane to the popular launcher with Action Launcher v26 tonight. The Action Launcher Google now plugin you will have to download outside the Google Play store, because as you might remember, Google is making launchers jump through a bunch of ridiculous hoops to get Google Now on a third-party launcher. Action now joins Nova Launcher in the circle of launchers that have overcome the hoops in order to offer one of Google’s most iconic launcher features.

But that’s not all we’re getting in Action Launcher v26. Oh, no, that’s just one of the new toys Chris Lacy is giving us to play with. We’re also getting a bevy of Android O and notification tweaks, including full support for Notification Dots, Notification Previews, Unread counts and the granular control to decide which apps get which. Widgets have gotten some love here, too, with Action Launcher adopting an Android O style widget picker and the Google Pill widget finally getting that Pixel Launcher edge when you set it on the left side of your screen with Google Now enabled.

Here is the full changelog for Action Launcher’s massive update for you to read while you wait for the update, and it is quite the Christmas in July:

  • NEW: Google Now integration for all! Requires installation of the Action Launcher Google Plugin application.
  • NEW: Full Notification Dots support!
  • NEW: Long-pressing a shortcut will display a preview of app’s notifications and allow notifications to be dismissed ala Android O. Available when using either Notification Dots or Unread Count.
  • NEW: Unread Count support extended to all apps that have a current notification.
  • NEW: Android O style App Shortcuts panel.
  • NEW: Allow granular control as to which apps display Notification Dots/Unread Count.
  • NEW: Android O style widget picker, which displays all relevant widgets for a given shortcut.
  • NEW: Directly engage Action Launcher’s Quickedit panel via a shortcut’s long-press popup UI.
  • NEW: Dedicated “Icons & App Shortcuts” settings page, which is home to all icon related settings.
  • NEW: When Google Pill widget is on the left screen edge and Google Now integration is enabled, display a tinted edge background as per Pixel Launcher.
  • NEW: Option to adjust the scale of icon indicators.
  • NEW: Revamped interface for selecting the apps that are hidden from app drawers.

More information about the plugin and the download are available at the link below.

Action Launcher + Google Now

29
Jul

Sony XZ Premium review: MrMobile’s mirror-plated time machine


The Sony Xperia XZ Premium is the first Sony smartphone to hit MrMobile’s review roster, and it’s not playing around. It’s not every day you review a phone with a Snapdragon 835 and a 4K HDR display crammed into an ostentatious and water-resistant mirrored chassis, after all. But I’ve always found 4K screens on smartphones to be serious overkill, and the XZ Premium’s high price combined with Sony’s bizarre legal troubles that force it to disable fingerprint scanners on its US phones kept my expectations low when it came time to unbox this device.

That was two weeks ago, though, and my time with this phone since then has been nothing short of magical. Because the XZ Premium is more than just Sony’s latest block of shiny glass: it’s the only smartphone on the market that shoots video at 960 frames per second. And if you’re rolling your eyes and saying “big deal,” you need to put your eyes on just what kind of footage that frame rate makes possible. Fortunately, the above video gives you just that.

Join MrMobile for the Sony Xperia XZ Premium review, then be sure to check out Android Central’s full review of the device — and if you want to pick up one of your own, pay our friends at Clove Technology a visit. You’ll be thanking them for lending MrMobile this review device … and sparing yourself the inconvenience of a disabled fingerprint scanner in the process.

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29
Jul

A molecule found on Saturn’s moon Titan could foster life


In a new study published today in Science Advances, researchers report that they’ve found a complex molecule in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan that could lead to the formation of life. Cell membranes are the outer barrier of most cells found on Earth and they, or structures like them, are crucial for life to form. And while Titan is quite different from our planet, it’s thought that this molecule — vinyl cyanide — is one that could potentially form cell membranes in the Titan environment.

On Earth, cell membranes are made up of lipids, fatty molecules that require liquid water. Titan, however, is extremely cold, which means lipids can’t form. But while it doesn’t have liquid water, Titan does have lakes of liquid methane, which along with vinyl cyanide, could foster the development of those essential cell membranes.

NASA’s Cassini probe found evidence of vinyl cyanide on Titan, but wasn’t able to provide any conclusive measurements. In this study, however, researchers used data collected from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile and found quite a lot of the molecule in Titan’s atmosphere, and because methane on Titan likely circulates like water on Earth, periodically raining down from the Titan skies, there’s a good chance that there’s also vinyl cyanide hanging out in the moon’s methane lakes.

We don’t yet know if there actually are cell membrane-like structures forming on Titan and we certainly don’t have any evidence yet that there’s any sort of life on the moon. But it definitely means we should keep studying Titan. “This is a far cry from saying [life] definitely happens on Titan and these cells are involved in some kind of primitive life,” Martin Cordiner, an author of the study, told The Verge. “But it gives us a starting point in that discussion. If there was going to be life in Titan’s oceans, then it’s plausible vinyl cyanide could be a component of that.”

Via: The Verge

Source: Science Advances

29
Jul

YouTube recommendations inadvertently serve up illegal livestreams


While live streaming is often associated with Facebook and Twitter these days, YouTube has been offering the feature for over five years now. Still, it’s only recently that the video giant has taken the phenomenon seriously — it’s finally letting some users broadcast from their phones, and it’s now easier to discover them via recommendations. Ironically, however, YouTube’s own recommendation system helped me discover a huge flaw in live streaming: flagrant copyright infringement. Indeed, it turns out that YouTube is infested with rogue streams of copyrighted content, and I wouldn’t have discovered it if YouTube itself didn’t recommend them to me.

During the recent July 4th weekend, I was on YouTube looking up videos on how to cook the perfect burger. As I perused through the search results, I came across something I hadn’t seen before; what appeared to be a 24/7 livestream of Bob’s Burgers, a popular animated show on Fox. I clicked on it and indeed, that was exactly what it was. The stream had only been running for four hours, but it already had thousands of viewers, and the live chatroom was full of people chatting about the episode. As the user hosting the stream did not appear to be in any way associated with the Fox Network, I had to assume it was not a legitimate feed.

But what was even more fascinating was the “Recommended for you” sidebar on the right of the video. It was a treasure trove of 24/7 livestreams of other popular animated shows like Futurama, The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy. What’s more, there were multiple livestreams of each show going on simultaneously, and several of them were hosted by different users.

Intrigued, I did a few more searches and found that there were literally hundreds of these streams. At the time of my search, there were about 11 separate livestreams of Bob’s Burgers, around 70 livestreams of Futurama, 50 of South Park and 20 of The Simpsons.

A few of these streams had four to five thousand viewers, while most of them had only 20 or 30. A good chunk were only a few hours old, but I did come across one or two Futurama streams that began nearly five days ago. Upon further investigation, I found that sometimes one user would have five or six livestreams of the same show going simultaneously.

I felt like I had found a hidden gold mine of secret YouTube. This was all clearly very illegal and very against YouTube’s own copyright rules. Further searches online reveal that the phenomenon isn’t entirely new; it appears to have been around for at least a year (A quick Google search shows livestream feeds appearing as early as August 2016). Which makes the fact that YouTube hasn’t resolved this issue yet all the more intriguing.

I left my computer alone for a few hours as I went about my weekend and returned to see if the illegal streams that I bookmarked were still around. Interestingly, one of them had been taken down, but the rest were still up. The next day, more of them were removed, and the following day, all of them were gone. It seems like the copyright owners had finally sniffed them out.

But all it took to get the streams back was to head to my YouTube homepage, which was suddenly rife with recommendations for illegal livestreams of animated shows. Indeed, all I needed to do was search for “Futurama” and I would get a slew of those 24/7 streams again. Heck, if I felt particularly lazy, I could even just go to YouTube’s very own Live landing page to see several of them featured in the recommended section.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that as more streams get taken down, more just pop back up. Sometimes it’s the same user who does it, sometimes it’s different. Some of these users have hundreds of subscribers, and only have a few other uploaded videos. YouTube is clearly trying to take down these rogue streams as fast as it can, but it’s a constant cat-and-mouse game that YouTube doesn’t seem to be winning.

Of course, YouTube has long had a problem with rogue actors uploading copyrighted videos to its platform; it’s even been sued over it. Eventually, YouTube came up with a way of identifying copyrighted content with a system called Content ID. It’s essentially a digital fingerprinting system that automatically matches video and audio files in a database to videos that are uploaded on YouTube. If the video is in violation, it gets a Content ID claim, and it might eventually be taken down if the content owner chooses to do that.

The problem, however, is that Content ID only comes into play with uploaded videos, not the ones that are streamed live. In YouTube’s Support page, it states: “Content ID claims are only made after you complete your live broadcast, if you decide to archive the video.” As you can imagine, most of these illegal livestreams are not archived, so Content ID claims can’t be filed.

In a statement provided to AdAge, which reported a similar issue in April, YouTube states that it “respects the rights of copyright holders” and that it has “invested heavily in copyright and content management tools to give rights holders control of their content on YouTube.” It also said: “When copyright holders work with us to provide reference files for their content, we ensure all live broadcasts are scanned for third party content, and we either pause or terminate streams when we find matches to third party content.”

Engadget received the same statement from YouTube when we reported the issue. We were also told that when a copyright takedown notification has been received on a video or a livestream, that content is removed promptly and the accounts of repeat offenders are terminated.

YouTube isn’t the only one trying to figure out how to manage the wild wild west of live video. Facebook and Twitter have run up against this issue too, with people sneaking in live streams of concerts or sporting events. Periscope, for example, came under fire from HBO when users used it to stream the fifth season premier of Game of Thrones, as well as the Mayweather vs. Pacquaio boxing match. Of course, there are other issues with livestreams too. In the past year, people have used Facebook and Periscope to broadcast violent acts such as murders, suicides and rapes.

Both Facebook and Periscope have provided statements in the past that they respect the intellectual property rights and will take down videos if notified. Periscope told Engadget that all content must follow community guidelines, which include adherence of copyright and must not contain content that’s violent or pornographic. But it still seems like viewers have to proactively flag these videos to get moderators to notice; there’s nothing really preventing them to be streamed in the first place. Controlling live video, as it turns out, is pretty hard.

When asked about these live streams that appeared in my Recommendations feed, YouTube simply said it looks at all sorts of different criteria to fill it, such as geography, video popularity and my watch history. So, of course, if an infringing livestream is particularly popular and it also melds with my interests, there’s a higher likelihood it’ll surface. There doesn’t seem to be any plans to change how Recommendations work at this time.

YouTube isn’t doing itself any favors here. I wouldn’t have even found these streams if YouTube itself didn’t offer them up to me, thanks in part to its own algorithms. Sure, it can be hard to control what’s live, and you can’t always block people from streaming copyrighted content. But there has to be a way to prevent it from being so easy to find.

29
Jul

Apple’s HomePod firmware spills more details on the smart speaker


Apple unveiled its Siri-powered HomePod speaker hub at WWDC back in June, and despite a hefty $350 pricetag and the inevitable comparisons to Alexa devices, it actually sounds pretty good. In the lead up to its release this December, Apple pushed out the hub’s firmware, revealing that it runs on iOS — basically like a screenless iPhone or iPad. But in its current incarnation, the HomePod won’t support third-party apps and programs, according to developer Steve Troughton-Smith’s analysis.

Just to cut off speculation: there doesn’t seem to be any kind of provision in the HomePod OS shell for installing apps or extensions. Zip

— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) July 28, 2017

Obviously, that’s not to say the device never will. Since it runs on a full iOS stack through a shell app called “Soundboard,” they could always patch in the ability for third parties to load up their software later. If things don’t change before launch, it’s an odd move to make, especially given how late the HomePod is to the voice-controlled assistant game. Both Google’s Home and Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices allow and encourage companies to make apps that enable custom interactions (Alexa has 15,000 of these “skills” and counting). It would also be a huge surprise if the HomePod didn’t integrate at launch with the IoT HomeKit system Apple keeps trying to make happen.

Otherwise, the firmware reveals a few things about the HomePod’s interactions. In keeping with Apple tradition, the device will support accessibility features including VoiceOver. Troughton-Smith believes the top touch surface is an LED matrix that could display shapes and symbols, not just big LED lights. Onboard controls are limited to activating Siri, adjusting volume and alarms on the HomePod — the bulk of which we discovered during our hands-on back in June.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment and will report if we hear back.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Steve Troughton-Smith (Twitter)

29
Jul

Twitter tests $99 subscription for auto-promoted tweets


Twitter is testing a subscription plan that charges users $99 a month to automatically promote tweets into strangers’ timelines. This wouldn’t be a service offered to all: Only those invited would be given the option to bellow out tweets to folks who don’t follow them. But at this point, it isn’t another tool for big brands to use. It’s aimed at users who aren’t as Twitter-savvy — i.e. power users and small businesses — who would conceivably rather throw money at the social media network than micromanage their account.

This is a pretty clear experiment to try out a new source of cash flow for Twitter, which saw a drop in advertising revenue this year, making $439 million in Q2 2017 compared to $535 million in the same period last year. Twitter confirmed to Engadget that it’s currently testing this program, but didn’t comment further.

Interesting @Twitter ads are running a new private beta program https://t.co/RbIEHMnGNl pic.twitter.com/oStFltf47Q

— David Iwanow (@davidiwanow) July 28, 2017

Users that had paid Twitter to promote their tweets before were invited to the pilot program, though interested users can apply for the program now and get 30 free days of “automated promotion.” According to the FAQ section, it will only apply to the first ten tweets of the day, and they will go out to either users with similar interests or those in a chosen metropolitan area (but not both).

Via: Business Insider

Source: Twitter

29
Jul

What we’re watching: ‘Shirobako,’ ‘American Gods’ and ‘Robot & Frank’


Welcome once again to Video IRL, where several of our editors talk about what they’ve been watching in their spare time. This month brings a mixed bag; while one of us dived into season one of Starz’ series American Gods; another is obsessed with a quirky UK game show that will make the jump to America soon; we’ve given anime another chance and last but not least, there’s even some robot-enabled larceny.

Shirobako

Sean Buckley

Sean Buckley
Associate Editor

A decade after slowly drifting away from watching anime as a genre, I’ve somehow found myself with a Crunchyroll Premium subscription. It started when my wife wanted to watch the 2014 Sailor Moon reboot, continued as we stumbled into the addictive absurdity of Food Wars and became a paid subscription somewhere between starting Rin-ne and catching up on new episodes of Dragon Ball Super. Somehow, we became anime fans again.

It’s good to be back, too — but it’s not the high-profile, weekly simulcast adventures of Goku that keep me coming back to the anime streaming service. It’s the slower, more focused shows that have caught my attention. The delicate story of Usagi Drop chronicling the sacrifices a 30-year old single man has to make when he unexpectedly becomes a parent to a 6-year old relative. The inspiring tale of Space Brothers, and one man’s journey to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. Silly comedy and over-the-top action defined the Anime I watched in high school. As an adult, I’m finding well written, character-driven drama with beautiful art and surprisingly relevant narrative themes. It’s …kind of great.

It’s not all fancy slice-of-life anime in my house — I still love shonen action shows like My Hero Academia. Despite a decade of dismissing Dragon Ball as an “anime soap opera,” I’ve fallen into the habit of watching Goku’s exploits every weekend — but it’s the slower paced character narratives that have anchored me back in a genre I forgot. This month’s obsession? Shirobako, a series that’s literally about making anime, following an animation studio that’s struggling to keep pace with a tight production schedule. It’s the perfect reminder of just how much work animated series really are, and how it’s a massive, complicated team effort — and the dramatization of the process makes me appreciate it as art even more.

If like me, you stepped away from Japanese animation years ago, think about looking into it again. You might be surprised at what you find. I was.

Oh, and yes — Cowboy Bebop is exactly as good as you remember. Better, even.

Taskmaster

Daniel Cooper

Daniel Cooper
Senior Editor

I’ve spent the last few weeks binging Taskmaster, the British comedy game show that’s recently been picked up in the US. The concept is easy to describe, but on paper sounds pretty boring: a team of comedians takes part in a series of challenges. But those challenges are all weird and wonderful, with lateral thinking and craftiness encouraged over simply doing the obvious thing.

There are four or five challenges a week and, between the filmed segments, the comedians sit in the studio explaining their logic. They need to impress both the Taskmaster, played by Greg Davies, and his Umpire, played by show creator Alex Horne. In these moments, there’s a simple joy of watching seven really funny people all gently mocking one another while in a room.

The key to the show’s success is the relaxed, chatty atmosphere that’s created in studio juxtaposed with the arch hilarity of the filmed challenges. It’s as if an NPR podcast crashed into one of those Japanese game shows you can catch on late night cable. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, but after watching the first episode I quickly raced through the remaining 23.

The US version will feature Reggie Watts, with creator Alex Horne reprising his role as the Umpire, and I have no doubt the format will succeed over here. But I urge you all to use whatever inappropriate methods you can to watch the British original, especially since it’s all so very charming.

Another British show with a high-concept premise that I’ve been enjoying of late is Murder in Successville. The show is essentially a live-action murder mystery, with the role of guest detective taken by a different celebrity each week. The twist, if one was needed, is that Successville itself is a town comprised entirely of celebrities — in reality, a group of comedians and improvisers doing impressions. So, Chef Gordon Ramsay is the sweary chief of police, while Lana Del Rey is a drippy forensic technician working in the morgue.

Navigating both the audience and that week’s contestant is comedian Tom Davis, playing the role of Detective Inspector Sleet. Given the real-time setting, much of the dialogue is improvised, with the cast occasionally breaking down into fits of laughter. You wouldn’t expect it to be as funny as it is, but Davis’ outsize personality, coupled with some surprisingly game contestants, makes the show. Again, it’s hard to procure through legitimate means in the US, but it’s another show that’s well-worth discovering.

American Gods

Nicole Lee

Nicole Lee
Senior Editor

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is my favorite book of all time. So when I heard that it was going to be adapted into a television series on Starz, I immediately signed up for a subscription. I was eager, yet a little nervous, to see how showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green would bring Gaiman’s prose to life, especially since much of American Gods is told in internal monologue. Eight episodes later, and despite a few quibbles, I can say that I’m pleasantly surprised. The show is similar, yet so different, from the book, that it really exists as its own entity. And that’s not such a bad thing.

As a quick summary, American Gods tells the story of Shadow Moon, an ex-con who’s given a new lease of life thanks to a mysterious character who goes by the name of Wednesday. Moon then gets introduced to a world where gods are real — not just the ones you know from myth, but also new ones, like Media and Technology. Yes, in American Gods, Technology is a bonafide deity, in the form of a bratty teenage boy. Appropriate.

Shadow represents the audience, as we’re introduced to this world at the same time. Each episode starts with a story on how gods of yore came to America, with clever cinematography and special effects that make fantastic fairy tales seem absolutely believable. What I especially love is that it is through these mythical tales that the show highlights the story of America as told through native Americans, slaves and immigrants. America is a multifaceted country, so of course, it has multiple gods.

It is these depictions of gods and stories that the TV show stays pretty true to the book. Those familiar with the novel will delight in Ian McShane’s portrayal as the charming Wednesday as well as Gillian Anderson’s take as the personification of gorgeous, dangerous, Media.

And then there are the parts that are not like the book at all, which I find fascinating. Laura Moon, Shadow’s undead wife, is depicted completely differently in the TV show, with a pathos and motivation that’s altogether missing in the novel. In particular, I find her unlikely relationship with Mad Sweeney, a leprechaun, to be an unexpected highlight of the series so far. The very idea of a decomposing corpse and an Irish fairy going on a road trip together tickles me.

The show isn’t perfect. Because the show has to drag a single novel through several hour-long episodes, the pace can feel plodding. There are entire episodes dedicated to sub plot and tangents, which could frustrate those wanting to get back to the main event. But in the end, I’m a fan. Sure, the TV show isn’t the same as the book, but that’s okay. As long as it maintains the spirit of the novel, I’m in.

Robot & Frank

Richard Lawler

Richard Lawler
Senior News Editor

Each time a new digital assistant arrives (Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby and all the rest), I relate ever more deeply to the world of Robot & Frank. I first saw this film when it came out in 2012 and have revisited it many times since then, watching as Frank (played by acclaimed actor Frank Langella) adjusts to the unwanted robot butler his kids push on him. It’s supposed to help improve the former cat burglar’s mental and physical health, but Frank quickly turns it from helper to accomplice as he attempts one last job.

The movie provides a roadmap for the increasing encroachment of technology into our lives without going into dystopian Black Mirror territory. Sure, Frank is annoyed by his new partner, “that thing is going to kill me in my sleep,” but an excellent script and Langella’s acting sell the bond of trust that grows beyond the two. Another factor that helps ground this flick is its lack of special effects. Despite a surprisingly loaded cast, the movie was shot on a reported $2.5 million budget and doesn’t rely on extreme special effects to insert the robot — instead, it’s a dancer (Rachael Ma) in a suit. It’s a great example of how less can be more when it comes to CGI and other rendering tricks, as the robot never looks out of place or like it’s moving at a different speed compared to everything else.

The story is also personally relatable, as Frank, his family and friends adjust to his changing mental state while trying to reconcile sins in his past that he may no longer remember. It’s a reality that many people either are dealing with or will in the future, and no amount of tech wizardry will make things that much easier. This is a movie with everything: glassholes, Susan Sarandon, Elton from Clueless and, of course, a thrilling library heist scene. The only advice I can give is to watch it, and know that if you give a former thief a robot assistant, you should probably make sure it includes relevant state and federal laws in its programming.

“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.

29
Jul

YouTube hopes to patch things up with the music industry


The music industry hasn’t been too enamored with YouTube, what with all the unsanctioned content on the video site. Now that Google is planning to merge Google Play and YouTube into one music service, however, it’s time to start fixing that awkward relationship. YouTube’s head of music, Lyor Cohen, took the first steps toward reconciliation at the New Music Seminar in New York City this week, with a panel geared toward the lack of ad revenues and how the music industry can be more supportive of streaming services.

According to The Verge, executives from YouTube, Pandora and iHearMedia sat down with those from Warner Music and SoundExchange to talk about ways to help the two industries work together. “We’re scared to death and we typically stomp them out,” The Verge reports YouTube’s Cohen said, referring to a lack of collaboration between the music industry and innovative streaming services. “Look at what’s happening with SoundCloud. What a sad experience that they’re experiencing right now. To me, we needed to collaborate with them in order for them to help build a business, whether it’s an advertising business or an opportunity for them to shepherd their consumers to a potential subscription.”

Paid streaming generates six times the revenue of ad-supported streaming, though both systems showed solid growth in 2016. SoundExchange’s SVP Mark Eisenberg noted that ad-supported services may be too good; there might not be enough incentive to upgrade to a paid account. “Some people will never pay for a subscription for a variety of reasons,” he said, according to The Verge, “but it doesn’t mean that [streaming services aren’t] monetizing them. We just have to figure out a way to make an ecosystem work for all.”

Cohen aims to close the gap between ad-supported and paid subscriptions with machine learning, which he claims drives 80 percent of views on YouTube, to help new artists gain exposure. “YouTube is not only going to build a fabulous subscription business to complement its advertising business,” he said, “but it’s going to work with the industry to help break their acts.”

Source: The Verge

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