Features

#PlayApartTogether: Embracing lockdowns and social distancing

Stuck indoors? Well, time to play video games.

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Video games have always been a great way to pass time on any boring day at home. In any normal circumstance, you just need your healthy amount of online play each day before doing anything else. But obviously, you’d rather be out of the house and embracing the outside world with all your errands and meetups. A perfect balance, as all things should be.

And then, the entire world was hit with a virus that you could contract by touching anything. Your home country restricted travel to your dream destination for fear of contracting the virus. Furthermore, you can’t even leave your own home without putting yourself in danger of contracting it too.

Suddenly: classes are suspended, people are now on work-from-home arrangements, malls are closed. Next thing you know, the entire metro is under quarantine and you are forced to stay indoors unless you absolutely need to be outside.

When the coronavirus stepped in to plague the outside world, all you could do was wait. And in waiting for this virus to be handled, you’re looking for something to do to pass the time. All while getting some interaction with your friends who are also stuck indoors. Luckily, if Zoom meetings are not enough, the World Health Organization suggests something even I thought was unthinkable:

Play Apart, Together

In essence, the World Health Organization wants everyone to find something to pass the time while you’re indoors. Because of the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the WHO backs an initiative from the gaming industry to #PlayApartTogether. The purpose of this initiative was to encourage people to play video games while practicing social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. When I first heard about this, I thought, “wait, really? The WHO wants us to play video games now?”

That’s because a year ago, the WHO had deemed video gaming addiction as a mental disorder. They deemed people who are addicted to video games as people who can’t control how long they play, that it takes over their life completely. A lot of people older than most millennials think that playing video games is just a waste of time — when you can just play basketball outdoors instead of NBA 2K20. It makes sense, but it’s an extreme way of looking at it considering you can count the number of news reports citing video game-related casualties.

But because the world is experiencing a pandemic of epic proportions, they suggest that it’s one good way to pass the time. So how have people dealt with lockdowns and social distancing through video games?

Tom Nook has had a field day since launch

Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released last March 20 for the Nintendo Switch. Even before the world plunged into the COVID-19 madness, the game already received a ton of buzz before its launch date. As soon as the game dropped, people went crazy and started buying it online (at least for people in countries already under lockdown) and started groundwork on their lovely islands.

It didn’t take long before people start to craft amazing houses, beautiful island landscapes, and catching sharks. Yes, you read that right: SHARKS; you can catch sharks in the game.

(c) Nintendo

What made it extra special was how people and used the game to interact with their friends and customers alike. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen people post in-game tributes of their loved ones and idols who have passed away.

Others used the game’s online features to visit their friends’ islands and engaging in many activities like watching the meteor shower. If that wasn’t enough, we even had the Ayala Museum and 100 Thieves drop designs for apparel for everyone to use for free.

TWICE RUN 20X20 Navy Blue – Dahyun

I even got to the point of replicating some TWICE and BTS merchandise as designs for my sweaters and hoodies. This game opened its doors to an audience for all ages, bringing the world closer than ever. That is, of course if you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to do all of these.

Sports at a standstill? Not on 2K’s watch

When Utah Jazz center and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, things weren’t the same. At that moment in time, the NBA had already suspended the games scheduled for that day, provided that the game didn’t tip-off yet. It then escalated into talks of suspending the NBA season indefinitely or possibly cancelling it all together.

Several other major sports leagues in the United States, and even across the world decided to suspend tournaments. Sports was at a standstill, and the void must be filled in somehow.

And then, the Phoenix Suns decided to simulate their postponed games on NBA 2K20. Obviously, these were far from how the actual players played for their teams, but everybody was having fun with it.

It came to a point that NBA 2K decided to host a Players-Only Tournament as a way to generate donations for a charity of their choosing. Other than that, they even decided to simulate the remaining games and provide scores at the end of each playing day.

You know what they say, “ball is life.”


As general rules, the CDC or The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed these to help with preventing the spread of COVID-19:

  • Stay home when sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Frequently wash hands with soap and water
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces

Hands-On

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Unboxing, Hands-on & Camera Test!

Elegance and sophistication in an ULTRA-big device

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Just recently, we had a quick video introduction of Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 20 series. Now, we finally have a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on our hands!

Be sure to subscribe and hit that notification button to stay notified on our upcoming review video on August 18th.

For now, you can enjoy our unboxing, hands-on, and a quick camera test using the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra by clicking here.

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Enterprise

Everything you need to know about the congressional big tech hearing

Why are Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google in trouble?

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Congressional hearings are uniquely American, and you’ve surely seen them in a movie or show. It’s often the crux, dramatizing a room filled with politicians, media, and the country. Everyone’s attention is glued to the protagonist, who sits in front of the committee and answers their hard-hitting questions. If you really want to see a classic, I’d recommend seeing The Aviator.

Coming back to the point, a similar hearing has grabbed the world’s attention. Often referred to as “big tech”, American internet giants Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are working hard to defend their enormous size, arguing that their dominating position in the market doesn’t stifle competition.

In simpler terms, “big tech” has a market capitalization of more than US$ 4.85 trillion. And, this gives them enough clout to discourage competition and continue their virtual monopoly. When companies become too big, the consequences can be radical since the government will find it harder to regulate them.

Data is the new oil

The American economy has witnessed similar situations before and there are precedents available to curtail a company’s influence. For instance, Standard Oil was among the world’s first and largest multinational companies. It started when oil was a fresh discovery and the world was slowly realizing the fuel’s potential. Officially started in 1870, it grew exponentially in the coming years by acquiring smaller companies, controlling market supply, and chasing maximum efficiency while ignoring antitrust regulations.

By 1890, Standard Oil controlled almost 90 percent of the refined oil business in the US. In the coming years, the company would restructure itself into a holding company that controls more than 40 smaller companies. While these smaller companies were separate entities, all profits went to one parent company. In turn, the parent ensured all the kids work in tandem to improve efficiency and control market dynamics.

Finally, in 1911, Standard Oil’s control came to an end after the US Justice Department prosecuted it via the Sherman Antitrust Act. Standard Oil was dismantled into smaller companies, again. But, they had an independent board of directors and each was left to fend for its own. It essentially meant that Standard Oil, as one entity, no longer existed and the market had dozens of autonomous companies. For consumers, this ensured healthy competition and innovation, while supply chains and associated trade partners were no longer dealing in a pseudo-mafia regime.

Standard Oil of New Jersey and Standard Oil of New York are predecessors of ExxonMobil, Standard Oil of Kentucky became Chevron, and South Penn Oil is known as Shell today. A similar breakup was enforced on telecom giant Bell Systems in 1982 when the parent AT&T, was split into regional companies. One of these sping-offs was Bell Atlantic, today called Verizon.

Big tech and its influence

Data is equivalent to oil or gold. The three together are fundamental pillars of the twenty-first century. Just like Standard Oil started out at the cusp oil discovery, Amazon and Google can be called the early pioneers of the consumer internet.

Equipped with instant connectivity, Amazon created online shopping as we know it today. The internet becomes a stressful place without Google helping us discover basic information. Facebook is quite literally our personal life and everyone around you uses it.

Lastly, Apple is the only significant hardware maker here, but it has surprisingly more control over software thanks to its closed eco-system. These companies are very similar to Standard Oil and can pose a serious threat to encouraging competition. Free market principles also go out the window when someone has majority control.

Apple and its greed for more

The Cupertino-based giant revolutionized music playback thanks to the iPod and iTunes. When Apple sold you the iPod, it made a profit. But you need music to utilize your purchase. So, you buy a track from iTunes, that’s also controlled by Apple. Ultimately, you end up paying more and more to the same company. Thankfully, the system is partially restricted and you can sideload MP3 files, but it’s a cumbersome and discouraging process.

Coming to 2020, apps are everywhere. Apple’s App Store comes pre-installed on iOS devices shipped in the last decade. Apple takes a 30 percent cut on whatever you sell via the App Store. Whether it’s an app or an in-app purchase, Apple will get its share of the revenue. Apple says the store acts as a perfect marketplace for developers as well as users. But, how can a newly started developer or company afford to give away 30 percent of its revenue to Apple as a “service charge?”

Keep in mind, this “big tech” has more than US$ 190 billion in cash. Spotify has publicly called-out Apple for this practice numerous times because it sells monthly streaming plans on its app and can’t afford to part a huge chunk of the payment to Apple. Instead of using Apple’s payment system, it manages its own subscription to save “Apple tax”, an informal slang for Apple’s revenue cut. Even Netflix follows a similar approach. The point is, bigger companies are capable of bypassing Apple’s ecosystem lock, albeit with considerable expenses. Then how can new competition come up from scratch?

It’s practically a monopoly because the developer has two options — take it or leave it. Now, if you’re in the market to sell your app, all iOS devices are out of scope if you don’t adhere to Apple’s demands. And, if you skip the App Store, you’re missing out on all the potential revenue. If you agree with Apple, by an optimistic outlook, you’ll at least get 70 percent of something as revenue? This is the basic working of a monopoly.

The operating system market is a duopoly controlled by Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. While third-party app stores like Amazon App Store, AppGallery, and more exist, ask yourself when was the last time you downloaded something off them?

In Apple’s defense, the company feels it should be able to collect its 30 percent share because it created the current ecosystem. With the launch of the iPhone, the company created a virtual marketplace out of nothing. The company invested in building an ecosystem that has stood the test of time and brings both, the user as well as developer, on the same page.

The company announced earlier this year that it has paid US$ 155 billion to developers since 2008. That’s a lot of money. There’s no denying that Apple kickstarted the “app as a product” philosophy, creating a brand new arena in the digital age. But is it’s control justified after a decade?

Apple has always been conservative about its ecosystem, but it’s efforts to accomplish that are often far-fetched. Recently, the company barred Xbox Gamepass on iOS devices because it “it can’t review every game” that’s being offered by Microsoft. Going by this logic, Apple should also screen or review every show or album that debuts on OTT (over the top) players like Netflix, Prime Video, Spotify, and more.

It’s clear that Apple wants to defend its Apple Arcade subscription service and doesn’t want Microsoft to steal the show with Project xCloud. This means that Xbox Gamepass will be available on Android only. If Apple can strong-arm a giant like Microsoft, isn’t it very obvious that smaller players stand no chance against the brand?

Amazon and its influence on customers

Starting out with just books, today the site has millions of products listed, ranging from a unique screw to a full-fledged air conditioner. What started out as an online marketplace has grown into a tech giant that has dominance in cloud computing, voice assistants, and even video streaming.

Critics say Amazon has frequently used its funding to undercut the competition. It took some losses in the short-term by trying to retain users. Once the user was accustomed to Amazon, a process that lets them avoid visits to a store, the loss turned into profit. With a yearly Prime subscription, you’d get free delivery on the smallest of products. Eventually, the user has recovered its Prime subscription fee in terms of convenience and Amazon has processed more orders than ever.

This model ensured that Amazon has an edge over everyone else. The site closely monitors your movement on the site and can intelligently suggest new products to purchase. The more one buys, the more Amazon earns. And, so do the sellers. This seems like a fair game.

But then, sellers realized Amazon has started recognizing categories that can be directly dominated. The user data they collect shows them precisely how much demand a product has, the price vs sales comparisons, and more. It leveraged this rich and unique data to launch its own product brand called Amazon Basics. If you’d normally buy a USB-C wire for US$ 10, Amazon Basics provided that for a lesser price. And, the Amazon tag garnered trust, luring the buyer away from third-party sellers to Amazon’s in-house accounting.

Now, sellers realized that Amazon used its internal sales data to indirectly push out the competition. Amazon follows a similar strategy in other markets like India. Obviously, a seller can try to sell directly via their own platform using simpler tools like Shopify, but will that match the reachability of Amazon? Can any individual seller match Amazon’s marketing and brand recognition?

The company grew as an e-commerce website but is involved in much more than selling books today, the prime reason why it’s one of the “big tech.” The marketplace’s dominant position helped it start brand new investment streams like Kindle hardware, Alexa speakers, and AWS cloud computing. The e-commerce model had worked very well and investors were fine with the company diversifying, even if it meant losing some projects like the Fire Phone.

Today, the company is bigger than physical establishments like Walmart. It’s going up against eBay, Flipkart, Lazada, AliExpress, and Rakuten in the e-commerce space. AWS is challenging Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, as well as Alibaba Cloud. Alexa is fighting against Google Assitant, Siri, and Cortana. And lastly, Prime subscription is taking on Netflix and Spotify in one go.

What’s common?

In this article, the most frequently mentioned companies are Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Facebook sits in an entirely different vertical, filled with its own unique challenges. However, if you’re trying to do something on the internet, you’ll end up using one of their technology or platform in some way or the other.

And that’s the whole point of the “Big Tech” debate. These companies have grown too much, too quickly. They dominate the publicly known internet and have barely left any space for newcomers. Even if someone dares to do the unthinkable, they’ll be either acquired or pushed into infinite losses.


This is Part 1 of the series. We’ll be covering Facebook and Google’s involvement in Part 2.

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Features

ASUS ZenBook 13: A portable all-arounder

Light, versatile, and long-lasting

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The problem with ultra slim laptops has always been their lack of ports and generally shaky battery life. Such a problem does not exist with the ASUS ZenBook 13. 

It’s the latest on ASUS’ ZenBook line and it combines the portability of ultra slim notebooks with the port versatility and long-lasting battery life of typically larger laptops.

What’s in the box? 

Immediately after taking things out of the box, you’ll see how the ZenBook 13 is a complete package. It comes with two cables to compensate for the ones that you don’t find built in on the laptop.

There’s a USB to Ethernet port connector, and a USB-C to 3.5mm jack for your audio needs. Rounding up the packaging are the ZenBook 13 itself, your power brick, and a nice and sleek laptop sleeve.

So about those ports

Measuring at just 13.9mm and 1.07kg — this notebook is REALLY thin and light. Normally, laptops like these have one or two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports. Well, this one, certainly has more.

On the right hand side is the USB port and microSD card slot

Over to the left you have TWO USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports AND an HDMI port 

The ZenBook 13 can draw power from either USB-C/Thunderbolt port and you can easily connect it to an external monitor through the HDMI port should you need to.

The microSD card slot and USB ports means you can easily transfer files from external sources.

Elsewhere on the laptop is the webcam — a must now that we have to attend virtual meetings.

Oh and it also has ASUS’ signature Ergo-lift hinge that remains satisfying to both look at and feel as you lift the laptop lead. A really nice touch and adds to that overall Zen feeling.

A workhorse of a notebook

Don’t let its slight build fool you. This notebook is tough and packs some serious punch to power you for work.

Inside is a 10th Gen Intel Core i5 processor with an 8GB LPDDR4x RAM and 512GB of  SSD storage. That’s the perfect combination for a laptop that can stay with you shuffle through Word documents, Excel sheets, Powerpoint presentations, and even Photoshop.

The keyboard is edge-to-edge giving you that full-size experience. It’s also clickety, giving a satisfying travel experience — crucial if you have to type on it for hours.

Speaking of full-keyboard, the trackpad transforms into a digital numpad at the click of a button. It’s a signature ASUS feature and if you’re the type who has to fill in numbers a lot, this should prove to be hugely beneficial.

Display for immersive viewing

What do people say again about all work and no play? It makes you dull. That’s why after work, the ZenBook 13, which promises up to 22 freaking hours of battery life, can also be your entertainment companion as you wind down.

It has a frameless four-sided NanoEdge display. This means no pesky bezels to get in the way of your binge-watching.

Whether that’s watching Karasuno win a match or catching up with Midoriya and Bakugo’s hero-in-the-making adventures.

A portable all-arounder 

Slim and light, versatile, long-lasting, and performs just as good as other larger laptops. All these make the ASUS ZenBook 13 an all-arounder that will meet all your work and winding down needs.

As we continue to deal with the stresses of the new normal, the ZenBook 13 is a handy companion that you can bring with you, wherever you are around the house.

As we hope for things to open up soon, this notebook is also ready to go out with you to give you all the productivity and play support you can ever ask for.


This feature is a collaboration between GadgetMatch and ASUS Philippines.

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