The PlayStation 4 revisited: small improvements for a solid system

Engadget is re-reviewing the current generation of game consoles, each of which has benefited from major firmware updates, price drops and an improved selection of games. We’ve already revisited the Xbox One, and now it’s the PlayStation 4’s turn. Though we’ve raised the score from 83 to 86, you can still find our original PS4 review here, if you’re curious to read what we said at launch.

The PlayStation 4 has outsold its closest competition, the Xbox One, for most of the time since the two systems launched in Nov. 2013. In fact, according to recently released sales figures, Sony has moved some 40 million units over the past two years. Based on the company’s earnings reports, those sales have helped keep Sony afloat — even after the console’s price dropped from $ 400 to $ 350.

Similar to the Xbox One, the PlayStation 4 has received a steady stream of post-launch updates, along with a ton of new features. But unlike the Xbox, the PS4 hasn’t seen any patches that fundamentally change how the console operates. Instead, features like a dedicated Twitch app, Spotify integration, rapid resume from low-power mode and game streaming to a PC or Mac have improved upon how the system already worked.

With time, however, fresh issues appeared that we couldn’t have possibly predicted when we originally reviewed the console in 2013. Some are even the result of new features Sony has added since then.

Hardware

Sony has confirmed the existence of a newer console, the so-called PS4.5, but hasn’t said when you’ll actually be able to buy it. For now, then, the model that launched over two and a half years ago is the one we have. The system’s overall design hasn’t changed either. Aside from a nostalgic, ultra-limited-edition console released in honor of PlayStation’s 20th anniversary, the standard version remains a coal-black obelisk. Except now you can swap in game-themed or different-colored faceplates if you’d rather the console not blend in with the rest of the black A/V gear in your living room.

Up front there’s a slot-loading Blu-ray drive, a pair of USB 3.0 ports and two touch-sensitive buttons for powering the system on and ejecting a disc. If you’re still mixing up which button does what (it’s OK, I do it myself occasionally), the top turns it on and the bottom spits your discs out. Finding them in the dark is a pain, but they’re directly in line with the LED strip that runs from front to back. It glows orange when the system is in low-power mode, making it easy to find the buttons by feel. Meanwhile around back you’ll find an HDMI socket, digital audio output, Ethernet jack and dedicated PlayStation Camera port.

The system is also surprisingly portable. Because the PS4 uses the same style power cable as the PlayStation 3 Slim (and many other electronics) along with a standard HDMI cable, there’s no need to unwire your entire A/V setup just because you’re housesitting and don’t want to be away from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End for a weekend. There’s no bulky external power supply to carry around, and the console itself is small enough to easily fit into a backpack or messenger bag.

The disadvantage here compared to Microsoft’s console is the PS4’s lethargic 802.11b/g/n wireless card. If you take multiplayer seriously or want the fastest downloads possible, you should always run a hard connection to any gaming device, but sometimes being close enough to a router to do so isn’t possible.

Doing anything on the PS4 over WiFi is a time-consuming process, be it downloading a game from the PlayStation Network Store or an update for a game or the system itself. Indeed, some Engadget staffers have seen downloads almost three times slower on WiFi versus a wired connection. Over Ethernet, the system’s built-in speed test reports 79Mbps downloads and 4.4Mbps uploads on my home network. With WiFi that number dropped to 32Mbps down. That said, our gaming reporter Jessica Conditt has never experienced such issues on her PS4.

In 2013 the iPhone 5s supported 5GHz wireless, and Microsoft also packed dual-band capabilities into the Xbox One, which came out that year. This was a weird omission on Sony’s part, then, and it’s become all the more noticeable considering how many people buy their games digitally these days and how large these files are. Uncharted 4 comes in at over 50GB, for instance. A faster WiFi card would also make streaming a game to another device via Remote Play a better experience.

Unlike the Xbox One, the PS4 doesn’t support external hard drives, which would augment the system storage. That’s partly because it doesn’t need to: You can swap in a new internal hard drive as large as 4TB, a step up from the base model’s paltry 500GB of storage. The dearth of USB connections is a bit of a problem, though. If you’re using the PlayStation Gold wireless headset, for instance, that eats up half of what’s available. Listening to music via a thumb drive and your DualShock 4 controller’s battery dies? It’s time to decide which is more important, unless you have another device with unused USB ports nearby to charge the gamepad.

DualShock 4 controller

Speaking of which, the DualShock 4’s battery life is still awful. System updates have added the ability to change the brightness of the controller’s lightbar (a likely culprit for battery drain), but I’m still lucky if I can go more than two play sessions, totaling about eight hours, before having to charge it again. In contrast, I only need to replace the batteries in my Xbox One controllers every few months. Maybe Sony could address these issues the way that Microsoft did and release a premium-priced controller with higher-quality components and improved battery life. I’d buy one.

In other gamepad-related woes, the concave thumbsticks that original reviewer Ben Gilbert raved about have an inherent flaw: Their grippy, rubber covering is susceptible to tearing with normal use, revealing sharp plastic underneath. You can hit Amazon for a variety of inexpensive replacement sticks, but that requires tearing open the gamepad to install them: not an easy feat for most. The better solution is opting for silicone caps that stick on your stock thumbsticks. But this honestly shouldn’t be an issue in the first place, especially considering how comfortable and well-designed the rest of the controller is.

The inclusion of a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on every paddle means that you don’t need to shell out for a gaming headset if you already have stereo earphones. That said, aside from a handful of games like the excellent Sony-developed Tearaway Unfolded, the onboard speaker goes mostly unused.

Same with the clickable touchpad that dominates the gamepad’s face. A vast majority of the time its touch-sensitive surface is neglected in favor of developers just treating it as an extra button. When developers do make use of these novel features, they tend to be well implemented. It’s a shame more don’t take the time to. What isn’t a gimmick, though, is the “share” button to the immediate left of the touchpad, but more on that later.

PlayStation camera

Next we have the PlayStation Camera, an accessory that has been mostly forgotten by game developers. Like the touchpad, speaker and color-changing lightbar on the DualShock 4, few devs have taken advantage of this accessory. Until Dawn uses it to record video of who’s playing during scary moments, and Tearaway Unfolded took advantage of it to occasionally break the fourth wall, but until PlayStation VR launches it’s not necessary. Sure, logging into my PS4 profile with my face is novel, but I couldn’t tell you what triggers the facial ID system to launch on start-up; I still regularly have to log in the old-fashioned way, choosing my profile with a controller. There’s no compelling reason to own one right now.

UI

For the most part, zipping around the PS4 interface is fast. It’s an iteration of Sony’s Xross Media Bar UI from the PS3 (yeah, substituting an “X” for a “C” is still awkward), with a horizontal row of tiles for recently used items like games, apps and streaming services. Each game offers patch notes, and each tile has a drop-down menu featuring additional content. You’ll also see your saved screenshots and videos, along with recent activities from friends like trophies that have been unlocked. It’s a lot like the social feed from the Windows 10 patch on Xbox One but integrated on a per-game basis rather than one river of everything. Even with a speedy wired connection, though, the drop-downs (which rely on data from PlayStation Network) are slower to load and navigate compared to the main UI.

The PlayStation Store, where you access streaming applications and game downloads, sits at the far left; on the opposite side is the library. The library was added after launch, and it’s where your entire collection of games and applications resides. Anything you’ve downloaded or installed lives here in a grid. The problem is, it’s a pain to navigate, because even if you’ve uninstalled something, it still stays on the list. That means the Destiny First Look Alpha I was part of two years ago is there alongside Doki-Doki Universe, a demo I grabbed but never played. This means sifting through a lot of clutter just to get to the stuff you own.

The library was supposed to help streamline the main UI, but in practice it’s about as effective as shoving your laundry in a closet before company comes over to give the illusion that you actually cleaned your house. Your most recently used items stay on the main screen, but with time, unused ones will migrate here too. What’d be really nice is the option to customize the main UI or at least pin specific apps and games to the home screen, similar to what the Xbox One has offered since 2013.

Pressing up on the D-pad reveals tabs for the PlayStation Plus premium service, notifications, your friends list, an event calendar, messages, party chat, user profile, trophies, system settings and power options. With the exception of the PlayStation Plus tab, everything loads almost instantaneously and is logically sorted. In the system settings, for example, Sony removed some of the arcane video settings that were on the PlayStation 3 and opted for a more streamlined setup. That simplicity extends to options for adjusting audio output and connecting social accounts, among other things.

My biggest gripe with the PS4 is how it handles system storage. Countless times, I’ve gone to either download or install a game and the console has given me an error message saying there isn’t enough free space on the hard drive. Except there is. The most recent offense was with Doom. My PS4 currently has over 60GB of free space, and Doom is a 47GB download. Entering my redemption code, I received an error message and was transported to the system storage screen to clear up some space. Deleting 86GB of games I wasn’t playing anymore should’ve solved the problem but didn’t. I’ve since power-cycled the console and rebuilt the system database from safe mode. Forty-five minutes after the initial attempt, I was finally able to start downloading the game.

And that’s the best-case scenario. On previous occasions, rebuilding the database and deleting over 100GB of installed games didn’t fix the error. I’m not even sure what I did to eventually fix it those times, now that I think about it. When I asked a Sony engineer about this, he didn’t have a clear answer for me. One response was that game files need more space to uncompress than their download size suggests, hence the error about not having enough storage space. But the engineer I spoke with couldn’t explain why, even after deleting and rebooting, that sometimes didn’t address the error message.

Social

The heart of the social experience on PS4 is located right on the gamepad, where you’ll find the “share” button. Pressing it takes screenshots, records video and starts a game-sharing session or a broadcast on Twitch or YouTube. Depending on your preference, you can configure the button a few ways. You can also configure what happens when you press it. Personally, I have the button set up so that a single press grabs a screenshot and a double tap starts recording a video clip.

This saved media can be shared in a variety of ways, including as a message or to Facebook and Twitter. That will post the screenshot or video clip to the “What’s New” activity feed on the home screen. Unlike the Xbox One’s “community” tab that sorts everything into a reverse-chronological river, What’s New is three tiles wide, pushing game broadcasts from the community, not your friends list, notices of trophies unlocked by friends, suggested friends and PSN Store advertisements into one feed. It’s a mess to navigate and I rarely use it.

What I constantly take advantage of is how easy it is to take and share screenshots on PS4. Sharing them via social media is seamless and takes five button presses and I’m back to whatever I was playing prior. The annoying thing here is the inability to simultaneously share to Facebook and Twitter. Being able to take screenshots almost anywhere (and save them as PNG files instead of just JPEGs) almost makes up for it. Aside from the Twitch app, all the screenshots taken for this review were captured without using external methods. Even better? You can save them to a USB stick and do what you want with them; no need to upload to OneDrive and then download to a computer like on the Xbox One.

Another destination for your screenshots is the Communities feature introduced in the last big firmware update, version 3.5. Communities are what you make of them, and can be used to organize clan games, share screenshots to the discussion board and, well, that’s about it.

Game broadcasting

When the PlayStation 4 debuted, there wasn’t a fully dedicated Twitch app. You could watch streams originating from PlayStation via the Live From PlayStation application, but if you wanted to check out a stream of, say, the Dota 2 International you’d have to load Twitch on the system’s web browser. It was incredibly janky. Live With PlayStation broadcasts aren’t just favored; they’re the only ones that are picked up by the homescreen drop-down menus and the “What’s New” tab. But at least now there’s an official Twitch app for watching broadcasts. It works like the Xbox One version does, with a main grid of channels to choose from on the home screen, video and chat taking center stage on a given broadcast, and past streams and channel info off to the right.

While the streaming options started out limited, today they’re pretty robust. You can stream to YouTube, Twitch or even Dailymotion. You can also customize your stream with camera effects and a green screen (to remove any background from what the PlayStation Camera picks up). It offers more flexibility than broadcasting from Xbox One does, but you’re still better off launching your pro-streaming career with a PC and capture device.

PlayStation services

Sony really likes the “PlayStation” name: It’s put it on a number of services accessible from the PS4. PlayStation Now is the company’s quasi-Netflix-for-games streaming service; PlayStation Vue is its TV app for cord-cutters; and PlayStation Plus is its monthly premium service, granting access to online multiplayer and three free game downloads per month.

Rather than offer true backward compatibility for older games via software emulation a la Xbox One, if you want to play a bulk of Sony’s legacy titles on your PS4 you’ll have to pony up $ 100 for a yearly PS Now subscription, $ 45 for three months or $ 20 per month. Is it worth it? Not really. Even with a solid internet connection, game streams cap out at 720p, audio quality isn’t on par with a disc-based game and there’s lag stemming from streaming gameplay off Sony’s servers, to your PS4 and then returning your controller input to the server. Taking the price and user experience into account, it’s a far better idea to pull your PS3 out of the closet. If you have a hankering for an even older game, downloading a PlayStation or PlayStation 2 game from the PSN Store and playing it on a PS Vita is a much better idea.

Microsoft wanted to control your TV’s main HDMI input with its plan to make the Xbox One into the ultimate set-top box, but it’s Sony that’s come closest in that regard, thanks to PlayStation Vue. Even then, using the app (up to $ 50 per month depending on the package) that wants to be your stand-in for a cable subscription is still a rough experience.

I rarely play multiplayer games online, so paying for access to do so isn’t my cup of tea. But PlayStation Plus is so much more than that. It gives me three free games per month, the occasional option to vote on what games will be free and discounts for digital purchases. A majority of the games are from indie developers, and while the quality of said games may have dipped as of late (not everything can be the killer survival horror game Outlast or local co-op adventure Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris), they still regularly best what Microsoft gives away with its Xbox Live Gold promotions.

Different ways to play

In one form or another, Sony’s Remote Play feature has been around since at least 2010. But using the company’s PlayStation Portable handheld to access a PS3 and playing games from it always felt kludgy. Using a PS Vita handheld to do the same with the PS4 is dramatically better, but my giant mitts aren’t ready to trade a DualShock 4 for the Vita’s comparatively cramped confines just so I can play Destiny from my bedroom.

More than that, the Vita is missing a few buttons that the DualShock has, so you need to remap them to the handheld’s rear touchpad. Streaming to a Sony tablet and connecting the gamepad via Bluetooth works like a dream. If you’re after precision, though, and the game you’re playing requires lightning-fast responses, like streaming with PS Now, you’re going to be disappointed. Remote Play is an interesting feature, but unless you have the perfect setup for your network (home or otherwise), the tradeoffs might not be worth playing PS4 games away from your TV.

It’s the same with Share Play, the futuristic PS4 feature that lets you virtually pass a controller to someone else via the internet. The ability to have a friend across the country help you get past a tricky spot is pretty nuts. When it works, anyway. Same goes for playing couch co-op with a friend who isn’t in the same room with you. The problem is that Share Play requires an extremely fast connection between both people to provide the best experience. My modest 85 Mbps connection floated between “low” and just a few notches into the “good” rating. Even starting a session is dicey.

But when it works — and, more importantly, when the game you’re playing doesn’t block the feature — it feels crazy. The initial setup is really unintuitive, and the amount of lag will make or break whatever you’re playing. The X-Wing training mission in Star Wars: Battlefront is okay because it doesn’t require twitch reflexes for your co-op partner, but dipping into the game’s first-person shooter survival mode can be unplayable because of lag. Simply watching a friend play a game works pretty well, though, because it’s a passive experience and doesn’t rely on transmitting gameplay data from your console to your buddy’s.

Game selection

The list of fresh exclusives on PS4 keeps growing. Last year alone saw the ultra-tough Bloodborne, the perennial MLB: The Show and the interactive horror flick Until Dawn. That’s in addition to all of the indies that hit Sony’s latest console before Xbox One, like Rocket League. This year we’ve seen Ratchet and Clank, The Witness (a console exclusive), Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and another edition of Sony’s gorgeous baseball franchise, The Show ’16. There’s still No Man’s Sky, The Last Guardian and all of the upcoming PlayStation VR games as well. Simply put, there are lots of reasons to own a PS4, with even more to come.

Wrap-up

It’s easy to see how Sony has moved over 40 million PS4s. After getting kicked in the teeth for most of the last hardware cycle, Sony wasn’t about to let that happen again. The PS4’s focus has always been on games, not replacing your cable box. By focusing on that first and then augmenting the device with services like game streaming, Sony has built an excellent — in fact, the best — game console. It isn’t perfect, to be sure, but it keeps improving on a formula that already works well.

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Anki’s tiny Cozmo robot is a Pixar character made real

Best known for its sleek and intelligent remote controlled cars, Anki is stepping into new territory with its latest product, a small robot toy named Cozmo. If you’ve seen Wall-E, you’ve already got a good sense of its personality. Thanks to a combination of artificial intelligence, robotic movement designed by former Pixar animators and computer vision technology, Cozmo is curious and incredibly expressive, with the ability to interact with the world around it. It’s smart enough to recognize your face and remember you over time, and it can explore its environment and play games with its very own toys. But it’s most interesting feature? It’s not a perfect robot, and that’s just how Anki wants it.

“Perfect is boring,” Anki CEO and co-founder Boris Sofman said in an interview. “With the [Anki Drive] cars, the first version was boring because it was too good. When he goes and fails to do something, that’s not a bad thing… As long as you can detect what happens, it’s a good opportunity to show off the emotions it generates.”

While we’ve seen plenty of toys claiming AI and robotic capabilities in the past, Cozmo feels unique. I’ll admit, I fell for it pretty quickly during a brief demo. As it was charging, it “slept” in a tiny dock, complete with a snoring sound effect and sleeping animation that can only be described as adorable. When it woke up, it looked around the table and came up right to the edge, quickly realizing it couldn’t go any further. Upon recognizing my face, it wandered up to me with a suspicious look. Like a child, it will recognize people it’s already met and be a bit more hesitant around strangers.

Cozmo also comes with a bunch of smart blocks, which basically serve as its very own toys. It stacks them when it’s bored — and trust me, Cozmo gets really annoyed if you mess up its work. We also used the blocks to play a competitive game, which involved tapping down on them when they displayed like colors. In the first few games I easily trounced Cozmo, much to his adorable dismay. Eventually, he learned to hit the blocks faster, and he had no problem letting me know it.

Sofman says the company was inspired by how toddler and pets interact with the world. They can’t speak, but they can clearly explore and interact with you. Like a child, Cozmo slowly learns to recognize people and explore its world, and over time it learns to play games. But also like a child, it gets frustrated when things don’t work out. Instead of being annoying, though, those little personality quirks — like gloating when it wins a game, and getting angry when you beat it — make it more endearing.

Cozmo is a tiny thing, which adds to its vulnerability. It’s light, has a small display up front for its eyes, a single articulating arm to pick up objects, and uses two tiny treads to get around. Eventually, you’ll be able to replace its arm mechanism with other types of appendages. Cozmo communicates through a combination of Star Wars-like bot noises (yes, in many ways this is the Droid you’ve been looking for), and expressive movements. It relies on an iPhone and Android app to have your phone do much of the processing, which also plays a soundtrack perfectly suited to Cozmo’s mood. Its battery lasts a short two hours, but it recharges in just 10 minutes.

Anki paid particular attention to Cozmo’s emotional smarts. It has an “emotion engine” that lets it respond to situations realistically, which should help you bond with it pretty quickly. (Again, it took me all of five seconds.) Its animation team is led by former Pixar animator Carlos Baena, so they know how to toy with your feelings with simple robotic movements and noises. Anki also developed a customized version of the Maya 3D software to have it directly command how Cozmo moves, allowing the animators to quickly get up and running.

Looking ahead, Anki plans to release an software development kid (SDK) for Cozmo, which will let anyone program it. It could also end up being used in STEM programs in schools; it wouldn’t be hard to convince kids to learn programming so they can control Cozmo. The company is also sending Cozmo units to Carnegie Mellon, where Anki’s founders got their start.

You can pre-order Cozmo today from Anki’s website for $ 180, and it’ll be widely available in October. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s only slightly pricier than Sphero’s $ 150 BB-8 toy, which every geek coveted last year (and wasn’t nearly as smart as Cozmo).

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iPhone 7 will get a larger camera, according to spy shot (updated)

Another week, another iPhone 7 leak. (Hey, it rhymes!) Following the set of components allegedly showing dual-SIM support, up to 256GB of storage and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the next iPhone, Chinese repair shop Rock Fix is back with a photo of what it claims to be the 4.7-inch iPhone 7’s rear casing. Most notably, there are fewer plastic antenna bands here, and the main camera is said to feature a larger CMOS sensor — here’s hoping this will offer larger pixel sites to boost light sensitivity. What’s interesting is that contrary to WSJ’s report earlier this week, Rock Fix pointed out that the headphone jack is here to stay on one of the two 4.7-inch variants, which would explain why we’re seeing conflicting rumors about the headphone jack.

Rock Fix added that the cheaper 4.7-inch model — our money’s on the one that’s keeping the headphone jack — will replace the aging iPhone 6 in the new lineup. As for the bigger iPhone 7 Plus, it’ll unlikely have a variant with the headphone jack, but we’re told that it’ll be the only one featuring the special dual-lens camera we saw last time. Both sizes will apparently have dual-SIM slots, which is a common feature in competitive markets like China and India. If true, this move will hopefully give Apple a much needed boost after its recent iPhone sales decline.

Update: We’ve updated our article with new information regarding the special variant that will apparently be keeping the headphone jack, as well as the above image of a purported iPhone 7 chassis without the headphone jack.

Source: Rock Fix (Sina Weibo)

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Simple Habit aims to de-stress you with 5-minute meditations

Yunha Kim knows a lot about stress. She founded Locket, an app that put ads on the Android lock screen, which was eventually bought up by the shopping app Wish. Starting and running her own company, naturally, was a stressful proposition, so she turned to meditation as a way to center herself. Now, she’s hoping to do the same for everyone with a new iPhone app called Simple Habit. It offers five-minute guided meditation sessions that you can do from practically anywhere, each targeted for specific situations.

While there are plenty of mindfulness apps out there — even Apple is getting in on the meditation bandwagon with Breathe in WatchOS 3 — Kim says Simple Habit differs by adopting a Netflix-like model. The app is free to install, and there’s also a quick introductory session that shows you what the experience is like. But to get access to all of the meditation lessons, you’ve got to pay $ 4 a week, $ 15 a month or $ 120 a year.

It might seem counterintuitive to pay up front for mindfulness training, but it looks like you get a lot for your money. (And it’s not as if meditation lessons are always free.) Kim has around 30 experts contributing lessons to the app, which from very specific (at work and stressed) to fairly general (morning meditation). With this many contributors, Simple Help should be able to keep its selections of lessons fresh, something that other relaxation apps often have trouble with. Kim is also working with a Harvard psychologist to ensure the lessons actually help you relax.

While sitting at my desk, I went through the “Improve Focus at Work” session. A calm and pleasant British woman guided me to sit down, stretch my shoulders, and then focus on my breathing. Over the course of the five-minute session, she had me focus on my left hand, every single digit and repeat the process for my right hand. Yes, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but that’s the point. It’s a simple way to clear your thoughts, focus your mind and hopefully make yourself feel less stressed

Simple Habit also has sessions going all the way up to 30 minutes, which will be helpful if you really get into the habit of meditation. Honestly, it’s not that hard to start meditating for free on your own, with some light research. That’s how I’ve been de-stressing for the past few months. But Simple Habit’s targeted sessions makes it easy for people with far less patience to relax. Eventually, you might find that you don’t need the app anymore for your meditation fix, but your time with it will have been well worth it.

Source: iTunes, Simple Habit

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MacOS Sierra first look: Siri, show me the new stuff

As of last week, OS X has a new name. It’s macOS now — macOS Sierra, specifically. The newest version of Apple’s desktop operating system arrives next month in the form of a public beta, with the final build coming out sometime in the fall. All signs point to this being a less exciting release than in years past, with the most exciting features being the addition of Siri (it’s about time!), auto-unlock and the ability to copy and paste between your Apple devices. (Other additions, like automatically backing up your desktop and Documents folder, are useful though hardly groundbreaking.)

With the public beta launch still a few weeks away, I’ve already had a chance to play around with an early version of the software. It was so early-stages, in fact, that some of the headline features weren’t ready for testing. Enjoy this first look, then, but let’s agree to regroup a few months from now — there’s still a lot of ground left for us to cover.

Siri

There are a few places where you can find Siri in macOS, and each feels intuitive. For starters, you’ll find the familiar purple Siri shortcut in the Dock, right next to Finder. That lower-left corner is the same place we already expect to find Cortana on Windows 10. If you like, though, Siri also lives in the tray, in the upper-right area of the screen, right next to where the search bar already lives. Or — and this is my personal favorite — you can use the keyboard shortcut Fn-spacebar to bring it up without using your cursor. Power users will notice that’s very similar to the shortcut you’d use to bring up Spotlight search, which is command-space. It makes sense that each has a keyboard command, and that they’re similar — if you know how to do one, you basically know how to do the other.

As you’d expect, Siri handles all the same commands that it does on iOS: searching the web, setting reminders, creating calendar events, composing emails and texts, etc., etc. You can also ask follow-up questions. Say, if I asked for dry cleaners in my neighborhood, I can then narrow my search to “only on 7th Avenue.” Really, I’d expect no less of a digital assistant these days. Given that this is macOS, Siri has also been optimized to control the operating system itself, giving users the ability to search for files, change their settings and find out more about their machine (how much local and iCloud storage you have left, for instance).

Once you find what you want, be it a specific file or a baseball game schedule, you can pin the results to the Notification Center, as well as copy and paste or drag-and-drop them into a different app. You can also open files straight from Siri, though in some cases you’ll need to follow a link to Finder to see the complete results.

Picture in Picture

Sierra brings with it a picture-in-picture mode, wherein you can pop out a movie in iTunes or Safari and watch in a separate stay-on-top window. (Look for a new icon in the video player that looks like a window popping out of a window.) Because I was testing an early version of the OS, most websites didn’t yet support this feature (an API is available to developers), but I was able to take an ESPN video and watch a recap of game seven of the NBA finals, all while opening and closing other apps and windows. If the window is getting in your way, you can drag it around as well as resize it. Media controls appear when you hover over it, though in my tests I couldn’t jump forward or back to a different point in the video. When the video ends, the pop-out window automatically closes — a convenient touch.

Universal Clipboard

For a long time now, Apple’s big focus with macOS has been around “Continuity” — the ability for apps to work seamlessly across the desktop and mobile devices, with carryover in things like documents and web activity. Now, users will also be able to copy and paste between their gadgets, whether that be macOS and iOS, Macs only, or from one iOS gadget to another. As in other instances of Continuity on the Mac, you don’t actually need to set anything up; just make sure all of the devices you plan to use are signed into the same iCloud account (which, let’s face it, they probably already are).

I was initially skeptical that it would be that easy. But in fact, once I set up Sierra on two different Macs, each signed into the same iCloud account, I was able to hit command-C (copy) on one machine and command-V (paste) into a TextEdit doc on the other. Basically, it seems that Sierra is remembering your most recent copy action across all of your devices. To paste that text in, you just need to make sure you’re pasting into an app that already supports copy-paste, which, duh: of course you are.

Messages

This fall Apple fans will have revamped messages apps for both macOS and iOS 10, with features that include enlarged emoji (three times bigger than before), inline previews of videos and websites and so-called Tapbacks, which let you respond to a message by adding a thumbs-up, heart or other pictorial reaction. The fact that your reaction appears on top of the message bubble means less clutter as you scroll through a message thread.

In addition, Messages on macOS can display some of the flashy new effects that are specific to iOS 10, including stickers, handwriting, “invisible ink” and “Digital Touch.” It’s a shame you can’t actually send messages from your Mac using these effects (they were some of the most fun things we saw at Apple’s WWDC keynote last week), but at least you can see what friends are sending you from their iPhones.

iCloud and Documents

Starting with Sierra, macOS behaves a lot more like Dropbox. If you like, you can have your Desktop and Documents folder automatically upload to iCloud, so that you don’t have to manually cherrypick which files you’d like to save. Once you enable this feature (it’s not turned on by default), you’ll find the Desktop and Documents in a slightly different location in Finder: under the iCloud banner in the left-hand pane.

Optimized Storage

“Optimized storage” aren’t the sexiest words ever uttered by Tim Cook during a keynote, but this is actually a feature everyone can benefit from. (Unlike Siri, maybe?) To call it a feature — a singular word — might be a misnomer; by enabling Optimized Storage, you’re actually turning on a host of processes that work in the background to free up space on your local disk. This includes automatically moving seldom-used files and already-watched iTunes movies and TV shows to the cloud and, if you like, storing Mail attachments on the server unless you choose to download them.

The system will also automatically erase items that have been in the trash 30 days and clear your cache and logs. In addition, it flags duplicate downloads in Safari and reminds you of used application installers. Certain nonessential features, like dictionaries, instructional videos and special fonts, are now available on-demand, instead of loaded on your system by default. Heck, even the OS itself takes up less space: Apple said it worked to make the installer smaller than in years past.

Photos

Here again, we have a new macOS feature that’s also a new iOS feature. The Photos app on both platforms is getting an upgrade, with a new “Memories” view that automatically detects events in your life, based on the people in them and where the shots were taken. Thanks to “advanced computer vision,” the new Photos is also smart enough to know which of your pics contain things like dogs or snow.

Scroll through the Memories view, and you’ll see a breakdown of people and places. Take note, though: To make the most of the facial-recognition feature, you’ll need to do some preliminary legwork, tagging faces in your photo library. To be fair, Apple makes this easy by automatically surfacing some frequently featured faces, prompting you to assign them a name. Oh, and the Memories view also includes a “Related Memories” section at the bottom, so that you have Memories to go with your Memories. It’s Memory-ception, basically. And also, a rabbit-hole of vacation photos.

As you navigate away from the Memories tab, you’ll also find dedicated People and Places albums. In the People album, your subjects are ranked by how often they appear in photos, though if you like, you can mark someone as a favorite so that they always appear up top. Additionally, Albums View looks different, with rounded tiles and photo and video counts. If you’re viewing one big photo on the screen, you’ll notice that the scrubber on the bottom looks a lot like the one on iOS (pick “Show Thumbnails” from the View menu to make the scrubber appear in the 1-up layout). Also note the search bar in the upper-right, from which you can search by places, people and keywords, like “beach.” And, of course, Siri can find your photos too.

Lastly, what would a Photos update be without new editing tools? New options include “Brilliance,” which applies region-specific adjustments to brighten dark areas, and “Markup” for adding text, shapes and signatures to images. You can also edit Live Photos, a feature that I’m sure some iPhone 6s owners have been demanding. Those edits apply to both the still photo and the video. Apple is opening Live Photos editing to third-party developers as well, in case you happen to prefer a different photo editor.

iTunes

iTunes generally still feels like a bloated mess, but Apple Music at least has received a major redesign. The new UI is much simpler, marked by large headers and prominent album art. In addition to your library and the iTunes store, you’ll find three other tabs toward the top to guide your experience: “For You,” “Browse” and “Radio.” Those last two are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth pointing out that “For You” is a mix of personalized playlists and recommendations, along with updates from whatever artists you might be following.

Tabs

Expect to see a lot more tabs across macOS. In addition to Safari and Finder, you can also open tabs in Maps, Mail, TextEdit and the whole iWork suite. The feature will automatically work in third-party document-based apps too, with no updates required from the developer. The only stipulation is that the app has to already support multiple windows, which is why you’re seeing tabs in Maps but not, say, Messages.

It’s all pretty simple, though you do still get some options in terms of how this works. For instance, you can choose to always open new windows in tabs, which is what I personally would do. Or, you could set your system up so that new windows only become tabs if you’re already working at full-screen.

Features we can’t test yet

Auto-unlock

Once Sierra and the newly announced watchOS 3 arrive in the fall, Mac users will be able to unlock their machine using an Apple Watch. It seems like the setup is straightforward: Make sure both devices are signed into iCloud with the same Apple ID, and enable Auto Unlock in your Mac’s system’s settings. From there, so long as you’re within three meters of your Mac, you can unlock your machine simply by lifting the lid or hitting a key.

Selfishly, I wish our IT department would support this feature on my company-issued Mac so that I don’t have to type in a complex 16-character password every time I come back from a coffee break. Fat chance that’ll ever happen, though.

Apple Pay on the web

Apple Pay has been steadily expanding to include more banks and more retailers, but until now, there was a glaring blind spot: payments on the web. That changes in the fall, when some merchants will start building in an Apple Pay button. A few things need to be in place in order for this to actually happen: The retailer of your choice needs to actually support Apple Pay on their website, of course. Also, you’ll need to visit the website in Safari, not some other browser. Lastly, you need an Apple Pay-equipped device, like an Apple Watch or newer iPhone or iPad.

That last bit is important because you’ll need a secondary device to actually complete the transaction. Even after you hit the Apple Pay button in Safari, you still have to either double-click the button on your Apple Watch or enter a passcode or use Touch ID on your iOS device. For Apple’s part, the company is quick to tout the security benefits — namely, that Apple doesn’t store your credit card number on your device or Apple’s servers, nor does it save the details of your transactions. For retailers, though, there’s surely another benefit, which is that getting customers checked out faster is always a good thing (the better to enable your impulse purchases, my dear!).

At launch, we’ll see Apple Pay on Etsy, Expedia, Fandango, JetBlue, Lululemon, Nike, StubHubm Target, Under Armour, United Airlines, Conde Nast and The Wall Street Journal‘s websites. Additionally, e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Demandware and IBM are working behind the scenes to enable Apple Pay for some 250,000-odd websites that are powered by their technology.

Compatibility

When Sierra comes out, it’ll be available on Macs up to 7 years old. In particular, it will run on MacBooks and iMacs from as far back as late 2009. If it’s any other kind of Mac — an Air, Pro, mini or Pro desktop — your machine needs to be from 2010 or later. Obviously too (I think this goes without saying?) to make the most out of the OS you’ll also need an iDevice. Think: an Apple Pay device for Apple Pay, a Touch ID-enabled device for auto-unlock, and an iOS 10 device to use Universal Clipboard, Memories or the new Messages on the go.

Come to think of it, to really evaluate Sierra, we’ll also need to take a look at iOS 10. Not coincidentally, both launch around the same time. Expect to hear a lot more from us then on all things Apple software.

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BBM Video for Android and iPhone is now out in Asia-Pacific

Most BBM users finally have access to the app’s video calling capability. BlackBerry has released the feature for Android and iOS in Asia-Pacific, which is apparently home to its biggest userbase. The company said it made cross-platform video calls available in the US and Canada first, because it wanted to be able to fix bugs before it reaches more people. Since video calling is now stable, the phonemaker can roll it out to the rest of world.

While BBM isn’t as popular as its newer, shinier rivals like Messenger or WhatsApp anymore, BlackBerry is still developing new features for it. In fact, this release is but a small part of a bigger rollout. Later this summer, the company will launch the capability to register for an account using a phone number, among other things. Android users will be able to share larger videos, as well, while those on iOS will be able to mute group notifications.

Source: BlackBerry

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WSJ: This year’s iPhone won’t feature big changes

If you’re eagerly awaiting a load of new features for this year’s iPhone, you might be a bit disappointed come fall. The Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming models will offer only modest changes from the current iPhone 6S and 6S Plus rather than a more robust redesign. Apple has been trotting out new designs every two years with the “S” models offering mostly internal tweaks in between. According to WSJ’s sources though, that won’t be the case this year.

WSJ reports that both the 4.7- and 5.5-inch models will return, and they’ll do so without a 3.5mm headphone jack. Rumors have gone back and forth on whether or not Apple will ditch the port entirely, and we’ve even caught a glimpse of alleged iPhone 7 parts that indicate the jack is staying. The rumblings about the company’s preference for Lightning connectivity for headphones began late last year and has been the most discussed tweak for the new models. Nixing the 3.5mm port is said to not only improve the phone’s water resistance, but also allow for a thinner handset.

Apple is planning a massive overhaul for 2017’s 10th anniversary of the iPhone, according to WSJ. Those updates are said to include an edge-to-edge OLED display while nixing the iconic home button entirely. Sources say that the Touch ID security features would be part of the display itself. Of course, that release is well over a year away, so things could change significantly between now and then.

What’s the reason for not having a major update this year? Apple’s coming off its first quarter of sales decline in the iPhone’s history, but WSJ reports that the reason for subtle changes is due to tech that’s currently in the works taking more time to finish. While the iPhone 5S featured the addition of Touch ID, last year’s 6S and 6S Plus focused largely on internals with 3D Touch and improved cameras. Both kept the same overall design as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 the year before. Nixing the headphone jack wouldn’t be a small change though, especially if you’ve already invested in a set of wired headphones.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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Android Pay Day offers UK discounts for mobile payments

Now that Android Pay is available in the UK, Google wants to make sure people are actually using it. The company has come up with a promotion called Android Pay Day, which offers discounts every month on the Tuesday before your next pay slip. The scheme kicks off today with two deals; firstly, in Starbucks, you can get two-for-one on Frappucinos; the second is a £5 voucher (ANDROIDPAY5 for new users, ANDROIDPAY2.5 for existing customers) that you can redeem inside the Deliveroo app, provided you select Android Pay as your payment method at checkout.

These discounts are designed, no doubt, to educate people about the different ways they can spend with Android Pay. Most Brits will know they can use their phone to pay at physical stores — they’ll have seen iPhone users doing the same with Apple Pay. But it’s possible, or rather likely, that users are less familiar with Android Pay’s second role as a digital wallet. Android Pay Day could, therefore, be an important tool for raising awareness among the Android-wielding public. Success will ultimately hinge, however, on Google promoting the monthly rewards effectively — if no-one knows they exist, they won’t have an impact on adoption.

A good start would be a promotions page like the one it’s set up for US customers.

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Add-on brings Game Boy cartridges to your Android phone

Hyperkin toyed with gamers last year when it teased a peripheral that would play real Game Boy cartridges on your phone, but it wasn’t just kidding around — it’s making good on its word. The company is now taking pre-orders for a Smart Boy Development Kit that lets your Android smartphone play Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges. The $ 60 peripheral isn’t meant for everyday use — Hyperkin is hoping you’ll improve the open source code yourself. Nonetheless, it’s likely the closest you’ll get to reviving your childhood short of dragging the original hardware out of storage. Just be ready to wait until December 1st to get yours… and while Hyperkin originally talked about an iPhone version, Apple handset users are out of luck so far.

Via: SlashGear, Neowin, Gizmodo

Source: Hyperkin

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Driverless cars could be the future of racing

Translogic host Jonathon Buckley heads to Thunderhill Raceway for the first Autonomous Track Day. We caught up with Silicon Valley entrepreneur and event organizer Joshua Schachter to find out if driverless cars will ever race themselves. “That would be fun,” said Schachter. “We have to make sure it’s interesting. If it’s just robots driving perfectly, that’s not exciting.”

“I think we’ll figure it out.”

We also check in with George Hotz, originally famous for unlocking the iPhone and now builder of driverless cars. Hotz shared his story of how he got involved with autonomous technology through a disagreement with Elon Musk.

“Elon Musk was originally going to give me money to build this for his Tesla,” said Hotz of his driverless car. “Elon changed the deal at the last minute, said no…[I] bought this car, made it drive itself.”

TRANSLOGIC

  • Click here to find more episodes of Translogic
  • Click here to learn more about our host, Jonathon Buckley

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