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2
Nov

Hello, cousin? Aliens could look a lot like earthlings, Oxford study suggests


Why it matters to you

Applying evolutionary theory to the stufy of extraterrestrials might help us better understand life well beyond our own atmosphere.

From gaseous clouds to giant cockroaches, aliens have taken countless shapes in science fiction, but now there’s reason to believe that extraterrestrial life-forms may actually look a lot like earthlings. That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at Oxford University, who for the first time have provided evidence to show how evolutionary theory — and mechanisms like natural selection — can better help predict the appearance and behavior of potential otherworldly neighbors.

“A fundamental task for astrobiologists (those who study life in the cosmos) is thinking about what extra-terrestrial life might be like,” said Sam Levin, a researcher in the Oxford Department of Zoology, who lead the study. “But making predictions about aliens is hard. We only have one example of life — life on Earth — to extrapolate from. Past approaches in the field of astrobiology have been largely mechanistic, taking what we see on Earth, and what we know about chemistry, geology, and physics to make predictions about aliens.”

Levin and his team instead used evolutionary theory to predict the appearance of aliens, independent from the shape of life-forms on Earth. “This is a useful approach,” he said, “because theoretical predictions will apply to aliens that are silicon based, do not have DNA, and breathe nitrogen, for example.”

The results are some otherworldly creatures that look surprisingly familiar.

‘The Octomite’ is a complex alien make up of a hierarchy of entities that form a mutually dependent symbiotic relationship.

To be sure, the researchers admit they can’t yet predict whether aliens are green, bipedal, big-eyed beings or something else entirely, but they hope their study helps establish evolutionary theory as a lens through which to imagine what aliens might look like.

“By predicting that aliens have undergone major transitions — which is how complexity has arisen in species on Earth — we can say that there is a level of predictability to evolution that would cause them to look like us,” Levin said.

With the aid of evolutionary theory, the researchers’ predict that aliens would be made up of a hierarchy of increasingly complex entities and mechanisms (much like molecules, cells, and organisms) that cooperate in the form of a larger being. “At each level, of the organism there will be mechanisms in place to eliminate conflict, maintain cooperation, and keep the organism functioning,” Levin said. “We can even offer some examples of what these mechanisms will be.”

A paper detailing the research was published this week in the International Journal of Astrobiology.

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2
Nov

Expect more video features as Facebook, Instagram continue multimedia focus


Why it matters to you

Don’t be surprised to see more video features rolling out inside Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp — Facebook says video will be a focus for the next three years.

Video will continue to be a focus for Facebook as the company’s various platforms continue to grow in numbers. According to Facebook’s quarterly earnings call, the video-focused Instagram Stories feature as well as WhatsApp now have 300 million users active on the platform every day, while Facebook has reached 2.1 billion monthly users and 1.4 billion daily users. Facebook video will be a focus for the next three years, while the company also plans on expanding business tools for Messenger and Marketplace options, while also adding new artificial intelligence tools.

Unlike publicly sharing a video on Instagram, Stories is designed to share visual moments from the day with friends and followers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that video can help foster a bigger sense of community on social media. He added that interaction with friends can be time well spent, compared to just passively watching a video.

“Over the next three years, the biggest trend in our products will be the growth of video,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “When done well, video brings us closer together. We’ve found that communities formed around video like TV shows or sports create a greater sense of belonging than many other kinds of communities. We’ve found that Live videos generate 10 times the number of interactions and comments as other videos. But too often right now, watching video is just a passive consumption experience. Time spent is not a goal by itself. We want the time people spend on Facebook to encourage meaningful social interactions. So we’re going to focus our products on all the ways to build community around the video that people share and watch. That’s something Facebook can uniquely do.”

Besides just sharing a video, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp all now have Stories or a similar tool. Snapchat was the first to launch a Stories feature, which strings together short video clips or images and automatically deletes them at the end of the day to start fresh. With the latest numbers, Instagram’s variation is now almost twice the size of Snapchat’s entire daily active user base of 173 million.

Along with Stories, Facebook’s new Watch Tab is designed to encourage the growth of video, along with recent expansions of options for recording live video. Facebook is also testing support for 4K videos.

The quarterly numbers show an increase of 50 million active daily users for both Instagram Stories and WhatsApp from the summer. Instagram has a total user base of more than 500 million that use the platform every day, and the latest numbers mean that more than half of those users are sharing inside Stories. Facebook didn’t share user numbers for the Stories feature on Facebook, but cross-posting Stories from Instagram is now possible.

Editor’s Recommendations

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  • Instagram fans can soon view and post Stories from mobile browsers




2
Nov

Samsung Experience 9.0 beta brings Android 8.0 Oreo to Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus


Why it matters to you

Are you a user of the Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus? Your phone is finally getting Android 8.0 Oreo, bringing the latest and greatest Android features to the phones.

Samsung is launching an update to its flagship phones. The company has announced the Samsung Experience 9.0 beta, a big part of the Samsung beta program that allows those that are members of it to experience some of the new features in the Samsung Galaxy ecosystem.

Along with Samsung Experience 9.0 comes Android 8.0 Oreo — as Experience 9.0 is built on the Oreo user interface and design. In other words, this marks the beginning of the road to rolling out Android 8.0 Oreo to Samsung’s customers. To start, the Experience 9.0 beta will be available to users of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus in South Korea, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Of course, more users will get the beta as time goes on.

It’s important to note that this is a beta — in other words, you’ll only get it if you’re a part of the beta program, and it may still have some bugs. Still, at the very least this shows that Samsung is well on its way to updating its phones to the newest version of Android.

Samsung Experience is essentially the user interface that Samsung builds over the top of Android. The software was previously known as Samsung TouchWiz, but was rebranded towards the end of 2016. Why? It’s anyone’s guess, but TouchWiz did have some issues with branding considering it was known as having a ton of bloatware and annoying Samsung apps. Experience seems to mark an effort by Samsung to cut down on the bloatware, or at the very least allow customers to hide it. That’s a good thing — the majority of people tend to stick with Google’s stock apps rather than adopt the different apps of different manufacturers, save for key apps like the camera app or email app.

We’ll have to wait and see how long it takes Samsung to tweak the beta and launch Experience 9.0 to all customers beyond  just those who are part of the beta program. Hopefully it won’t be more than a month or so, and hopefully the company will soon launch new software on other phones such as the Galaxy Note 8, which we think probably should have been included in this first rollout. Still, it remains to be seen how many differences there really are between Experience 8.5 and Experience 9.0.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Samsung Galaxy S8 review
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2
Nov

Meet Artymate, the Photoshop plug-in that animates your still photos


Why it matters to you

While cinemagraphs traditionally require videos, this tool brings it to both still photos and Photoshop.

Photoshop’s built-in tools make it possible to turn short videos into cinemagraphs, or moving pictures but what if you only have a single still photo? Artymate is a new Photoshop plugin that creates animated GIFs from still photos.

The Artymate plug-in adds several tools to animate specific elements of the image, with a different tool for each type of motion. The assortment of animation tools include options for floating, falling, floating, flying and even flapping for a more realistic flight for birds and butterflies.

Along with tools for animating what is already there, the plug-in also includes tools to add animated presets. For example, adding fire, light rays, fire, making bokeh, or even flowing hair. The tools include adjustments to change the color of the animation to match the rest of the image, and the hair tool has both curly and straight options.

The plug-in walks users through the steps, which often includes creating a layer, adding a mask to that specific object, then controlling the animation. The cinemagraphs can then be exported as GIFs for sharing on websites and social media.

Karen Alsop, a photographer from Australia known for creating dream-like edits in Photoshop, created the program for her own work and is now sharing Artymate with the rest of the photo community.

While cinemagraphs are traditionally made from videos, Artymate is not the first program to bring that capability to still photos through animation tools. Plotagraph is a program designed for creating cinemagraphs, available on desktop computers and the iPad. Users can pay a monthly subscription fee, or unlock free features by trying out the platform’s social media app, which is in public beta testing.

Artymate may not be the first to animate still photos, but the Photoshop integration could likely simplify the workflow for photographers that already use Adobe’s photo editor. Along with having all the Photoshop tools still accessible, the plug-in uses Photoshop layers and masks to help create those animations. The one-time price could also be an advantage over Plotagraph subscriptions.

Artymate is compatible with Photoshop CC versions; the plug-in sells for $50.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Photoshop 2018 now supports 360-degree photos, adds new design tools
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  • Photoshop will soon make curvy selections even easier with a new tool




2
Nov

Lenovo Yoga 920 review


Research Center:
Lenovo Yoga 920

Lenovo’s Yoga 910 convertible 2-in-1 was one of our favorite notebooks of 2016, offering an excellent combination of design and build quality, performance, and battery life. It wasn’t perfect, though, so Lenovo has released an update to address some flaws and add Intel’s eighth-generation Core processors. In our Lenovo Yoga 920 review, we dig in to see if the company succeeded in making a good 2-in-1 even better.

Our review unit arrived with a 13.9-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) display, a quad-core Core i7-8550U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB PCIe solid-state disk (SSD). That configuration runs $1,330 at the Lenovo Store, placing it firmly in premium notebook territory compared to slightly smaller 13.3-inch machines like the HP Spectre x360 13 with similar specifications. Upgrade to 16GB memory, a 1TB SSD, and a 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) display, and you’ll fork over a cool $2,000.

Lenovo has made some meaningful changes to the Yoga 920, but is that enough to keep up with a Windows notebook market that isn’t slowing down?

A solidly built machine with a design that’s sharp in more than one way

From a distance, you’d have a hard time telling the new and old machines apart. They’re similar in overall design, down to the iconic watchband hinge, though there are some subtle differences. Lenovo simplified the Yoga 920’s design by straightening out some angles,creating a cleaner look that’s slightly thinner at 0.5 inches (versus the Yoga 910’s 0.56 inches), and smaller in width and depth.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The all-aluminum build remains in place, and it’s just as solid as its predecessor. Close the lid and you’ll think the machine is forged from a single hunk of metal. Open the lid and you’ll find zero give, with the keyboard deck also providing a comforting solidity. As before, the watchband hinge is beautiful, and it feels great to use, offering just the right amount of resistance.

Lenovo’s Yoga 920 does look bland, particularly compared to the HP Spectre x360 13, which offers more design flare. Our review unit featured a bronze color scheme and doesn’t stand out in this very crowded market. Lenovo is going for a classy, businesslike look.

The all-aluminum build is just as rock-solid as its predecessor.

Lenovo has slightly increased the size of the top bezel, just enough to move the webcam above the display, where it belongs. That means that you can now hold a videoconference without trimming your nose hairs first — we’re looking at you here, Dell XPS 13. This removes one of the Yoga 910’s most annoying flaws.

We must note the edges around the keyboard deck are a bit sharp. You’ll want to avoid scraping your palms against the front corners when placing your fingers on home row.

Much-improved connectivity

While the Yoga 910 suffered from a weird configuration of underpowered USB-C ports that offered limited USB 3.0 and 2.0 support, the Yoga 920 makes much better use of the new standard. This time around, both UBS-C ports support Thunderbolt 3, making them faster and more useful. There’s also a USB-A 3.0 port for legacy support, and a 3.5mm combo headset jack. You’ll need a dongle to plug in an SD card reader.

Lenovo Yoga 920 Compared To

LG Gram 15Z970-A.AAS7U1 Laptop

Lenovo Yoga 720 15-inch

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

Acer Spin 7

Origin EON17-SLX

Asus Transformer Book Trio TX201LA

Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T

Acer Aspire V7

Sony Vaio Pro 13

HP Spectre XT TouchSmart

Acer Aspire S3

Asus U36Jc

Apple MacBook Air (11.6-inch)

Gateway C-120X

Gateway 200XL

Wireless connectivity is the usual 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1. Overall, connectivity is solid for the form factor, but not exactly outstanding.

New pen support means fully competitive input options

The Yoga 920 is stocked with the usual input options. First up is the keyboard, which offers a consistent action with distinct tactile feedback, sufficient travel, and a slightly abrupt bottoming action. The keys are a bit stiff, requiring a little more force than we found comfortable. Spacing is excellent, and the Enter key has been enlarged from the Yoga 910, in response to user feedback.

Next, we usually expect a Microsoft Precision touchpad — like the one on the Yoga 920 — to provide nearly perfect gesture support. However, this touchpad is less responsive than it should be and some gestures arehard to use, such as the three-finger swipe to switch apps.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The touchscreen has no such problems, responding consistently to user input and providing a comfortable swiping surface. Lenovo has added active pen support, alleviating another weakness of the Yoga 910. The Active Pen 2 offers up to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, to match the , two buttons, and an eraser. To keep the pen handy, Lenovo includes a pen holder that plugs into the USB-A port.

Finally, the Yoga 920 retains the fingerprint scanner to the right of the touchpad, with full support for Windows 10 Hello password-less login. It’s fast and accurate.

An average — and therefore very good but not great — display

Our review Yoga 920 came equipped with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 158 PPI) display, which at 13.9 inches is just sharp enough that pixels aren’t plain. Lenovo also offers a 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160 or 317 PPI) display that adds around $670 to the price but increases RAM to 16GB and SSD storage to 1TB, if you like the absolute sharpest possible text.

According to our colorimeter, Lenovo’s choice of panel is just good enough to qualify as average for today’s premium notebooks — a positive, given how good displays have become.

The Yoga 920’s display covers 72 percent of the AdobeRGB color gamut. That’s competitive with machines like the ZenBook Flip S, which also provides a Full HD display, and it falls slightly behind the higher resolution of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, and the 4K UHD display on the Yoga 910. Color accuracy came in at 2.01 (where 1.0 or less is indistinguishable to the human eye), which is also average for our comparison group.

The Yoga 920 scored a strong 880:1 contrast ratio at 100 percent brightness, which competes well against all but the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, with its excellent 1,120:1 score. Brightness came in at 308 nits, which crosses our 300-nit threshold for displays that are likely to be visible in bright environments. Gamma was perfect at 2.2, meaning that, for example, videos will be neither too bright nor too dark.

The Yoga 920’s display was enjoyable in normal day-to-day use. Colors were good enough for all but the most exacting creative work, and videos were bright, yet provided detail in darker scenes. Black text on white backgrounds also stuck out, meaning it’s great for anyone who works with words or numbers.

Good enough sound for the occasional Netflix session

The Yoga 920 sports two downward-firing speakers on the bottom-front of the chassis, and we found them loud enough for watching movies by yourself, or with a small group. Music was lacking bass, but the midrange and highs were sufficiently clear that you won’t immediately plug in a set of headphones. Lenovo touts the “360-degree audio” provided by Dolby Atmos, but we didn’t notice anything different in our tests.

Another improvement is four far-field microphones that enhance Cortana’s responsiveness when you talk to her across the room. In our brief testing, we found that Cortana did indeed respond reliably, even when we were quite a few feet away.

Intel’s eighth generation provides a real performance punch

The Core i7-8550U that Lenovo packed into the Yoga 920 ups the ante from two cores to four, promising better multitasking. However, Intel lowered the base clock speed to a power-sipping 1.8GHz –compared to 2.7GHz with the Core i7-7500U — while increasing the turbo frequency to 4.0GHz from 3.5GHz.

We found the new Intel processor offers a meaningful improvement. And, just as important, Lenovo leveraged that improvement to make the Yoga 720 a seriously fast machine.

For example, in the Geekbench 4 benchmark, the Yoga 920 scored 4,683 in the single-core test, which is faster than any Core i7-7500U in our comparison group, including the Yoga 910. The multi-core score of 14,566 was even more impressive, blowing away dual-core machines, and beating the faster yet less efficient quad-core Core i7-7700HQ.

In our Handbrake test that converts a 420MB video to H.265, the Yoga 920 scored a speedy 613 seconds, almost twice as fast as the Yoga 910 and the other dual-core machines. Only the Core i7-7660U-equipped Microsoft Surface Pro came close. While the Core i7-8550U couldn’t keep up with the Core i7-7700HQ, it still managed an impressive showing.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Overall, the Yoga 920 makes great use of the new CPU’s potential. It’s quick as a general productivity machine, and can do real work as well. Add to that excellent thermal management that keeps heat down with minimal fan noise, and it’s a win-win situation.

Fast enough storage thanks to Samsung’s SSD

The Yoga 920 is equipped with the speedy Samsung PM961 PCIe SSD, which typically provides excellent storage performance.

As it turns out, the Yoga 920 underperforms. It scored 1,147 megabytes per second (MB/s) in the CrystalDiskMark read test, and 1,172 MB/s in the write test. That’s fast, but not as fast as some other machines in our comparison group that were equipped with the same SSD.

There’s no accounting for the difference here, but it hardly matters. These may not be the fastest scores, but you’re unlikely to notice during actual use. Throughout our testing, the Yoga 920 felt quick, and it’s likely to provide all the performance that the typical high-end productivity user requires.

No better for gaming than any other notebook with integrated graphics

We always expect the same basic experience from machines equipped with Intel’s integrated graphics. The Yoga 920 utilizes the Intel UHD 620, and don’t let the name fool you – it’s the same low-powered GPU as the Intel HD 620.

Our expectations were justified. The Yoga 920 scored 1005 in the 3DMark Fire Strike test, which is in line with our comparison group utilizing the same GPU. The Yoga 920 can run older titles at lower resolutions, but will fall short in modern titles, even at Full HD resolution and lower settings.

Nevertheless, we went ahead and ran Civilization VI at Full HD, and recorded 12 frames per second (FPS) at medium detail, and 6 FPS at ultra detail. That’s just not good enough, so you’ll want to pick a different machine if you’re looking to game.

Battery life is mixed, but don’t let that worry you

The Yoga 910 enjoyed a large 79 watt-hour battery. Surprisingly, Lenovo chopped it down to 70 watt-hours in the Yoga 920. Seeing a decrease in battery life is never a welcome sight, so we had to hope that the Full HD display, combined with a theoretically more efficient CPU, would make up it.

The Yoga 920 provided some mixed results in our suite of battery tests. Don’t despair, however, because that mix ranged from merely good to downright excellent.

We saw three hours and 23 minutes in our most demanding Basemark test, whichruns through a series of CPU- and GPU-intensive web processes. Basemark is a performance test at heart, so it’s a great measure of how long a machine can last when it’s at full load. Compared to our comparison group, the Yoga 920 was competitive but not class-leading, likely because the Core i7-8550U provides real power when it’s running at top speed.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Next, we ran our now-retired Peacekeeper battery test to make for a more direct comparison to the Yoga 910. While the older machine was equipped with a 4K UHD resolution display, it also benefitted from a larger battery. As it turns out, the contest wasn’t even close. The Yoga 920 lasted for six hours and 39 minutes, while the Yoga 910 lasted for four hours and six minutes.

In our macro test, which loops through a series of popular web pages, the Yoga 920 really started to show its stuff. It lasted for eight hours and 11 minutes, a strong score bested only by the eerily efficient Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

The Core i7-8550U sips power when it’s not being taxed.

Finally, in our test that loops an Avengers trailer until the battery gives out, the Yoga 920 excelled. It lasted almost 14 hours, among the longest durations we’ve measured. The Yoga 910 lasted just under 10 and a half hours, again held back by its 4K display, but aided by its larger battery. We must conclude the Yoga 920’s Core i7-8550U sips power when it’s not being taxed.

Overall, the Yoga 920 provided good battery life when running hard, and excellent battery life when lightly used. In fact, battery life is so promising that choosing a 4K UHD display becomes feasible — you’ll give up longevity by upping the resolution, but the Yoga 920 has headroom to spare.

In addition, the machine is thin and light for a nearly 14-inch device, at 0.5 inches and 3.02 pounds. It feels great in the hand and is easy to carry around, which makes it a truly portable 2-in-1 indeed.

Warranty information

Lenovo offers a standard one-year parts and service warranty for the Yoga 920, which is just average for notebooks and, as usual, a bit disappointing at these prices.

Our Take

The introduction of Intel’s eighth-generation Core processors was an opportune time to refresh the Yoga 900 series, but Lenovo didn’t stop with just the CPU. It also touched up the design, putting the webcam up top where it belongs, fixing a key customer gripe by enlarging the Enter key, adding Thunderbolt 3 support, and simplifying the look. The result is a much-improved 2-in-1 in the Yoga 920 that not only performs better, but also removes the key complaints.

Is there a better alternative?

There are many strong competitors in the 2-in-1 and notebook market. The following are some options to consider, but until we’ve reviewed all the newest models, we can’t say that any of them are superior to the Yoga 920.

First on the list of viable alternatives is the HP Spectre x360 13. It’s recently received its own redesign, including an upgrade to eighth-generation Intel processors.. The previous version was our favorite convertible 2-in-1, however, offering its own excellent combination of performance and design. It’s a bit less expensive, at $1,200 for the same Core i7, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD compared to the Yoga 920’s $1,330. However, the Spectre x360 has a smaller battery.

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a well-made machine that we like quite a bit, with decent productivity performance from it’s low-power Intel CPUs, along with great battery life. The XPS 13 2-in-1 is priced roughly the same as the Yoga 920, at $1,350 for a Core i7-7Y75, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD. The XPS 13 2-in-1 is much smaller than the Yoga 920 overall, and sacrifices performance to make that possible.

Finally, if you want to choose a traditional clamshell notebook instead, then you can consider the Dell XPS 13. It’s our favorite 13-inch notebook, offering an excellent design, solid build quality, great performance, and outstanding battery life. The XPS 13 also recently received an eighth-generation Intel CPU refresh, which should provide much of the same improvements as we see in the Yoga 920, and it’s a bit less expensive at $1,250 for the same configuration.

How long will it last?

The Yoga 920 is well-built, and it should last for years of typical mobile use. It’s also equipped with the latest and greatest Intel CPU, along with enough memory and storage to ensure that you’re still productive years down the road.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Yoga 920 fixes everything that was wrong with the previous version — which wasn’t much — and increases performance. What’s not to like?

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Dell XPS 13 Review
  • Asus ZenBook Flip S review
  • Asus VivoBook Pro N580 review
  • Lenovo Yoga, Miix PCs invade IFA sporting 8th Gen Intel Core and 3D cameras
  • HP Spectre x360 15 review
2
Nov

The ZephVR blows air in your face, which might actually make VR better


Why it matters to you

ZephVR looks to make VR a more immersive experience by simulating the wind blowing on your face.

The ZephVR might blow air on your face, but it’s nothing like the Nosulus Rift farting face mask. This is a real virtual reality accessory for VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR, that lets you feel the action. Attaching to current-generation VR headsets, the ZephVR accessory uses machine learning to blow air on your face to simulate real wind and movement in games and experiences.

One of the biggest difficulties with virtual reality, is that as real as it looks, you don’t actually feel much. You might ‘feel’ like you’re there, but beyond a little haptic feedback through motors in your controllers, there is no touch sensitivity in games and experiences. That is perhaps most noticeable when you’re flying through the air or racing along the ground because without feeling the air on your face, there is not much indication to the reptilian part of your brain that you’re actually moving.

That is what the ZephVR add-on accessory is designed to fix. It looks a little similar to cooling systems like the Vive n’ Chill, but Zeph VR is designed to do more than just cool you down. It’s supposed to make you feel the in-game wind on your face.

The fans are said to be powerful, quick-acting and most importantly, quiet. They work by listening for the sound of “wind” in games where it is apparent and blow on you in conjunction with that audible cue. The developers claim to have categorized hours of in-game audio and then used machine learning to pick out unique identifiers, so the fans should only blow when the time is right.

For games where the rush of wind isn’t apparent, they are said to still add to the experience. In the case of horror game jumps scares, a brush of wind on the face is said to massively enhance the feeling.

That all happens without any input from the user as part of the fans’ “autonomous” mode. At the flick of a switch, the user can also turn it to “always-on,” which lets the ZephVR cool the user so they can play for longer in the confines of their VR headset.

The ZephVR is available now on Kickstarter, with at “Earliest bird” pledge level of $50. That gets you the ZephVR itself, along with a 15-foot mini-USB cable for Oculus Rift users. Those late to the party will need to spend $90 for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive compatible version. PSVR users will need to spend up to $120, due to the additional need for an audio processing box and audio cable.

Whatever you opt for though, you should be netting a saving. The developers told Digital Trends that the final retail price could be as much as $150.

All versions are slated to ship out in May, though as with all Kickstarter campaigns, that is not set in stone.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • Here is everything we know about Respawn’s Oculus Rift VR shooter
  • ‘Skyrim VR’ will launch in November, followed by ‘Doom VFR’ and ‘Fallout 4 VR’
  • These are the 20 best HTC Vive games available today
  • From horror fests to shoot-’em-ups, here are the 20 best Oculus Rift games
  • PlayStation VR review




2
Nov

You’ll need more storage if you’re downloading ‘L.A. Noire’ on the Switch


Why it matters to you

L.A. Noire may be just one of many games that force Switch owners interested in third-party titles to require additional storage for the console.

The port of Rockstar’s cult classic historical detective title, L.A. Noire on the Switch is not exactly compatible out of the box. While the game will run just fine on the new Nintendo console, you need additional storage to do it, as the digital version of the game comes in at 29GB. That is too much space for the Switch’s internal memory.

As much as people are enamored with Nintendo’s newest console, many have pointed out the lack of storage space as a real downfall. We said as much in our review, as compared with the hundreds of gigabytes available on the Xbox One and PS4, it seems like a real oversight. The L.A. Noire storage requirements could be the tip of an iceberg which sees expanded storage become near mandatory for Switch owners.

At 29GB, the game is too big for the Switch’s standard storage. Although the console comes with 32GB as standard, 6.2GB of that is reserved for the system, which Gamespot notes. That means that if you’re running the digital version of L.A. Noire, you absolutely need expanded storage. Rockstar also warns that any microSD card used must have a minimum read speed of at least 60MBps.

One way around this for those not looking to splash out on expanded storage is to play the physical version of the game. Although you will still be required to download a 14GB patch alongside it, that should at least make it possible to play the game without additional storage — even if the update does take up almost half of the onboard memory.

Although this is a problem that is likely to extend to many more games — Doom already requires an additional 9GB of space for multiplayer — this may be a more common issue with third-party games on the console. Nintendo’s own titles tend to be much more compact, with Mario Odyssey weighing in at just 5.2GB in total, while Arms is just over 2GB.

If you’re wondering why there is such a disparity between game install sizes, you are not the only one. We recently sat down with several developers to ask them why so many modern games take up so much storage space.

Editor’s Recommendations

  • ‘L.A. Noire’ comes to HTC Vive, Nintendo Switch, and more this November
  • How much RAM do you need? It’s probably less than you think
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2
Nov

A.I. may outclass humans in ‘Go,’ but we still hold the upper hand in ‘Starcraft’


Why it matters to you

AlphaGo demonstrated that an artificial intelligence can outmatch human players in Go, but Starcraft is a different story – for now.

We’ve seen various showdowns in recent years between human players and artificial intelligence in games like Go. While A.I. has held the upper hand in games like Go, a professional Starcraft player took on four different computer systems this week, and came away as the victor.

Sejong University in South Korea played host to the exhibition, where Song Byung-gu managed to defeat four different bots in just under half an hour, according to a report from Hexus. The longest game lasted ten and a half minutes, while the shortest came to an end in less than five.

One bot, known as CherryPi, was developed by Facebook’s A.I. research lab, while the others came from teams in Australia, Norway, and Korea. Deepmind, the Google subsidiary responsible for the much-publicized AlphaGo project, did not take part, even though it recently collaborated with Blizzard to release AI research tools for Starcraft II.

Games like Go have a finite number of possible moves, and a playing field that’s relatively easy for an A.I. to analyze. By comparison, Starcraft offers up a great deal more complexity – and that’s what makes it such an appealing task for A.I. researchers. Now that the likes of Go have been comprehensively cracked, it’s time to take on new challenges.

The bots that competed against Song were capable of carrying out as many as 19,000 actions per minute, while even the best players can only manage a few hundred. However, there isn’t as much training data available for the A.I.s to learn from, which is being cited as the reason that they’re so far behind their human opponents.

Several professional Starcraft players have indicated that they would put their reputation on the line in a televised event, along the lines of the AlphaGo series of matches that featured professional Go player Lee Sedol.

“We professional gamers initiate combat only when we stand a chance of victory with our army and unit-control skills,” Song told the MIT Technology Review when asked about the difference between human players and A.I. He went on to praise his synthetic opponent’s defensive unit management as “stunning.”

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2
Nov

Razer Phone vs. Samsung Galaxy Note 8: A new challenger approaches


Razer has lifted the lid on the Razer Phone — a beast of a device with a Snapdragon 835, a staggering 8GB of RAM, and screen technology that promises to make mobile gaming into something truly beautiful.

But how does the Razer Phone stack up against the biggest boys on the block? We’ve put the Razer Phone to the test, sending it up against Samsung’s premiere pit fighter, the Galaxy Note 8, in a six-round slobberknocker deluxe.

Specs

Galaxy Note 8

Razer Phone
Size
162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm (6.40 x 2.95 x 0.34 inches)
158.5 x 77.7 x 8 mm (6.24 x 3.06 x 0.31 inches)
Weight
195 grams (6.88 ounces)
197 grams (6.95 ounces)
Screen
6.3-inch Super AMOLED
5.72-inch 120 Hz Ultramotion LCD display
Resolution
2960 × 1440 pixels (522 ppi)
2560 x 1440 pixels (514 ppi)
OS
Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Storage
64GB, 128GB, 256GB
64GB
MicroSD card slot
Yes
Yes
NFC support
Yes
Yes
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (U.S.), Samsung Exynos 8895 (international)
Snapdragon 835 with Adreno 540
RAM
6GB
8GB
Connectivity
LTE, GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
GSM, UMTS, HSPA, TD-SCDMA, LTE, TDD LTE, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Camera
Dual 12 MP rear (both with OIS), 8MP front
Dual 12 MP rear (f/1.75 wide angle & f/2.6 zoom), 8 MP front
Video
Up to 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 60 fps, 720p at 240 fps
 Up to 4K at 30 fps.
Bluetooth
Yes, version 5.0
Yes, version 4.2
Fingerprint sensor
Yes
 Yes
Other sensors
Accelerometer, barometer, gyro, geomagnetic, heart rate, proximity, iris, pressure
 Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
Water resistant
Yes, IP68 rated
 No
Battery
3,300mAh

22 hours of talk time, 13 hours of internet, 16 hours of video playback, and up to 74 hours of audio playback

Fast charging, wireless charging (Qi standard)

4,000mAh

Qualcomm QuickCharge 4.0+

Charging port
USB-C
USB-C
Marketplace
Google Play Store
Google Play Store
Colors
Midnight Black, Orchid Gray
 Black
Availability

AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Unlocked

 Razer
Price
$930
$700
DT review
4 out of 5 stars
Hands-on review

In terms of pure internal specifications, we’re looking at two similar phones. Both the Razer Phone and the Galaxy Note 8 are using the Snapdragon 835 processor, as is common for 2017 flagships. The Razer Phone has an edge in RAM, with 8GB compared to the Note 8’s 6GB, but the impact of RAM on day-to-day usage is arguable. If you really love to multitask, then the extra 2GB might be a draw.

It’s a similar story in storage options. The Razer Phone offers 64GB of storage, equaling Samsung’s Note 8 (although international versions come with 128GB and 256GB). Both phones also support MicroSD cards for storage expansion, with the Razer Phone offering up to a staggering 2TB in extra storage through a MicroSD card, trumping the Note 8’s 256GB restriction.

There are some real differences when we move to audio features. The Razer Phone has forgone the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone port — a feature that you’ll still find on the Note 8. To make matters worse, the latest Bluetooth 5.0 isn’t available in the Razer Phone, just the older Bluetooth 4.2. The Note 8 comes with Bluetooth 5.0, despite also having a headphone jack. Since the Razer Phone is going to rely on USB-C headphones (and a dongle) or wireless connections for personal music,  we would have liked to see the improved range, strength, and features that Bluetooth 5.0 offers.

Razer does pull some points back for the speakers. While the Note 8’s speaker is decent enough, it can’t hold a candle to Razer’s set of dual front-facing speakers. We’re expecting some great performance out of those, and the Razer Phone should be a go-to for media sharing.

Despite the inclusion of the same processor, extra RAM, and that awesome-looking set of front-facing speakers, the Razer Phone finds it hard to win against the Note 8’s headphone port, and upgraded Bluetooth 5.0. The Galaxy Note 8 wins here — narrowly.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8

Design and display

You’d be hard pressed to confuse these two phones. The Note 8 is a bezel-less beauty, with a 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display taking up the majority of the front, with only a slim chin and forehead containing the front-facing camera and sensor suite. In contrast, the Razer Phone is far from bezel-less with a sizeable forehead and chin housing the aforementioned front-firing speakers. Despite that, it’s not a bad looking phone. The angular sides remind us of a Sony Xperia, and the 5.7-inch screen still dominates the front. It’s a design that you’ll either love or hate — the Razer Phone celebrates an angular aluminum design that contrasts heavily with the smooth curves and sleek glass on the Note 8.

It’s the display that will be the real draw for the Razer Phone. While the LCD screen won’t be capable of the color saturation and deep blacks you’ll find on the Note 8’s Super AMOLED panel, the Razer Phone boasts a 120Hz Ultramotion screen that’ll provide extremely smooth gaming on the go, and give a boost to VR. While it’s not the first device to offer this high level of refresh rate, it’s not a common feature, and proponents say that it provides a much smoother experience over the more usual 60Hz displays.

Durability-wise, the Note 8 is a beautiful behemoth of glass and metal, and comes with the worries that you’d expect from such. As always, we recommend a case for peace of mind. The Razer Phone won’t have any such worries, since the body of the phone is made from aluminum. While the Razer Phone comes with older Gorilla Glass 3 (compared to the newer Gorilla Glass 5 on the Note 8), it only needs glass coverage on the flat screen.

In terms of waterproofing, the Note 8 comes with IP68 resistance, meaning it should be able to take exposure in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes with few adverse affects (though we don’t recommend testing that). The Razer Phone comes with no water resistance at all, so keep a strong handle on this phone at all times around anything even slightly wet.

This category has a clear winner. While the Razer Phone wows with its 120Hz Ultramotion display, and we have a certain soft spot for its angular design, it simply can’t compete against the pure elegance of the Note 8’s curved glass build, incredible Super AMOLED screen, and waterproofing features.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8

Camera

Both phones are rocking the latest dual camera trends, and amusingly, use 12 megapixel sensors for both of their lenses. The Note 8’s camera is a proven beauty, scoring a 94 on DxOMark’s rigorous camera tests, and earning a spot on our best smartphone camera list for its outstanding low-light performance. Peer a little deeper into the Note 8’s cameras and you’re looking at an f/1.7-aperture wide-angle lens and an f/2.4-aperture telephoto lens. Optical image stabilization (OIS) keeps your shots steady, even when using the 2x optical zoom function, and the phone is capable of a DSLR-style “bokeh” effect by using both lenses to keep a subject in focus, while applying a soft blur to the background.

We’re yet to spend any quality time with the Razor Phone’s cameras, but the hardware seems solid at an initial glance. Like the Note 8, we’re looking at two 12 megapixel lenses, with a wide-angle and a zoom lens side by side, though the aperture sizes are slightly different to the Note 8 — f/1.75 and f/2.6 respectively. These sorts of stats should provide solid camera performance, and we’re expecting good things from the Razer Phone.

Switching over to video, you’ll get 4K at 30 frames per second (fps) from the Note 8, as well as a supersmooth 60 fps on video shot at 1080p. If you’re watching something particularly impressive, you can slow the action down with 240 fps slow motion video — though you’ll need to drop to 720p for this. In contrast, the Razer Phone can also shoot 4K at 30 fps, but we’re not expecting any slow motion trickery from higher fps videos.

The front-facing cameras on both are pretty standard 8 megapixel lenses that should provide good selfie shots. The Note 8 has something of an edge here, thanks to the suite of extra fun effects you can add to your selfies, including Snapchat-style filters. To date, we haven’t seen anything like that from the Razer Phone.

It’s tough to make a call in this category. However, in lieu of quality time with the Razer Phone, we have to give it to the Galaxy Note 8’s proven cameras. We’re expecting good things from the Razer Phone, but we’re not sure it’ll quite manage to topple Samsung’s strong record in photography. We’ll update this if the Razer Phone’s camera does turn out to be a Note 8-beater.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8

Battery life and charging

With a 3,300mAh battery, the Note 8 was good enough to make it through the day pretty easily, ending with around 30-percent battery at 6 p.m. after a day of medium to heavy usage. With that in mind, we’re also expecting good things from the Razer Phone’s 4,000mAh battery. While it’s not all about numbers, and software optimizations can help make a smartphone more energy efficient, we’re pretty confident that the Razer Phone is going to have beefy battery life with plenty in the tank for hours of gaming.

The Note 8 benefits from fast charging, being capable of charging from 40 percent to 92 percent in under half an hour. The Razer Phone will be the first phone to come with Qualcomm’s new QuickCharge 4.0+, with promises of five hours of power from five minutes of charge. If the Razer Phone can fully deliver this radically fast charging, then Razer Phone users are likely to be spending even less time tethered to their charger — though Samsung Note 8 users will have the option of wirelessly charging their phone, which the Razor Phone lacks, thanks to the aluminum body.

It’s another exceptionally close race here, and each phone has its own strengths and weaknesses. But we’re suckers for a larger battery. Wireless charging is great, but a longer battery life trumps the ability to charge wirelessly. The Razer Phone takes this round.

Winner: Razer Phone

Software

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Stock Android-heads beware! Boot up either of these phones and you’ll be looking at a modified version of Android 7.1.1 Nougat. The Note 8 comes with Samsung’s altered version of Android, the Samsung Experience, while the Razer Phone is using acclaimed third-party Android launcher, Nova Launcher.

The Samsung Experience on the Note 8 serves up Samsung’s latest version of the Android platform, and comes with a host of useful options for the user. Top of the list (certainly in Samsung’s book) is Bixby — Samsung’s in-house personal AI assistant. In practice, it’s actually pretty useful, bringing up lists of information it thinks might be useful, and executing various simple voice commands. Performance on the Note 8 is supersmooth, the only black mark being the consistently slow launch of Bixby Home.

If the Samsung Experience is Samsung’s attempt at tailoring the Note 8 to your specific needs, than Nova Launcher is the perfect way to set your phone up exactly how you want it. We don’t know a huge amount about the specific Nova Launcher used on the Razer Phone, but from our own use of Nova Launcher, we know that it’s an incredibly customizable interface, with options for changing your app drawer, animation types for swapping between windows, unique gestures to open apps, and tons more features. It’s a great little piece of software that runs smoothly on a variety of devices, and with Android 7.1.1 Nougat running underneath, it also comes with all the latest innovations from Google.

However, the Note 8 has the S Pen. Samsung’s awesome stylus brings a whole new angle to the Samsung Experience, letting users write notes on their Always On display, doodle pictures for friends, capture GIFs and screenshots at the touch of a button, magnify the screen, and loads more. The Razer Phone was always going to have a hard time beating the extra tools that Samsung Experience brings to the table — and with the addition of the S Pen, it’s clear that the Note 8 comes out the stronger.

Winner: Galaxy Note 8

Price and availability

The Note 8 is available from multiple vendors in the United States, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. However, pricing for it starts at an eye-watering $930 for 64GB of storage. That sort of price is very difficult to justify when the Razer Phone starts at $700 for the same amount of storage. With that said, we’re not sure about availability for the Razer Phone, with no carriers having announced that they’ll be taking on Razer’s new beast. And with a lack of banding for CDMA, you’re restricted as to which carriers you’ll be able to take an unlocked Razer Phone onto.

This is tough to call — the Note 8’s high price versus the restrictions on the Razer Phone. We’re going to give the Razer Phone the win here since its $230 cheaper, but Verizon or Sprint customers will want to look elsewhere.

Winner: Razer Phone

Overall winner: Galaxy Note 8

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Let’s get real — it could only ever have been this way. The Note 8 is Samsung’s frontline soldier in the war against Google for dominance of the highest-end Android marketplace, and it’s packed to the brim with the latest gizmos, bells, whistles, and everything else that Samsung could cram into its tiny frame. It’s a triumph of design and execution, with power in droves, design to die for, and the brilliant S Pen.

That said, the Razer Phone put up an exceptionally tough fight, and this loss shouldn’t be taken as a reason not to buy it. Coming in more than $200 cheaper, it’s still a great choice and boasts a Snapdragon 835 processor, more RAM than you’ll likely ever need, and that incredible 120 Hz Ultramotion display. We’re expecting great things from the Razer Phone when we properly get our hands on it, and even if it’s not capable of standing up to the Galaxy Note 8, that’s no slur on its performance.

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2
Nov

That turtle is a gun! MIT scientists highlight major flaw in image recognition


Why it matters to you

It may sound amusing, but this demonstration actually poses some really major security risks.

When is a rifle actually a 3D-printed turtle? When is an espresso actually a baseball? No, it’s not a case of predictive text gone massively wrong, but an alarming new piece of research from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), designed to show the limits — and potential dangers — of image recognition algorithms.

In a new paper, a team of MIT researchers were able to produce actual 3D-printed objects which could repeatedly and consistently trick neural networks, designed for image classification. This was done by slightly changing the texture of an object, thereby highlighting just how easily AI can be fooled in certain contexts. The work adds physical evidence to a theory about so-called “adversarial examples,” which can utterly baffle image recognition systems, regardless of the angle they are viewed from, by making tiny, imperceptible perturbations to inputs.

“It’s actually not just that they’re avoiding correct categorization — they’re classified as a chosen adversarial class, so we could have turned them into anything else if we had wanted to,” researcher Anish Athalye told Digital Trends. “The rifle and espresso classes were chosen uniformly at random. The adversarial examples were produced using an algorithm called Expectation Over Transformation (EOT), which is presented in our research paper. The algorithm takes in any textured 3D model, such as a turtle, and finds a way to subtly change the texture such that it confuses a given neural network into thinking the turtle is any chosen target class.”

While it might be funny to have a 3D-printed turtle recognized as a rifle, however, the researchers point out that the implications are actually pretty darn terrifying. Imagine, for instance, a security system which uses AI to flag guns or bombs, but can be tricked into thinking that they are instead tomatoes, or cups of coffee, or even entirely invisible. It also underlines frailty in the kind of image recognition systems self-driving cars will rely on, at high speed, to discern the world around them.

“Our work demonstrates that adversarial examples are a bigger problem than many people previously thought, and it shows that adversarial examples for neural networks are a real concern in the physical world,” Athalye continued. “This problem is not just an intellectual curiosity: It is a problem that needs to be solved in order for practical systems that use deep learning to be safe from attack.”

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