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2
Jul

How to Rearrange the Control Center in watchOS 5


In watchOS 5, you can rearrange the Control Center to put the Control Center features that you use at the top, so they’re quicker to access when you swipe up on your Apple Watch.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to remove features you don’t often use, but you can bury those less desirable options at the bottom of the menu.

Bring up the Control Center by swiping upwards on the Apple Watch’s display from the watch face.
Scroll down to the bottom.
Select “Edit.”
While the Control Center icons are wiggling, use a finger to pull an icon out of its position and then drag it into a new one.
When finished, tap “Done.”
That’s all there is to it. It’s a simple little function that you might not think to look for, but it can be handy if there are Control Center features that you use on a regular basis because you’re able to get to them more quickly.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch, watchOS 4, watchOS 5Buyer’s Guide: Apple Watch (Neutral)
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2
Jul

Apple Seeds Fifth Beta of macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 to Developers


Apple today seeded the fifth beta of an upcoming macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 update to developers for testing purposes, one week after seeding the fourth 10.13.6 beta.

The new macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 beta can be downloaded through the Software Update mechanism in the Mac App Store with the proper profile installed.

We don’t yet know what improvements the sixth update to macOS High Sierra will bring, but it likely focuses on bug fixes and performance improvements for issues that were not able to be addressed in macOS High Sierra 10.13.5.

No feature changes were discovered in the first four macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 betas, but we’ll update this post if new features or notable bug fixes are discovered in the fifth beta.

Work on macOS High Sierra is wrapping up, with Apple now shifting focus to the next-generation version of macOS, macOS 10.14, which was unveiled at the Worldwide Developers Conference in early June.

Related Roundup: macOS High Sierra
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2
Jul

Apple Seeds Fifth Beta of iOS 11.4.1 to Developers


Apple today seeded the fifth beta of an upcoming iOS 11.4.1 update to developers, one week after seeding the fourth beta and over a month after releasing iOS 11.4, an update that introduced AirPlay 2 and Messages in iCloud.

Registered developers can download the new iOS 11.4.1 beta from Apple’s Developer Center or over-the-air once the proper configuration profile has been installed from the Developer Center.

No new features were discovered in the first four iOS 11.4.1 betas, suggesting it focuses on bug fixes and performance improvements to address issues discovered since the release of iOS 11.4.

We’ll update this post should we discover any new features in the fifth iOS 11.4.1 beta, but we’re not expecting major changes now that Apple has shifted its focus to iOS 12, which is also available to developers for beta testing purposes.

Related Roundup: iOS 11
Discuss this article in our forums

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2
Jul

Photography 101: exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO




Every quality photo begins with exposure. Even if you catch a great subject at the perfect moment with strong framing, everything is lost if you blow the exposure. Photographers who shoot in automatic mode are accustomed to the camera taking care of all the settings. But, as smart as digital cameras have become, they aren’t perfect. Elevating your picture-taking from good to great requires a general understanding of the three elements of exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Understand the interplay between these three elements, and you will be able to anticipate great photographs, rather than wait for happy coincidences.

The temptation to stick to auto mode is understandable: High-end digital cameras can be daunting, especially for anyone whose only prior camera was a smartphone. But once you know how a camera’s exposure settings work, a lot of that intimidation should be alleviated. When you have a basic understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO – which are also the basics of photography, in general – you’re well on your way to mastering your digital camera’s advanced modes, even if you never opened the user manual. (Although, you really should read the manual too.)

Photography 101


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The rule of thirds and how to use it


How to take great actions shots

There’s a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo that goes into how a digital camera handles exposure, but we’ll attempt to keep this discussion in plain English as much as possible.

What is aperture?

The aperture is simply a hole within the lens that limits the amount of light that can pass through the lens. By changing the aperture value on your camera, you increase or decrease the size of that hole, thereby allowing more or less light into the camera. Aperture is measured in f-stops, such as f/22 and f/4, but here’s the thing: The smaller the f-stop number, the larger the opening, and vice versa. So, when you are adjusting the settings, think of the opposite: If you want less light to enter (small aperture), go for a larger f-stop. How large your lens’ aperture can open will depend on your lens. (Hint: A lens’ maximum aperture will be part of its model name, like a 50mm f/1.8 or a 12-120mm f/4.)

Beyond controlling the amount of light, aperture determines an image’s depth of field (DOF). Simply put, DOF is how depth will be in focus within the image. An image with a large DOF will have sharp focus from foreground to background, while a small (or “shallow”) DOF sees the focus concentrated on one particular focus plane, with foreground and background elements blurred away. When thinking about the f-stop, choose a smaller number (larger aperture to let in more light) to achieve a smaller DOF, or a larger number (smaller aperture, less light) to increase DOF.

A small aperture (larger f-number) helps keep both foreground and background elements in focus. (1/60 sec., f/16, ISO 400). Daven Mathies/Digital Trends
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

When would you want to control aperture? The most common examples are portraits and landscapes. Portraits often look more appealing when the subject is separated from the background, which a DOF will achieve. On the other hand, for landscapes we typically want everything to be in sharp focus, from the foliage in the foreground the distant mountains. If you’re not sure how much depth of field you need, the beauty of digital photography is the ability to “guess and check.” Simply take a photo, check it out on the camera’s LCD screen, and either increase or decrease the size of the aperture to get the desired DOF.

A large aperture (small f-number) is commonly used in portraits to separate the subject from background and foreground elements. (1/125 sec., f/1.6, ISO 200). Daven Mathies/Digital Trends
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

2
Jul

17 tips and tricks for better digital photography


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The Rule of Thirds. Sunny 16. Always shoot in RAW. The books are full of photography tips, some essential, others downright constrictive. But the photography tricks that border on life-changing often aren’t the ones picked up in books and blogs but from years of shooting and trial and error.

To get the most effective pointers, we went directly to the folks who use them day-in and day-out: professional working photographers. Most pros like to assemble a field kit that includes some basic supplies and accessories that they always bring with them on location. And most remember where they came from, along with the little tricks that took them up the skill ladder.

We spoke with three pros — Caio Guatelli, Adrian Henson, and Scott Mead — to share their tried-and-true tips and a quick breakdown of the inexpensive gear they’ve used the most over the years. In addition, we added some of our own tips to the mix, lessons we’ve learned from years behind the lens.

The takeaway: A pricey camera with more megapixels doesn’t make you a better photographer, just someone who dabbles in higher resolution. But there’s more to photography gear than a good camera and a lens. In fact, some of the best pieces of photography gear aren’t specific to photography at all — and aren’t very expensive, either.

Use gaffer’s tape

Gaffer’s tape offers infinite uses in the photography world — it’s the photographer’s duct tape, but better. It can be used to hold backdrops in place, modify lights, hold flash gels, and attach lights to small props, just to name a few. And unlike duct tape, it doesn’t leave a sticky residue, meaning you can actually stick it on your pricey camera.

To get some effective pointers, we went straight to professional working photographers.

“One of my most consistent uses [for Gaffer’s tape] is to cover the switches on my lenses,” says Adrian Henson, who photographs everything from senior portraits to commercial work. “Camera manufacturers have gotten much better about making switches on lenses with a low profile, but there are still plenty of lenses that have raised switches. I cover these with a small piece of gaffer’s tape so that they can’t inadvertently be switched away from your desired setting. Shooting a session with the lens set to manual focus when you thought it was in auto can be disastrous.”

Velcro the remote shutter release

A remote shutter release is a must when shooting from a tripod, says Scott Mead, a landscape and nature photographer based in Maui, Hawaii. But fumbling for a dangling cable or wireless remote can mean the difference between getting or losing a shot when the light is changing fast. “By attaching a piece of industrial strength Velcro to the top of a tripod leg and the back of the remote, you’ll always know where your remote is, and it’ll be close at hand.”


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Scott Mead

Scott Mead

Invest in gels and a good organizer

Henson often uses colored gels on his flashes. He will buy a few of the Rosco Cinegel Swatchbooks, for about $8 apiece, so that he has every color imaginable.

“The problem is that once you disassemble the swatchbook, the gels are impossible to keep up with. So to manage my gels, I write the color code on the gels with a fine point Sharpie and then use a business card organizer to store, protect, and organize them. I also pre-cut bits of gaffer’s tape to the size I use when attaching the gels to my speedlight [flashes] and stick it all over the outside of the organizer. This system ensures that I always have the gel color I want and the tape I need to attach it.”

Embrace the “less is more” philosophy

Photographers who shoot in dangerous or active situations have to sometimes move quickly, meaning their equipment must be light and easy to carry. Caio Guatelli recommends trying to figure out what you’re going to use during your shoot in advance, and to make a concise choice of lenses and other equipment. The Brazilian-born photographer specializes in shooting high-speed sports, namely Formula One racing and track and field. “I usually choose two lenses, a 35-mm and a telephoto zoom of 70-200mm. If the frame doesn’t fit the subject, I move backward or use a naturally-cropped frame. If the subject is too far for my lenses, I try to accept it at the size it appears, or simply wait for something better to shoot.”

Caio_Guatelli_2Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 18 of 2013: 50 thousand demonstrators occupied the most important places of Sao Paulo city. (photo: Caio Guatelli)

Keep things at level ground

“When shooting on uneven terrain, it’s sometimes difficult to optically set a level horizon,” Mead says. “Acratech makes a neat Double Axis Spirit Level that slides into the hot shoe of your camera, making leveling your camera an easy task.”

Download a few apps

Sometimes, the best photography accessory is already in your pocket — a smartphone. This isn’t because of the built-in camera, but rather the apps.

Most pros like to assemble a field kit.

“There’s a plethora of photography apps available for Apple and Android devices, but there’s one that’s a must for every nature photographer: The Photographer’s Ephemeris,” Mead says. “With its sun and moon calendar working with Google Maps, it gives photographers satellite views of their location, with overlays of the sun and moon’s path anywhere in the world. It’s a must for setting up a shoot, when getting to the site a day early to scout the location isn’t possible.”

For even more great apps, check our list of the best camera apps for iPhone users and the best photography apps for Android.

Take a load off

Early in his career, Henson realized how terrible wearing a camera around his neck made him feel, even after a short period of time. “When I began shooting weddings my gear got larger, heavier, and more abundant. One day after a wedding, my back was killing me and I felt horrible. That night I took my camera straps off and never put them back. It took some adjusting to and I have to think ahead and manage my gear better, but it was the best move I ever made.”

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As a solution, he acquired a Spider camera holster belt. “It is a fantastic alternative to traditional camera straps. Mine holds two cameras, and I can wear it all day with both cameras on it and still feel great when we wrap up at the end of the session. Most days I just hand hold my camera, but when I need to carry two or need a place to put one when I am not shooting, a camera belt is definitely the way to go. Whatever you do, though, get that load off of your shoulders. Your back will thank you.”

Check out our hands-on review of Spider’s latest product, the SpiderLight.

Keep the elements out

Mead says shooting from a boat poses a few challenges, especially when it comes to keeping your camera dry. “There are a lot of waterproof camera sleeves available, but they’re pricy, and many nylon versions cover vital controls. Luckily, a couple affordable options are available. Op/Tech USA makes a clear, 18-inch rain sleeve with a drawstring lens opening that easily accommodates pro DSLRs with a 100-400mm lens. Considering you get two per pack for about six bucks, it’s a great deal.”

“In a pinch, you can also use clear wastebasket bags. Just poke a hole in the bottom with your finger, and gently stretch the plastic to accommodate the end of the lens for a 15-cent solution,” Mead adds.

Embrace the histogram

Histograms put every pixel in the image on a graph, and looking at that chart is one of the best ways to determine if your exposure is off. The idea is to watch the peaks and avoid cutting off any of the rises and falls on the edges. If those pixels clip off on the left edge, the image is too dark. On the right? Too light. Of course, the histogram is for a proper exposure, so it doesn’t work for trying to intentionally over or underexpose an image to create a certain mood. That said, the histogram will tell you if you’re exposure is so far off that you can’t recover details in post. Check out our quick guide.

Resist the temptation to check the LCD screen

Checking a resulting shot on your camera’s LCD screen is an impulsive reaction, but this behavior can betray you, says Guatelli. Besides potentially missing a peak moment by glancing at the screen too often, the habit can also be misleading.

“Most outdoor photography is shot in lighting conditions where the camera’s screen doesn’t faithfully represent the tonal details, especially in the image’s shadows. Reflections on the camera’s screen or the surrounding lights or darkness can create the sensation of incorrect exposure. The photographer is betrayed by the misrepresentation of the shot and instantly adjusts the controls to make the scene lighter, exposing the image more than necessary.”

Caio_Guatelli-1Ametista do Sul, RS, Brazil, 28/02/2008, 09h08: Searching for amethyst, a semiprecious stone, miners dig tunnels through the mountains in southern Brazil. (photo: Caio Guatelli)

He recommends using a photometer while in spot-metering mode. “Choose the lighter side of the scene to set the metering. If you don’t have spot-metering mode, try underexposing by 2/3 and don’t follow your camera’s screen results. Wait to check it at your computer, inside a low-light room. The correct exposure gives the photograph more saturated color, better contrast, and has much more room to be processed, although an image like this almost doesn’t need any manipulation.”

Enable flashing highlights

The histogram can be tricky to learn, but most cameras have a highlight feature that will let you know if you’ve overexposed the image by flashing any areas that are overexposed. Photographers sometimes affectionally call this “the blinkies,” and the setting is usually located in the playback menu, though the exact location may vary with different camera models.

“I always want as much detail as possible in my images, and this requires that the exposure be as bright as possible without blowing the highlights,” Henson says. “While the histogram is useful information, I find that the flashing highlight feature in almost all cameras is more useful for attaining maximum detail in my shots.”

“I will generally push my exposures right to the point where the highlights start to flash, then back off my exposure 1/3 of a stop for my final shot,” Henson adds. “This creates a file with the most information possible for the scene at hand.”

Change your color settings

Getting good color is about more than achieving good white balance. Digital cameras will actually let you set a color profile, which adjusts the tones in an image to your personal taste and saves you a considerable amount of time in post processing. Most cameras will have a number of presets, too, such as standard and vivid, as well as several customization options.

“Before you start shooting, you can change the factory configurations of your camera,” Guatelli says. “Set your camera’s contrast, sharpness, saturation, and tonal adjustments. It’s almost the same thing that old-school photographers used to do when choosing a specific kind of film. Some used to have richer reds, others had more contrast, and others were grainy. Each situation requires a different set of contrast, saturation, etc. Getting used to it can push your creative possibilities.”


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Flash has a manual mode, too

Most new photographers learn manual modes on their way to becoming more seasoned enthusiasts. But often too many call themselves “natural light photographers,” not because of the nature of natural light, but because they don’t actually know how to use flash. Flash doesn’t always result in harsh shadows and that obvious flash look. When shooting with flash in manual mode, you can match the light in the scene to make subjects pop, and the untrained eye won’t be able to tell you even used a flash. A manually-set flash is essential for mastering tricky lighting –like sunny days and backlit subjects — and represents the next step after mastering exposure basics.

Flash doesn’t always result in harsh shadows and that obvious flash look.

Unlike learning manual exposure, there’s no meter to guide you, but with some experimentation, manual flash can be an incredible tool. Even the pop-up flash on more advanced cameras has a manual mode, which means you don’t need to invest in a hot shoe. If you happen to have a hot shoe, however, adding a flash diffuser will also help.

Vary your composition

Guatelli says that varying the composition is key, even when shooting action like sports. Using a different focal length, adding a foreground element, adjusting your position, and changing your height by kneeling or finding a higher vantage point help leads to a more interesting album — and a wider selection of single shots to choose from. “Perhaps try to change the distance to include the detail that can balance the composition,” he says. “If the field depth is shallow, try to shoot with unfocused elements that are close to the camera and not just with those that are in the background.”

Think about the entire frame

Selecting the subject is an important (and obvious) step when taking photos, but checking the rest of the frame before you shoot is just as important. By considering the entire image before you shoot, you can eliminate distractions, often just by moving your feet. At the same time, thinking about more than just your subject can also help you to fill your frame with useful information that can enhance the overall image, or provide useful details. “Don’t fix your eyes on the subject or at the center of the image. Think before shooting, move your eyes through the edges of the rectangle and move the camera,” Guatelli suggests.

Caio_Guatelli_5Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 20/03/2011: Street basketball game beside ruins of a church. (photo: Caio Guatelli)

Create your own moment

While genres like photojournalism and street photography require you to wait for the right moment (done right, you can capture seemingly impossible shots) sometimes, it’s also the photographer’s job to create the moment. Imagine working as a wedding photographer and the bride is a bundle of nerves — waiting isn’t going to do anything but intensify those nerves. Portrait photographers sometimes have to help create the right moments by telling a joke or a personal story to get the right reaction. This often settles the nerves that may come with being in front of the camera.

Experiment on your own

Learning from seasoned pros helps budding photographers jump start their work. Talking with a veteran sports photographer before shooting your first game, for example, often makes the difference between getting the shots and spending too much time on trial and error. However, there’s also a time for experimentation. Take the time to find your own style — and even your own tricks.

This article was originally published March 17, 2014. It has been updated on March 6, 2017 with additional tips.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • JPEG vs. PNG: When and why to use one format over the other
  • Sony unleashes 400mm f/2.8 telephoto beast for mirrorless cameras — at a cost



2
Jul

HTC U12 Plus tips and tricks


Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The HTC U12 Plus is an ambitious phone. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, the HTC U11, the phone offers top of the line specs, a capable camera, and controversial digital buttons. Like all recent HTC phones, the U12 Plus runs Android with HTC’s custom UI Sense skin on top. Whether you’re new to HTC or just upgrading, here are a few HTC U12 Plus tips and tricks to help you get to grips with your new phone.

How to set up Edge Sense

More on the HTC U12 Plus


HTC U12 Plus Review


HTC U12 Plus vs. HTC U11: Is it time to upgrade?


HTC U12 Plus vs. OnePlus 6: The new kids battle for supremacy


The Best HTC U12 Plus cases to keep your phone safe and beautiful

While it may seem a bit gimmicky at first, Edge Sense is actually one of our favorite HTC features. Edge Sense allows to squeeze your phone to initiate an action. When you first set up your phone you’ll see a prompt to set up Edge Sense, however it doesn’t really show you just how versatile the feature can be. Here’s a quick rundown of all the ways you can use Edge Sense.

To set up Edge Sense you’ll need to go to Settings > Edge Sense. If the feature is not toggled on you’ll need to do so first, otherwise just tap on Edge Sense. Once you’re in the Edge Sense menu you’ll see three different sections.

Squeeze allows you to open apps and other features via a short squeeze or by squeezing and holding the phone. In-app squeeze  is used to automatically adjust your phone’s orientation depending on how you hold the phone. Double Tap allows you to quickly access the one-handed mode.

To customize each of the squeeze gestures you’ll need to make sure the slider is toggled to on before tapping on the actual gesture name. Once you tap on the gesture name you’ll see an option to map each action to your preference.

How to take a screenshot

If you’re used to the typical Android screenshot method of pressing the Power and Volume Down buttons simultaneously, you’re going to be in for a surprise with the HTC U12 Plus. Since the phone uses digital as opposed to analog buttons, HTC had to come up with a different method to get a screenshot.

So how do you take a screenshot on the HTC U12 Plus? Simply swipe the navigation button to the left and tap the screen capture (phone) icon.

How to maximize your audio experience

One thing HTC handsets are known for is good sound. The HTC U12 Plus is no exception. The phone offers custom audio options for its external speakers as well as headphones.

BoomSound, for the most part works automatically by adjusting your phone’s audio to either a theater or music mode, depending on the app you’re using. Each time the mode changes you’ll see a persistent notification. While the feature works pretty flawlessly in our experience, you can manually change the mode by going to Settings and tapping HTC BoomSound for built-in speakers.

In addition to BoomSound, the HTC U12 Plus also features USonic noise-cancelling earbuds in the box. In addition to the earbuds, the USonic app allows you to create a custom sound profile based on sonar measurements of the ear canal. To get started with USonic, go to Settings > HTC USonic with Active Noise Cancellation. Tap Start Scanning Now and wait for USonic to complete its measurement. When complete you’ll see a screen displaying your audio profile information. Just name your profile and tap Done. 

How to turn off BlinkFeed

BlinkFeed, a mainstay of HTC’s Sense UI, brings news, social media updates, appointments and other information to your home screen. While the idea is good in theory, execution seems to be the problem: In our experience it tends to provide news and other information we’re just not interested in. Luckily, HTC allows you to turn off BlinkFeed pretty easily.

To disable BlinkFeed slide two fingers together on the home screen. Tap the Pencil icon to see a carousel of minimized home screens. Swipe until the BlinkFeed screen is selected and tap the Remove icon.

How to hide unwanted apps

In addition to its really wonky digital buttons, one of the most annoying features of the HTC U12 Plus is the amount of bloatware that ships on the phone. And while you can’t uninstall all of these extra apps, you can disable the apps, which removes them from your app drawer.

To disable apps, go to Settings > Apps & notifications > App info.  Select the offending app and tap Disable > Ok.

How to turn off Sense Home notification

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Sense Home recommends apps based on your location, preferences, and phone use. It’s a useful app for some, but others find its constant notifications to be excessive. Luckily you can easily turn off notifications for the app by long pressing on the home screen and tapping the Sense Home settings icon. Next, select Sense Home notifications and toggle the On slider to the left.

How to disable News Republic

News Republic, an app that uses machine learning to find the breaking and viral news, comes preinstalled on the HTC U12 Plus. Like other bloatware apps, it cannot be uninstalled, but only disabled. However even when the app is disabled we noticed it continues to send notifications throughout the day.  If you don’t want to be bothered by News Republic, you’ll want to disable the app and turn off notifications.

First you’ll want to disable News Republic by going to Settings > Apps & notifications > App info.  Select News Republic and tap Disable > Ok. To turn off notifications, go to Settings > Apps & notifications > Notifications. Select News Republic and toggle off the On slider.

How to use HTC Sense Companion

HTC Sense Companion is an AI virtual assistant that combines voice control features alongside contextual suggestions. It’s similar to Google Assistant however it tends to be a little more invasive as suggestions pop up as a persistent icon on the home screen.

To get the most out of Sense Companion you’ll want to make sure it has access to your location data, device data, and activity data; these are usually approved when setting up your phone, however they can be added later. Simply tap the Sense Companion icon followed by the overflow (three dot) icon. Select Privacy Settings and tap on all of the radio boxes. While you’re in the settings menu you’ll also want to tap Personal info and add your personal details so Sense Companion can make more appropriate suggestions.

Once you have Sense Companion set up, you’ll see an icon appear on the screen when there are new suggestions for you to review.  You’ll want to make sure you offer feedback on each suggestion so the assistant can learn your preferences.

Finally, if Sense Companion is just not your cup of tea, you can turn off notifications. Just go to Settings > Apps & notifications > Notifications. Select HTC Sense Companion and toggle off the slider.

How to set up Face Unlock

Sure, the HTC U12 Plus may not have the same depth sensing camera you’ll find on the iPhone X, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an option to unlock the phone using your face. If you want to give Face Unlock a try, go to Settings > Face Unlock. Next, authenticate with your fingerprint, PIN, passcode, or pattern. Tap Register face data > Continue > Next > Start > Allow.  Position your face within the circular frame and allow the phone to collect the necessary data. When complete just press Turn On to activate the feature.

If you encounter problems when authenticating with Face Unlock, you may want to try capturing your image again in a bright location or selecting the Low light recognition option in the settings menu.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • HTC U12 Plus review
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  • HTC U12 vs Google Pixel 2 XL: Can HTC take out the stock Android king?



2
Jul

What is Google Duplex?


During Google I/O 2018, Google revealed “Google Duplex” to the world. The technology, which is both impressive and a bit on the creepy side, featured a human-sounding robot having a conversation with a person who couldn’t even tell that they were talking to a robot. The demonstration freaked some out but impressed others, including our Mobile Editor Julian Chokkattu, who got a chance to demo Duplex recently.

Google Duplex is a pretty big leap the evolution of artificial intelligence. Now, this is not to say that we’ll have human-like robots that can do the laundry or go shopping like in that movie I, Robot (at least not anytime soon). But, Google Duplex is a huge step in terms of A.I.’s ability to more naturally converse with humans. But what is it?

What exactly is Google Duplex?

For years, businesses have been trying to create a way for people to have conversations with computers. Almost every time we call a business, we encounter an automated phone system. We have virtual assistants on our phones and virtual assistant-powered speakers in our homes. But although these computer systems can be helpful, they have their shortcomings.

In a blog post, Google notes that one of the biggest problems with these systems is that the user has to adjust to the system, instead of the system adjusting to the user. Think about all of the times you have to repeat yourself when you’re on the phone with an automated system, or all of the times that a virtual assistant hears something different than what you actually said.

Google Duplex helps with these problems by allowing the computer to have a natural conversation with a human. The A.I. system adjusts to the person, instead of the person adjusting to the system. Therefore, the person can speak normally, just as they would if they were speaking to another person. Google Duplex also makes it so the computer system sounds like a human. It uses a natural tone and uses words and phrases like “um” and “uh” just like a human person would. During a conversation, the A.I. system can also handle interruptions and elaborate.

At the center of Google Duplex is a recurrent neural network that was built using a machine learning platform called TensorFlow Extend (TFX). When the system makes a phone call, it is pretty much indistinguishable from a live human being. You can hear Google Duplex scheduling an appointment and holding a phone conversation below.

Google Duplex Scheduling a Hair Appointment

What Can Google Duplex Do For You?

The main thing Google Duplex will be able to do for you is handle some of your busy work. It can make calls on your behalf, schedule appointments, or call to check the hours of operation at a business, for instance. Now, it can’t make that uncomfortable break-up call for you, but it can reserve you a table at a participating restaurant or call and make you an appointment at a hair salon. For instance, if you tell Google Assistant you want to go to a specific restaurant next Friday at 7 p.m., the system will call and make a reservation for you and then notify you when it’s confirmed.

When is Google Duplex Coming Out?

Duplex will be available in the next couple weeks at certain test restaurants and hair salons in certain test markets, and you can use Google Assistant on your phone or via your Google Home. You probably won’t be using the feature for quite a while though, because there’s no definite word yet on when it’s being released to the broader public.

A few Potential Applications for Google Duplex

Imagine calling the cable company and dealing with an automated system that sounds and operates exactly like a human; one that can actually help you. There would be no more annoying IVR systems that tell you to “press 1 for billing questions or press 2 for technical issues.” Imagine if the IRS had this A.I. technology. During tax season, you wouldn’t have to wait an hour on hold for a representative, and you could ask the A.I. system your tax-related questions.

Businesses who regularly schedule clients like doctors and lawyers could have the A.I. do that on their behalf. Small businesses can also benefit, as research shows that 60 percent of small businesses who rely on customer bookings don’t have an online booking system, according to Google’s blog.

Concerns About Google Duplex

Many people have expressed concerns about Google Duplex. Aside from the fact that it’s a bit creepy, some people are worried about privacy and security. Is it secure to have a computer calling businesses and speaking to live people on your behalf? Is it secure for the person on the other end of the line? Other people have also concerns about the potential impacts on advertising, and some people even worry about how quickly the A.I. is evolving. Google Assistant just came out a couple of years ago, and now it already sounds like an actual human on the phone.

Google has addressed a couple of these issues during our recent demo with the service. At the beginning of the call, Google Assistant identifies itself and also notes that it’s recording the call. That might make a restaurant owner take pause on having the conversation until the service become more widely used.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • ‘Can I book a table for Thursday?’ Google Duplex duped me, but I didn’t mind
  • Google Duplex sounds human when it calls to book appointments
  • Fribo is a cat-like robot that tells your friends what’s going on in your home
  • From J.A.R.V.I.S to John Legend, here are our favorite A.I. assistants
  • Here’s how to change Google Assistant’s voice on your Google Home device



2
Jul

Why I love the BlackBerry KEY2: A second opinion review


BlackBerry functionality meets Android power to create the best BlackBerry ever built.

The BlackBerry KEY2 is now available to order for anyone who wants to part with $650. That’s more than just pocket change and it’s wise that many of us are being cautious and reading reviews before we whip out the plastic. That’s something we should do whenever anything costs more than a day’s wages.

Daniel did a great job writing the review for this one-of-a-kind phone. The KEY2 needed someone who was familiar with a BlackBerry and the keyboard to write it, but not someone who loved it before it arrived. Which would be me. I can’t deny my love for any phone that has a set of BlackBerry keys on the face and I would not have been able to forget that while I was writing. But I can (and am!) here to talk about the things I really like about the KEY2 and if it lived up to my expectations.

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More: Read the full BlackBerry KEY2 review

I’ve been using the BlackBerry KEY2 for over a week and it’s time to compare what I actually got versus what I had hoped for. I’m a big fan of phones with a keyboard, which means I’m a fan of what BlackBerry is doing in 2018 because no other company is doing it. I know why and can sympathize — the market is not there. A company can’t make any money on a product unless they have the market or a proven following, and that’s what BlackBerry Mobile and TCL are banking on here.

A premium BlackBerry

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The KEY2 is a very well-built phone and in a world where phones are too expensive overall. $650 isn’t a lot to spend on one made with materials of this quality then put together as well as they are on the KEY2. If this was a “normal” phone with an all-glass front the discussion over the price wouldn’t be nearly as intense. Outliers aside (I’m looking at you, BlackBerry Storm) the BlackBerry name has always been associated with “premium” products. The KEY2 continues that trend and it’s a great modern take on a classic design.

The KEY2 looks and feels great!

We can’t look at the KEY2 without comparing it to two phones that are deep in its DNA — the original KEYone (of course) and the BlackBerry Bold series. The comparison to the Bold — the Bold 9000, the Bold 9700 and 9900 and the BlackBerry Tour — comes from the keyboard. The keyboard here doesn’t look like the keyboard on a Bold. When I first heard people making that comparison, I was a bit confused, but after using it I agree. It may not look the same, but it feels the same.

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The keys have the size and spacing of a Bold device, and more importantly, they give the same satisfaction while typing I got when I first used my Bold 9000. It’s hard to describe, and if you’re not a BlackBerry fan, you will probably think I’m a loon, but you just have to have some trust here. If you like the keyboard on the Bold series you’ll like the one on the KEY2.

It’s a 2018 take on the classic BlackBerry design, and it works.

Comparing it to the KEYone, all you really have to say is that BB Mobile and TCL gave attention to the small details and made everything better. They also did it without making anything worse, which is a neat trick. The keyboard has been improved, the internal specs have been improved, the camera is better, and the overall look is modern instead of retro. In 2014, when BlackBerry was still BlackBerry, the company did something similar with the Passport. It’s a good look.

BlackBerry software

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I’m not using the BlackBerry suite of apps. I can’t go into this without that disclaimer. I am very familiar with the way BlackBerry approaches software and can appreciate how well the company has adapted to using Android for things like notification and inbox management or a universal way to reach a contact. I have used it and there’s nothing there that makes me say it’s not great. I just weaned myself off the BlackBerry way when I got my first Android phone in late 2008 and I’m used to doing things differently now.

What I can say is that BlackBerry Mobile has done two very important things with its software: it’s added and improved the features and gave them a hardware platform that can let it run at its full potential.

BlackBerry’s software can finally shine with the KEY2’s improved specs.

Apps like BlackBerry Notes or Tasks are as good or better than any other offering from any other company (and that includes Samsung and its great Notes app) and would be a fine replacement for whatever you’re currently using should you be looking for a change. The Hub does a great job keeping everything you use to communicate in one organized place and the feature list has grown to the point where it rivals the universal inbox of BlackBerry past. Apps like the calendar, contacts, clock, and others that duplicate Google offerings while still using the Google backend are good enough that I haven’t gone to the Play Store and loaded up the originals from Google. I am even in the process of switching to the BlackBerry Password Keeper because I like its features better than what I’m currently using.

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Features aside, the apps all run like a champ on the KEY2’s much-improved hardware. A common complaint about the KEYone I have heard from my coworkers (there are plenty of BlackBerry fans here at Mobile Nations) was that the experience wasn’t stellar if you used all the BlackBerry apps and the Hub. I have to agree — there were times when everything was going smooth and then, out of the blue, things would chug along or just stop for a second or two. It wasn’t a matter of the software bloating because it was old and needed refreshing — this happened from day one. I can’t make it happen on the KEY2, and I’ve tried by using dirty tricks like turning a contacts database with about 200 people into one with 2,000 people.

More: BlackBerry KEY2 and 6GB of RAM: Why it’s a big deal

I’m positive that this comes from having 6GB of RAM. Android may not need that much memory to run (we know it doesn’t) but that doesn’t mean apps on top of it don’t. A 2018 BlackBerry using the apps and services every BlackBerry fan knows and loves runs like a champ. You’ll never need to “pull the battery” on this BlackBerry.

Security

BlackBerry also takes pride in the security of their products. Maybe a bit too much pride, but I’ll not complain if that means the company actually cares.

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The company claims that its phones are the most secure Android phones available. Technically that’s the truth — the company leverages work that Google has done to harden Android and adds its own proprietary kernel-level hardening on top. Truth be told, most security-conscious folks have to say that Android on its own is more than secure enough as long as you don’t turn off any of the security features. On paper, the KEY2 may be the most secure Android phone of 2018, but a more practical approach is to say the company really cares and adds its own layer above Google’s — and improves that layer as needed. Which is fine with me.

One great thing BlackBerry adds is the DTEK app. I was among the people who scoffed at it when it first arrived but now I think it’s a great way for someone to check the security health of their phone if they don’t have a clue about how to do it manually.

There’s an attractive animated meter that shows your security level, as there was on the KEYone, but now you can dive deeper and see why any portion of the tests don’t pass BlackBerry’s muster. More importantly, it will guide you through fixing them. I know that Oreo 8.1 with BlackBerry’s kernel only needs the May 2018 security patch to be secured. But that’s because I like to spend my free time reading about that sort of thing. Chances are you don’t, so DTEK will tell you and you don’t have to know. BlackBerry Mobile has done an excellent job evolving DTEK from a marketing tool into a useful app.

The KEYboard

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This is the whole reason I’m using the KEY2 and probably will throughout 2018 until a sequel arrives. There are three very valid reactions to a phone with a keyboard — you love it, you hate it, or you have never used it and want to try for yourself. I’m in the “love it” camp and feel at home using a phone with a QWERTY keyboard on the front. I understand the “hate it” crowd, too, because a physical keyboard is a binary thing — it’s always there so you either have to embrace and use it or it’s just in the way.

There was (and still is) an adjustment period with the KEY2’s keyboard if you’re coming from the KEYone. The spacing is different, the shape of the keys is different, and the texture is different. These are the things that matter when you’re trying to use a giant knobby thumb on a set of tiny keys. I can say I’m almost used to it in just 10 days or so and am in agreement that this keyboard is one of BlackBerry’s best ever.

I’m feeling right at home with the KEY2’s keyboard after just a week.

You use the keyboard just like you would if it were on-screen. Pressing the “a” key prints the same letter on the screen, pressing the symbol then the “p” key types “%” on the screen, and so on. You know how to use a keyboard and I’m certain you have at least once or twice. You also have access to things like emojis and secondary symbols like “greater than” and “less than” through the screen itself and you simply tap them to print one in your message or document. Other extras like the useful keyboard shortcuts are unique to a device that has physical buttons, and I love them.

A physical keyboard isn’t about function; it’s about familiarity and comfort. I’m familiar and comfortable using one because I have been using one for almost 25 years. I have used great ones and “bad” ones — don’t ask me what I think of the Pearl Flip — and I love this one. The marriage of a good BlackBerry keyboard and Android’s powerful software are exactly what I want and I can’t wait to see what BlackBerry Mobile and TCL do next.

The last word

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This is the replacement for your BlackBerry Classic.

This is for the BlackBerry diehards. You may never want to give up your Q10 or your Classic and I understand because I was there; I loved the Curve series and BBOS 7 and knew nothing. not BB10 or iOS or even this new thing called “Android” would ever be able to replace it. What started as a hobby — I bought the T-Mobile G1 because I wanted to play with Linux on a smartphone — slowly turned to acceptance. Now I don’t want to think of being anywhere without my Android-powered phone in my pocket. It keeps me connected and ready for anything business or personal that may arise just like my BlackBerry did, except it does a better job.

The BlackBerry KEY2 is the phone that’s a worthy upgrade from your BB10 device. You’ll need to re-learn how to use the BlackBerry apps and services you love, and you’ll find they are different but still great. Best of all, the hardware here is simply the best phone BlackBerry has ever built. All that’s missing is a model built in tandem with Porsche Design.

BlackBerry KEY2

  • BlackBerry KEY2 review
  • BlackBerry KEY2: Everything you need to know!
  • BlackBerry KEY2 specs
  • BlackBerry KEYone review: Coming home
  • Join our BlackBerry KEY2 forums!

Buy the BlackBerry KEY2

2
Jul

What weather apps do you use?


Let’s talk about the weather ☔️☀️

Of all the apps on your phone, some of the most important are weather-tracking ones. Whether you need to know the temperature for today, want to see if it’s going to rain during the week, or are curious about the current air quality, weather apps are chock-full of important information to help you get through your day.

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However, with hundreds and hundreds of weather apps to choose from on the Play Store, knowing which one to pick up can be a chore.

To help ease your quest in finding the perfect weather app, we decided to check in with the AC forum community to see which ones they’re using.

Here’s what they have to say!

avatar339830_4.gifcbreze
06-30-2018 12:27 PM

I’ve tried a bunch of them and prefer one that gives me a good, clean look on my homescreen. Accuweather is OK but IMO it fails at sticking its name/logo on the widget. Don’t care for that. Accuweather should get with it and offer better widget customization options.
I have found weather timeline to be the most customizable. Alot of folks like to have everything including the kitchen sink in…

Reply

avatar3007238_1.gifscorpiori
06-30-2018 12:32 PM

‘Today weather’ is dope.

Reply

avatar3002009_1.gifLuke18
06-30-2018 02:08 PM

Im a huge weather geek….these are the most accurate as far as information being updated and passed on:

DarkSky-Notificatuon temp icon and notifications for precipitation times.

Storm Radar-. Good overall app for everything.

Weather Radio- Best/Most accurate storm alerts

Radarscope- The best most accurate radar in the mobile world.

Reply

avatar186157_5.gifMooncatt
06-30-2018 12:35 PM

I use Weather Bug, which has a rather unobtrusive but functional widget. I really like the lightning tracker and the recently added future radar map.

Reply

What about you? What weather app(s) do you use?

Join the conversation in the forums!

2
Jul

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for PlayStation 4: Everything you need to know


THIS. IS. CREEEEEED.

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It’s been less than a year since the launch of Assassin’s Creed Origins, and Ubisoft is already delivering an epic follow-up. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes the new foundation for the series and builds on it with even deeper gameplay, an even richer story, and the most compelling open-world universe yet. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey?

Last year, Ubisoft released their most deep Assassin’s Creed game yet. Assassin’s Creed Origins started the series on a path down RPG land, with upgradeable skills and weapons, deeper crafting, and more being added to the experience. All of that joined the deep open worlds we’ve already become accustomed to, as well as the game’s rich lore and memorable characters.

Fast forward a year later and Ubisoft has wasted no time building on that. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is set to introduce mechanics and ideas that may not be new to the art of gaming, but they’ll definitely make for an awesome Creed game.

Will you fight for Sparta or Athens?

Before we even jump into the new gameplay bits, let’s talk about where it’s taking place. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is continuing the series tradition of revisiting ancient times. The last game took us to Egypt, but this time we’ll be heading to Greece during the year 431 BCE, which places us right at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War.

The Peloponnesian War was a significant conflict with many different players, but the bulk of it was ultimately carried out between Sparta and Athens. It was instigated by rebels who were unhappy with the latter, and they ended up helping Sparta in their quest to dominate the Aegean Sea.

Whereas previous Assassin’s Creed games decided your path for you, it appears you’ll be making some important decisions of your own in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. One of the biggest decisions is who you’ll choose to fight for over the course of the game. That’s because you’re not strictly part of the Spartans nor the Athenians. You’re a mercenary, and you’ll be able to choose who you fight for. Mercenaries typically fight for money, but there may be other forces at play swaying you in one direction or the other.

It being a game set in ancient Greece, Ubisoft isn’t shying away from the concept of paranormal meddling from the Gods of old. That’s not to say you’ll be shooting thunderbolts from your palms through the power of Zeus, but the Gods can and will play a role in some form or another. Ubisoft is being quiet on the specifics of this element for now, so it’s something we’ll just have to explore for ourselves once the game is made available for purchase.

The backdrop of the Peloponnesian War is interesting enough, but other story details remain a mystery. What we know right now is that you can play as either Alexios or Kassandra, marking both the first time you can choose multiple characters in an Assassin’s Creed game as well as the first time you can play as a female. (Yay for gender representation!)

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No matter which hero you choose, you’re known as a descendant of the Spartan king Leonidas I. Your family doesn’t recognize your royal heritage, though, and you quickly learn that you’re all alone. You do embark on your quest with a family heirloom, however: Leonidas I’s broken spear, which is eventually reforged into a steel polearm sword-looking thingy.

The deepest Assassin’s Creed game yet

Assassin’s Creed has largely been responsible for some of the mainstay mechanics still prevalent in games today, namely its climbing, combat, and stealth systems. Despite the initial burst of innovation Ubisoft brought with this series, it hasn’t evolved much until recent times.

The biggest turn came with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag with its pirate ship gameplay, and you’ll get a chance to return to the high seas in Odyssey with a ship and crew of your own. You’ll use it to travel the Aegean to carry out your duties in Athens, Sparta, and everywhere in between. There are at least 27 significant regions to explore and do missions in.

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This will also be the first Assassin’s Creed game that offers the ability to make dialog choices. There will be branching dialog, too, so there will be multiple outcomes in any given situation. It figures to be a big part of the game with Ubisoft professing that there will be multiple endings – again, a series first.

The player will be able to develop and manage relationships with people, too. You’ll even go as far as romancing some of them. Protagonists of old have historically had love interests, but you’ll be in control of them this time around, and it sounds awesome.

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Of course, the bread and butter of Assassin’s Creed games – combat and stealth – will get a bit of a facelift. The player can now unlock and level up skills from three different categories: hunter, warrior, and assassin.

Those classes will improve your proficiency and grant you new abilities in areas of archery, hand-to-hand combat, and stealth, respectively. If it’s anything like Assassin’s Creed Origins, you’ll be able to mix and match skills from different trees in order to craft the perfect character tailored to your play style.

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Weapons and armor are once again a big part of character development, so much of your progression in the game will come from finding new gear and upgrading it. Each piece of gear will come with random stats, with some of the best gear said to grant you unique abilities and bonuses. You’ll be able to use materials – either found, bought or gathered from hunting animals – to make upgrades and craft unique items.

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When you’re done fighting your individual battles, you can check in on the war at large. The aptly-named War System will allow you to see who has the upper hand at any given time. This information is useful not just for the purposes of following the ongoing narrative, but also because you can influence the war through your own decisions and actions. For instance, you can pick up mercenary contracts to help weaken or defend certain regions.

There will be chances to help influence the war in more direct ways, with Odyssey featuring massive battles that can have as many as 300 participants. Large-scale warfare is something we haven’t really seen in an Assassin’s Creed game before so it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of abilities the player can get to excel in them.

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Oh, and your trusty bird that you can somehow control and see the world through its eyes is back, so scouting out the area to plan your next move should be light work.

As you can tell by now, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is taking the series to entirely new heights that may just help define the standard for open world video games going forward.

You may not be an actual assassin anymore

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We feel it necessary to point out that Assassin’s Creed is no longer strictly an assassin’s game. That is, you’re no longer bound by a strict creed that has you staying your blade from the innocents and other such edicts. This is important because it makes way for nearly everyone in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to be attacked.

You’ll still have targets and you’ll still assassinate them, yes, but you can also just as well go on a murderous killing spree. There are consequences to this, however, such as bounties being placed on your head that will make other mercenaries come to hunt you down.

We’ve also noticed that a hidden assassin’s blade has yet to be shown in any of the trailers and screenshots to date. Ubisoft isn’t making a big deal about these details, likely because the concept of an assassination clique with morals wasn’t really a thing back in the times the game takes place.

Don’t fret, though. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to stalk and kill specific enemies with the swift thrust of a blade or however it is you prefer to do your killing.

There will be regular content updates

In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Ubisoft executive director Alain Corre confirmed that Ubisoft plans to support Assassin’s Creed Odyssey with regular content well after its release. In fact, we’re told to expect content on a weekly basis. Corre didn’t get into specifics about what to expect, but we know some of that content will likely be cosmetics that you can buy for your character.

This would imply that microtransactions are coming back. Microtransactions were mostly optional in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Players could unlock most cosmetic outfits and effects through regular play, but the option to pay for it was there for anyone who didn’t have the time to commit to it. This has been a long-standing Ubisoft practice and remains one of the fairest balances we’ve seen for microtransaction policies. There will also likely be limited time missions and your regular rollout of extended story content that will come in at a premium.

Which one will you pre-order?

If you’re sold on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and looking to pre-order, your options are quite plentiful. Pre-sales for the game are already live, and there’s a lot to choose from. Those pre-ordering the standard edition can look to Amazon, GameStop, Best Buy, and Ubisoft for the best bonuses.

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GameStop will exclusively offer a helmet keychain and access to the Blind King mission.

See at GameStop

Ubisoft is also offering the Blind King mission for ordering through them.

See at Ubisoft

Best Buy doesn’t net you the mission, but you do get a $10 rewards certificate to use on almost anything at a Best Buy Store.

See at Best Buy

Amazon also has no extra bonuses, but will offer the steepest discount to those with Amazon Prime, bringing your total down to $47.99.

See at Amazon

Don’t have Amazon Prime? Newegg has a nice $10 discount upfront, too.

See at Newegg

And if you’re into avatars, the PlayStation Store’s digital pre-order option isn’t bad as it comes with the Blind King mission, 7 avatars to use on your PlayStation Network profile, and figures to be your only option for preloading the game to play it the moment the clock strikes midnight.

See at PlayStation

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If you want to step up to the $80 Deluxe Edition, you’re in line for a sizable list of digital goods, including two different gear packs, a naval pack, an experience points boost, and a currency boost.

See at Amazon

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The Gold Edition goes for $100, and with it you’ll get the season pass, exclusive access to the Secrets of Greece mission, a steel book case for those who go for the physical copy, and the ability to play the game three days early, on October 2nd.

See at Amazon

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The Ultimate Edition is available for $120 and simply combines all the bonuses from the Deluxe and Gold Editions.

See at Amazon

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These next two are for serious fans. For $150, GameStop is offering a statue of Kassandra outfitted in classic Assassin’s Creed garb with a bird perched on her forearm. This is the Ultimate Edition of the game otherwise.

See at GameStop

Last but not least, there are the Spartan and Pantheon Collector’s Editions, both of which are available exclusively through Ubisoft. They cost $160 and $220 respectively and mostly come with the same things. No matter which one you get, you’ll have the Ultimate Edition content, a 64-page artbook, a lithograph created by Hugo Puzzuoli, a soundtrack, and a real map. The difference is in the statues you get.

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The $160 Spartan Edition comes with just a single Spartan statue.

See at Ubisoft

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And the $220 Pantheon Edition comes with both the Spartan and Athenian statues. These are available exclusively from Ubisoft.

See at Ubisoft

Collect the Statues

Ubisoft is doing something especially fun for this release: there are statues you can collect on an individual basis! There are statues of both main characters.

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Kassandra’s comes in at 29cm tall and costs $60.

See at Ubisoft

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Alexios is a bit taller at 32cm, but has the same $60 price tag.

See at Ubisoft

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Then there’s the $750 behemoth. It’s a 68cm statue of Alexios standing atop Medusa’s head. He’s donning the Hero of Sparta armor and is wielding the same spear featured in the game. The statue is highly detailed, but for its cost this figures to be for the most die-hard (and, perhaps, rich) collectors. There will only be 1,900 of these ever made.

See at Ubisoft

When can you play it?

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey launches October 5th, 2018 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. As we mentioned above, those willing to pay $100 can get the Gold Edition and play it three days early on October 2nd, 2018. Let us know if you’ll be buying the game, and if so, which version of it you’ll be getting.

PlayStation 4

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  • PS4 vs. PS4 Slim vs. PS4 Pro: Which should you buy?
  • PlayStation VR Review
  • Playing PS4 games through your phone is awesome

Amazon

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