‘Super Mario Run’ is just as much fun as we’d hoped

It’s no stretch to say that Super Mario Run (launching December 15th for iOS; an Android version will arrive next year) is one of the most notable mobile games in years. It’s Nintendo’s first real smartphone game and one of the only instances in which the company has developed a Mario game for non-Nintendo hardware. It’s the first of several mobile titles planned and could mark the start of a major business shift for Nintendo. But let’s put aside all these heady concerns about what Super Mario Run means for the company and answer the most important question: Is the game fun?

Based on the all-too-brief demo I had earlier this week, the answer is a resounding yes. With Super Mario Run, Nintendo has successfully built a Mario title that makes perfect sense for a mobile phone while still featuring surprisingly deep gameplay and a level of polish seen in a small percentage of games, regardless of platform.

The gameplay appears to be identical to what Nintendo first showed off onstage at Apple’s event this past September. Mario runs automatically from left to right, and the player can tap the screen to make him jump. The goal is to get to the end of a course, which seems to take a minute or two, while avoiding death and collecting as many coins as you can.

Naturally, there are a lot of variations on what you can make Mario do here beyond that: Holding longer when you tap makes him jump higher; you can tap again to get a brief momentary hover; you can wall-jump; landing on enemies gives you a chance to string together multiple jumps; and so on. There are a handful of environmental items that change things up as well — jumping off of certain bricks will send Mario soaring to the left instead of to the right, and standing on some bricks will stop Mario so you can assess the coming challenges and plan your route.

In the few levels I tried, getting to the end wasn’t a big challenge. But the replayability should be excellent here because I didn’t come close to grabbing all of the coins in the course — those among us with OCD tendencies are going to be playing these levels multiple times to perfect our route and jump timing. Furthermore, each course has five pink special coins to grab. Getting those unlocks five more purple coins in harder-to-reach locations. Getting those unlocks five black coins, again in even tougher places in the level. It’ll take at least three playthroughs to grab everything in a given level, and to get all the standard coins will be another challenge.

That’s one example of the game’s depth. The next comes when you factor in competition. The main game’s standard 24 levels are only one part of Super Mario Run. There’s also the “Toad Rally,” in which you compete against friends or people all over the world. Entering a Toad Rally competition costs tickets, which you gain in other parts of the game.

Once you’ve entered the rally, you start a timed course that doesn’t have an end and shoot to get as many coins as you can before time runs out. But you also need to impress the Toad judges by doing combo jumps and other more complicated tricks as you make your way through the level. The more you impress the judges, the more they cheer, and the more points you get.

In both the standard “World Tour” and Toad Rally, the gameplay is excellent. There’s enough of a learning curve that I didn’t feel like I could immediately master each level, but it certainly wasn’t hard to just pick up and start playing. Perhaps the trickiest thing for those of us who’ve played a lot of Mario will be remembering you don’t have to jump on Koopas and Goombas — by default, Mario will automatically vault over them. Jumping gives you more points and the opportunity for more combos, but you don’t have to do it.

The Toad Rally has another twist: You put a few members of your personal Toad posse on the line when you play, and if you lose, those Toads defect to the victor’s team. The number of Toads on your team serves as a good representation of how successful you’ve been in the rally — so you can use them to see how good a potential opponent is before challenging them to a match. Toads also serve as some in-game currency for buying little houses and other objects you can use to customize your very own Mario overworld map. There’s no actual game to be played here, but plenty of fans will likely enjoy tweaking the Mario home screen that they see every time the game starts.

Regardless of what part of the game you’re playing, the graphics look wonderful. I played the game on the iPhone 7 Plus and I’ve never seen Mario look quite so sharp and vivid (the last Mario games I played for more than a few minutes were on the original, standard-definition Wii). And there’s no hint of slowdown or performance hiccups here either. I would have liked to see how it performs on less powerful hardware, but we’ll have to wait until the game launches to see what devices you’ll need to have a good experience with Super Mario Run.

Nintendo decided to price Super Mario Run at $ 9.99 — more than most iOS games, but less than most games for the company’s own consoles. I think that’s a fair price, given the number of levels included and the replayability factor here. But if you’re wary, the free version of the game lets you play the first three levels and try your hand at a few Toad Rallies so you can see what it’s all about. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said it didn’t feel right to make people pay to keep unlocking levels when there’s so much momentum in the game to keep running through levels, so the company decided to skip all in-app transactions and go with the single one-time purchase.

Ultimately, the entry fee may seem a little high, but I suspect it’ll be one well worth paying — and I think lots of players will agree with me. Having a native Mario experience built from the ground up with the iPhone in mind is a huge win, and the game appears to be equally well suited to quick play on the subway and longer, in-depth sessions when you’re on the plane. I haven’t bought a new Mario game in years, but I’m ready to pull the trigger on Super Mario Run.

Update: If you want to try Super Mario Run out for yourself, Reggie announced on The Tonight Show that starting Thursday, a demo will be available at Apple Stores worldwide.

Engadget RSS Feed

VSCO adds full RAW photo support to its iPhone app

VSCO, smartphone photographers’ image tweaking app of choice, is letting iOS users tap into all the original image data captured on iPhone 6’s and up. Alongside a host of new community features, it’s offering full RAW image support on capture, importing and editing. This means photo editors will be able to access a wider range of colors and tones that are sometimes lost due to compression on typical JPEG photos. RAW support will even work on your must-share DSLR images too.

The update is also the culmination of the VSCO team’s efforts to better showcase its community and editorial team content. This includes a machine-learning engine that surfaces related images of what it spots in images. There’s also a new search and a discovery section specifically for notable community posts.

VSCO has introduced a new (invite-only, subscription-based) membership at an early-access price of $ 20 per year. This will give users monthly updates and early access to filter presets, particularly VSCO’s new Film X interactive presets. These tap into SENS, its new imaging engine, and attempt to offer, according to VSCO CEO and founder Joel Flory: “a physical model of film and not just a static preset.” New presets currently include the Fuji Pro 400H, and Kodak Portra 160 and 400. According to the team, they’ve tried to create a physical mode of film — and that also includes real-time shaders that you can tweak during live capture.

If you’re willing to subscribe, you’ll net the entire preset library (over 100 of those), which total around $ 200 if purchased through the app. RAW support, at least, comes for free in the new update available now. Oh and for that invite-only membership? Add your name to the waitlist here, and get ready to feel exclusive.

Engadget RSS Feed

Square Cash plugs its virtual card into Apple Pay

The Square Cash service added a “virtual debit card” feature back in September, and tonight during the Code Commerce event, CEO Jack Dorsey announced that it’s integrating with Apple Pay. The virtual Visa debit card lets Square Cash users spend their balance anywhere Visa is accepted (legitimately), and starting today, its iPhone app can enable the card for use on Apple Pay too. If you’re not using an iPhone or Apple Watch, Dorsey said that the company does have plans to support other platforms like Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

Source: Recode, iTunes

Engadget RSS Feed

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 may ditch the headphone jack

With Apple, Motorola and others releasing phones without 3.5mm headphone jacks this year, there’s been a looming question: will Samsung follow suit? Like it or not, SamMobile sources claim the answer is yes. Reportedly, the Galaxy S8 will rely solely on its USB-C port for sound — if you want to use your own headphones, you’ll likely either need to use an adapter (no guarantee that you’ll get one in the box) or go wireless. But why make the move, outside of being trendy?

The tipsters don’t have an official explanation, but there are a few advantages that might come with ditching the legacy port. It would create more room for a larger battery, more sensors, stereo speakers and other upgrades that aren’t as practical right now. Alternately, it could let Samsung slim the S8 without having to make significant compromises on other features. That’s not much consolation if you like to listen to music while you charge your phone, but you may well get something in return for this sacrifice.

You might not have too much longer to learn whether or not the rumor is true. In recent years, Samsung has introduced new Galaxy S models at or near the Mobile World Congress trade show, which kicks off February 27th in 2017. SamMobile is confident that the S8 will show up there, although it’s not an absolute lock given the possibility of delays. Whenever it arrives, it’s safe to say there will be an uproar if there’s no 3.5mm jack. Some people swore off the iPhone 7 precisely because it didn’t have a native headphone port — what happens if their main alternative doesn’t have that hole, either? They may have to either buy from brands they previously hadn’t considered, or accept that conventional audio jacks are a dying breed in mobile.

Via: The Verge

Source: SamMobile

Engadget RSS Feed

Foxconn exec faces 10 years for stealing 5,700 iPhones

A senior manager at Foxconn, the company that makes Apple’s iPhone handsets, is facing 10 years incarceration after being charged with the theft of 5,700 iPhones valued at nearly $ 1.5 million. According to AsiaOne, the Taiwanese testing department manager, identified only by his family name Tsai, coerced eight of his subordinates to smuggle iPhone 5 and 5Ses out of the Foxconn Shenzhen plant between 2013 and 2014.

Apparently, these phones were designated for testing, rather than sale, which could explain how the gang managed to take so many without tipping off security. However, an internal audit conducted earlier this year outed the group.

Via: Business Insider

Source: AsiaOne

Engadget RSS Feed

Why didn’t Google make Chromebooks a priority this holiday season?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, and the holiday shopping season is in full swing. As such, Google, Microsoft and Apple have all revealed their latest and greatest to get shoppers opening their wallets. Microsoft has the Surface Studio and refreshed Surface Book, not to mention the Xbox holiday lineup, while Apple goes into holiday battle with the new MacBook Pro and the iPhone 7.

Google is trying something different this year. The company has a full ecosystem of products made in-house for the first time: the Pixel smartphone, Google Home assistant and Daydream VR headset. All three products are important to Google’s strategy, but it feels to me like something’s missing: the humble Chromebook. Google’s more traditional computing platform has gone neglected this fall, and it’s especially surprising in light of a few big developments this year.

The first was a report from IDC claiming that Chromebooks outsold Macs in the first quarter of the year. Yes, that’s just one isolated data point, but it shows that there’s a market for Chromebooks, and that market is growing. The second development was Google’s announcement that Android apps would come to Chromebooks this year. That would solve two of the platform’s big weaknesses: the lack of traditional applications and the Chromebook’s limited offline capabilities.

But the rollout of Google Play on Chromebooks has been stilted at best. Only three models have full support as of today, more than six months after Google first announced the feature. There are a few more that can run Android apps if you use the developer version of Chrome OS, but ultimately this isn’t a selling point Google can use to drive interest in the platform. Indeed, the company doesn’t mention the feature at all on its Chromebook website or in its online store. Based on my experiences using Android on Chromebooks, that’s because the experience isn’t quite yet ready for prime time. There’s no sense in launching a half-baked feature, but I had assumed it would be ready to go by the end of this year.

It’s hard to see this as anything but a missed opportunity. Android is the most popular mobile OS by a wide margin, and being able to use the same apps on both your mobile phone and Chromebook would bring a nice layer of integration to the two platforms. But this non-launch means that consumers aren’t aware of this potentially important feature and developers have zero incentive to consider Chromebooks when building apps.

Google is dropping the ball from a hardware perspective as well. The Chromebook Pixel 2 was discontinued at the end of August with no replacement in site. Sure, that computer was never a practical buy, but similar to what the Nexus program did for phones, it provided manufacturers and developers inspiration when building their own Chromebooks. Other manufacturers have picked up the slack to some extent, but I’m surprised Google appears to have given up making its own Chrome OS hardware.

The hardware gulf shows up in Google’s online store too. Right now, you can only buy three different Chromebooks — all from Acer, two with 11-inch screens and large boat anchor with a 14-inch screen. It seems extremely strange that you cannot visit Google’s store and buy a Chromebook with the ever-popular 13-inch screen size.

One possible explanation for the apparent de-prioritization of Chromebooks at Google could be that the company is fully merging Chrome OS with Android, as various rumors have suggested over the years. The most recent rumor claims a merged Android / Chrome OS will power the next Pixel laptop planned to arrive sometime next year. That would certainly explain the silence, and an announcement of that magnitude would likely wait for the next I/O event in late spring. But that’s still another six months from now, not that the timeframe really matters if Google is moving on from Chrome OS.

It’s too soon to know what Google’s plan is, but a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company “remains committed to Chrome OS and Chromebooks.” The spokesperson also said that Google is seeing great momentum for the platform, particularly in the education market. And given that nearly all Chromebooks are made by OEM partners, there’s logic to keeping this fall’s big launch event focused on the “Made by Google” products. But if the company isn’t giving up on Chromebooks, that makes the lack of new hardware this fall all the more strange.

That’s particularly true given that Google has been closing the gap with Apple, a company whose laptop situation is a bit out of whack right now. A Chromebook is clearly a different class of device than a MacBook Pro, but that’s beside the point. If Google isn’t giving customers good devices to buy and making big advances like Android apps a priority, Chromebooks will continue to have a hard time shaking the old “it’s only a browser” stigma.

Engadget RSS Feed

iPhone classic ‘Tiny Wings’ gets new levels and Apple TV app

Tiny Wings is one of the best iPhone games ever. It’s a great example of a developer making something that wouldn’t make sense on any other platform, and it’s a game equally suited to playing quick bursts or for extended sessions as you try to beat your high score. And after more than two years without an update, developer Andreas Illiger has finally released a pretty major update. Tiny Wings is now available for the Apple TV, and the iPhone / iPad version has five new levels.

Unfortunately, the Apple TV app requires a separate $ 2.99 purchase — but if it is as good as the iOS game, that’ll be money well spent. The Apple TV app features split-screen multiplayer; players can either use the Siri remote, a dedicated game controller or an iOS device to control the big-screen action. The Apple TV app uses iCloud to sync progress with your mobile devices, and it feature the same array of game modes and levels as the iOS version — including the five new “flight school” levels.

If you bought the iOS app years ago, you’ll get those new levels, and Illiger also finally upgraded the graphics to support the higher screen resolutions Apple introduced with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. There’s nothing else new here, but if you haven’t tried the game before now’s a perfect time to give it a shot. The adorable graphics, procedurally generated levels and excellent music are all as charming now as they were when the game launched way back in 2011. If you want to give it a shot, the update is live in the App Store now.

Via: The Verge

Source: iTunes

Engadget RSS Feed

Apple’s renewed fight against AIDS includes new iPhone cases

Apple has made a tradition of marking World AIDS Day with a campaign to donate to the Product (RED) charity, and it’s going the extra mile for its 10th year of support. On top of the company’s existing (RED) gear (which sends a contribution to the Global Fund’s fight against AIDS), it’s launching four new accessories and devices that count toward the charity. You can get red versions of the iPhone 7 Battery Case, the leather iPhone SE case, Beats Solo 3 Wireless headphones and the Beats Pill+ wireless speaker. All of these are available today, and there are other ways to help out even if you have no intentions of buying hardware.

To begin with, purchasing anything at an Apple store (physical or online) through Apple Pay between now and December 6th will donate $ 1 toward (RED), up to a maximum of $ 1 million. Bank of America will match those donations if you buy using one of its cards. You can also buy an album from The Killers (Don’t Waste Your Wishes) on iTunes with all US proceeds heading to the fund. Beyond this, in-app purchases in 20 high-profile iOS games (including Angry Birds 2, Clash of Clans and PewDiePie’s Tuber Simulator) will contribute to the anti-AIDS campaign through December 7th.

These individual efforts may seem like drops in the bucket, but Apple has historically been one of Product (RED)’s strongest contributors — it had raised $ 65 million by 2013. And while a bona fide cure is still years away, the United Nations now believes that you could realistically see the end of AIDS by 2030. You may only make a small difference by yourself, but the combined effort adds up.

Source: Apple (1), (2)

Engadget RSS Feed

Yelp wants you to add a ‘Yelfie’ to your restaurant reviews

After letting its users virtually queue up for restaurants with a previous update, now Yelp wants them to put a face to the person behind each star-rating. With the service’s amateur reviews shaping restaurant scenes around the globe, the influential platform’s latest update allows its users to attach a selfie, or “Yelfie,” as the site is unfortunately calling them, to their reviews.

When checking-in to a restaurant, reviewers can now pout after being served a poor pastry or smile after tasting a particularly succulent soup. With over 140 million monthly users, these amateur critics now have a chance to gain some notoriety. It will be interesting to see how influential popular “Yelpers” become.

The idea was originally developed by the company at a hackathon conference and they decided that it was too good an idea to waste. Both Android and iPhone Yelp users can download the update today. With spurned restaurant owners now being able to see who’s behind their scathing reviews, be sure to check your Yelfie before you wreck your self(ie).

Source: Yelp

Engadget RSS Feed

Bragi’s ‘Headphone’ takes on Apple’s AirPods

Almost three years ago, Bragi left an indelible mark on the headphone universe. The then-unknown company launched a pair of “truly” wireless headphones on Kickstarter that not only cut every wire, but boasted a slew of fitness-tracking features, all wrapped in a superslick design.

Bragi delivered on its promise, releasing the Dash this summer, but with a few compromises. The fitness features weren’t comprehensive enough to be valuable, the microphone wasn’t great, and even basic connectivity with phones wasn’t very stable. You can’t have bleeding edge without a few cuts, though, right?

Enter “the Headphone.” These $ 149 buds look a lot like the Dash, but are a much simpler proposition. The Headphone drops nearly all the smart features, and the result is arguably the product Bragi should have launched originally: a solid pair of truly wireless headphones. The Dash was definitely an impressive opening act, though, and perhaps necessary to earn the company the gravitas to be taken seriously.

The very first thing I noticed about the Headphone is that the build feels cheap compared to the Dash. The Headphone comes in a light plastic case — not a cold, weighty metal one this time. There’s no battery in that case either; it just serves as a charging cradle (and case, obviously). The Dash’s smooth, touch-sensitive controls have been replaced by physical buttons on the right bud. There’s also no app connectivity with the Headphone, and no onboard storage for music. So why bother? Well, there’s at least three very good reasons: connectivity, battery life and price.

Bragi defined the truly wireless headphones category, and many competitors soon emerged. Remarkably, all of them — almost without exception — suffered some form of connectivity hiccup. This could be between the buds themselves, or between the headphones and your phone when outside (an issue with the Dash). Some cheaper products presented both problems.

With the Headphone, connectivity issues have vanished — even outside walking with your phone deep in your pocket. The Dash is very sensitive, and if you have your phone in the wrong pocket, music would suffer dropouts. With the Headphone, I’ve had the odd minor glitch while turning my head to look for traffic crossing a road, with the phone in the opposite pocket.

The audio connectivity isn’t just better than the Dash; it’s better than any “truly” wireless buds I’ve tried (Erato’s Apollo 7 and Earin, to name a few). Importantly, the Headphone’s buds never lost connection with each other either — a common problem with these products. Best of all, unlike similar headsets, Bragi didn’t use a design with something hanging out of your ears (looking at you, AirPods) to help ensure good connectivity. Like the Dash, the Headphone sits flush in your ear, making them much more inconspicuous.

One downside to the physical buttons is that they require quite a push to register a click, so you’re basically mashing the earbud into your ear each time, which can feel uncomfortable. This mashing effect happens with all three buttons on the right bud. It’s a relatively minor annoyance, as you can always use your phone to control the volume, but it’s something to get used to.

The lack of fitness features on the Headphone isn’t a problem, as there are many other ways to track activity. But I did love the ability to load music onto the Dash and leave my phone at home when going for a run. Not many truly wireless buds offer this — Samsung’s Iconx is one of the others — but it’s a feature that elevates the usefulness of wireless earbuds, especially when music streaming might not be convenient.

A feature the Headphone does have is the “transparency” mode that Bragi helped pioneer. Transparency uses the microphone to blend ambient noise around you (traffic, people talking, etc.) with your music. Handy when you don’t want to stop your music, say when buying a coffee. But also a potential lifesaver for cyclists who gotta have their tunes on the ride to work.

It’s definitely a welcome addition to the Headphone’s relatively basic feature set, but for some reason, the ambient noise doesn’t seem to be quite as audible as it is on the Dash in the same conditions. My doorbell pierces through much less on the Headphone while listening at moderate volume, and sometimes I had to remove a bud to engage in conversation, which is less common with the Dash. Perhaps Bragi reconfigured it the second time around.

More important, music sounds pretty good on the Headphone, but a caveat: Bragi’s press materials told me this might not be the audio profile that will be on retail units. The profile on the model I’m wearing right now is fairly neutral. That’s to say, it’s sounds like there’s less emphasis on the bass and the high midrange frequencies (vocals, melodies, etc.), which are commonly ramped up in consumer headphones.

Again, if we’re comparing to the Dash, I actually prefer the Dash’s audio profile. It feels a little thicker, and has more impact (and a fair bit louder). The Headphone is still a very good listen, and probably more suitable to those who listen to live/acoustic music. My noisy brand of angry dance music just doesn’t feel quite as thumping this time around, though.

The microphone, on the other hand, is less impressive. I rang a number of friends and family and didn’t tell them I was using a hands-free, and nearly everyone asked me where I was calling from in that “you-sound-different” kinda way. I recorded a few tests on my MacBook using the mic on the Headphone, and they ranged from poor to inaudible. You’ll be able to use these to make calls, but it’s not a strong suit.

It might seem like there’s a lot of things lacking in the Headphone, and to a large degree that’s true … if you compare it to the Dash. Pit the Headphone against most of the competition, and suddenly things look rosier. The general connectivity situation is a great step forward for the category. The audio quality is solid (even if the mic is lacking), and the six or so hours of battery life is pretty decent (though a shame there’s no battery in the case).

At $ 149, the price undercuts Earin’s lightweight buds by some $ 50, and is (no doubt deliberate) $ 10 less than Apple’s AirPods, which is perhaps the competition Bragi’s really setting its sights on. With a better battery life, decent audio and enough change to buy yourself lunch, the Headphone should appeal to those iPhone 7 owners shopping around for a wireless set. Especially if Bragi can deliver on it’s “November” ship date and beat Apple to market.

Engadget RSS Feed