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Driving virtual reality and beyond

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In between breaks covering Paris Games Week this week I take quick power naps.

2015 has been an exciting but exhausting year. So much has happened already, but as the year winds down, there is still a lot of check out, and plenty to write about. Just like in real life, it appears there’s never really any rest in the world of console gaming, and industry leader Sony hopes to keep it that way.


Amidst a sea of oversized blue balloons imprinted with square, circle, x and triangle symbols, I make my way through the throng of gaming fanatics hoping to get some play time with yet to be released titles from next season. There is an electric energy inside the Paris Expo, particularly in and around the Playstation booth. It’s been 20 years since the original Playstation was released, and the festivities today are as much a celebration of that, as much as they are of the games themselves.

Sony PlayStation celebrates 20 years this year.

BIG 20. Sony PlayStation celebrates 20 years at Paris Games Week 2015.

A mile-long queue has formed in front of the PlayStation VR demos. Slots have been pre-booked days in advance, anyone wanting to give it a shot today is out of luck. Word on the street is that a commercial launch for Sony’s virtual reality headset is slated for the first half of 2016, but there are already several demos you can try today, and with each show the experience gets better.

There’s a preview reel you can look up on YouTube (see clip above) that runs through several upcoming titles that are expected to ship when PlayStation VR does. If there were any doubts about the how virtual reality will change the dynamics of game play, all that should be quashed today.

RIGS mechanized combat league

RIGS mechanized combat league is coming to Playstation VR

One of those new games Rigs: Mechanized Combat League is playable at Paris Games Week (PGW). One of the few multiplayer VR games around, think of Rigs like an extra dirty, extra defensive game of basketball played on machines. The demo for PGW is set in futuristic Dubai, with players on machines with feet that resemble blade runners. While this team sport is akin to basketball, in the game there is no ball, instead actual players must plunge themselves into oversized rings to score. Getting there involves a sometimes perilous journey that includes a fast paced chase through a maze of structures, there’s lots of running, leaping, and head switching.

If there’s anyone who knows more about these games and everything else in the PlayStation pipeline its Shuhei Yoshida, President of Worldwide Studios at Sony Computer Entertainment.   

Shuhei Yoshida

BEST JOB EVER. Shuhei Yoshida is Sony’s Head of Worldwide Gaming Studios.

Appropriate for a man whose main function is to oversee the creation of games, Yoshida is a kid at heart, a superhero character (yep look up Super Time Force Ultra) who spends as much time on his PS Vita as he does on Twitter fielding questions from fans.

At an intimate chat session this week in Paris, a jet lagged Yoshida was glowing from the warm reception for his company’s latest announcements, and bullish about the prospect of PlayStation VR and virtual reality in general. “Because there are so many creative people working on this technology, there will be many great results will come out, and it will be sooner than later,” he said.

For its part Sony is working behind the scenes to push the technology forward, “From a platform standpoint we have the responsibility to show examples of what virtual reality can do. Virtual reality games have to feel natural, you really have to design the game from the ground up.”

For this to happen Yoshida believes, game design has to change. It’s not about repurposing existing titles and slapping on VR support, but about rethinking what works for VR and how VR can enhance the experience.

But virtual reality is not just about gaming.

While gaming has been the logical first application of this new technology, it will soon change the way we consume other types of content. Earlier this month, as part of promotional efforts for the film “The Walk” about high wire artist Philippe Petit who crossed a tight rope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, the PlayStation VR gave fans a feel of how that death defying walk actually felt like.

I’ve experienced vertigo while playing a virtual reality game before, and seeing how VR technology and film making can work in tandem to create entirely new, emotional experiences is mind blowing. Yoshida says these two will merge soon, and at the center of it is the PlayStation – not just a gaming console anymore.

But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. While VR promises to redefine the gaming landscape. The present, and to a certain degree the future are still all about new titles coming to the world’s most popular gaming console. Earlier this year at the annual Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, the gaming word’s biggest stage, I thought I had reached my quota for PS4 announcements, but there are a lot more titles coming.

There’s a game called Super Rude Bear Resurrection from independent Game Developer Alex Rose who tells me, he’s been working on his first PlayStation game with a small team of 3, for just over 8 months now. That game was ready to play at PGW. It’s not hugely popular like those from the usual game houses, but it’s a testament to the breadth of Sony’s developer ecosystem. One that Yoshida tells me his company is going to great lengths to grow and nurture.

Among the marquee titles that I had the chance to preview this week, two upcoming games excite me the most.

Wild for PlayStation 4

WILD. Explore a harsh world where man and beast can become one.

One is called Wild, set in a vast world, beautiful but filled with dangers. It’s an open world game that’s about exploration and survival. Conquering forces of nature and asserting dominance over other animals that live amongst you.   

Unchartered 4 is a much anticipated third-person shooter, and possibly the last in this series. Developer Naughty Dog is calling it the culmination of the franchise, and is upping the anti with a multiplayer mode that ramps up the cinematic experience in glorious 60 frames per second, fights that are faster but longer, and with the added dimension of side-kicks and supernatural power-ups.

But the game that Yoshida is most excited about is called Dreams. Initially I had trouble wrapping my head around what kind of game Dreams is. Its developers aren’t 100% sure either, “We don’t know what it will become,” they say those who participate in the beta will make that clear. Perhaps the confusion is because the game can be about many things, expression and performance, creation and play.

Dreams for PlayStation 4

DREAMS is not just a game, its a platform for creating content.

But more importantly it a platform, a platform for game developers, animators and story tellers. If the game kicks off users will be able to design dream sequences, create mini walk throughs, or develop their own animated short films.

Yoshida has a sparkle in his eye as he talks about his new baby, “Dreams is an amazing project. It’s a serious creation platform for people who like to create. This is your chance to create something amazing.”

The technology behind Dreams is likewise pretty amazing, the game uses a completely new rendering engine, not polygons which is traditionally used to create 3D computers graphics. In and of itself it is a testament to the power behind the PS4, also the reason why this year’s crop of games are more realistic than ever before.

“Next year’s games look amazing,” said Yoshida, “2-3 years after will be even more.”


 “PlayStation: Driving virtual reality and beyond” was first published in The Philippine Star on November 2, 2015. The Philippine Star Technology Section is printed every Monday, and is also available as a digital download from digitaledition.philstar.com

[irp posts=”3647" name=”Sony PlayStation VR gets global release”]

Unfiltered

Smartphone makers need to stop chasing numbers

How close are we to smartphone launch fatigue?

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Image by GadgetMatch

The year 2019 has to be one of the busiest for everyone in the mobile technology industry. A decade back, it was dominated by the likes of Nokia, BlackBerry, and Motorola. Samsung was just gaining momentum and Huawei simply existed in the consumer electronics space.

Back then, we saw one-year refresh cycles for phones. Apple would release a new iPhone every year, Samsung’s S and Note series were a huge hit and each got an upgrade every year, and all other brands started following a similar format. Then came a time when HTC, LG, and Samsung would compete to build the perfect flagship.


With the introduction of new players like Xiaomi, Vivo, OPPO, and Realme, strategies and product launches have drastically changed. These new players rule the affordable and midrange segments and have managed to dethrone Samsung in terms of market share.

But this quick rise to fame has been on the back of repetitive launches. Earlier, a year-long cycle was maintained for each series and this was slowly brought down to six months. Now, we see a new phone launching every one to three months. And each new offering undercuts the previous product. Basically, even if they belong to a different lineup, they end up killing the previous one.

In an attempt to cover every possible price bracket, each of these new launches is also accompanied by a host of configuration options and limited editions. While there is no doubt that this has made the buyer a king in terms of choices, the market is headed in stormy waters from a long-term point of view.

Each of the new offerings come with incremental upgrades. It’s something you can definitely live without for a long time, but your purchase is bound to age quickly. And this brings to an even more important question, are smartphone makers blindly chasing numbers?

Should smartphone makers give up or should they just keep chasing numbers?

A couple of years back, every brand wanted to offer as much RAM as possible. We’ve reached a point where a full-fledged Windows 10 laptop comes with 8GB RAM and a “mobile” operating system like Android needs 12GB.

2018 was all about chasing the screen-to-body ratio figure. Just to get a few more points, brands tested out pop-up cameras, water-drop notches, and even cut-outs. Now, thanks to the rise in popularity of mobile gaming, the processor is a crucial part of the phone.

Recently, Realme’s CEO, Madhav Seth had an interview with the folks over at GSMArena and when asked about the quick update cycle between the Realme 3 and Realme 5 Pro, this is what he had to add:

Now if I say for 3 Pro and between 5 Pro, what would be the difference, mainly? I’d say there are two differences: the performance doesn’t compromise much because I don’t play this game of this processor – the 710 and 712. There isn’t much of a difference between your day-to-day usage. Even while you are gaming, there’s not much of a difference. There is a difference, but not that drastic.

Yes, the executive agrees there’s “not much difference”, but there is a difference. And the brands are able to cash-in on this. A difference of just two digits between the 710 and 712 has given brands an opportunity to launch a brand new product within just four months.

How many megapixels do we really need?

Similarly, another department where brands are going nuts is the camera. How many megapixels do you need? Apparently, as many as possible. You’ll always end up clicking a 12-megapixel picture with a 48-megapixel sensor on a normal basis unless you start the dedicated mode. But, on-paper, 48 is a larger value than 12. We’ll also ignore the fact that pixel size or software processing also matters. There’s a reason why Pixel 3 is the best camera phone with just a single 12-megapixel sensor.

While this thought process of amping up numbers has been fairly common in the Android ecosystem, OnePlus has been able to carve out a different niche for itself. Sure, it packs all the latest hardware. However, this doesn’t force it to focus just on specs and launch a new phone every now and then. They have a fixed six-month cycle for years and a secret weapon — their Android skin.

What sets a phone apart from the pack?

OxygenOS is a well-carved product that perfectly compliments the hardware. This is assuring for the user because they know a T-series phone will not practically affect them and the brand won’t forget about software updates after a few months.

Similarly, even Apple relies on a year-long refresh cycle. Their weapon is iOS. This single piece of software lets them completely omit figures like RAM, battery size, and even camera lens details. They don’t reveal the nitty-gritty details because the end-user doesn’t care. It’s an iPhone.

On the other end, even Android players are proud of their software. Xiaomi has MIUI, Realme has ColorOS, and Vivo has Funtouch OS. But the main question is, how long do they last? Software updates are quite often delayed, the UI is bug-ridden, and simply lacks a polishing touch. Not to forget, a few brands like Honor literally forget they’ve launched quite expensive phones and should ideally provide support.

From a long-term perspective, this confidence in products is what makes Apple a “brand”. Even OnePlus and Samsung have achieved a similar status among the masses and consistency and commitment should be the key focus. Samsung has transformed itself from being a TouchWiz meme master to deploying OneUI on every possible new phone.

In the affordable segment, Nokia-branded phones have done a fairly good job. They stick to stock Android and deliver on their promise of consistently supporting older phones. A reputation is formed, something that’ll last.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not favoring stock Android. I’m personally not a big fan. However, I’m stressing that brands keep aside the numbers game and focus on delivering an experience. If you’re just going to assemble hardware, there’s no difference between you and defunct players like Micromax and Karbonn.

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Editors' Choice

GadgetMatch Awards: Best of IFA 2019

Everything from your work to your home

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IFA has always been home to some of the best tech releases each year and IFA 2019 is no different. This year we got a device that’s the first of its kind, machines for creators, and plenty of smart things useful for your home.

Here are the best of the bunch.


Nokia 7.2

The follow-up to our favorite from last year, the Nokia 7.2 continues HMD Global’s tradition of building excellent, affordable, premium smartphones.

Veering away from the usual aluminum unibody in favor of a polymer composite, the Nokia 7.2 maintains durability while keeping the weight down to make room for a larger battery.

The phone is headlined by a 48MP camera sensor along with two other lenses: one that’s ultra wide and one that’s a depth sensor. Nokia developed new camera software to go along with the usual Zeiss hardware. This makes for photos with stunning image quality.

The Nokia 7.2 is in every respect what a flagship killer needs to be — combining the best of what the brand is known for, excellent hardware, pure software, and top-notch optics.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

The Galaxy Fold is Samsung’s new Pièce De Résistance, a device that gives users a taste of the future today.

After a major setback following its initial launch, Samsung went back to the drawing board to work on a fix. And if there’s any company that knows how to jump back up after a crisis it’s them. At IFA, the Galaxy Fold made its global return, the new and improved Fold is tougher and more resilient than ever, and most likely, THE foldable phone to beat!

Samsung BeSpoke Refrigerator

Have you ever wished to have a fridge that fits exactly with the design of your new home? There’s nothing more customized than Samsung’s BeSpoke Refrigerator.

Customization is king for this fridge. You can choose your refrigerator size, the number of doors, and a multitude of color combos. Name it, and Samsung will build it. That’s more control than you ever thought was possible with refrigerators.

Bosch Cookit 

Thinking about what to have for dinner and actually preparing it can be cumbersome. But it doesn’t have to be with the Bosch Cookit.

You can think of it as either an all-in-one food processor with cooking function. Or an all-in-one cooker with the slicing and dicing built-in. But perhaps the best thing about it is how you can connect it to the Home Connect App for a step-by-step guide on a variety of dishes you otherwise probably wouldn’t even think about preparing yourself.

Being able to prep and cook in the same machine is exactly what we need, where do we sign-up?

ASUS ProArt StudioBook One 

There are laptops for creators, and then there are machines for those who need even more power. Engineers, industrial designers, video editors working for video production houses.

For all these users and then some there’s ASUS ProArt StudioBook One — possibly the most powerful laptop in the world today.

Powered by the latest Intel Core i9 processor, and the new NVIDIA Quadro RTX 6000 graphics card it can literally handle anything you throw at it — rendering 8K videos, 3D graphics and animation,  you name it, this beast of a machine can handle it.

Lenovo Yoga C940 14 and 15

For many years, Lenovo’s Yoga line has set itself apart as the premier 2-in-1s, and this year’s Lenovo Yoga C940 14 and 15 are no exception.

Easily our favorite laptops from IFA 2019, they come with up to a 10th generation Intel Core i9 processor, supercharging workflow and performance. You can even get it with the NVIDIA GTX 1650 to boost overall graphical performance if you need that extra oomph for video editing.

The Lenovo Yoga C940 is a powerhouse 2-in-1 designed for creators and creative professionals.

Lenovo Smart Display 7

We’ve been fans of Lenovo’s lineup of smart displays since they were first launched a year ago. But because of its size, the Lenovo Smart Display 7 has got to be our favorite. The device is petite enough to squeeze into an already cramped bedside table, or in a corner of your kitchen counter.

And for the uninitiated, a smart display is Google Assistant on steroids. It can show and tell your schedule, answer your questions, entertain you with music, videos, and music videos, and keep your hands-free when you’re trying to follow a tutorial.

Lenovo Smart Tab M8

It’s very clear which role the Lenovo Smart Tab M8 wants play. It intends to be your go-to device for entertainment.

With its 8-inch LCD panel display, it’s perfect for more intimate Netflix or YouTube sessions. But when you’re not holding it up, it also comes with a docking station and can function almost like the Smart Display 7.

Huawei Freebuds 3

Huawei has never been shy about putting their products up against Apple’s. And the Huawei Freebuds 3 is no exception. It’s essentially the AirPods, but better.

The Huawei Freebuds 3 clearly has its crosshairs on the AirPods. One look and you know that’s what Huawei was going for. It’s not the earbuds that some people find intrusive. These fit nicely in your ear without feeling invasive.

The other thing that sets it apart is adaptive noise cancellation. The Freebuds 3 is supposedly capable of 15-decibel ambient noise reduction. That’s remarkable for its size and easily blows the AirPods out of the water.

Oh and, it comes in black.

Huawei Kirin 990

Huawei’s Kirin 990 feels like a chip infused with the speed force.

Unlike other chips, the Kirin 990 incorporates 5G components on the same die. It saves space plus enables devices it’s equipped with to reach download speed up to  2.3Gbps, and upload speed of up to 1.25Gbps.

It uses two big, two middle and four little cores to optimize multitasking, with clock speeds of 2.86GHz, 2.36GHz, and 1.95GHz respectively. It’s flat out a speed demon.

LG G8X Dual Screen

LG is staking its claim on dual screens and the company might be onto something.

The LG G8X Dual Screen is an improvement of the similar tech employed on the LG V50 ThinQ. You connect the secondary screen via USB-C (USB-C everything!) instead of pogo pins. It does pretty much everything the first iteration can, but better.

You can tilt the second screen at any angle you like and it also folds all the way so you can use the LG G8X like you would a regular phone. You can go as far as calling this a semi-foldable and we wouldn’t hate you for it.

It also doesn’t hurt that LG opted to keep the headphone jack along with discrete Quad DAC that audio enthusiasts love so much.

While its competitors are going foldable, LG’s approach to innovation is practical, and we cannot recommend it more.

Philips Hue Vintage Bulbs + Smart Buttons + Smart Plugs

If you’re the type to go for a classic look, then the Philips Hue Vintage Bulbs will make you light up.

It’s reminiscent of the old incandescent light bulb, but made with light-emitting diodes instead of glowing tungsten. These new smart bulbs, much like everything on the new lineup unveiled by Philips will now work with Bluetooth. This will make it easier to invite users as you now only need to buy a single bulb to see if you’re open to getting more. Previously, the Philips Hue Hub was a required purchase since the system only worked with Zigbee but Bluetooth changes all that.

Philips also showcased new Smart Buttons and Smart Plugs. The button offers multiple controls. Press once to turn on/off. Press twice to change moods, and long press to dim up or down. The Smart Plug, meanwhile, will let you add lamps and string lights into your entire setup. Pretty neat and handy!

TCL Ray Danz Soundbar

TCL already makes some of the best TVs in the market today, so an equally excellent soundbar was only a matter of time.

The TCL Ray Danz Soundbar, much like anything on TCL’s lineup, promises good quality without exorbitant price tags. It has front-firing and sideways-firing speaker drivers to create a natural and wider resonance to elevate your Netflix and chill experience.

It also worked with Dolby Atmos to produce a 360-degree surround sound without the need for extra upward-firing drivers. As important as is a great display, is great audio, and if you’re looking for an excellent soundbar that doesn’t break the bank, look no further.

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Hands-On

Nokia 3.2 Hands-On: Basic but classy

Nothing fancy but really speedy

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Nokia has been stepping up its lineup of budget smartphones. Early in 2019, the brand launched a plethora of budget smartphones that are under the Android One program. One of the budget-friendly smartphones introduced was Nokia 3.2. Eager to have that Nokia experience, I took the phone out for a spin.

It’s cheap… but classy

I had high hopes when I first got the Nokia 3.2 in its box. Seeing it earlier in MWC 2019 made me appreciate its look and vibe. Compared to other budget smartphones, it’s classier and sexier. However, the phone feels a little bit downgraded when compared to its predecessor.


Nokia the 3.1 with an aluminum frame, a plastic back, and corning gorilla glass while the 3.2 used only a polycarbonate unibody design. Its plastic back is smudgy and slippery, but the phone has a tighter grip, thanks to its subtle curved edges towards the front.

Even its buttons are subtly protruding on its sides. On the left is a dedicated Google Assistant button, and on the right are its power buttons and volume keys.

Found on its back are the 13-megapixel main camera, LED Flash, and fingerprint scanner. On the other hand, its top side features a headphone jack, while the micro USB port and speaker grilles are found on the bottom.

If the notch is troubling you, try hiding it with a wallpaper similar to what I did in the image above.

It also features a 6.2 inches LCD panel on its front display, with a tall 19:9 ratio. It might be disrupting, but the Nokia 3.2 still sports a small notch, housing its 5-megapixel selfie camera capable of AI face unlock. Even though it might be bigger and taller this time, the Nokia 3.2 is definitely a joy to hold.

Stock Android on a budget

The saving grace for Nokia’s disappointing build (at least for me) is its clean version of Android One. That means there’s no bloatware to take up your limited memory and storage.

Additionally, the Nokia 3.2 comes with Android 9 Pie out of the box. This makes it feel faster than its competitors in the budget segment despite having a 3GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. Fortunately, it provides a microSD card slot up to up to 400GB of storage.

An entry-level performance

Powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 429 processor, the Nokia 3.2 performs better compared to its predecessor which carried a MediaTek chipset. In addition, its GPU runs on Adreno 504.

This made the Nokia 3.2 handle graphic-intensive games like Mobile Legends even if it was set on the highest graphics setting possible. There were no delay and lag spikes, ensuring smooth gameplay all throughout.

Decent cameras for your everyday needs

Featuring a 13-megapixel main camera with an f/2.2 aperture, and a 5-megapixel selfie camera with an f/2.0 aperture, the Nokia 3.2 takes decent photos. Depending on the lighting, both of its cameras can either take a vibrant, lively reproduced color during daylight or a slightly desaturated photo on indoor and low-light conditions.

Of course, we can’t really expect budget smartphones to have flagship-like cameras. It won’t have quick auto-focus or any fancy features like blurring your background, but it’s the compromise we’re getting when we follow our tight budget. At the very least, make use of natural light and other camera tricks to improve your photos.

Lasts longer than your partner

If there’s one thing I enjoyed with this smartphone, it’s the humongous battery. Packing a 4000mAh battery, the Nokia 3.2 can definitely last a day on a single charge. It can handle your multimedia use and everyday tasks throughout the day, yet it will still have enough juice left to carry you through the night.

However, for a phone carrying a huge battery, it charges slowly at 10W. This phone might just be good for those who love to charge their phones overnight.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Nokia 3.2 is a contender in the budget segment. It might have a disappointing build and design, but the phone packs with power, performance, and speed, thanks to Google’s Android One program.

With a starting price of PhP 7,990 (US$ 154) for the 3GB/32GB model, Nokia loyalists will find this a real treat. For people looking for a secondary phone, or a primary phone with no frills and just functions to handle your everyday needs, the Nokia 3.2 could be your GadgetMatch.

However, there are still far better options in the budget category, like the Redmi Note 7 and Realme 3. If Nokia wants to come back in its former glory and capture people looking for an affordable powerhouse, they need to join the battle and beat Realme and Redmi in their game, just like Samsung bending over to compete in the tough budget battlefield.

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