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28
Jul

N.Y. state withdraws approval of Charter and Time Warner merger, boots Spectrum


The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) has withdrawn its approval of the Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable merger. According to a PSC release, the revocation is for specific cause, namely that Spectrum, the name of the merged entity, failed to deliver specific benefits to New Yorkers that were among the conditions upon which the merger was approved, the PSC says.

In addition to rescinding its approval of the Charter and Time Warner merger, the commission also filed an enforcement action in the New York State Supreme Court to seek $3 million in penalties for past failures and continuing noncompliance.

The PSC listed five areas of Charter’s alleged misconduct:

  • Repeated missed deadlines;
  • Attempts to avoid obligations to rural communities;
  • Unsafe practices;
  • Failure to fully commit to the merger obligations; and
  • Purposeful obfuscation of its performance and compliance obligations.

Concluding that Charter “was not interested in being a good corporate citizen” and that the Commission could no longer allow it to operate in New York, the PSC stated its actions address the failings and are meant “to ensure New York has a partner interested in the public good, not just lining its pockets.”

Commission Chair John B. Rhodes said, “Charter’s noncompliance and brazenly disrespectful behavior toward New York State and its customers necessitates the actions taken today seeking court-ordered penalties for its failures, and revoking the Charter merger approval.”

Conditions of the 2016 merger included extending service availability to 145,000 underserved homes and businesses in less populated areas of the state within four years and upgrading network speeds to 100Mbps by the end of 2018 and 300 Mbps by late 2019.

According to the PSC, not only has Charter failed to meet the conditions of the approval, the company also has claimed it is not bound by the terms of the approval. The Commission also said that charter tried to pass the blame for the failures to other companies, including utility pole owners.

In addition to not meeting deadlines, the PSC also said Charter falsely claimed it was meeting and exceeding its commitments in advertisements, leading the Commission to file a false advertising claim with the state attorney general’s office.

Charter now has 60 days to file a transition plan for an orderly transition to one or more successors. During the 60 days, Charter is obligated to continue service uninterrupted.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Xerox severs merger agreement with Fujifilm, ending Fuji Xerox plans
  • Everything you need to know about the T-Mobile and Sprint merger



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28
Jul

Here’s why the NVIDIA Shield TV is still being updated after three years


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The best Android TV product is also one of the best-supported Android products ever.

We all love the Shield TV around here. It’s almost universally thought of as the best way to get Android on your TV, isn’t outrageously expensive, and has enough power to stream your 4K HDR content without sputtering or complaining. It’s also a decent gaming console and makes for a heck of a streaming server when you use Plex or Kodi. It’s one of those rare gadgets we buy that does what is advertised and more; you’ll get your money’s worth from a Shield TV.

Another thing that isn’t talked about as often is the level of support NVIDIA gives the Shield family and the Shield TV in particular. Released in 2015, it’s one of the few devices that have been updated to Android Oreo and the only three-year-old device that didn’t come directly from Google to have it. And it didn’t “just” get the Oreo update; NVIDIA stopped work and then went to Google with concerns about why Oreo on Android TV wasn’t awesome and the two companies worked to fix that. Then NVIDIA sent out an Oreo update. That kind of support is almost unheard of.

So why and how does NVIDIA do it when most other companies making Android-powered gadgets can’t or won’t? There are two parts to that answer, and both are pretty simple ideas.

Make one great product

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NVIDIA is first and foremost a chip maker. It sells a few things like reference model video cards for computers, developer boards to support the company’s AI platform, and you can buy a $69,000 compact supercomputer designed to act as an AI workstation if you have the itch for one. These are halo products designed to show what the company’s main business — powerful GPUs — are capable of.

Fewer products means developers have the time to care about them.

NVIDIA also, of course, sells the Shield TV. The company has dabbled in Android a bit but quickly exited once it learned how hard it can be to dabble and profit at the same time. The Shield TV exists to showcase NVIDIA’s ARM SoC and the company’s various gaming services, such as Game Stream. Maybe NVIDIA could conquer the Android world if it really tried, maybe not. We don’t know because it’s not trying to; it sells one Android device that happens to show off other things the company has to offer.

That means the people who do the designing and thinking and developing have one thing to focus on improving and supporting. One thing to be, for lack of a better word, proud of. When your company makes hundreds of different Android products, it’s impossible to give each and every one the love it deserves. Even Samsung, the undisputed king of Android, has to spread time and energy between a dozen devices (and has done a marvelous job lately, kudos all around) and can forget about the rest once in a while.

When a bug or problem with the Shield TV pops up, the right people get the right amount of time to fix it promptly and sent out to us. That can’t happen when there are too many things getting shipped out the door.

Make everything inside your great product

nvidia-shield-tv-update-35-11wox.jpg?ito

NVIDIA is in a rare position with the Shield TV that puts them alongside Apple and Samsung — the company makes the components inside the device that require attention. Like an iPhone or Galaxy S9, you’ll find bits and pieces from other semiconductor companies or even rivals like LG inside, but the core component that gets “in the way” when it comes to updating and supporting software is the chipset. NVIDIA, of course, powers the Shield TV with its own Tegra X1 processor and 256-core Maxwell GPU. You can debate the strengths and weaknesses of the arrangement, and both are there to debate, but the company having control over the hardware means the future of the device is entirely in its own hands.

The Shield TV is built with and powered by NVIDIA parts.

When Android is updated to a new product version, like the jump from Nougat to Oreo, developers have to work on the code that lets the chipset components interface with the system. For the most part, and NVIDIA is no exception here, that code is closed source and only the company that built the component can do it. Most companies that build consumer products source things like a processor from another company that specializes in building them.

I mentioned above that NVIDIA is first and foremost a chip maker — it has complete control over every piece of code needed to build any software for the Shield TV, including a new version of Android. Or a quick fix for an ugly bug. Or a regular update cycle that improves things like Bluetooth performance or device I/O speeds. Just as the company does for the chips used in video cards, it sends out regular maintenance updates that keep the Shield TV running amazingly well. And when it’s time for a bigger update, there’s nothing in the way from making it a reality, either.

I have no idea if the Shield TV will see Android P whenever Google has it ready for the Android TV platform. I’m not even going to speculate on that here. But I will say I wouldn’t be shocked if it happens. The company has the means and the desire to make the Shield TV a product you’re happy you bought.

See at Amazon

NVIDIA Shield Android TV

  • Read our Shield Android TV review
  • The latest Shield Android TV news
  • Shield vs. Shield Pro: Which should I buy?
  • Join the forum discussion
  • Complete Shield Android TV specs

Amazon

28
Jul

VideoLAN was right to ban Huawei phones from downloading VLC, but it’s users that lose


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Huawei is the third-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Huawei makes a lot of phones — 155 million in 2017, according to IDC. As of July 15, none of those or any other “recent” models from Huawei can download the VLC media player from the Google Play Store because VideoLAN, the developer and publisher of VLC, blacklisted the brand stating Huawei’s software’s “ridiculous policy of killing all background apps” as the reason.

PSA: @HuaweiMobile phones are now blacklisted and cannot get VLC on the Play Store.Their ridiculous policy of killing all background apps (except their own) breaks VLC audio background playback (of course).See https://t.co/QzDW7KbV4I and many other reports…@HuaweiFr

— VideoLAN (@videolan) July 25, 2018

It’s important to note that VideoLAN has still allowed for the VLC app to be downloaded directly from its website and sideloaded on all these Huawei phones. It’s also worth reading the entire Twitter thread to see shocking behavior from whoever is running VideoLAN’s account, including the sentiment that users installing malware is less important than VLC receiving “bad notes” which I assume means poor reviews — VideoLAN is a French company and web translation apps are horrible.

Google also will restrict background use of an app with Android P — after you say it’s OK to do so.

Huawei’s version of Android has a bad habit of aggressively killing off applications that want to run in the background, even those that follow all the rules and best practices. Since VLC is primarily a music player, it will spend much of its time in the background playing music. On Huawei phones, it can’t because it gets killed off.

A few things to get out of the way. Regarding the LGPL: VideoLAN is not violating the license by restricting the usage of an application covered under it. It is restricting the distribution by removing the ability to install from Google Play, but users of Huawei phones are still able to download and install the app manually. It’s also important, for reasons we’ll get into shortly, to understand that VideoLAN is a volunteer group and VLC is an open source project that makes no money.

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This whole thing is a bit crazy. On one hand, you have Huawei, which is a billion-dollar business that can’t seem to build Android correctly according to Google’s rules. VLC runs the correct background service APIs and is a completely normal Android app. Huawei kills it because it’s not whitelisted by the company.

On another hand, you have VideoLAN, which used the nuclear option and blocked millions and millions of phones from downloading VLC through Google Play. Finally, you have disgruntled users who think VideoLAN should be educating users how to fix what Huawei purposefully breaks — even though VideoLAN is a not-for-profit company consisting solely of volunteers.

Huawei is shipping broken phones. Google is certifying them for use of the Play Store. You are getting the short end of their stick.

Huawei, fix your shit. That needs to be said before anything else and loudly. At least stop killing apps that hold audio focus if you insist on breaking Android. We should also wonder why Google allows them to do so and still certifies these devices for the Play Store …

But this isn’t about a poor user experience. This is about ratings in Google Play. When a large number of users who downloaded your app are asked to rate how much they liked it on a scale of one to five, and that app doesn’t work as expected, the rating is going to plummet. I know about VLC and VideoLAN, as do many of you reading this. But others who don’t will look at the app rating to help them decide if they should give it a try. I’ve looked at ratings for apps I didn’t know anything about and you probably have too. Those ratings mean something. Even if you think VideoLAN jumped the gun here and did things a bit prematurely (I do) you can’t blame them for doing it. They had no choice.

The good news is that after failed attempts at a resolution, Huawei and VideoLAN may soon reach some sort of solution. The bad news is that any solution that comes from Huawei will take months to reach your phone.

We finally got an answer from Huawei.We hope to find a solution on this, in the next few weeks… https://t.co/8YWU3uHBvZ

— VideoLAN (@videolan) July 26, 2018

Just another week in Android land.

28
Jul

Best Android Phone With Removable Battery in 2018


  • Best overall
  • Best for less

Best overall

Moto E5 Play

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See at Verizon

The best phone with a removable battery is one of the cheapest phones you can buy, the Moto E5 Play. That’s partly because removable batteries are becoming harder to find in high-end phones, but also because, irrespective of that aspect, this is a very good phone for the $70 that Verizon charges on prepaid. It’s also under $100 at most other carriers, including Cricket, Boost, Sprint, and Virgin.

The 2800mAh GK40 battery is the same one found in the Moto E4 and Moto E4 Play, which means you can easily find replacements online if you so desire.

Bottom line: The Moto E5 Play is a no-nonsense, well-made plastic smartphone with a capacious 2800mAh removable battery.

One more thing: You’ll also find a fingerprint sensor on the phone’s back where the Motorola “batwing” logo is, which is awesome.

Why the Moto E5 Play is the best

Here’s the thing about phones these days: they have large, built-in batteries because that’s how companies lower costs and keep the cells large. But with the Moto E5 Play, Motorola still wants people to have their cake and eat it, too. The 2800mAh cell inside the Moto E5 Play offers all-day battery life, and it’s really easy to find replacements, too, should you need a second.

The 5.2-inch display is big and bright enough to get everything done without squinting, and there’s an 8MP camera on the back to capture any photos you might want to keep. The removable back is also made of sturdy, textured plastic, making the phone easy to grip when it’s in your hand.

Best for less

Moto E4

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See at Amazon

Last year’s Moto E4 is still available for those who don’t want to go through a carrier. It has only minor differences to the 2018 version, and they’re not significant in day-to-day use. Specifically, there’s a front-facing fingerprint reader and, as a result, a slightly smaller display.

Bottom line: The Moto E4 is cheap and cheerful, and available unlocked through Amazon, which is a bonus.

One more thing: If you’d rather not bother with a second battery, the Moto E4 Plus is just as good and has a 5000mAh internal battery.

Conclusion

There’s just something about a removable battery, and Motorola has once again come through with the best options for budget users. You won’t be able to find any high-end phones with removable batteries these days, but if you can live with a slightly slower phone, the Moto E5 Play is an awesome option.

Best overall

Moto E5 Play

moto-e5-play-26.jpg?itok=F1saMV-U

See at Verizon

The best phone with a removable battery is one of the cheapest phones you can buy, the Moto E5 Play. That’s partly because removable batteries are becoming harder to find in high-end phones, but also because, irrespective of that aspect, this is a very good phone for the $70 that Verizon charges on prepaid. It’s also under $100 at most other carriers, including Cricket, Boost, Sprint, and Virgin.

The 2800mAh GK40 battery is the same one found in the Moto E4 and Moto E4 Play, which means you can easily find replacements online if you so desire.

Bottom line: The Moto E5 Play is a no-nonsense, well-made plastic smartphone with a capacious 2800mAh removable battery.

One more thing: You’ll also find a fingerprint sensor on the phone’s back where the Motorola “batwing” logo is, which is awesome.

Updated July 26, 2018: This article was updated to remove the LG V20 and Moto G5, which are no longer sold. We now recommend the Moto E5 Play and Moto E4, two great budget phones.

28
Jul

How to choose an external hard drive


Backing up your most important files to cloud providers is great, but if your internet goes down it’s always good to have a backup close at hand too. That’s where external drives come in, and they even offer a great way to expand your storage for lower-end laptops and portable devices.

With so many drives out there though, how do you know which ones to buy? Should you buy a hard drive or an external SSD? Which version of USB do you need? Do connectors matter? What about encryption? We’ll answer all that and more in our guide on how to choose an external drive, to make sure you get the most for your money.

If you just want to skip to buying an external drive, here’s our list of the best ones available today.

Storage capacity

Arguably the most important specification to consider when buying an external drive is storage space. It’s no good buying a high-speed device with encryption and remote access if it’s not big enough to actually store the information you need. That said, you also don’t want to pay through the nose for a drive you’ll never even come close to filling, so what size should you be aiming for? It depends what you want to do with it.

If you want a device that’s good for transferring documents, photos, or other media from one device to the other, or just want to expand the storage space of your low-end laptop or tablet, then you might be best off with a mid-range flash drive. While the largest of those can stretch up to 2TB of storage space, they get very expensive and are unnecessarily big for this sort of usage. Really you’re better off saving yourself a lot of money and buying something in the region of 64GB. Some of those can be had for less than $20 and you can get ones double the size for not much more.

If you’re interested in storing a lot more or keeping files and folders on there long term, you’ll want something bigger. A 1TB drive should suit most needs for the foreseeable future, but if you envision storing hundreds of movies (maybe you ripped your DVD collection?), or just never want to run out of space, there are drives available today that offer multiple terabytes of space. The Seagate Backup Plus is available in sizes from 1TB all the way up to 5TB and even then it’s not much more than $100.

Transfer speed

Size isn’t everything, even when it comes to external drives. Transfer speed is incredibly important too, because if you transfer files back and forth to a huge drive on a regular basis, you don’t want to have to wait an age for them to complete.

There are two main factors that play a role in how fast your drive can operate at: The storage technology and the connector it uses. Although some drives are faster than others (and if you want bleeding edge speed, make sure to check reviews of your options) in general, solid state drives (SSD) can process data faster than hard drives (HDD). External SSDs tend to be more expensive than their HDD counterparts and often have less storage capacity. You don’t have to have one or the other, as there are larger SSDs out there, but you will have to pay a premium for it.

Maurizio Pesce/Flickr

In terms of the connector used to hook up your external drive to your desktop, laptop, or mobile device, there are several common options to consider. Most drives today use a USB interface, but there are several generations that have some distinct differences — most notably with transfer speed. USB 2.0 is an old standard and should be avoided if you’re doing anything but making infrequent small file transfers. USB 3.0 offers a substantial increase in speed (up to 5Gbps), while USB 3.1 (sometimes called USB 3.1 Gen 2) is becoming more common and offers up to 10Gbps transfer speeds. Devices that support Thunderbolt 3 offer the fastest connection medium out there, capable of transferring media at up to 40Gbps.

Some older devices use alternative connectors like eSATA and Firewire, but due to their reduced relevance, they should be avoided.

Portability and durability

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

If you want to only use your external drive for backups in your own home, you don’t need to consider portability and could even look to network attached storage solutions, for more permanent backup options. If you want to keep your drive with you when you’re out and about though, portability is of paramount importance. You want it to be light and small enough to fit in a bag or pocket so that it can be accessed quickly and easily without weighing you down all day. Ideally, you want one that doesn’t require an external power cable too.

Most external drives are far from weighty and some, like the Samsung T5, are tiny, offering huge digital storage capacity while being physically diminutive. In the inverse of storage space, SSDs tend to be a little smaller than their hard drive counterparts.

Another reason to consider an SSD over an HDD is durability. While modern-day external drives often come equipped with rugged casings to protect them against damage should they be banged or dropped, the two technologies have very different physical makeups. An SSD has no moving parts, making them more durable to drop damage than a traditional hard drive. While nobody plans to drop their external drive, if you think you might, SSDs offer a little more protection against such unfortunate events.

Security

If the data you store on your external drive is sensitive in any way, encrypting the data is a good idea. There are many drives out there that are compatible with software encryption solutions and those are fine for most people, but for those who take their data security more seriously, you want to find a drive with hardware encryption. If you’re extremely security conscious, you could even opt for a physical security system like the pin-code input on the Apricorn Aegis Padlock drive.

Some drives will also come with strong casings to prevent physical tampering. While Kingston’s Ironkey flash drives don’t offer the same storage capacity as full-scale drives, they have a secondary security layer in that their drive PCBs are dipped in a resin that makes it hard for anyone to access the internal memory chips.

Extra features

There are a multitude of different external drives out there, and that means stiff competition. While all of the above features and specifications are worth considering before anything else, there are some other neat features you can look out for if you’re still unsure which drive to go for.

Some offer Wi-Fi connectivity for easy file access, and some offer better warranties than others, so if you are at all concerned about reliability, picking one with a long warranty is a good idea. You might also consider the cables that the drive ships with — if your laptop or phone has USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connections and your drive only comes with a USB-A cable, factor in buying another cable or an adaptor.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • The largest flash drives
  • Tight on space? Here’s how to transfer photos from an iPhone to a computer
  • Here’s how to rip a Blu-ray or DVD movie
  • SSD vs. HDD
  • How to back up your iPhone to your computer



28
Jul

Apple Said to Be Removing Headphone Jack From Upcoming 2018 iPad Pro Models


Apple’s upcoming iPad Pro models will feature slightly smaller bodies, a relocated Smart Connector, and no headphone jack, according to information shared by Japanese site Mac Otakara.

Citing supply chain sources, Mac Otakara says the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro will measure in at 247.5mm tall, 178.7mm wide, and 6mm, compared to the current size of 250.6mm x 174.1mm x 6.1mm. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is said to measure 280mm tall, 215mm wide, and 6.4mm thick, compared to the current measurements of 305.7mm x 220.6mm x 6.9mm.

iPad Pro concept image via Álvaro Pabesio
These dimensions line up with rumors suggesting Apple plans to introduce a full redesign with the 2018 iPad Pro models, slimming down the bezels much like it did with the iPhone X. Though smaller in size, the new iPads will feature larger displays thanks to the bezel reduction. The new iPad Pros are not expected to feature a Home button, and according to previous rumors, will include a TrueDepth camera system for Face ID.

Mac Otakara also suggests that the 2018 iPad Pro models will not feature a 3.5mm headphone jack, with Apple opting to eliminate it.

iPhones have not had a headphone jack since it was removed in the iPhone 7, and Apple has instead relied on Bluetooth devices like the AirPods along with Lightning-based headphones. Apple is not expected to ship the new iPad Pro models with a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, which would be in line with analyst predictions suggesting that adapter will not come with the 2018 iPhones either.

In the iPhone lineup, the headphone jack was removed for improved water resistance and to make space for internal components like a bigger battery, the Taptic Engine, and the rear camera system. It is not clear if Apple is facing the same space constraints in the iPad Pro with the introduction of the TrueDepth camera system or if this is a move to align iPad and iPhone features.

A portion of Mac Otakara’s report says that Apple will use a “diamond cut” for both the front and the back of the new iPad Pro models, which seems to mean that the tablets could have a design that’s similar the iPhone SE with beveled edges.

The Smart Connector on the iPads has reportedly been relocated from the side to the bottom near the Lightning port, which may require a new vertically oriented Smart Keyboard. It’s not clear how a vertical Smart Keyboard would work, as it would likely be unstable in that orientation, especially for the larger iPad Pro.

Apple is said to be making this change because Face ID will work only when the iPad Pro is in a vertical orientation, with Mac Otakara saying that it is “impossible to release the lock with the main unit turned sideways.” Previous information from Mac Otakara suggested Apple was working on horizontal Face ID for the iPad Pro, and hints of such a feature were discovered in iOS 12.

In addition to these changes to the iPad Pro, Mac Otakara also shared a bit of information on the rumored 6.1-inch low-cost iPhone. Confirming previous rumors, the site says the device will use a “Full Active” LCD display sourced from Japan Display. Full Active panels allow Apple to slim down the bezels of the LCD iPhone, bringing it in line with the two OLED devices.

Possible front glass panels for the 2018 iPhones, with 6.1-inch model in middle
Mac Otakara’s sources have also echoed previous reports pointing towards production difficulties for the 6.1-inch iPhone. When production on the phone started this month, Apple was reportedly seeing a 1 percent completion rate, suggesting a delayed November launch for the device.

Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty made a similar prediction earlier this week, suggesting issues with “LED backlight leakage” could lead to a one month delay in production. Huberty’s information indicated the delay had originally been six weeks, so it’s possible Mac Otakara is working with older data. Other sources, such as Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, are not expecting launch delays, so it’s unclear what’s going on with the 6.1-inch iPhone at this time.

Mac Otakara has a somewhat mixed track record when it comes to rumors, sometimes sharing information that’s spot on and sometimes missing the mark. For that reason, though this information is quite specific, these new details should be viewed with some skepticism until confirmed by secondary sources.

Related Roundups: iPad Pro, 2018 iPhonesBuyer’s Guide: 10.5″ iPad Pro (Don’t Buy), 12.9″ iPad Pro (Caution)
Discuss this article in our forums

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28
Jul

Brain-controlled third arm lets you take your multitasking to the next level


For whatever reason, some seriously smart folks in the tech community seem to be obsessed with adding extra appendages to the human body — and they’re getting more ambitious all the time. First, it was the 3D-printed functioning extra thumb prosthesis, made by a graduate student at London’s Royal College of Art. Then, it was the robotic Double Hand, dreamed up by augmented human startup YouBionic. Now, researchers from the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Kyoto, Japan are taking the next logical step by creating a robotic third arm that will allow its wearers to take their multitasking ability to warp speed. Oh, and did we mention that it’s mind-controlled, too?

“Instead of a robot arm system, I would call it, a [brain-machine interface] (BMI) system for multitasking,” Christian Penaloza, a researcher on the project, told Digital Trends. “Traditional BMI systems are used mostly to recover or replace a lost function of a person with a disability, but not to enhance the capabilities of healthy users. Common BMI systems require the user to concentrate on a particular task, such as controlling a robot arm or wheelchair, while the body stays still. That means that the user can only do a single task. Due to the current limitations of BMI systems, it is more convenient for healthy users to use their own bodies instead.”

Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory, ATR

What the researchers at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute have developed is a brain-machine interface with a focus on multitasking. The robotic arm used in their demonstration is controlled via two electrodes which are stuck on the user’s head in order to capture their brain activity. Without requiring a person’s full attention, it’s possible to control the arm to carry out certain feats. That means that users can engage in one task while carrying out a second hands-free task simultaneously.

“In our experiments, we used a human-like robot arm for participants to grasp a bottle, while they did a different task [of] balancing a ball,” Penaloza continued. “[In terms of real-world applications] we could think of future use cases for this particular system, such as future construction or manufacturing workers who can use a third arm to increase their productivity, or even astronauts in space. However, the applications do not have to be limited to a robotic arm. Perhaps in the future, we could use the system to control other devices — household devices, cell phones, or machinery — while we do another task.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • You won’t even need to dress yourself in the future — thanks to robots like this
  • This myth-inspired, karate-chopping centaur robot could save your life one day
  • From drones to bionic arms, here are 8 examples of amazing mind-reading tech
  • MIT’s Cheetah 3 robot doesn’t need sight to navigate stairs
  • 7 ways we’ll interact with computers in the future



28
Jul

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller – Episode 1: the Hangman review



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I don’t know about you, but I have a vice for mystery games. Ever since I played my first Nancy Drew game as a kid, I’ve loved solving virtual crimes and puzzles. So I’m always keen to try out new titles.

In a recent search for a new game to sate my thirst for mystery, I stumbled upon Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, a game which seemed to blend the classic detective game formula with supernatural elements. I quickly became interested and downloaded the first episode, The Hangman on my Android phone. There are four episodes in total and they are all available for download from the Google Play Store.

The game was designed by indie studio Phoenix Online Studios, which was until a few years ago a group of dedicated hobbyists scattered throughout the world, working on their fan tribute to the King’s Quest games. The Silver Lining was developed over many years and faced a lot of turmoil, but eventually it got released in four chapters. Fast forward to the present, and the studio playing a big part in the resurgence of adventure gaming with games like the Erica Reed series.

For this mystery thriller, they brought on board Gabriel Knight-creator Jane Jensen as a story consultant. Not surprisingly, the game packs a dark and intense story-line within an intriguing, albeit at times slow game.

The Erica Reed adventure has been available to play on PC for a few years now, but you can also play it on your Android smartphone or tablet.

Storyline

Cognition is a point-and-click adventure, which follows Boston FBI detective Erica Reed as she searches for clues and solves puzzles in order to solve gruesome murders.

The game approaches very unsettling subjects, so it’s definitely not for the most sensitive players out there. Some cut-scenes are also pretty violent and disturbing, so if you’re not the type to stomach that, I recommend you stay away from this one.

Anyway, Erica Reed is not your average detective. Sure, she’s intuitive and clever, but on top of that, she possesses a special gift. She can see the past through a series of flashbacks.

The game starts with Erica and her FBI partner John McCoy attempting to enter a cemetery where they believe the Cain Killer is holding Erica’s twin brother, Scott, hostage. So your first task is to go rescue Scott.

It’s here that you’re first introduced to Erica’s strange powers. Tap on the Cognition sphere at the bottom left and it will reveal certain glowing areas in your environment. These can be a statue or a table and as Erica examines them, she’ll catch a glimpse of the object’s past. Which in turn helps her get closer to solving the puzzles in the level.

Unfortunately, Erica is unable to save Scott. Or so it becomes apparent after we move on to the next part of the story. Three years have passed and we find that Erica is now living in Boston and is working downtown at the FBI headquarters. She’s determined to track down the person who murdered her brother three years ago. But wait! Didn’t she set him on fire at the end of chapter one? This part got me a little confused, but I have to admit, I was intrigued and very curious to find out what actually happened to Scott.

Erica’s flashbacks continue…

Anyway, Erica is called to investigate a new homicide case involving a man who was hung to death. Her boss wants her to take it slow, but Erica is having none of that.

As you play, Erica’s cognition ability develops into something more complex. For example, Erica can now select three related hotspots in order to unlock evidence that previously existed in the location. Like the ancient artifact that she finds at the hangman crime scene.

The game opens up quite a little bit in the second part. You’re given multiple locations across Boston to visit including the Cemetery where Scott’s buried or the Antique shop, where John’s voodoo queen friend helps Erica understand her abilities.

Even if the game is pretty simple in concept: visit the locations, search for clues, solve the puzzles, it quite challenging at times. I’ve often got stuck and had to revisit each location a couple more times in order to finally figure out a solution. In one particular instance, failing to correctly complete a problem, gets you killed. And you’ll have to start all over again.

The implausible puzzles were another reason why I was slow to make progress. For example, in one scene you need to use your partner’s lighter, but for some obscure reason, John won’t give it to you. You’ll have to distract him with snacks, but not just any snacks. It has to be doughnuts. And oh, they are pretty hard to find around Boston.

But at least the game benefits from a pretty effective hint system. So you can turn to that if you feel your frustration level rising.

Impressions

If you love comics, you’ll adore Cognition’s artwork. The striking 2D backgrounds and character designs are very impressive and detailed, but I can’t say the same for the animations which are quite awkwardly-made, most of the time. Flashback to Scott looking like a freaking zombie in the scene where he was chained up to that table in the underground tomb.

Creepy Scott

On the brighter side of things, the soundtrack, created by Austin Haynes (who also made the music for the Silver Lining) is truly excellent and unsettling. The music does a great job of exacerbating the uncanny feeling that seems to be hanging in the air at all times

The voice acting is pretty good too, albeit a bit melodramatic at times. Although I couldn’t help but get bored with some of the lengthier, superfluous dialogues. Speaking of which, I found the subtitle font way too small.

But this is just one of the limitations of playing this sort of game on a phone. It’s also not that easy to tap on smaller or far-away objects and you can’t zoom either. So yeah you might want to try this game on a tablet, instead of a smartphone like I did. The bigger screen will most likely make a huge difference.

When it comes to performance, the game usually runs pretty smooth, but I’ve noticed the occasional graphics glitches. Loading times are pretty long too, at times.

But if you can see past these (minor) inconveniences, Cognition will provide an overall enjoyable experience. I really loved the story, it’s bizarre, gruesome at times and keeps you guessing until the very end. It’s not at all predictable, which is a very big plus in my book.

28
Jul

Save $50 on the Apple Watch Series 3 with Best Buy’s Black Friday in July sale


In a world full of smartphones, the smartwatch was an inevitability. It’s smaller, it’s more convenient, and most of all, it’s attached to your body. Though there are many different smartwatches to choose from at many different price points, there is one company that has a firm grip on the industry — Apple. In fact, the Apple Watch isn’t just the best-selling smartwatch in the world, it’s the best-selling watch in the world. Even with competitive companies like Rolex, Casio, Fossil, and Samsung being thrown into the mix, the Apple Watch still reigns supreme.

If you’ve been looking to pick up one of these great smartwatches for yourself, the Best Buy Black Friday in July sale has an excellent offer for you — $50 off the Apple Watch Series 3. The series 3 is the newest model in Apple’s line of smartwatches and it comes with a ton of great features. A brilliant OLED touchscreen, GPS, fitness tracking, and decent battery life make up the bulk of the features, but where the Apple watch really takes the cake is in it’s design. It usually goes without saying that if Apple is making something, it’s going to look good, and the Apple Watch Series 3 is no different. With a sleek, well-thought-out design, a wide variety of watch straps, and many different watch faces to choose from, you can customize it to fit your wrist or your style. The sale runs through Saturday, July 28.

The Apple Watch Series 3 normally retails for $329, but with the Best Buy Black Friday in July price cut, you can get it for just $279. That’s a $50 discount that you very rarely see on any of the newer Apple products, so if you’ve been contemplating picking up one of these bad boys, there’s really no better time than right now. However, if that $279 price tag is still out of your price range, there are plenty of other Apple Watch deals to choose from. Perhaps the most notable deal we’ve seen so far is on the Apple Watch Series 1, which has been discounted to just $149 from Walmart.

$279 | Apple Watch 3 $149 | Apple Watch 1

Looking for more great deals on tech and electronics? Find Apple Watch deals and more from our curated deals page, or follow us on Twitter for the latest savings.

We strive to help our readers find the best deals on quality products and services, and choose what we cover carefully and independently. If you find a better price for a product listed here, or want to suggest one of your own, email us at dealsteam@digitaltrends.com.Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.

Editors’ Recommendations

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28
Jul

TESS, NASA’s planet-hunting space satellite, begins science operations


Illustration of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star. TESS will identify thousands of potential new planets for further study and observation. NASA/GSFC

NASA’s exoplanet-hunting satellite TESS is fully operational and has begun scanning the skies for distant planets, NASA reported on Friday. And maybe, just maybe, it will spy signs of life outside of our galaxy.

“I’m thrilled that our new planet hunter mission is ready to start scouring our solar system’s neighborhood for new worlds,” said Paul Hertz, NASA astrophysics division director based in Washington. “Now that we know there are more planets than stars in our universe, I look forward to the strange, fantastic worlds we’re bound to discover.”

The space agency launched its TESS satellite on April 16, with an aim of replacing the aging Kepler space telescope. It will spend the next two years rocketing through the cold reaches of space, training an array of cameras and monitors on the darkness — and looking for the periodic dips in light that suggest the presence of planets against the fiery brightness of the stars they orbit. The mission is led and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The mission should come relatively cheaply, according to Space.com –the TESS satellite’s cost is capped at $200 million, while the Kepler telescope it replaced cost about $600 million.

NASA began the process of waking up TESS in May, and found the satellite was in good health and all systems reporting that they were healthy. For a satellite, that means more than a shower and a cup of coffee: It entails a commissioning period of testing and adjustments before scientists can truly rely upon the data being beamed back to Earth. According to NASA, “every new mission goes through a commissioning period of testing and adjustments before beginning science operations. This serves to test how the spacecraft and its instruments are performing and determines whether any changes need to be made before the mission starts observations.”

NASA's newest planet hunter, @NASA_TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is currently undergoing a series of commissioning tests before it begins searching for planets. https://t.co/kYnDwjhpKS pic.twitter.com/rodPbAknUQ

— NASA_TESS (@NASA_TESS) July 11, 2018

In May, as the craft prepared for that final orbit, NASA’s latest satellite danced a funky little jig. “In one of the last passes, TESS performed a ‘break dance,’ rotating around to evaluate any stray light sources to characterize camera performance for the duration of the mission,” the space agency wrote on Twitter in June.

“We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars,” said Hertz prior to the satellite’s launch. “TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions.”

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Astronomers make huge exoplanet discovery haul in record time
  • NASA (again) delays launch of the world’s most powerful telescope



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