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What to expect from Mobile World Congress 2019

Posted by | 5g, events, foldables, hardware, LG, Mobile, mwc, mwc 2019, OnePlus, Samsung, Sony | No Comments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: 2019 just might be the year that smartphones get fun again. After years of similar form factors and slight upgrades, the mobile industry’s back is against the wall.

For the first time ever, sales are down, owning to economic factors and slower upgrade cycles. Most people who want good phones have had access to them for a while, and smartphone makers are providing fewer compelling reasons to buy new ones.

With their backs against the wall, handset makers are getting creative. We’ve already seen some early fruits from companies late last year and last month at CES. But MWC is really going to be their time to shine. It’s a much larger mobile show, and all parties know that everyone’s bringing the big guns.

Here’s what we expect to see in Barcelona February 24-28.

Huawei: The company looks to have a lot on tap for the event — in part because the North America-based CES is kind of a non-starter. CEO Richard Yu has hinted at a foldable and a 5G handset — which could well be the same phone. More mainstream are the P30 and P30 Pro. The company’s done a good job keeping it under wraps, but rumors about three or four rear-lenses have made the rounds.

LG: As is its move, LG has already announced the G8 ThinQ. We know that the new flagship will feature a front-facing camera with Time of Flight sensor that brings potential tricks like face unlock, along with AR applications. The V50 is also reportedly on tap, potentially bringing 5G along for the ride.

Microsoft: A surprise addition to this year’s show, Microsoft’s already announced an event for February 24, where we expect the company will show off the HoloLens 2. The next-gen version of the headset will arrive as the rest of the hardware and software world is finally ready to embrace augmented reality in earnest.

Motorola: The recent launch of the G7 may have taken the wind out of MWC’s sails, but rumors of a foldable Razr reboot are making the rounds.

OnePlus: We know that a 5G handset and the OnePlus 7 are both in the pipeline — and, perhaps, one and the same? There’s also tell of a closed-door event at the show, but most aren’t expecting any big unveils from the company.

Samsung: Don’t expect a ton out of Samsung this year. The company (inconveniently) is holding its big event a mere days before. Expect the S10 and all its iterations to get a big unveil that week in San Francisco, along with a preview of the company’s upcoming foldable. That doesn’t leave a heck of a lot for MWC, but perhaps we’ll get a peek into the world of wearables or PCs.

Sony: While Xperia phones have long felt like a bit of a loss leader, the electronics giant has always made a big show of launching flagship devices. Those, in turn, have long been a launchpad for some exciting camera tricks. This year, the Xperia XZ4 appears to be on tap for the event. The handset looks to be an interesting one, with a reported 21:9 aspect ratio display and a beefy 4,400 mAh battery.

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Aibo hangs out with some (real) dogs

Posted by | Aibo, Gadgets, robotics, Sony | No Comments

I had this fun idea to make a video called “Real dog vs. robot dog,” where Henri (my Maltese Shih Tzu) and Aibo would go head to head performing a dozen tricks like high-five, bark and play dead. Aibo arrived, however, when I was simultaneously battling a cold and dog-sitting for my best friend. Because two days with Aibo didn’t allow for much time to teach him tricks, I decided to give him free rein to explore the apartment while I followed him around with my iPhone in a Theraflu haze.

As expected, Aibo was incredibly cute, does a bunch of tricks and can learn new ones with practice and patience. Brian goes in-depth here.

Pack life

The (real) dogs were curious at first, and would sniff Aibo (his butt rather), but shortly afterwards would ignore him, despite his numerous attempts to engage with them. If this were elementary school, Aibo would be the smelly new kid no one wanted to play with.

Like a real dog

We were told each Aibo was programmed to have a unique personality. The Aibo we received was a defiant little one that would obey orders half the time. He was also needy and would constantly try to get my attention. Unlike a real dog though, I could tell him to go to his charging station or turn him off.

Although his OLED eyes were meant to be expressive and help mimic a puppy’s endearing personality, they can be creepy at times, especially when he does the side-eye or when his pupils dilate.

Room for improvement

Aibo’s impressive for a robot companion dog, but with a $2,899 price tag, I’d like to suggest the following features for the next iteration:

  • Fur. Aibo isn’t very cuddly, and it’s a bit more difficult to get emotionally attached to a cold, shiny object rather than, say, a teddy bear.
  • Better movement. He would get stuck between rooms or at the edge of the rug and hardwood floors. He’s also quite slow. Watching him performing certain tricks and getting settled into his docking station was like waiting for a .jpg to load on dial-up.
  • The ability to read your expressions, so he knows when you’re sad and can act accordingly.
  • A fart feature, so you can blame your farts on Aibo.

Sony plans to roll out a security package in Japan that uses Aibo’s on-board sensors to keep your home safe. I’m not quite sure what that entails, but if Aibo’s eyeballs could be used as cameras to stream video footage on your smartphone while you’re not home, and alert you when someone’s there, that alone would justify the price tag.

This U.S. version, however, is available now.

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After 5 years, Sony’s PS4 is still killing it

Posted by | Gaming, playstation, PS4, Sony | No Comments

After a successful holiday season, Sony’s PlayStation 4 is nearing some pretty wild milestones.

The company announced Monday that they had sold more than 5.6 million PS4 units over the holiday season worldwide, bringing the total number of current-gen consoles sold to 91.6 million, a number that suggests the popular console is still vibrant even after five years on the market.

Microsoft has been in a losing position throughout the “console wars” and, while it hasn’t released its own numbers recently, it’s estimated that the quantity of Xbox One units sold may make up just about half of what Sony has shipped this generation. Meanwhile, Nintendo has had a banner year following the success of the Switch, which launched in late 2017 and has become the fastest-selling game console ever in the U.S., though the total units sold still drags far behind the much older PS4.

Beyond the hardware, Sony also delivered some statistics on title sales, saying that they sold more than 50 million titles and that they have sold at least 9 million copies of the Spider-Man Sony-exclusive title. A staggering 876 million PS4 games have been sold to date.

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Nintendo Switch forecasted to outsell the PS4 in 2019

Posted by | Gaming, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, playstation, Sony | No Comments

The Switch has been a monster hit for Nintendo by nearly every measure. The convertible console is precisely the success the company needed after a few years in the wilderness following the Wii U flop and smartphone foot-dragging.

Strategy Analytics predicts more good things for the platform, predicting that Nintendo will surpass Sony in console sales next year. The margins are admittedly pretty thin, with Nintendo selling 17.3 million Switches to Sony’s 17.1 million PS4/PS4 Pro (Microsoft’s in a distant third here at an even 10 million), but if it holds, it will be an impressive feat nonetheless. 

That number would put Nintendo ahead of the pack for the first time in 10 years, back in the Wii/PS3/Xbox 360 days. The company’s gearing up to release one of the console’s biggest titles yet, with the new Super Smash Bros. due out next week, and rumors have been swirling around update hardware for 2019, which would be pretty standard fare for Nintendo.

While those sales would propel the company to the front of the pack, Sony’s still got a much larger overall user base, accounting for around half of consoles currently in use — an impressive 84 percent of which are PS4s.

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Review: The PlayStation Classic takes you back to the ’90s, for better and for worse

Posted by | Entertainment, Gaming, Media, playstation classic, Sony | No Comments

Lifelong PlayStation fans have probably decided already if they’re interested in buying the PlayStation Classic — particularly since Sony has already released a list of the 20 games preloaded on the console.

But the company has also said it wants to attract players who are new to the platform — the kind who like the idea of finally checking out classic titles like “Final Fantasy VII,” “Metal Gear Solid” and “Grand Theft Auto” without actually having to track down 20-year-old hardware.

That’s me: a PlayStation neophyte who’s spent the past couple of weeks with a Classic, getting a crash course on the console’s best games. I’ll admit that I couldn’t quite match the dedication of my colleague Devin Coldewey, who reviewed all 30 games on the Nintendo Classic. Instead, I tried out 10 of the 20 preloaded games, and since I was usually playing with friends or family, I generally spent more time with the titles that supported two players.

Let’s just get this out of the way: If you’re thinking about getting a Classic, particularly if you’ve played and enjoyed the games in the past, you should go for it when it hits shelves on December 3. After all, it’s hard to argue with the value of getting 20 games for a price of $99.99.

PlayStation Classic

If you’re wondering about the hardware, the console feels almost comically small (Sony says it’s 45 percent smaller than the original PlayStation), but all the games loaded up and played smoothly.

My only real complaint is that the controller cords are too short, requiring me to either sit at the very edge of my sofa or set up chairs closer to the TV. If you’ve got a normal living room setup, I suspect you’ll have similar issues, but this is something Nintendo Classic and Super Nintendo Classic owners have to deal with, as well.

The bigger question is: Do the games have anything to offer besides nostalgia? The answer varies from title to title.

“Cool Boarders 2,” for example, is very ’90s — I got a good laugh out of the extreme opening montage, followed by the process of styling my badass snowboarding avatar.

Meanwhile, if you’re familiar with the expansive world and fun storylines of the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise, then the original game will feel a bit simplistic. It’s worth playing to see how much the writing and the technology have evolved, but after a few minutes you’ll probably be tempted to swap it out for one of the later games.

And time seems to have been particularly unkind to “Resident Evil,” where any scares are now fatally undermined by the combination of amateurishly acted cut scenes and blocky animated gameplay.

There’s no denying that my lukewarm response to some of the games reflects my age and gaming history — the PlayStation simply doesn’t have the same childhood associations for me as the Nintendo Classic. But there may also be something inherently awkward about where these games fall in the broader evolution of the industry: They don’t have the “classic” look or easy-to-learn gameplay of 8-bit or 16-bit Nintendo titles, but they still feel primitive by the standards of today’s consoles. So you don’t get the nostalgia hit of an older game, or the genuinely impressive visuals and depth of a new one.

That doesn’t make them bad games; it’s just harder to enjoy them in 2018. At the very least, there may be an adjustment process. (I took the PlayStation Classic with me when I was visiting family for Thanksgiving, and at one point my mom asked, “Why does everyone look so strange? Why can’t you see anything on their faces?”) Even if we were still impressed by the graphics, not all of the games are winners, and have little to offer now beyond historical curiosity.

But the best titles still hold up: Thanks to games like “Tekken 3,” “Twisted Metal” and “Super Puzzle Fighter II,” I’ve spent a good portion of the past couple of weeks frantically mashing my controller as everyone I know took a turn at humiliating me, whether that was whizzing past me on a race track, knocking my fighter out again or lining up the perfect set of “Puzzle Fighter” combos to leave me helpless to respond.

Final Fantasy VII

And you won’t be surprised to hear that “Metal Gear Solid” and “Final Fantasy VII” are still really, really good — as I played “Metal Gear,” I became less and less conscious of the graphics, and more and more immersed in the stealth gameplay and convoluted storyline. (I never stopped cringing at Solid Snake’s habit of constantly hitting on all his co-workers, though.) And with its stunning steampunk-y environments, “Final Fantasy VII” is probably the best-looking game in the collection, one that feels timeless rather than clunky.

In a lot of ways, playing games on the PlayStation Classic was like watching a classic film. You may snicker at first at the primitive special effects (or graphics), and sometimes the old clothes, hairstyles or acting may be hard to take seriously. But that’s the easy response. If you’re willing to dig, you’ll find plenty of rewards under the surface.

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E3 slouches towards irrelevance again as Sony announces it’s skipping the show

Posted by | e3, Gadgets, Gaming, Sony | No Comments

I like E3 . I really do. But it’s also monumentally dumb: game companies spending millions to show off essentially faked content to an increasingly jaded audience. And it’s increasingly out of step with how the gaming industry works. So it should come as no surprise that Sony will be skipping the show more or less altogether this year, joining Nintendo in taking a step back from spectacle.

Sony has been a part of CES for 20 years and this will be the first one it’s ever missed. I’ve gone to their events every time I’ve attended; I was there for their historic putdown of Microsoft after the latter announced some hugely unpopular restrictions on used games. I think you can actually see me near the front in the broadcast of that one. (You can! I’m at 1:29.)

And E3 has been a part of Sony’s yearly cadence as well. Like other companies, for years Sony hoarded information to debut at E3, TGS and Gamescom, but E3 was generally where you saw new consoles and flagship titles debut. But as even E3’s organizers have admitted over and over again, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Too often we have seen half-finished games onstage at E3 that end up cancelled before the year is out, or commitments made to dates the companies can’t possibly keep. Assigning a complex, creative industry to a yearly schedule of major announcements is a great way to burn them out, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

Variety first noticed Sony’s absence from ESA communications. In a statement issued to multiple outlets, Sony said:

As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community. PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can’t wait to share our plans with you.

They won’t be alone. Nintendo hasn’t had a real proper E3 press conference in years. Instead, they host a live stream around the event and have a big booth where people mainly just play games. Their Nintendo Direct videos come out throughout the year, when the titles and developers are good and ready.

Microsoft is still there, and still puts on quite a show. I remember the original announcement of the Kinect, probably one of the weirdest and dumbest things I’ve ever taken part in. It was memorable, at least.

But Microsoft is also doing its own thing, announcing throughout the year and on its own terms. The Xbox One X was only hinted at during E3, and announced in full much later. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft also announced they were taking it easy this year at E3 — though this might also be a good opportunity for them to double down. With the schedules these huge shows go on, they might already be committed to one course or another.

Sony actually has its own PlayStation Experience event where it announces things and lets gamers and press play the latest, but even that was cancelled ahead of its expected December date. Is Sony just getting shy?

More likely they are leveraging their dominance in the console market to be a market leader and “decider,” as they say. They have no shortage of amazing games coming out, including lots of hot-looking exclusives. What have they got to prove? Although Sony itself is not participating in E3, the developers it backs will almost certainly be there. What better way to school the competition than to not show up and still have everyone talking about you?

With the PS4 Pro out there and a solid line-up already confirmed, Sony is sitting pretty for 2019, and the company probably feels this is a safe time to experiment with “inventive opportunities to engage the community,” as the statement put it. E3 will still be big, and it will still be fun. But the trend is clear: it just won’t be necessary.

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This $199 PS4 and ‘Spider-Man’ Black Friday bundle has my bargain-sense tingling

Posted by | black friday, Gadgets, Gaming, PlayStation 4, PS4, Sony | No Comments

I’m calling it — this is the best deal of this year’s Black Friday season, for gamers anyway. It’s amazing. It’s spectacular. Sony is selling a PlayStation 4 Slim with the new Spider-Man game for $199. That’s way too little money.

The 1TB PS4 slim currently retails for $300, and that used to be the cost of the 500 GB one. So a $199 price for the improved, terabyte-capacity console would already be a great deal. But throwing Spider-Man in there? I’m not usually one to call out individual details for Black Friday (we’ll have a roundup), but this is ridiculous.

That game came out just the other day, and has garnered absolute rave reviews; plenty of TechCrunch staff have lost dozens of hours to it, and expansions are on the way to suck even more time. It’s still going for full price most places, so that’s worth $50 or $60 right there.

I own a PS4 already and I’m going to do this. The Slim update didn’t change a lot, but it’s quieter, easier to use (no more invisible buttons!), and of course considerably smaller. Getting it for $139 is a no-brainer. Comes with a controller too, obviously. Then I trade in the old one and pick up Tetris Effect on store credit!

For comparison, both Microsoft and Nintendo are offering their basic consoles with a popular game bundled in for $299. Obviously Sony is looking to eat their lunch.

Sure, you could also save your money for a PS4 Pro. But the benefits there, while I wouldn’t call them dubious by any means, aren’t really must-haves for most gamers. Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t going to look that much better unless you’ve also got a 4K HDR setup and all that jazz. If you’re super into the AAA games and best possible graphics, by all means go for it, but for the rest of us who’d rather buy another 4 or 5 games with the money we saved? Slim it is.

There’s also a PSVR bundle for $200 and controllers are cheaper too. But the Slim is obviously the centerpiece here. You’ll have to go to “participating retailers” and probably fight people like me to get the deal, which goes live on November 18 like all the others.

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Sony filed a patent for a touchscreen-equipped PlayStation controller

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, playstation, Sony, TC | No Comments

According to a patent application continuation filed in 2017 and published recently, Sony may have tentative plans to build out a touchscreen-equipped PlayStation controller.

Whether the value added from having a touchscreen right on the controller will be worth the added cost is not yet clear.

Right now, PlayStation controllers have a touch-enabled center button that allows users to navigate through menus and other activities with a touch-based interface. The center button also lets gamers access more information, such as game stats, when clicked.

This patent application also leaves us wondering what type of content might be displayed on the touchscreen. As you can imagine, controller content could include in-game information that is usually shown on a heads-up display on the main screen.

However, it’s far more likely that a touchscreen-equipped PlayStation controller would offer a new interface for console-based information and actions, such as sharing a video broadcast or dealing with incoming invites and friend requests.

Interestingly, Nintendo’s own experiment with a touchscreen-enabled controller failed miserably. Remember the Wii U? Nintendo eventually corrected the mistake with the launch of the Switch, which has found its place among casual gamers as a sort of hybrid console and sold more than 20 million units since launch.

Of course, Sony’s touchscreen controller is nothing more than a patent application for now, so there’s a solid chance that the same controllers we’ve grown to know and love ship alongside the next-gen PlayStation with no update to be seen. But just in case someone at Sony decides to get inventive, the patent is in place for the company to start thinking about touchscreen controllers.

Reports suggest that the next-generation Sony console could arrive as early as 2019 or as late as 2021.

[via DualShockers]

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Sony’s PlayStation Classic uses an open-source emulator to play its games

Posted by | emulators, Gaming, hardware, open source, playstation, playstation classic, Sony | No Comments

The worm has turned, it seems. Emulators, which let people run old console games on their computers, were once the scourge of the gaming industry. Now Sony is using one of the very pieces of software the industry decried as the basis for its PlayStation Classic retro console.

In the licenses list for the console can be found PCSX ReArmed, as Kotaku noticed in its review yesterday. That’s the ARM port of PCSX Reloaded, itself an offshoot of the original PCSX emulator, which ceased development in 2003.

Don’t worry, it’s not a crime or anything: Sony is well within its rights to do this. It’s just ironic, and indicative of the hard work emulator developers have done for over two decades, that a tool most famously (though by no means exclusively) used for piracy is being deployed officially like this. PCSX and its derivatives are open source under GPL.

It’s a huge vindication of these rogue developers, as you might call them, whose software based on reverse-engineering the proprietary systems of major companies has grown to be not just useful but the best option for running these old games — as chosen by Sony itself! Gaming historian Frank Cifaldi has an interesting thread about why this is so mind-blowing for some of us.

It also makes sense to a certain extent: Sony would have had to dedicate a non-trivial amount of resources to building an emulator from scratch, or (even more complex) rebuilding the PlayStation hardware in some fashion. Why not use a high-quality, open-source emulator with years of active development and testing?

Not every company has made that same choice, though: Nintendo, for its NES and SNES Classic mini-consoles, developed its own emulators, as it did before for Virtual Console (and indeed inside Animal Crossing on GameCube). But even then, those devices run on a custom Linux build, which of course uses a similar open-source license. So one way or the other the gaming world is finding itself in bed with the open-source community.

It’s true that the emulators themselves were never really illegal — unless they used some proprietary code or something. It was always the ROMs themselves, copies of games, that companies fought hardest against. But emulators have always lived in a sort of grey area, even if few actions were taken against them. The last few years have seen a resurgence in interest for retro games and a willingness to pay for them, but if emulators hadn’t been letting us do that for free for decades, there’s a good chance that many of these games would have been forgotten.

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There’s a new PS4 Pro and it’s much quieter than the original

Posted by | computing, Gadgets, Gaming, playstation, PlayStation 4, Sony, video gaming | No Comments

There’s a new Sony PS4 Pro and it’s much quieter than the original. Right now, it’s only available in a Red Dead Redemption bundle, but eventually, it will likely be available as a standalone product, too.

The new CUH-7200 version reportedly dropped the console’s noise from 50 decibels to 44 decibels, though, as EuroGamer notes, it can still top out at 48 decibels. The noise reduction is reportedly thanks to improved cooling, which in turn, reduces the strain on the cooling system within the PS4 Pro. The original PlayStation Pro came out two years ago, and at times, it can roar like a jet engine.

The revised model looks the same as the original, so check the model number on the box to ensure you’re getting the quieter option.

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