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Posts tagged ‘Review’

16
Dec

President Obama signs the Consumer Review Fairness Act into law


President Obama signed a number of bills into law on Thursday, most notably H.R. 5111, the “Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016”. The legislation, which passed both houses of congress at the start of December, “makes certain clauses of a form contract void if it prohibits, or restricts, an individual from engaging in a review of a seller’s goods, services, or conduct.”

This is a big win for consumers. There have been a rash of incidents over the past couple of years in which companies attempt to stifle negative user reviews with “gag clauses” that threaten legal action and punitive monetary damages. The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, for example, threatened a wedding party with $500 fines for every bad review the wedding’s guests left on Yelp. Now that the President has signed the bill, the FCC and states are empowered to take legal action against companies that don’t knock it off.

For their parts, the Better Business Bureau already requires its accredited members to not use such clauses and Yelp used to pop a warning screen before users visit a company that insisted on using those clauses. Though, the company won’t need to do that anymore now that it has the backing of the federal government.

“One of our top priorities has always been to protect the ability for internet users — everyone from Yelpers to online shoppers — to share their experiences online, whether they be positive or negative,” Laurent Crenshaw, Yelp’s Director of Public Policy told Engadget. “The Consumer Review Fairness Act gives Americans nationwide new guaranteed legal protections when it comes to sharing these honest, first-hand experiences. We will continue to advocate at both the federal and state levels for legislation to protect consumers.”

Via: NBC News

Source: White House

11
Dec

Review: Modern Strike Online blows the competition away


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Modern Strike Online does mobile FPS gaming right.

Released in 1999, Counter-Strike is responsible for sparking the iconic counter-terrorist VS. terrorist first-person shooter format which has been imitated and reimagined countless times in the years since. Beloved by millions and still played competitively around the world, it essentially set the groundwork for the shooter franchises that followed.

The dev team behind Modern Strike Online set out to make a mobile version of Counter-Strike, and they make no bones about it. Consider the intro to Modern Strike Online’s app description in the Google Play Store:

Are you a fan of the good old counter terrorists? Here is some striking news for you. We are ready to change an idea of free online Android multiplayer shooters.

Modern Strike Online has been available in the Google Play Store for many months now, but kind of flew under the radar thanks in part to it’s horribly unoriginal name — not to be confused with Mobile Strike, Modern Combat or… Combat Duty Modern Strike FPS (that last one is 100% real, by the way). Featuring slick graphics, frantic gameplay, and deep customization, it’s definitely one of the best first-person shooters you’ll find on Android in 2016.

Modern Strike Online was reviewed on a Google Pixel, with the graphics set to their highest settings.

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When you launch Modern Strike Online for the first time, first you’ll run through a quick tutorial that lays out the controls and walks you through the various menus you’ll need to know about. After a brief bit of offline prep, you’re ready to take your game online and start collecting XP.

More often than not, the quick battle option on the main menu will be your go-to option, whether you’re just starting out or only plan on playing for a few minutes and don’t have a game mode preference. New game modes become available as you level up. Once you’ve reached level 9 you’ll have unlocked all six modes, which include all the classics: free-for-all deathmatch, team deathmatch, team squad battle (no respawning), bomb mode (classic seek and destroy), hardcore mode, and custom matches for friendly battles against friends (no XP to be gained here).

The control layout is as good as it gets for a mobile shooter, with options to completely customize the placement and size of the buttons and control sticks in the settings menu. We’ll touch on customization more later.

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The first things you’ll notice is the lack of a trigger button — by default, Modern Strike Online is set to auto-fire as soon as an enemy walks into your crosshairs. It’s a bit of a compromise and takes some time to get used to since it can give away your position when you’re trying to sneak around or line up a headshot, but it’s way more efficient than having another on-screen button alongside the ones for grenades and first aid kits. Not having to worry about pulling the trigger lets you focus on controlling your movement, throwing grenades, and trying for headshots by aiming down the gun sights. Sadly, there’s no support here for Bluetooth controllers so you’re stuck with touchscreen controls, but in a way that becomes a sort of equalizer within the game.

There are 11 maps in the game, and they include what you would consider FPS standards — warehouses, office buildings and the sort. They’re well designed but nothing spectacular, with each offering their own unique features to accommodate firefights of all sorts. You’ll want to quickly discover your favorite attack strategies, as each map has pinch points you’ll either want to avoid completely, or charge in with guns ablazing.

Modern Strike Online does include in-app purchases to expedite weapon upgrades, but it feels balanced enough that you never feel totally outgunned by someone who’s simply paying to win.

Looking at the different game modes available, Modern Strike Online really shines in team-based combat. While a lack of in-game communication hinders team strategizing, you’re always able to see where you’re teammates are, allowing you to rush in for support when they’re under fire, or sneak into an area you know is overrun by the enemy. The maps are perfectly sized for 4 vs. 4 team battles, whereas things often feel a bit too frantic in free-for-all battles with a full slate of opponents.

Modern Strike Online does include in-app purchases to expedite weapon upgrades, but it feels balanced enough that you never feel totally outgunned by someone who’s simply paying to win — though it’s worth noting that an innocuous upgrade like the flashlight actually ends up being one of the more frustrating distractions in the heat of battle, regardless of the gun it’s attached to. The in-game currencies are credits and gold. You earn credits based on your performance in each match, and can also unlock both credits and gold from crates and daily rewards for checking into the game each day. You’ll also occasionally unlock a premium weapon in a crate, which will be available to you for an hour or a day depending on how lucky you are. It’s a well designed system that’s streamlined and perfect for mobile gaming where you won’t necessarily be settling in for marathon gaming sessions. The cost for restocking grenades and health kits is also quite reasonable, and something you can do during a round while waiting to respawn.

Speaking of crates, they’re used perfectly in Modern Strike Online to keep you checking to the game to open the free crates you unlock every four hours. Occasionally, you’ll be rewarded with limited time usage of a rare or legendary weapon, which not only helps you dominate the opposition for a set period, but also gives you an opportunity to try out expensive guns before investing your hard-earned credits. Also, an hour with a M4A1 is just a really satisfying reward.

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First-person shooters on Android always require a certain level of compromise to properly enjoy. If there’s still a debate raging between console and PC gamers over which is the superior platform, mobile gaming is still trying to muscle their way into that conversation. Compared to precise control and response you get from a keyboard and mouse combo, and the ergonomic design of modern console controllers, controlling the action via touch screen are almost always lacking.

But Modern Strike Online does the work to quell those frustrations starting in the settings menu. From tweaking control sensitivity, toggling aiming assistant, and customizing the on-screen button layout, it allows you to make the most out of the touch screen controls. I personally have no issue with touch screen controls for FPS, so it wasn’t a distraction in my enjoyment of the game (and yet, my kill-to-death ratio remains abysmal).

If playing with friends is your top priority, Modern Strike Online delivers with the previously mentioned custom matches, which friends can join by looking for the unique game number. There’s also the option of spending gold to create your own clan, complete with custom tag, so you and your friends can show solidarity while battling online.

Overall, Modern Strike Online looks and plays like a paid game, making it an absolute must play. Instead of spending effort on developing an offline campaign with a linear story and weak AI, Modern Strike Online goes all-in on creating a fast-paced and addictive multiplayer experience that really shines on Android.

Bottom Line: The developers behind Modern Strike Online set out to replicate Counter-Strike for smartphones, and in doing so created one of the best FPS you’ll find for Android. If you’ve been searching for a reliably awesome FPS multiplayer experience to play when you’re on the go, Modern Strike Online is the game you’ve been waiting for.

Download: Modern Strike Online (Free)

9
Dec

Nomad PowerPack Review: A High-Quality Battery Pack With Tile Location Tracking


Nomad has been a well-known third-party Apple accessory manufacturer for a few years, creating leather cases for iPhones and iPads, Apple Watch bands, and battery packs that integrate directly into charging cables. The company’s newest product is the $99.95 Nomad Advanced Trackable PowerPack, a 9,000 mAh mobile battery that is built with Nomad’s usual “ultra-rugged construction,” with an added bonus of Tile integration so users don’t have to worry about misplacing the PowerPack.

Design

The PowerPack is created out of a durable, polycarbonate frame that Nomad says is inspired by the manufacturing processes found in industry-leading, drop-resistant iPhone cases. Living up to the company’s adventure-focused mission statement, the PowerPack has an added layer of thermoplastic polyurethane, which gives the PowerPack its ultra-rugged, grippy feel.

The quality of Nomad’s PowerPack is the accessory’s first noticeable advantage: the raised texture that houses most of the pack is satisfying to grip, and the smooth section in the center — with the Nomad logo — provides a natural groove to place a thumb when handling the PowerPack. The downside of the texture is that it is definitely a dust and debris magnet, as can be seen in the pictures I took for the review, which represent the cleanest state I could get it in.

For ports, the device comes with two fast-charging 3.0A USB-C ports (one to charge the PowerPack, one to charge a separate device), and one 2.4A USB-A port that supports all of the standard-issue USB charge cables that come with most smartphones and tablets. In the box, customers will get a USB-C to USB-A cable to recharge the PowerPack, but they will have to provide their own smartphone charging cables.

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In between the three ports is an LED indicator that uses three dots to display battery levels of the PowerPack’s 9,000 mAh battery, with a button underneath to bring the LEDs to life, and on the very right of the pack’s front is a button to sync with the Tile app. The opposite side of the PowerPack is coated with a glossy black surface, and its underside has the usual model number readouts and device information.

Performance

The battery performance of Nomad’s PowerPack proved to be reliable over the weekend as I tested it out. Starting at around an average of 21 percent battery life on my iPhone 6s Plus, the PowerPack topped off the iPhone to the mid-90 percent range three full times. The PowerPack finally died mid-way through the fourth charge (my iPhone climbing from 20 percent to 45 percent), meaning that Nomad’s promise of 3.5 charges is pretty much exact.

The 2.4 amps of the USB-A port means that the iPhone also charges a bit faster than Apple’s current 1A iPhone charger. It’s more along the lines of charging an iPhone with an iPad’s wall charger, which are up to 2.4A with the newest generation of Apple’s tablets.

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Nomad’s advertising is for the iPhone 7, but the slight difference in battery capacities should mean that the PowerPack performs comparatively for iPhone 7 owners as it did for me. For comparison’s sake, the iPhone 6s Plus has a 2,750 mAh battery, while the iPhone 7 Plus has a 2,900 mAh battery. For the 4.7-inch models, the iPhone 6s has a 1,715 mAh battery and the iPhone 7 has a 1,960 mAh battery. Suffice it to say that any owners of the smaller-screen iPhones will have plenty of opportunities for recharging their devices to capacity, while iPhone 7 Plus users should eke out exactly 3 full charges from Nomad’s PowerPack.

My only real complaint with the PowerPack’s design is that it’s sometimes cumbersome to judge the battery level when multiple cables are sticking out of the pack. At one point I had both a USB and USB-C cable plugged into the PowerPack, and having to angle everything to tap the battery level button became quite finicky. Although the innards of the PowerPack’s design most likely excuse every port and button being located on one panel, having at least the LED on the opposite side of the case would have made the PowerPack more user-friendly.

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In regards to USB-C charging, the only relevant device I own is an early-2015 MacBook, which isn’t exactly in the target group of products compatible with the PowerPack’s 9,000 mAh battery capacity. Nomad says that with the growing adoption of USB-C, the PowerPack will work “well into the future,” but many Android smartphones out now could use the port, including Google’s Pixel Phone. There’s also the option of purchasing a USB-C to Lightning cable, which Apple sells, to turn the PowerPack into a dual-charging iPhone system.

A smaller, but admittedly useful feature is called AmbientIQ and it reads the light levels of wherever the user is currently located, and adjusts the battery LEDs appropriately. This way battery life can be confirmed in bright sunlight or, to Nomad’s point, remain at low levels in a dimly lit room while the PowerPack is charging at night (the LEDs remain on constantly while the pack charges, but otherwise turn on at user discretion while out and about). As someone who has come to figure out crafty ways to block out the electronic lights of everything from my router to my television’s HDMI splitter, the PowerPack’s included AmbientIQ solution was useful and welcome.

Tile

For those who haven’t heard of Tile, the company’s line of small, Bluetooth-enabled tracking devices lets users easily find misplaced keys, backpacks, laptops, tablets, and more. Tile sells the Tile Mate as the main keychain accessory and Tile Slim for wallets and laptop cases, and now the Nomad PowerPack comes with Tile’s integrated iPhone-connected tracking technology. Because of its integration into Nomad’s rechargeable pack, users also won’t have to worry about Tile’s “reTile” program, which offers discounts on the trackers when they lose battery after about a year.

I had never used Tile before testing the PowerPack, and I’ve come to enjoy the Bluetooth-tracking system, although there are some hurdles to its setup. Out of the box, the PowerPack refused to sync with the iOS Tile app, which I eventually remedied by juicing up the PowerPack from its low battery shipping state. Even with a full charge, it still took a few tries, but my iPhone eventually recognized the PowerPack and began tracking it.

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The Tile app works by presenting each Tile in a list, which can be expanded with a map view showing all of the last known locations of the trackers. Users can “ring” each Tile when they get near it — sort of like how Apple Watch can blast a connected iPhone when it’s lost — and also use a circular grid that fills up when they’re hot on the Tile’s trail, and loses segments as they get colder.

I’m not one to continually misplace my electronics, but in the week I’ve been using the PowerPack and Tile I’ve come to enjoy the backup safety net that the latter company offers with its partnership with Nomad. The circular tracking feature is neat and largely accurate, and the loud ringtones (five are available to choose from) are clear and distinct. If I were to ever misplace the PowerPack, I’m confident Tile would help greatly in recovering it, battery levels of the PowerPack permitting.

Bottom Line

The biggest drawback of the PowerPack is its $99.95 price tag, which is likely raised due to the integration with Tile. Around that battery capacity range, there are a few low-cost alternatives by companies like Anker, which sells a 10,000 mAh battery pack for $49.99 (although it’s discounted to as low as around $20 now). Users willing to spend $100 can also get much more capacity from Mophie, a popular battery pack and smartphone case manufacturer, which sells the Powerstation XXL at the same price as the PowerPack for double the capacity at 20,000 mAh.

If you’re not someone who consistently finds themselves losing electronics, then Tile’s services, while noble and mostly functional, can feel superfluous. Those users should probably look elsewhere for a more bang-for-your-buck battery pack option. However, if Bluetooth tracking is a legitimately enticing addition to a mobile battery in your eyes, the Nomad PowerPack is a dependable solution, and could end up being a lifesaver for some.

Pros
– Charges 5.5-inch iPhone ~3X, 4.7-inch iPhone ~5X
– Durable, grippy construction
– AmbientIQ
– Tile will be useful for some

Cons
– On the other hand, Tile will be pointless for others
– High price for middle-tier capacity
– Slightly cluttered port side

Where to Buy

The Nomad PowerPack can be purchased from hellonomad.com for $99.95, with current orders estimated to begin shipping after Christmas on December 30.

Tag: Nomad
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17
Nov

Microsoft Surface Studio Reviews: Apple Fans Might Be ‘Tempted to Switch Camps’, Despite High Price


A few weeks after Microsoft unveiled the Surface Studio to the public at a media event in New York City, a few websites have begun publishing the first reviews for Microsoft’s new desktop PC/tablet hybrid. During its announcement in October, the Surface Studio was revealed to have a 12.5mm thin touch screen, with a 28-inch PixelSense Display that packs in 13.5 million pixels. Microsoft said that there’s “no monitor like this on the planet.”

The first reviews of the Surface Studio are largely positive, with many reviewers enamored with the computer’s large screen and slick design, as well as its purpose to fulfill and enhance productivity for creatives. However, in line with the unrest over the price of the new MacBook Pros, most of the people who have been reviewing the Surface Studio for the past week admit the $3,000 price tag is one that prohibits casual users and sets an entry bar for serious power users only.

Images via Engadget
The Verge began by looking at the 28-inch display, which was described as “truly one of the best desktop monitors I’ve ever used.” Everything from plain text to videos were said to look great on the screen, and even the 3:2 aspect ratio for the desktop monitor produced better environments for reading and writing, according to the site.

The Verge also had a freelance illustrator test out the Surface Studio, and they came away largely impressed, but hoped future iterations introduced a rotating display, more ergonomic stylus, and new input options for the Surface Dial accessory. Although a slight mention, one of the site’s minor annoyances was the way the Surface Dial slipped down the screen slowly when not being cradled by the user’s hand, even at the computer’s lowest 20-degree angle.


The Verge concluded its review comparing the Surface Studio to the current lineup and ecosystem of Apple products. The site said that while Microsoft’s device won’t be invading the homes of die-hard Apple fans just yet, the fact that the Surface Studio even hints at that possibility “is remarkable.” For that reason, the site admitted purchasing a $3,000 computer just for fun doodling tools in your spare time is illogical, but those Apple fans who could gain the most out of Microsoft’s hardware “might well be tempted to switch camps.”

Many creatives I’ve spoken to about the Surface Studio have said the same thing: why isn’t Apple doing this? Apple seems to be forcing creatives to choose an iPad Pro for touch and pen, but the powerful and professional apps just aren’t there yet on iOS, and it’s not clear if companies like Adobe are willing to rewrite their software to be just as useful on an iPad Pro. Microsoft has realized the potential in the market to reach out to creatives who feel abandoned by Apple, and it’s an influential crowd that could be swayed over by devices like the Surface Studio.

The fact that Microsoft is even being considered an alternative to Apple’s line of machines for creatives is not something anyone, not even Microsoft, was expecting for the Surface devices. The Surface Studio won’t take over Mac-focused design houses just yet, but that it’s even a possibility is remarkable. The Studio is special because it knows exactly what it is and who it’s for — and it’s largely spot on. If Microsoft keeps developing its strengths here, some of Apple’s most loyal customers might well be tempted to switch camps.

Engadget called the Surface Studio “the most interesting computer released this year,” thanks in part to the fact that its zero gravity hinge gimmick “is actually useful.” The site tested the top-of-the-line $4,200 tier, which includes a 2.7GHz Core i7 6820HQ CPU, 32GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and 2TB HDD, and a NVIDIA GTX 980M graphics with 4GB of VRAM, and admitted “it was one of the most powerful PCs I’ve ever tested.”

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The Surface Studio is also a good-enough gaming alternative, although it isn’t entirely up to the task of most high-end gaming PCs, with Engadget noting that the computer scored 20 percent lower than the Radeon RX 480 GPU, as an anecdotal comparison. The computer still managed to run a few games at playable speeds, including Overwatch (60 frames per second in 1080p with high settings) and Gears of War 4 (50 frames per second with medium settings).

The Surface Studio is both familiar and new. It empowers us to work the way we always have, while also giving us entirely new modes of productivity. Personally, that’s a philosophy I can get behind — especially when compared with Apple’s habit of pushing consumers down new roads that aren’t necessarily improvements (hello, dongle life). But the Surface Studio’s high price and lack of expandability could make it a tough sell for an already niche market, especially for people already devoted to their Wacom tablets.

CNET also asked some creative professionals to try out the Surface Studio and got their opinions on the machine. Creative director Nick Cogan, who’s helped to illustrate and design films like Ice Age and Rio, said that the Surface Studio was a “great” drawing tool that could stimulate workflow and ultimately be a nice main device for professional work after the initial learning curve. But, like CNET described in its review, Cogan wasn’t sure if the hardware of the Surface Studio was enough of an excuse to get over the Windows-based software.

The bigger challenge may be getting creative professionals to invest in such a high-end, high-price piece of gear, as many of them are creatures of habit, tied to familiar tools and hardware. As Cogan told us, “I think the big barrier is going to be that it’s Windows-based, and so many people in the creative fields are really already decades down using Macs.” But, he adds, “As a drawing tool, this is great, it’s a lot of fun.”

If you can afford it, and your profession aligns with Microsoft’s intent to catalyze passion and ingenuity within creatives, the review consensus on the Surface Studio is largely suggesting a purchase. Those who are interested can order the computer from Microsoft’s online store, although following initial pre-orders the Surface Studio’s shipping estimate has now been pushed back to early 2017.

The cheapest model of Surface Studio includes an Intel Core i5 processor, 1TB hybrid drive, 8GB RAM, and a 2GB GPU for $2,999. That jumps up to $3,499 for an Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB RAM, with the top-of-the-line model running for $4,199 with a 2TB hybrid drive, i7 processor, 32GB RAM, and 4GB GPU. The Surface Dial comes packaged-in for pre-order customers who order the computer before December 1, but after that date it will cost $99 sold separately.

Tags: Microsoft, Microsoft Surface Studio
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3
Nov

Google Home Reviews: Handsome Design Not Enough to Outweigh ‘Rough Around the Edges’ Feel


Reviews for Google’s new smart home speaker system, Google Home, have released this morning, bringing a collection of opinions about the newest entry in the wireless Bluetooth speaker category, which Apple is rumored to be entering in the future. Google originally introduced Google Home at its I/O Conference in May, and then officially announced it alongside the Pixel Phone at an event in October.

The first batch of reviews for Google Home appear to mostly align with a single opinion: the speaker is an impressive addition to the home, but in some ways it’s less reliable, and its Google Assistant-powered AI doesn’t beat Amazon’s Alexa in most instances. As is usual with a new product category gaining entries from various companies, the decision rests solely on personal preference of which company each user believes will deliver the best experience, and iterate most consistently down the line.

Images via Engadget
That’s the way that Wired began its review for Google Home, which it says can sometimes feel “like sci-fi magic,” and other times is simply unreliable. The sci-fi magic comes in with Google Assistant, which Wired says provides smart search results for random inquiries (“What’s the difference between acetaminophen and ibuprofen?”), but other times was “shockingly stupid,” fumbling movie release date trivia and other questions.

Ultimately, Wired found that Google Home was “a lot simpler” and less intuitive than the futuristic advertising Google is generating for the device. The site said that Google Home has great potential, particularly in upcoming features like voice-recognized user profiles, deeper connections with Pixel Phone, and the introduction of more third-party support. For now, it’ll depend on user preference for each company — Google or Amazon — since the speakers align so closely in most areas.

Someday, assuming Google keeps caring about Home, I suspect the device will be more like the ad. It’ll be smart and integrated enough to know that your flight is delayed and change your dinner reservation, to turn on all the lights in your house, to tell you how to get to work, to teach your kids about the world, and all the rest. Right now, it’s simpler than that. Like, a lot simpler.

Both devices are excellent, both have bright futures, both are increasingly essential parts of your household. I bought a Home because I like the design, and I like the sound quality. If you buy an Echo because you love your Sonos and don’t trust Google with your data, you’ll be perfectly happy as well.

The Verge continued this “rough around the edges” sentiment in its review, liking the way that Google Home could carry on a casual conversation, asking about Abraham Lincoln, in a way that Echo could not. But the device’s Google Assistant felt like it’s “still in its very early days,” with inconsistent responses from a dual-speaker set-up, “fuzzy” speaker quality, and limited single account support. The site has “no doubt it will improve,” but early adopters should be aware of the bumpy road ahead.

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Google Home also “looks a lot better than the Echo,” The Verge believed, with a softer white design that meshes better with most home decor than Amazon Echo’s tall black cylinder. The interchangeable bottom plates (for $20 extra each) also add to a better overall design that could be a sole selling point for some users who prefer to look at Google Home daily over Echo.

To paraphrase Google’s own CEO, Sundar Pichai, artificial intelligence is still in its very early days. And, in my opinion, Google Home shows that. I have no doubt it will improve. But I was surprised that Google Home arrived so rough around the edges, especially when it had an existing competitive product to learn from, and an unmatched wealth of data to draw upon.

Like a dominating batter in a tight World Series game, you kind of expect Google to hit a game-winning homer. But it merely hit a double, and the contest is still very much on.

One of the biggest categories that Google Home lags behind in out of the gate, according to Engadget, is third-party support. At launch, it can control devices from Nest, Hue, IFTTT, and SmartThings, but Amazon’s list stretches far beyond that, now including various “skills” that developers can update on Echo with new commands on a weekly basis. On the other hand, for users who are baked into the Google ecosystem, Engadget said “this might indeed be the home assistant for you.”

Right now, however, it’s little more than a toy. It’s fun and occasionally very convenient to ask it questions and have it perform simple tasks, but it’s hardly an essential part of my life. But Google Home is worth keeping an eye on — it will almost certainly be more capable in three months (or even three weeks) than it is now.

If you’re someone who loves tapping into Google’s mighty store of knowledge, don’t sleep on Google Home. Just as the Echo got smarter and more valuable over time, I expect the same will happen here. And if you’ve already bought into Google’s ecosystem, this might indeed be the home assistant for you.

Wired’s advice appears to represent the back-and-forth nature of most Google Home reviews: it’s a decent addition into a category that is only increasing in relevance and importance. “There’s only one mistake you can make, really,” the site summed up at the end of its review. “Not letting a smart speaker into your home at all. These things are great, and they’re only getting better.”

For more reviews and opinions on Google Home, check out the coverage from these sites:

– TechnoBuffalo
– Business Insider
– CNN
– USA Today
– Mashable
– Time
– TechCrunch

Tag: Google Home
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22
Oct

PlayStation VR Review: Something great for everyone


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Sony has created something that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts, and in some cases will improve over time.

Pros

  • The most comfortable headset yet
  • Comparably inexpensive
  • Healthy software ecosystem

Cons

  • Mediocre controllers
  • 180-degree rotation isn’t great
  • Game setup is occasionally obnoxious

Thoroughly well executed

PlayStation VR Full Review

There’s a big gap between smartphone-based VR and desktop-based VR. The most you’ll pay for great smartphone-based VR is around $100, and desktop-based VR can get as high as $900. This is separate from the cost of the hardware that powers these headsets, too, which starts at around $600 for phones and can be more than twice that for a good gaming PC. While it’s true you can do a lot more with phones and computers, the point is the gap between these two categories of VR is significant. Sony saw this gap, and now owns it with a VR headset of their own.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the most popular game console on the planet right now, and its new VR headset needs little more than this console to function. This decision to go as populist as possible raised several concerns about how capable a relatively underpowered living room console would compare to high-end PCs with Vive Ready stickers on them. Those concerns became heightened with the PlayStation 4 Pro announcement, which isn’t available until well after the initial launch of this particular VR headset.

So here we are, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR, together. Sony has a game lineup including titles from all over the VR world as well as exclusive features from the world of Batman and eventual titles with names like Star Trek, Resident Evil, and Tomb Raider. In a world where VR is heavily criticized for lacking “AAA” games, it’s clear Sony wants to head into the holiday season with a comparably inexpensive offering that includes recognizable brands. All Sony needs to do is deliver something that works well enough to compete with those top industry names.

About this review

I have been using PlayStation VR with a slim PlayStation 4 connected to Verizon FiOS. The headset has been used by 15 people across seven days, with the reviewer totaling 45 hours of gameplay inside the headset.

Comfy, and not hideous

PlayStation VR Hardware

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While VR headsets are not a new thing, this new generation of face gadgets features many companies that are quite new to designing things you wear over your eyeballs. Sony is not one of those companies. In fact, it has been building head-mounted displays for all kinds of things over the last 15 years. It’s entirely likely you’ve never seen or heard of these headsets, due to the combination of how expensive they have been and the purposes they served. That extensive lineage gives Sony a unique upper hand in designing a headset for gaming, resulting in the single most comfortable VR headset you can but today.

Your standard VR headset in 2016 hugs your face from front to back with elastic straps. This keeps the display firmly positioned over your eyes, and lets you move around in the real world quite a bit. Sony took a different approach, making it so the headset itself is never actually touching your face. Instead of thick straps or rigid side rails, Sony uses a halo design that wraps around the top of your head. That halo creates an anchor that allows the display to hang down in front of your eyes without being tightly pressed to your skin. The weight is nicely balanced across your head, and you can still move around quite a bit.

This headset isn’t just more comfortable, it takes noticeably less effort to put on and use. The lack of straps makes it so you just press a button on the back of the halo and pull. The two plastic sides stretch, allowing you to position it from the top of your forehead to the back of your head.

This headset isn’t just more comfortable than Oculus and Vive, it takes noticeably less effort to put on and use.

A simple turn of the knob under this button creates a firm grip on your head, and you’re ready to go. There’s no concern about prescription glasses fitting in the headset, no worry that your eyelid may smudge the lenses by being pressed too close, and the lightweight rubber shield on the outside of the headset keeps out nearly as much light as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

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PlayStation VR tracks your position in the room through the PlayStation Camera. It’s a simple bar with two camera sensors, something Sony has been using and selling for years. Much like the old PlayStation Move controllers, the headset emits an electric blue light from all four corners of the headset and two spots on the halo. The camera reads that light and determines your position. This configuration is limited to a six-foot space from your television, and while it is possible to turn around without encountering any problems with tracking, most games prefer you be facing the television for most of the excitement. Easily the most impressive part of this setup is how well it works in any lighting condition.

The Move controllers are straight out of 2010. Literally.

The Launch Bundle includes a PlayStation Camera and a pair of PlayStation Move controllers, and only the camera has been recently updated. The Move controllers are straight out of 2010, complete with the old PS Move logo where your thumb rests and Mini-USB ports for charging.

The controllers are comfortable enough to hold, and the rubber tip means you’re less likely to hurt someone if you accidentally clip them while swinging at an enemy, but they’re undeniably less functional than their HTC Vive and Oculus Touch counterparts. If you turn around and have your back face the camera, there’s a decent chance your controllers will stop being tracked. The battery in these controllers is also pretty bad, often lasting only three hours before needing to be recharged.

Adding PlayStation VR to your PlayStation 4 means you’re gaining a number of new wires. You need to run an HDMI cable from the PS4 to the PSVR sync box, and then another HDMI cable from the sync box to the television. The sync box needs its own power outlet, and there are cables coming out of the front of this box to connect to your PlayStation VR. The headset itself has a jack for headphones since you can’t use wireless headphones, and the PlayStation Camera needs to be connected to the PlayStation 4. Finally, you have a USB cable connecting the PS4 to the sync box. This isn’t a huge deal once it is all set up, but your cable management skills will be tested if you want your entertainment center to look nice after this has all been set up.

Sony’s overall design deserves the praise it has received so far.

PlayStation VR isn’t just functional and comfortable, it’s the closest ting to stylish we’ve seen in a VR headset so far. The matte black plastic and rubber against the matte white plastic doesn’t look bad sitting on a side table, and when the bright blue lights fire up it looks straight out of the future. Sony’s overall design deserves the praise it has received so far, even if it leaves those of us who play in other forms of VR wishing the motion controllers had been updated to better match the headset.

Pushing the limits

PlayStation VR Software

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From the moment you put the headset on, it’s clear Sony built PlayStation VR to be an extension of PlayStation 4. There’s no 360-degree library with a roaring fire or a shooting star against a night sky with floating game titles for you to interact with. You get the PlayStation 4 menu system, hovering in front of you courtesy of what Sony calls Cinematic Mode. A large, virtual screen floats in front of you, ready to do anything you want. Movies, non-VR PS4 games, web browsing, you name it. Anything passed through the HDMI port in the back of the sync box can be displayed in Cinematic Mode, which is basically a big curved window in a black void. It’s a little on the cold side, but you’re here to jump into games and not much else.

At the end of the day, PlayStation VR delivers what it was built to deliver. This is a VR gaming platform, plain and simple.

When you do decide to play a game, your first task is to confirm calibration with the camera by positioning yourself in the small box presented in the middle of your virtual display. This frequently means you have to move your body into position instead of remaining comfortably seated, but it’s the best way Sony has to make sure you’re going to have the best experience when the VR environment begins to fill the world around you. It’s a mildly frustrating when you’re already seated and comfortable, but worth it once the game starts.

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Sony’s launch lineup is fantastic, and none of these games skip a beat. Batman: Arkham VR is exceptional, if a little brief. Eve: Valkyrie is just as beautiful and fun here as it is on the significantly more powerful Oculus Rift. The whole lineup is well formed and highly functional. No tracking issues, no lag, and the unique design of Sony’s display means you’re way less likely to notice any screen door effect while playing the games. There’s a healthy mix of indie titles too, including standing and moving games from HTC Vive like Job Simulator and The Brookhaven Experiment. Or, if you’d prefer not bother with a gamepad or move controllers, you can jam out to Headmaster with just your head and have some fun in a creepy soccer camp.

Read more: The best PlayStation VR games

One thing you will notice once someone starts playing games in PlayStation VR is the resolution hit PlayStation 4 takes on your television. The image everyone outside the VR headset sees is very low resolution, and quite grainy as well. It’s reasonable to assume this will be less of an issue with the more capable PlayStation 4 Pro, and to be clear it doesn’t affect gameplay or visual quality inside the headset at all. Once you turn PlayStation VR off, the same crisp experience you’re used to returns to the television.

At the end of the day, PlayStation VR delivers what it was built to deliver. This is a VR gaming platform, plain and simple. There’s no grand effort to create unique social experiences in VR, no effort to perfect a full room VR environment, and no grand illusion about its purpose in medicine or science. This is a way to take your gaming experience further through immersion. Sometimes that means standing up and throwing paper airplanes at floating robots, and sometimes that means looking to your left and right to really feel like you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of a very fast car. Immersion through storytelling is something game developers have gotten very good at over the last 10 years, and with PlayStation VR there’s an opportunity to pull the user in even deeper.

Exactly what it needs to be

PlayStation VR Experience

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My perspective when it comes to VR experiences is wildly different from most. I have access to every form of VR available today. I regularly host parties where friends come and play a few VR games over drinks. I’m always looking for the next great 360-degree video, and not because I write about VR all day. I love the immersion. I love the stories being told in this new format, and I love watching this community of VR users grow at such an exciting pace. It’s a real thrill for someone like me.

But I’ve never considered parking VR in my living room and keeping it there until PlayStation VR. I’m fortunate enough to have a separate space for VR, but I don’t feel compelled to move my PS4 to that space. There’s an inherently social aspect to playing these games in a room full of friends and family who can watch what is happening on the television as you play. While it could be argued that you can accomplish the same by connecting a gaming PC to your television, that quickly becomes a lot more complicated when something goes wrong. Plain and simple, Windows isn’t great when used from your couch with a gamepad. PlayStation 4 is. That helps make PlayStation VR a lot more living room friendly, which is a big deal.

Sony has created a VR system that is cheaper, more comfortable, and more stylish than anything else in its class.

None of the games I’ve played so far have blown me away, but they’ve all been great. Sony and its partners aren’t really pushing the envelope in any way when you’re in the games themselves, but it’s also not really necessary that they do so. PlayStation VR is being fuelled by familiar content, some thanks to exclusives and some thanks to existing VR developers moving their creations to this new headset. This isn’t new in that it should be considered as somehow better than Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, which is significant. PlayStation VR is an exercise in consumer adoption by focusing on pricing and availability, and the overall experience is more than good enough for most people who want to enjoy VR.

Still, there are some clear pain points that Sony and its software partners could stand to work on. The Brookhaven Experiment features a 180-degree rotation button that didn’t exist in the original version to make it easier for people to turn all the way around when you’re shooting zombies. It’s a clever enough fix for a lack of full room tracking, but it’s also incredibly disorienting to jump around like that in VR.

The PlayStation Move controllers can’t be used to fully navigate system menus, so you have to switch between holding the two plastic sticks and holding the gamepad while you have a headset on and can’t actually look down to see either. PlayStation Move isn’t a requirement for every game, but it’s used frequently enough that they should be a little better integrated into the overall experience.

The $500 question

PlayStation VR The Bottom Line

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Sony has created a VR system that is cheaper, more comfortable, and more stylish than anything else in its class. That last part is the most interesting, because Sony is managing to do all of this with six year-old motion tracking tech in a game console that was graphically outdated when it launched — at least by PC gaming standards. Yet somehow, it delivers experiences that walk right up to what the considerably more expensive HTC Vive and Oculus Rift offer. That’s not to say PlayStation VR is as capable as these two desktop-based VR experiences, but it’s close enough that a whole lot of people aren’t going to see the value in buying and maintaining the equipment needed to say they have the best. And yeah, you can watch porn on it.

Sony has created a VR system that is cheaper, more comfortable, and more stylish than anything else in its class.

It’s also important to look at the games Sony has available for PlayStation VR, because that’s going to be a very big deal over the next year. Oculus and HTC have worked hard to deliver platforms for developers to create great new things, but Sony’s efforts with AAA publishers are going to turn heads. Names like Batman and Lara Croft sell consoles, and when you show someone they can be these characters in VR it sells headsets. It’s just as important that Sony continue to attract indie developers as well, if for no other reason than those simple and comparably inexpensive experiences are frequently the best ways to introduce friends and family to VR.

Is this the best VR headset out there? Not if you care about full room tracking or the most capable hand controls or the best possible graphics. If you care about having a great time on your couch with your friends, and you want to do so on a budget, there’s a good chance your answer will be yes.

Should you buy it? Absolutely

PlayStation VR is just plain fun, and it’s considerably less expensive without a lot of functional sacrifice. If you want fun VR right now, and you already own a PlayStation 4, this is an obvious choice.

See on Amazon

11
Oct

Review: Sennheiser’s PXC 550 Wireless Headphones Should Put Bose on Notice


Last month we looked at Bose’s wireless QuietComfort 35 noise-canceling headphones ($350) and came away with the feeling that – at least for those willing or able to test premium waters – Bluetooth-based audio fulfillment was finally a possibility.

So it would be remiss not to turn next to rival premium headphone maker and well-regarded German audio company Sennheiser to see what it has to offer in the wireless noise-canceling space.

Sennheiser has dipped its toes into the NC market before with the PXC 250-ii, PXC 450, and its lauded wireless Momentum series, but the firm announced its flagship PXC 550 travel cans ($400) in an almost direct response to Bose’s QuietComfort transition to Bluetooth, which makes comparisons here inevitable. First though let’s look at the design and features of the PXC 550 headphones on their own terms.

Design and Features

The PXC 550 headphones come with a sturdy semicircular carry case, a micro-USB cable for charging, a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable for wired mode featuring an inline mic, a travel adapter, and a full-size headphone jack adapter.

PXC 550
The matte-black headphones look classy and elegant, with silver metal details that mark out the micro-grilles of four noise-canceling mics and accentuate the earcups’ oval shape.

The hinged pivots form part of a collapsible frame that folds flat for stowing in the travel case. It’s a solid, well-built design – which is just as well, because turning the earcups from a flat to an inward facing position powers the headphones on and reversing the action turns them off, so users will be doing this quite a lot.

PXC 550
The right earcup is where all the functionality lives: there’s a Bluetooth on/off switch; a separate switch to turn noise canceling on/off or enable adaptive ANC mode; a combined pairing and “Effect Mode” button; a three-mic array for speech during calls; and the aforementioned power switch built into the hinge.

PXC 550
On top of that, the back of the right earcup is sensitive to touch gestures, allowing you to control volume (slide a finger up/down) and playback (tap to play/pause, slide forward/backward to skip/go back a track), as well as to take and end calls. There’s also a micro USB charging port and a 2.5mm connector on the rim for the included headphone cable.

Battery life is stated as 30 hours wired and 20 hours wireless, both with ANC enabled, and the charging time is three hours. These extremely impressive times turned out to be very accurate in subsequent tests, especially given the expected differences in volume preference and the ANC’s variable response to changes in ambient noise. The battery though is not user-replaceable – the headphones need to be sent back to Sennheiser for a replacement installation.

PXC 550
The headphones connect using Bluetooth 4.2 or NFC on supporting devices. There’s a TalkThrough feature that makes it easier to hear someone speaking to you without taking off the headphones, and a built-in limiter to guard against sudden, extreme sound peaks. The PXC 550’s also save pairing profiles for up to eight devices. Lastly, there’s built-in support for the aptX codec, used for streaming 16-bit audio over Bluetooth connections (more on this below).

Performance

The PXC 550’s went into automatic pairing mode when I first turned them on. A series of LEDs on the earcup flashed in a running sequence as a female voice identified my iPhone as “Phone 1” and paired with it with no issues. I held down the Effect Mode button for four seconds to activate pairing mode again, as described in the Quick Start guide, and connected the headphones to my Mac (“Phone 2”). Switching between them was seamless and automatic, and simply depended on whichever device in proximity was playing audio at the time. The connection also remained strong throughout.

PXC 550
Headphone touch controls can be a hit and miss affair, ranging from the overly sensitive, to the just plain awkward to use. Sennheiser’s implementation sits at the middle of the scale because of the limited egg-shaped gesture surface. It’s another feature people have to try themselves to make a judgement, but I got on with them fine – my only gripe is that the levels of volume aren’t granular enough for my liking, and once or twice I found my finger reaching for my iPhone to adjust it more carefully instead.

PXC 550
The manual lists a bunch of gestures beyond the ones noted above. For instance, if you receive a call while you’re listening to music on your iPhone, you can transfer the call from the headphones to the phone by tapping and holding the earcup for a second. This lets you continue with the call if you don’t fancy wearing the headphones while chatting on the phone, while the aforementioned TalkThrough feature for chatting with someone in the same room is a double-tap away.

Elsewhere, swiping back and holding the gesture pad activates Siri, and tapping and holding for about four seconds gives you a quick battery status update. I seldom used these gestures, but the fact that they exist shows just how much thought has gone into the touch functions.

PXC 550The PXC 550’s in the worn “Power On” position (left); and laid flat to “Power Off”.
What impressed me more though was the rotating earcup power toggle. When I first started using the headphones, I actually didn’t like it much, and missed the binary certainty that comes with a classic on/off switch. But it didn’t take long for me to remember to lay them flat when I removed them, and after a while I thought it made a lot of sense.

Taking the headphones out of the carry case or picking them up from a flat orientation and putting them on… turns them on. And vice versa. Two steps combined in a single action. That the cans automatically connect with the last two paired devices when they power up – and each step is accompanied with an audible voice prompt – makes this an intuitive solution.

In terms of comfort, after a few hours’ use, I felt the PXC 550’s were on par with Bose’s QC35’s. Both headphones are fantastic to wear. True, the room within Sennheiser’s softly padded cups aren’t as wide in comparison, but the QC35’s are very spacious to begin with. My ears aren’t huge though – bigger lugs may find the reduced confines too close (or too warm) for comfort. Make sure you try them on first to check the fit.

PXC 550
As for the audio, the mid-range bass of the PXC 550’s is slightly more pronounced than the QC35’s. It’s more energetic and forward, but not in the artificial-sounding way that’s often associated with early Beats headphones, for example. It’s a thumping bass, but it doesn’t dominate the soundstage, which remains wide and detailed.

Overall I found the audio better than Bose’s ANC headphones. These closed-back cans offer what you might call a more “warm” sound, with a little less emphasis on the upper mid range, but a remarkably vibrant overall signature that works well with vocals, too. They sounded lively in both active and passive modes, with or without noise cancelation, and the customizable effect modes – club, movie, and speech – offered very decent alternative signatures for different listening scenarios.

PXC 550
There’s been some heated debate amongst noise-canceling connoisseurs about whether the PXC 550’s ANC is as good as or marginally weaker than the Bose QC35’s.

Having now tested both headphones side by side when no music is playing and in the exact same conditions, I honestly cannot tell the difference between them. This included wearing them while traveling by train, by plane, and while sitting in a living room with a dehumidifier humming away in the background. The only noticeable change came when I switched to the PXC 550’s adaptive ANC mode, which ever so slightly lags as it compensates for variations in ambient noise when you’re on the move. Otherwise, Sennheiser’s NoiseGard Hybrid technology is practically indistinguishable to Bose’s own patented ANC as far as this reviewer is concerned.

aptx codec
Another feature worth dwelling on is the PXC 550’s aptX support, which means they can wirelessly stream 16-bit audio, or what is roughly considered “CD-quality”. Sadly, none of Apple’s mobile devices currently support the aptX codec (to some, that’s inexplicable – aptX is supported by numerous Android phones and is licensed by Qualcomm, an Apple supplier). Happily though, aptX is built into OS X/macOS Sierra, and I was able to force my MacBook Pro to connect to Sennheiser’s headphones using the codec, thanks to Apple’s own Bluetooth Explorer utility.

The difference was subtle but noticeable when listening to high-bitrate, low compression formats, offering slightly better fidelity than when connecting to my iPhone 6s (which defaults to standard SBC, as per the Mac) and listening to the same files.

CapTune App

The CapTune app for iOS/Android could easily fill a whole other article. It’s where you can change the PXC 550’s audio prompts and percentage of ANC, and activate its Smart Pause and Call Enhancement modes. But that’s not even the half of it.

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CapTune is also a standalone music player and audio-tuning utility in its own right. You can create playlists, import them from iTunes, or use its recently played and most played auto-generated lists. It also optionally integrates with the Tidal streaming service, and comes with a free 90-day high-definition premium subscription trial.

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A number of audio files are supported by the app, including MP3, AIFF, AAC, WAV, and Apple Lossless. You can also customize the PXC 550’s existing sound profiles based on Boost, Spatial, Reverb, and DLC parameters, or create your own ‘Director’ profile, which then becomes the fourth selectable mode via the earcup Effect Mode button.

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In addition, there’s a soundcheck function where you can A/B-test a series of predefined equalizer settings, plus a bunch of genre-specific preset EQs to choose from. Lastly, you can save all of your settings in individual profiles for different scenarios – like a ‘gym’ or ‘relaxing’ profile, for instance.

Bottom Line

Take nothing away from Bose – the QC35’s are excellent headphones in their own right. But I came out of this test preferring the Sennheiser PXC 550’s, for a number of reasons.

First, they sound slightly better, and only narrowly fall short of the heights of Sennheiser’s wireless Momentum series. The design of the PXC 550’s is also more innovative and well-considered than the QC35’s, which are almost identical to Bose’s earlier flagship QC25’s (tried and tested though they may be) and come off feeling a bit uninspired as a result. As long as you can live with touch gestures, Sennheiser’s cans offer a more up-to-date setup. They also feel more rigid and less ‘creaky’ than Bose’s design, suggesting they will last longer in travelers’ luggage.

You can turn off the ANC and still listen wirelessly with the PXC 550’s; not so with the QC35’s. Sennheiser’s headphones also let you adjust the level of noise-canceling, which is arguably on par with Bose. The PXC-550’s are lighter (227g versus 309g) despite the additional tech; they also support aptX, where the QC35’s don’t; and in terms of app features, it’s no contest really – CapTune is the clear winner.

The Sennheiser PXC 550’s may cost a tidy sum, but on this evidence they make a good case for being the best noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones in the business.

Pros

  • Comfy, innovative, elegant design
  • Outrageously good battery life
  • Great sound and a first-class tuning app
  • Active NC to rival Bose

Cons

  • Touch controls may not suit some
  • Volume gesture could be more granular
  • Non-user-replaceable battery
  • $50 more expensive than Bose QC35

How to Buy

The Sennheiser PXC 550 headphones cost $400 and can be ordered on the Sennheiser website.

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Note: Sennheiser loaned the PXC 550’s to MacRumors for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.

Tags: Bose, Sennheiser
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11
Oct

Apple Says 1,000 Fraudulent Reviews Were Detected Across Two Accounts Owned by ‘Dash’ Developer [Update: Developer Responds]


Last week, popular API documentation browser Dash was removed from the App Store after Apple accused Dash’s developer of fraudulent conduct and claimed he manipulated App Store reviews.

At the time, the developer denied the accusations and garnered the support of Dash app users who believed there had been a mix up and that he was not guilty, but Apple today provided more information to justify its position and the app’s removal from the App Store.

In statements given to iMore and The Loop, Apple says the developer owned two accounts with 25 apps, which had nearly 1,000 fake reviews. Both fraudulent positive reviews for his own apps and negative reviews for competing apps were involved.

“Almost 1,000 fraudulent reviews were detected across two accounts and 25 apps for this developer so we removed their apps and accounts from the App Store,” Apple spokesperson, Tom Neumayr, said in a statement provided to The Loop on Monday.

“Warning was given in advance of the termination and attempts were made to resolve the issue with the developer but they were unsuccessful. We will terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers.”

According to The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple, Apple first sent a warning to the developer behind Dash two years ago and attempted to work with him “for some time” to put a stop to the App Store fraud. The behavior did not stop, leading to the account’s termination last week.

Dash’s developer specifically denied having been involved in App Store review manipulation in the blog post announcing Dash’s removal from the App Store, but Apple has been adamant that fraud took place. Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller even got involved, confirming to a concerned developer that ratings and review fraud had led to the app’s removal.

Apple’s decision is final and there is no further appeals process, according to Dash’s developer, who has yet to respond to the information Apple has provided today. Dash for iOS is unlikely to return to the iOS App Store, but Dash for Mac remains available outside of the Mac App Store.

Update: The developer behind Dash has shared his side of the story, placing the blame on a relative whose Apple Developer Program Membership he paid for.

He says he was not aware his account was linked to another until Friday and that he was not notified about any wrongdoing. He has shared a recorded phone conversation in which Apple says it will reactivate his account if he makes a blog post stating the truth that his account had been linked to an account with fraudulent activity.

Tag: Dash
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7
Oct

‘Dash’ App Removed From App Store for Alleged Review Manipulation


Popular API documentation browser Dash was yesterday pulled from the App Store after a routine migration request. Dash developer Bogdan Popescu was given no explanation for why the app had been pulled aside from “fraudulent conduct,” but after a conversation with Apple, he’s been accused of manipulating App Store reviews.

Popescu received a “Notice of Termination” email yesterday and his iTunes Connect account was shut down. Apple initially declined to offer more information, but after Dash’s App Store removal started making headlines, Apple told Popescu it was due to App Store review manipulation, such as paying for positive reviews, something he denies doing.

Update: Apple contacted me and told me they found evidence of App Store review manipulation. This is something I’ve never done.

Apple’s decision is final and can’t be appealed.

Despite Popescu’s denial, Apple appears to be adamant that some sort of fraud took place. Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller has stepped in and commented on the situation, through an email sent to Matthew Els, who asked him about the situation.

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your email about this app.

I did look into this situation when I read about it today. I am told this app was removed due to repeated fraudulent activity.

We often terminate developer accounts for ratings and review fraud, including actions designed to hurt other developers. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously, on behalf of all of our customers and developers.

I hope that you understand the importance of protecting the App Store from repeated fraudulent activity.

Thank you,
Phil

At this time, Popescu says that Apple’s decision is final and the app will not be returned to the App Store. The developer community seems to be surprised by the accusation, with many calling Dash a quality app that wouldn’t have needed to boost its reviews.

@marcoarment @stroughtonsmith You see how many people now write good things about Dash? Busted. 🙂

— Jacob Gorban (@jacobgorban) October 6, 2016

It’s not clear what’s going on, and the App Store reviews for Dash are no longer visible as the app has been pulled. As developer Steven Troughton-Smith points out, if Popescu didn’t manipulate his own reviews, it’s possible he’s been targeted maliciously by a third party or that Apple’s flagging system made a mistake. With Apple’s Phil Schiller having looked into the situation, the latter option seems unlikely.

Dash by @kapeli is used by thousands of devs and has been for years. I use it myself for my iOS reviews. They don’t need to buy reviews…?

— Federico Viticci (@viticci) October 6, 2016

Dash for Mac remains available outside of the Mac App Store, and Popescu is encouraging Dash for Mac users to migrate from the Mac App Store version. It is unclear if the iOS version will be reinstated.

Tags: App Store, Phil Schiller
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25
Sep

MrMobile Retro Review: Looking back at the Nokia N-Gage


In 2003, Nokia declared war on Nintendo with the N-Gage, a Game Boy Advance lookalike with a Series 60 mobile phone inside. The conflict – to put it mildly – did not go in Nokia’s favor. With a cumbersome design that required the owner to remove the battery in order to change games, the N-Gage wasn’t exactly user-friendly, and with only a handful of available titles compared to the Game Boy Advance’s 1,200, the N-Gage ecosystem hardly justified the device’s $299 asking price. Worse still: the phone’s earpiece was mounted on its spine, making for a bizarre look and feel when it came to voice calls and leading to the unfortunate nickname “Taco Phone.”

Needless to say, Nokia’s N-Gage experiment did not go well. The company launched a sequel (the N-Gage QD) in 2004 and eventually repositioned N-Gage as a gaming platform that spanned its Symbian smartphone line, but it never gained the traction Nokia sought and the brand was shuttered in 2010.

Today, the original N-Gage is a monument to the days when new form factors flooded a nascent mobile market, and a still-dominant Nokia led the charge to pack ever more functionality into the humble cell phone. Join MrMobile for the Nokia N-Gage Retro Review – and if you owned one of these (or even if you just wanted one) drop a comment below with your story!

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