Terminal Madness started out as a Computer Bulletin Board, ( BBS ) back around 1993. Fascinated that one could get all the information they ever wanted "on line", for FREE, the "BBS" was named Terminal Madness. I have been hooked on tech ever since. I took my "username" BrainStorm as I love the concept of getting a group of people together to solve... a problem, "Brainstorming". More

Comcast’s Xfinity X1 Eye-Tracking Remote Lets You Control a TV With Your Eyes

Comcast’s Xfinity X1 Eye-Tracking Remote Lets You Control a TV With Your Eyes

Seven years ago, telecommunications heavyweight Comcast recruited Tom Wlodkowski to make the company's services more accessible to people with disabilities.

Wlodkowski came with an impressive list of accomplishments: He'd run AOL's efforts to make the internet more functional for people with visual and physical impairments; and launched a number of services like AIM Relay, which let people who are deaf or speech-disabled place phone calls. He’s also blind, which meant he knew firsthand some of the challenges that people faced when trying to control a television with a standard remote control.

At Comcast, Wlodkowski built a team dedicated to accessibility. They developed the cable industry’s first voice-guided TV interface, and created a dedicated support center for customers with disabilities. So when Wlodkowski’s team was approached by a Comcast board member, whose sister had ALS and couldn't use Comcast's standard remote, the challenge fell to them: How could they give her more control of her TV?

Remote Rethink

Wlodkowski’s team began researching. They found that many people who had lost their fine motor skills—whether from degenerative conditions or paralysis—used eye tracking devices to interface with their computers. These devices shine an infrared light into your eyes and follow the movement of your pupils, like a cursor on a screen. It lets someone use their gaze like a mouse. To "click," they can either linger on a particular icon or set the device to "blink mode," where closing the eyes registers the click.

Wlodkowski brought these accessibility devices into the lab and, after some experimentation, created a web interface that pairs with them. Comcast customers can visit the interface in a web browser, log in with their Xfinity credentials, and pair their accessibility device to an existing set. Using the special interface, a viewer can control their television with their eyes.

The new web-based remote recreates Comcast's X1 interface, which collates everything on your TV and, in some cases, connected home devices. It offers controls for traditional television channels and on-demand media, plus apps like Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. It can also talk to Xfinity Home services, which can control smart locks and connected thermostats installed around the home. Now, Wlodkowski says, people will have the option to manage all of that with their eye-gaze software. Users can manage basic TV functions—changing the channel, searching for a movie, adjusting the volume—or more complex tasks, like unlocking the front door, all by moving their eyes around the screen.

An eye-controlled remote may seem to serve a small niche, but Wlodkowski likes to think about accessibility tech as driving broader innovations for consumers. Most people won’t use the new remote today, but building these kinds of products could make new interactions possible for everyone later on. He points to voice controls, which first arose to serve the needs of the blind community decades ago. “Now look at what voice has become. It’s a mainstream product,” says Wlodkowski. “Inclusive design makes better products for everyone.”

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Original author: Arielle Pardes
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Hey Alexa, Why Is Voice Shopping So Lousy?

Hey Alexa, Why Is Voice Shopping So Lousy?

Scroll through Twitter and you'll find all manner of jokes about Alexa's on-demand shopping abilities. In response to internet drama: "Alexa, order me popcorn." In response to sad news: "Alexa, order me a box of tissues." In response to climate change: "Alexa, order us a new planet."

Amazon's chatty bot, like its voice-assistant brethren, was meant to liberate us from our most tedious tasks. That includes buying things—reordering toothpaste, stocking the fridge. But voice commerce remains a largely unfulfilled promise; most of us aren't ordering anything through our smart speakers.

Market research firm Forrester recently tested the commercial capabilities of voice assistants from Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The researchers asked each voice assistant 180 questions about products and services, like "what brands sell liquid laundry detergent?" They then ranked each response as either passing or failing. Overall, the voice assistants failed 65 percent of questions. (For what it’s worth, Google Assistant performed best, followed by Microsoft’s Cortana. Apple’s Siri performed worst.)

"Voice commerce is completely overrated."

Sucharita Kodali, market research analyst

It’s not just the high rate of failure but the way those assistants fail that’s interesting. For some of the questions, assistants redirected the user to the browser—as in, "Sorry, I can’t help with that, but I found something on the web." Other times, the voice assistant simply misunderstood the request. In one case, when asked where to buy diapers, Alexa inexplicably directed the Forrester researchers to the town of Buy in Russia.

Voice assistants can prove less-than-capable in other ways, too. Ask Alexa to buy laundry detergent and it can add some to your Amazon shopping cart without much trouble. But ask for something more specific—say, fragrance-free detergent pods under $25—and it's likely to get tripped up.

"A bunch of companies built Alexa skills and I just wonder, 'Why?'" says Sucharita Kodali, the retail expert at Forrester. "Voice commerce is completely overrated. It doesn’t make sense for most purchases except for a quick replenishment purchase of something you recently purchased from Amazon and your payment and shipping information is stored."

Amazon has the distinct advantage in this space, since it controls both the voice technology and the marketplace. It also sells its own line of products, called Amazon Basics, that are better suited to voice-orders. "Voice commerce is very much in its early stages, and it’s generally for basic commodities, those that can be ordered without being seen," says James Moar, a lead analyst at market research firm Juniper. "The Amazon Basics range is full of products that are simple enough to not need comparison, and so is most able to recommend products to be bought through voice."

For Amazon, voice shopping could create a new way to direct customers to its own products, under the guise of convenience. Patrick Gauthier, the vice president of Amazon Pay, has called voice a "new era in commerce" and compared it to the magnitude of mobile payments or e-commerce. Amazon has been working on this for a while—recall the Dash, which you could speak into to add things to your Amazon Fresh cart. But even Amazon hasn't made much headway yet. Last year, only 2 percent of Amazon’s customers used Alexa’s voice shopping feature.

Arielle Pardes covers personal technology, social media, and culture for WIRED.

The figures don't stand much higher on other voice platforms. Research from Elastic Path, a company that builds ecommerce software, found that only 6 percent of consumers had used a voice-activated device to make a purchase in the past six months. About half of the people it surveyed said they were interested in trying it, but many also identified reasons not to—chiefly, the high rate of miscommunication or errors. (Consider this delightful example, in which a Snopes researcher asked Alexa to order a dollhouse. Alexa’s response: "Now shuffling songs by Bauhaus.") And because shopping is often a visual exercise, it often makes more sense to turn to a screen than to shout into the void.

Of course, that’s changing. The adoption of voice technologies is steadily climbing—millions of people own Alexa- or Assistant-enabled devices—and those assistants are no longer restricted to their cylindrical silos. Amazon sells the Echo Show, an Alexa device with a screen; the Google Assistant can live inside the Nest Home Hub or the Lenovo Smart Clock, both of which have displays. Part of the appeal of those devices is the ability to add visual information to an otherwise audio-first experience: showing the weekly forecast when you ask about the weather, or cueing up a music video when you ask to play a song. Another use for a voice assistant with a screen? Shopping.

You can imagine a future where Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and the Google Assistant reach their full potential as personal shoppers. Screens will be essential, as they "allow things to be compared more easily, making more products a viable purchase through voice," says Moar, the Juniper analyst. "This will be fully realized in the ability to transition between platforms—when you can ask your smart speaker about booking hotels, and it hands off the response request to a smart TV to display a variety of options."

Just think, another wholly new way to window shop.

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Original author: Arielle Pardes
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Analogue Mega SG Review: The Sega Genesis Reborn

I’m not much of a nostalgic gamer. I enjoy modern-but-retro-inspired games quite a bit (Hello. Do you have a moment to talk about Hollow Knight?) but I don’t often pine for the gaming experiences of my misspent youth. They’re usually better as memories.

For example, the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind I remember is lush, vivid, and creepy. I’ll always remember how it felt venturing into the perpetual storm surrounding the Red Mountain, and how amazed I was to see NPCs raise their arms to shield themselves from the swirling red ash. Experiencing Morrowind today wouldn't be the same. It looks and feels dated. Reality can never match those wonderful memories.

So when the Analogue SG Mega arrived at my door I was skeptical. It’s a retro console of sorts. It runs original Sega Genesis cartridges using some impressive technical wizardry (more on that later) but at the end of the day it seemed like just another trip down memory lane—one I’d rather not take. Until I spent some time with it.

Mega Genesis

There is something delightfully transgressive about plugging a 1989 retro console into a 65-inch 4K TV. It’s even more delightful when Sonic the Hedgehog tears across the screen in full 1080p. The picture is sharp and colorful, vivid on a modern TV, and the audio is remarkable. Sonic's iconic bells, whistles, and music were faithfully reproduced through modern speakers.

Like it's sibling, the Super NT, the Mega SG is different from other self-contained retro consoles. Instead of coming bundled with controllers and 20+ games baked inside it like the NES Classic and SNES Classic, it's designed to actually play old Sega Genesis cartridges with pristine accuracy. It's less of a retro console and more of a revival.

[[[[image 8Bitdo controller]]]]

It's also on the expensive side. Most retro consoles cost $100 or less. The Mega SG will run you $190 for the console and $25 per controller. Since controllers are not included, you'll need at least one. Analogue partnered with 8Bitdo to make them, and they run $25 a piece from Amazon or Analogue. For an authentic Sega Genesis experience, you're looking at $240. Which is within striking distance of what you'd pay for something like a refurbished Nintendo Switch.

As a gaming experience, this is a Sega Genesis in all but name. Almost. It plays exactly the way you remember it did. It’s quick, snappy, games are rendered faithfully—even the experience of slotting in a cartridge is nostalgic and satisfying. But there are some modern conveniences, too. The controller is wireless and connects using a little dongle you plug into the front of the console, and there’s a system menu for troubleshooting any issues you might have. You can tweak video and audio, or enter Game Genie-style cheat codes if you're feeling frisky.

It eliminates all the problems you’d likely encounter if you tried to hook an original Genesis up to your TV. It gets out of your way and lets you play your original Sega game cartridges without any fuss, and it does that with some impressive technical design.

A Link to the Past

So, the Mega SG is not just a self-contained retro console, like the highly sought-after NES or SNES Classic systems, and it’s not an emulator like the Nintendo Virtual Console store on the Switch. It’s something else entirely.

When you play a game through an emulator on a console or PC (like DICE), you're using a software suite that simulates a retro console's hardware. Some emulators work well. Others are about as elegant as playing Jenga with oven mitts. They're often awkward and janky, requiring a lot of time and care to load and play games properly. Some emulated games flat out won’t work and you’ll be tempted to seek out ROMs (game files) from less-than-reputable sources all over the internet.

[[[[image of Mega SG Colors]]]]

If you’re an enterprising sort, you can find dozens of video tutorials on how to create a retro game console using a Raspberry Pi and some DIY engineering. But these solutions present a problem: no matter how good your emulator is, it’s not the native environment the game was built for. It’s an approximation. It will never play exactly how it would off an original cartridge because the emulator software always stands between you and the game.

Analogue’s Mega SG does something different. It has an FPGA chip inside—a physical chip designed to become another type of hardware. It’s not emulating Sega games; it’s running them in their native environment. You’re playing the same Mortal Kombat that kids were playing (and hiding from their parents) in the early 1990’s. If emulators are MP3s, the Mega SG is classic vinyl.

Rose-Colored Glasses

The console is a solid piece of engineering. It’s well-made and does its job without fail. The games are what they were three decades ago, for better and worse. Some are charmingly quaint and others are frustratingly difficult in the ways only early console games can get away with.

If you played a lot of Sega games as a kid be prepared to have some memories shattered. No, those combos you pulled off in Mortal Kombat were not actually as impressive as you remember; Yes, Aladdin really was that hard.

Sure, most of these games aren’t going to be as great as we remember, but there’s something fun about searching the internet for an obscure cartridge you half remember playing once (like Romance of the Three Kingdoms III) getting it home, and finding it plays just as well as it did in your youth. It’s like taking home a historical artifact (a moment frozen in time) that you can explore precisely as others did in the ancient past.

Playing games like these reminded me how many Sega Genesis games I never played. Honestly, just search “Sega Games” on eBay and you’ll find a handful of probably-kinda-great games you never got around to playing during the 16-bit era.

I’m still averse to nostalgia, and I don’t want to retread all the hours I poured into Shining Force II as a kid, but after digging into Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I’m definitely interested in exploring more of the games I missed out on, and the Mega SG is the best way to do it.

Original author: Jess Grey
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Comcast’s Xfinity X1 Eye-Tracking Remote Lets You Control a TV With Your Eyes

Comcast’s Xfinity X1 Eye-Tracking Remote Lets You Control a TV With Your Eyes

Seven years ago, telecommunications heavyweight Comcast recruited Tom Wlodkowski to make the company's services more accessible to people with disabilities.

Wlodkowski came with an impressive list of accomplishments: He'd run AOL's efforts to make the internet more functional for people with visual and physical impairments; and launched a number of services like AIM Relay, which let people who are deaf or speech-disabled place phone calls. He’s also blind, which meant he knew firsthand some of the challenges that people faced when trying to control a television with a standard remote control.

At Comcast, Wlodkowski built a team dedicated to accessibility. They developed the cable industry’s first voice-guided TV interface, and created a dedicated support center for customers with disabilities. So when Wlodkowski’s team was approached by a Comcast board member, whose sister had ALS and couldn't use Comcast's standard remote, the challenge fell to them: How could they give her more control of her TV?

Remote Rethink

Wlodkowski’s team began researching. They found that many people who had lost their fine motor skills—whether from degenerative conditions or paralysis—used eye tracking devices to interface with their computers. These devices shine an infrared light into your eyes and follow the movement of your pupils, like a cursor on a screen. It lets someone use their gaze like a mouse. To "click," they can either linger on a particular icon or set the device to "blink mode," where closing the eyes registers the click.

Wlodkowski brought these accessibility devices into the lab and, after some experimentation, created a web interface that pairs with them. Comcast customers can visit the interface in a web browser, log in with their Xfinity credentials, and pair their accessibility device to an existing set. Using the special interface, a viewer can control their television with their eyes.

The new web-based remote recreates Comcast's X1 interface, which collates everything on your TV and, in some cases, connected home devices. It offers controls for traditional television channels and on-demand media, plus apps like Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. It can also talk to Xfinity Home services, which can control smart locks and connected thermostats installed around the home. Now, Wlodkowski says, people will have the option to manage all of that with their eye-gaze software. Users can manage basic TV functions—changing the channel, searching for a movie, adjusting the volume—or more complex tasks, like unlocking the front door, all by moving their eyes around the screen.

An eye-controlled remote may seem to serve a small niche, but Wlodkowski likes to think about accessibility tech as driving broader innovations for consumers. Most people won’t use the new remote today, but building these kinds of products could make new interactions possible for everyone later on. He points to voice controls, which first arose to serve the needs of the blind community decades ago. “Now look at what voice has become. It’s a mainstream product,” says Wlodkowski. “Inclusive design makes better products for everyone.”

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Original author: Arielle Pardes
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'Star Wars' News: 'The Rise of Skywalker' Got Made On the Run

'Star Wars' News: 'The Rise of Skywalker' Got Made On the Run

Of course, everybody knows that WIRED already broke the biggest Star Wars story of the past couple of weeks when we told you that Lucasfilm failed us all by not putting Emma Thompson in a movie, even though she wants to be in one. Hey, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, you have a new Star Wars trilogy in the works—call her agent! Meanwhile, although things have been relatively quiet on the official movie and TV announcement front since the last time we spoke, it’s not as if nothing is going on. Read the latest Cantina Talk below and see for yourself.

The Rise of Skywalker Got Made On the Run

The Source: The woman responsible for ensuring Episode IX made sense

Probability of Accuracy: She knows what she's talking about.

The Real Deal: The relatively short production schedule for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker meant that certain changes had to be made to the filmmaking process, according to Maryann Brandon, one of the movie's editors. At a recent public appearance, she revealed that the movie was being edited and assembled more or less in real time during shooting. "I was on the set the entire time, and [director J.J. Abrams] got so used to it that he was like, 'You need to be less than 10 feet away from me at all times'—so if the camera would move 10 feet, I would move 10 feet," she said. "I watched what they were shooting, I was cutting what they were shooting the day before." The process, born thanks to the looming deadline (the movie was scheduled for release less than a year after principal photography wrapped, a problem considering the amount of visual effects and post-production necessary), came with certain benefits, Brandon explained. "I had the DP right there to ask questions. If I needed a shot, or if J.J. decided we needed another shot, we would set up in a corner and get a green screen shot of something."

Is Star Wars: Quantum Leap a Thing?

The Source: An anonymously sourced online report

Probability of Accuracy: This one sounds unconvincing, but not impossible ...

The Real Deal: File this one under "Genuine Oddities": The site We Got This Covered ran a report last week claiming that there's potentially a new Disney+ show in the works that will feature "a slate of new characters, who try and go back in time in order to change the outcome of various key events within the Star Wars universe." Citing an unnamed "industry insider," the report also said, "One episode will apparently see them trying to kill a young version of Darth Vader." On the face of it, it seems unlikely—it's a very un-Star Wars concept, and there have been no other reports or leaks to support it—but at the same time, the end of Star Wars: Rebels did introduce the possibility of time travel, so it's not entirely unlikely, either.

The Next Star Wars Videogame Will Redefine the Force

The Source: Official publicity for Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Probability of Accuracy: Prepare to discover new Force abilities in a few months; it's legit.

The Real Deal: We've known it was coming for some time, but the recent E3 confab revealed both a new trailer for, and more details about, the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order videogame.

The in-canon game not only will introduce new Jedi, and fascinatingly, new Force abilities (including the ability to slow other people's movements), but also will feature familiar faces and locations at a time when fans haven't previously seen them. Forest Whitaker returns as Saw Gerrera from Rogue One in a time period before that of the film. Also, one of the game's missions takes place on the Wookiee home world of Kashyyyk. The game will be released November 15 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and is already available for preorder.

Fallen Order Will Start Two Months Early

The Source: Marvel's comic book arm

Probability of Accuracy: It's 100 percent on target.

The Real Deal: As if to prove that Fallen Order is, indeed, in canon, Marvel Entertainment has announced a Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order comic book series by Matthew Rosenberg and Paolo Villanelli. The series, which launches in September—two months before the game's release—will introduce characters from the game, centering around Jedi Master Eno Cordova and his Padawan Cere Junda as they get sent on a simple mission which turns out not to be so simple after all. "Having the chance to introduce audiences to some of the game's cast, and explore a bit of who they are and how they got where they are is really fun," Rosenberg told StarWars.com. "Cere Junda and Eno Cordova are a pair of Jedi that fans are definitely going to want to know more about, and this comic will tell you part of their story you won't get anywhere else."

Finally, the Whole Saga in One Place—a Lego Place

The Source: An official announcement from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and friends

Probability of Accuracy: Entirely true and, as a fan of the Lego Star Wars games, entirely awesome.

The Real Deal: Fallen Order wasn't the only Star Wars game talked about at E3, though. In a surprise announcement, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, TT Games, the LEGO Group, and Lucasfilm announced Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, a new game that will span the entire nine-movie storyline with hundreds of playable characters. "Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga marks our return to the franchise that kicked off the Lego videogame series. The game will give fans an all-new LEGO Star Wars experience with complete freedom to explore the Lego Star Wars galaxy," Tom Stone, managing director of TT Games, said in a statement. The game will be released for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC in 2020.

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Original author: Graeme McMillan
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Hey Alexa, Why Is Voice Shopping So Lousy?

Hey Alexa, Why Is Voice Shopping So Lousy?

Scroll through Twitter and you'll find all manner of jokes about Alexa's on-demand shopping abilities. In response to internet drama: "Alexa, order me popcorn." In response to sad news: "Alexa, order me a box of tissues." In response to climate change: "Alexa, order us a new planet."

Amazon's chatty bot, like its voice-assistant brethren, was meant to liberate us from our most tedious tasks. That includes buying things—reordering toothpaste, stocking the fridge. But voice commerce remains a largely unfulfilled promise; most of us aren't ordering anything through our smart speakers.

Market research firm Forrester recently tested the commercial capabilities of voice assistants from Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The researchers asked each voice assistant 180 questions about products and services, like "what brands sell liquid laundry detergent?" They then ranked each response as either passing or failing. Overall, the voice assistants failed 65 percent of questions. (For what it’s worth, Google Assistant performed best, followed by Microsoft’s Cortana. Apple’s Siri performed worst.)

"Voice commerce is completely overrated."

Sucharita Kodali, market research analyst

It’s not just the high rate of failure but the way those assistants fail that’s interesting. For some of the questions, assistants redirected the user to the browser—as in, "Sorry, I can’t help with that, but I found something on the web." Other times, the voice assistant simply misunderstood the request. In one case, when asked where to buy diapers, Alexa inexplicably directed the Forrester researchers to the town of Buy in Russia.

Voice assistants can prove less-than-capable in other ways, too. Ask Alexa to buy laundry detergent and it can add some to your Amazon shopping cart without much trouble. But ask for something more specific—say, fragrance-free detergent pods under $25—and it's likely to get tripped up.

"A bunch of companies built Alexa skills and I just wonder, 'Why?'" says Sucharita Kodali, the retail expert at Forrester. "Voice commerce is completely overrated. It doesn’t make sense for most purchases except for a quick replenishment purchase of something you recently purchased from Amazon and your payment and shipping information is stored."

Amazon has the distinct advantage in this space, since it controls both the voice technology and the marketplace. It also sells its own line of products, called Amazon Basics, that are better suited to voice-orders. "Voice commerce is very much in its early stages, and it’s generally for basic commodities, those that can be ordered without being seen," says James Moar, a lead analyst at market research firm Juniper. "The Amazon Basics range is full of products that are simple enough to not need comparison, and so is most able to recommend products to be bought through voice."

For Amazon, voice shopping could create a new way to direct customers to its own products, under the guise of convenience. Patrick Gauthier, the vice president of Amazon Pay, has called voice a "new era in commerce" and compared it to the magnitude of mobile payments or e-commerce. Amazon has been working on this for a while—recall the Dash, which you could speak into to add things to your Amazon Fresh cart. But even Amazon hasn't made much headway yet. Last year, only 2 percent of Amazon’s customers used Alexa’s voice shopping feature.

Arielle Pardes covers personal technology, social media, and culture for WIRED.

The figures don't stand much higher on other voice platforms. Research from Elastic Path, a company that builds ecommerce software, found that only 6 percent of consumers had used a voice-activated device to make a purchase in the past six months. About half of the people it surveyed said they were interested in trying it, but many also identified reasons not to—chiefly, the high rate of miscommunication or errors. (Consider this delightful example, in which a Snopes researcher asked Alexa to order a dollhouse. Alexa’s response: "Now shuffling songs by Bauhaus.") And because shopping is often a visual exercise, it often makes more sense to turn to a screen than to shout into the void.

Of course, that’s changing. The adoption of voice technologies is steadily climbing—millions of people own Alexa- or Assistant-enabled devices—and those assistants are no longer restricted to their cylindrical silos. Amazon sells the Echo Show, an Alexa device with a screen; the Google Assistant can live inside the Nest Home Hub or the Lenovo Smart Clock, both of which have displays. Part of the appeal of those devices is the ability to add visual information to an otherwise audio-first experience: showing the weekly forecast when you ask about the weather, or cueing up a music video when you ask to play a song. Another use for a voice assistant with a screen? Shopping.

You can imagine a future where Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and the Google Assistant reach their full potential as personal shoppers. Screens will be essential, as they "allow things to be compared more easily, making more products a viable purchase through voice," says Moar, the Juniper analyst. "This will be fully realized in the ability to transition between platforms—when you can ask your smart speaker about booking hotels, and it hands off the response request to a smart TV to display a variety of options."

Just think, another wholly new way to window shop.

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Original author: Arielle Pardes
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Neptune Is a Windy, Chilly, and Baffling Planet. Let's Go!

Neptune Is a Windy, Chilly, and Baffling Planet. Let's Go!

It was just after midnight at mission control center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Carl Sagan was exuberant. The Voyager 2 spacecraft had just completed its decade-long mission by making its closest pass to Neptune, before continuing on into interstellar space. It was the first—and so far only—spacecraft to visit the mysterious blue ice giant lurking at the edge of the solar system.

“We are looking at the frontier of the solar system, the last planet,” Sagan told a CNN television crew that had assembled for the occasion. “The level of excitement is the highest I’ve ever seen here.”

Before Voyager 2 made its pass just 3,000 miles above Neptune's atmosphere on August 25, 1989, scientists knew next to nothing about the place. What they found was a planet covered in dense, methane-rich clouds that whipped around Neptune at more than 1,000 miles per hour, making it the windiest spot in the solar system. At the time, the planet was host to the Great Dark Spot, an Earth-sized storm that has since disappeared. Voyager also got a good look at Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, and saw geysers erupting from its surface. This suggested it was tectonically active and perhaps host to a vast subsurface ocean. In addition to Triton, Voyager 2 also found six other moons and four lumpy rings circling the planet.

Voyager 2 captured this image of Neptune's outermost ring, located 39,000 miles out.

NASA/JPL

Voyager’s encounter with Neptune raised as many questions as it answered. But in the 30 years since, NASA hasn’t been back. Data from the Kepler Space Telescope suggests that ice giants like Neptune and Uranus are among the most abundant planets in our galaxy, which makes a strong case for a visit. Returning to Neptune could drastically improve our understanding of planetary formation and dynamics, but the window for organizing such a mission is rapidly closing.

Roughly every 12 years, the planets align in such a way that a Neptune-bound spacecraft launched from Earth can get a gravity assist from Jupiter, which helps shave the travel time down to about 12 years. The window for a Jupiter gravity assist only lasts for a couple of years, and the next one opens in the late 2020s. The problem, says Mark Hofstadter, a planetary scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is that pulling together a flagship planetary exploration mission usually takes about a decade. That means that if NASA wants to hit the next gravity assist window, planning a Neptune mission needed to start yesterday.

Hofstadter says an ideal flagship mission to Neptune would consist of a large spacecraft carrying at least 10 scientific instruments and an atmospheric probe. These instruments would be used to answer a number of fundamental questions about Neptune. At present, he notes that scientists think that the bulk of Neptune’s mass is water, but they’re far from certain. Furthermore, Neptune defies our best models of planetary formation. Based on these models, which accurately reproduce the formation of all the other planets, Neptune and Uranus should have ballooned in size like the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. But they didn’t—and scientists are at a loss to explain why.

“Right now we're in a situation where we recognize that these ice giants are kind of weird, but we don't understand what they're made of, how they're put together, or why they even exist,” Hofstadter says. “Yet they are everywhere we look in our galaxy, so learning some of these fundamental things is really going to advance our big-picture understanding of how planets form and evolve.”

Hofstadter has hope that a return mission to Neptune is feasible in the next decade. In 2017, he coauthored a report that detailed various mission proposals to Neptune and Uranus. The report will help inform NASA’s next planetary science decadal survey, which determines the agency’s exploration priorities for the coming decade. Work on the decadal survey will begin next year and will likely be finished sometime in 2021 or 2022. But even if a flagship mission to Neptune is selected as a priority and receives the necessary funding, by the time the decadal survey is finished it would take a Herculean effort to pull the mission together in time to hit the gravity assist window.

In light of this dilemma, some planetary scientists have already started discussing what a flagship mission to the outer solar system might look like, so that if the decadal survey green-lights a mission to an ice giant, they can start working on it immediately. A particularly tantalizing plan, according to Hofstadter, involves a collaborative mission between NASA and the European Space Agency. In January, the ESA completed a study of ways it could contribute to a NASA-led mission to the ice giants, such as creating a probe, a sister spacecraft to enable the exploration of Neptune and Uranus, or a lander for Triton. “We’ve started drilling into the details,” Hofstadter says, but whether NASA ends up buying into the ESA’s plan will depend on the results of the decadal survey.

Given the time crunch, Hofstadter says it’s also worth considering smaller mission profiles. Louise Prockter, the director of the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute, couldn’t agree more. In March, Prockter and her colleagues unveiled their plans for Trident, a flyby mission to Neptune’s moon Triton that would launch in 2026 and fly by the moon in 2038.

Prockter describes Triton as the solar system’s “forgotten moon.” This is unfortunate, she says, because Triton is quite unlike any other planetary body in the solar system. Many scientists think that the moon is actually from the Kuiper belt, a massive field of objects from the early solar system that lies beyond Neptune, and became trapped in the planet’s orbit. Based on data from Voyager 2, it also seems to be geologically active, and there’s evidence it may support a vast ocean beneath its surface. Its ionosphere is also 10 times more intense than any other ionosphere in the solar system, which is hard to explain because ionospheric activity is usually correlated with a planet’s interaction with the solar wind, and Triton is rather far from the Sun.

Trident would spend approximately 10 days flying through the area around Neptune, during which it would map nearly all of Triton, study its geysers, determine whether it harbored an ocean, and fly within 300 kilometers of the moon’s “bizarre” surface to study its ionosphere. She says the mission could be accomplished with about $500 million, well under the cost of flagship missions, which tend to start around $1 billion. “We're trying to do something bold that no one thought could be done,” Prockter says.

In July, Prockter will submit the Trident proposal for consideration as part of NASA’s Discovery program. If it gets approved, Trident’s arrival at Triton will almost perfectly coincide with the 50th anniversary of Voyager’s visit.

Justifying large planetary missions is always tough, and the timescales involved with missions to the outer solar system only increase the burden on the scientists who make the case for them. The thing about space exploration, though, is that the most exciting discoveries are rarely anticipated in advance. There is plenty of known science to be done on Neptune, but we’ll never know what we’re missing until we get there.

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Original author: Daniel Oberhaus
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Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is more than just another remaster

I've been confused about Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. Sure, it's one of my favorite real-time strategy games, but we got a remaster just six years ago, Age of Empires II: HD Edition—and three brand-new expansions since. It made sense for Microsoft to re-release the original Age of Empires last year, as it hadn't ever been modernized. But Age of Empires II? Again?

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is much more than a remaster though—which may or may not prove controversial. The HD Edition was for purists. It played better on modern machines, with widescreen support and improved sprites, but otherwise it was pretty much the same game as the original, with all its rough edges.

The latest Definitive Edition tries to sand those rough edges down a bit, make Age of Empires II a more appealing prospect for the modern player. And I should note up front: Forgotten Empires claims a lot of these changes will be optional. The purist should be able to disable them and get a vanilla Age of Empires II experience. Though at that point, you might as well buy the HD Edition.

They're smart changes though, I think. For instance, you can now click-drag to select your army and it will automatically exclude any peasants that happen to be within range. No more double-checking your army composition to make sure your hapless builder didn't get swept up in the chaos.

Speaking of which, you can now queue up buildings so you don't need to micromanage your villagers as much. There's also a global recruitment queue arrayed across the top of the screen, so you don't need to click every building in town to check up on production. Every unit-in-progress (and presumably research as well) shows up as an icon, so you can keep an eye on those Knights you're training.

Best of all: Farms can be set to automatically replant after harvesting.

age of empires ii indians screenshot Microsoft

These are small changes, but in aggregate they make for a smarter and less finicky game. As I said, it sounds like you can either disable many of these features or opt to not use them—but why? A lot of these ideas became standard shortly after Age of Empires II released, and it's not a better game for their absence. Different sure, and some might prefer the classic experience, but personally I'm looking forward to removing some of the busywork and focusing on tactics and army composition and the more big-picture ideas instead of worrying when I hear the shk-shk-shk of a farm gone fallow.

And there are some larger changes, albeit in specific and self-contained circumstances. Forgotten Empires claims it's improved the AI on the hardest difficulty, programming it to use tactics that are common in high-level Age of Empires II play—and without cheating, unlike the old AI. I'm not equipped to judge that, as I'm a fairly middling (but enthusiastic) Age of Empires II player. I'm curious to give it a shot though.

More important perhaps is a series of what Forgotten Empires calls "Challenge Missions." Despite the name, it's actually meant to teach people to be better Age of Empires II players, not scare them off.

Challenge Missions are essentially tutorials, but advanced tutorials meant to teach the player specific high-level skills—how to get a boar back to town without it killing all your villagers for instance, or how to "Fast Castle" a.k.a. advance your civilization's tech to the Castle Age as soon as possible.

age of empires ii mongols screenshot Microsoft

Like Mortal Kombat 11's character-specific tutorials, these Challenge Missions seem like a great step at removing traditional genre barriers. So often, people lose interest in strategy games because proficiency seems unattainable, and it seems unattainable because it's poorly explained. I can't count how many strategy game tutorials I've played that taught me how to move the camera or a character, but never bothered to explain why certain technologies might matter early on, what build orders might be good to start with, and so on. This knowledge is attained by trial-and-error, but it doesn't have to be and I'll be curious whether Challenge Missions live up to Microsoft's stated aims.

Of course there's a full-scale expansion included in the Definitive Edition as well. Titled "The Last Khans," this will be the fourth expansion since 2013's HD Edition re-release and will bring the full game to a total of 35 civilizations and 27 campaigns. For reference, there were 18 civilizations and 9 campaigns between the original Age of Kings and The Conquerors releases.

It's one hell of a package, and that's before getting into the native 4K and ultrawide support, the improved destruction animations (especially impressive when you demolish a castle), and the improved networking back-end that's being taken directly from Relic's work on Age of Empires IV and integrated into Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition.

age of empires ii chinese screenshot Microsoft

If you own the HD Edition? Sure, there's certainly no need to upgrade. Microsoft's going to give you $5 off the $20 list price if you do choose to purchase the Definitive Edition, but you don't need to. Nothing here is essential per se, especially if you simply want to relive your memories from 1999. But Age of Empires II feels a bit rough by modern standards, and while it'll take a few runs through the Joan of Arc campaign for me to know how I feel about all these changes, my gut tells me they're for the better.

We'll know soon enough though, as Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is due to release this fall. If I were a betting man I'd place the date around September 30, the game's 20th anniversary. You know, maybe.

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Original author: Hayden Dingman
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Five burning Pixel 4 questions following Google's official 'leak'

Google might have pulled the greatest trick with the Pixel 4. On Wednesday afternoon, the Made by Google Twitter account confirmed a leak that was just starting to make the rounds: the Pixel 4 will finally have a second camera on the back, along with a new design that looks an awful lot like the presumed iPhone 11. And in doing so, it made the Pixel 4 a whole lot more interesting.

That's because there’s a lot more to be excited about than a square camera bump and a new sensor. Google may have squashed a few months of rumors and leaks with the first Pixel 4 image, but it also completely changed my expectations for the upcoming handset. By revealing what should be one of the phone’s biggest features months ahead of the game, Google actually created more hype of the phone.

Here are four things I can’t wait to learn more about:

What does the front look like?

Now that we know what the back of the Pixel 4 looks like, the question remains: How big is the display on the front? Google has steadily increased the size of the Pixel and the Pixel XL over the three iterations, but with phones like the Galaxy S10 5G and OnePlus 7 Pro pushing the display size all the way to 6.7 inches, Google could go really big with the Pixel 4.

pixel 3 xl notchChristopher Hebert/IDG

Will the Pixel 4 have a notch?

And then there’s those bezels. And the chin. And the notch. Let’s face it, the Pixel has never been a phone that people drool over, but recent renders have suggested that Google might be fixing the Pixel’s bland design with the Pixel 4. I mean, is it possible they showed us the back early because the front is so beautiful?

What will the new camera do?

OK, so the Pixel 4 will have a dual-camera array on the back. Big deal right? Basically every Android phone for the past two years has had at least two main cameras for ultra wide, telephoto, and/or depth shots, and the new hotness is triple and even quad cameras. So the mere inclusion of a second lens on the Pixel 4 isn’t a reason to get excited.

iphone xs vs android backChristopher Hebert/IDG

Dual cameras are nothing new on smartphones, but how will the Pixel 4 up the ante?

What’s more intriguing is what those cameras will be able to do. With just a single lens, Google has delivered some awesome features on its Pixel phones, including Top Shot, Night Sight, and portrait mode, so we can only imagine what it will be able to do with twice as many cameras. Google already delivered Group Selfie Cam with the dual front camera on the Pixel 3, but we’re hoping there’s a whole lot more packed into the Pixel 4.

Where’s the fingerprint sensor?

One thing missing from the Pixel 4 render Google tweeted out Wednesday was the fingerprint sensor. Normally holding court just below the camera, its conspicuous absence means one of two things: It’s moving under the display or into the front camera a la the LG G8’s time-of-flight sensor.

iphone xs vs android camerasChristopher Hebert/IDG

The Pixel 4 render doesn’t show a fingerprint sensor on the back, so it could have 3D facial recognition.

It’s the second option that’s particularly enticing. While the LG G8 was packed with useless gimmicks that let you unlock your phone with your palm and answer calls with a swipe of your hand, Google could be upping the game with the hands-free Soli radar chip, which was first teased at Google I/O way back in 2015. However, rather than use it to control the screen without touching it, Google could use hand gestures to control Assistant or maybe take a photo without struggling to tap the shutter.

What’s the real killer feature?

If Google is showing off the camera now, what does it have up its sleeve? Yes there will be new photography features and possibly a time-of-flight camera, but will the Pixel 4 also bring a new trademark feature like Active Edge or Call Screen? Most of the Pixel’s best features have come from Google’s incredible AI, so we’ll be waiting for the “wow” moment during the press conference that trumps the new camera.

Does hardware even matter?

Most phone makers go to great lengths to quash leaks and rumors so they can surprise fans on launch day, but Google is flipping the script here. By showing us the back of the phone months before it’s revealed, it’s taking the emphasis off aesthetics as the most important part of its new phone and putting the focus on what it can do.

pixel 3 xl screenChristopher Hebert/IDG

The Pixel isn’t a beauty, but it’s one of the best phones you can buy.

Phone fans and reviewers put a lot of stock in what a handset looks like, but the Pixel has always bucked that trend, scoring high marks despite its pedestrian design. Even though this this leak is showing off a major change to the Pixel aesthetics, Google is giving us plenty of time to soak in the new look so it won’t be an issue—good or bad—when the phone actually arrives. In short, it’s saying that what’s on the outside doesn’t matter, it’s what inside that counts. That’s always been the case with the Pixel, but now Google is really driving it home.

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Original author: Michael Simon
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Intel hires ex-AMD fellow, Xbox chip designer John Sell to oversee chip security

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Add another name to the roster of top industry names now earning Intel paychecks. intel motherboard mobile world congress 2017Martyn Williams/IDGIntel has hired another big name: John Sell, the ex-AMD fellow and Apple architect who designed the Scorpio and Scarlett SOCs for Microsoft's Xbox One, as a fellow overseeing chip security for Intel.john sell intelJohn Sell / LinkedInAccording to Sell's LinkedIn profile, Sell left Microsoft to join Intel in May. Sell lists his official title as an Intel fellow, responsible for "Security for Intel Architecture, Graphics, and Software." An Intel spokeswoman confirmed Sell's hire. Sell will report to ex-AMD graphics guru Raja Koduri, senior vice president of the Core and Visual Computing Group at Intel, "focusing on architecture and security innovation," she said.Sell is known as one of the leading designers in the chip industry. He made his name from 1988 through 1992 as the chief PowerPC architect for Apple, before the company switched over to using Intel chips. Sell then moved on to AMD, where as a senior fellow he helped design AMD's CPU and graphics architectures between 1997 and 2005, including AMD's SoCs that integrated CPU technology and graphics.That experience later helped him at Microsoft, where he was the chief architect of the SoCs that were the foundation of the Xbox One, Xbox One X, and the upcoming Project Scarlett console that Microsoft recently announced is due in 2020. All of those consoles were built around AMD's processor and graphics technology.Given his title, it's likely that Sell will be tasked at least partly with working on the security of Intel's chip architecture, including the side-channel mitigations that formed the underpinnings of the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities that were disclosed in early 2018. Since then, other attacks, such as Zombieload and Foreshadow, have been disclosed. (AMD's architecture is considered less vulnerable to side-channel attacks. Its Ryzen processors are almost immune from the Meltdown attacks, though they're still vulnerable to Spectre.)An Intel spokeswoman characterized Sell's role as a much broader, with security now one of the fundamental pillars of Intel's chip architecture.Intel has been on a hiring binge, nabbing a number of ex-AMD executives as well as several former journalists. The company expects to launch its first discrete graphics architecture, known as Xe, next year. To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Original author: Mark Hachman
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Ghost Recon Breakpoint's rogue operative oozes mesmerizing Apocalypse Now-style madness

Jon Bernthal might save Ghost Recon Breakpoint as former-Ghost, now-antagonist Cole D. Walker. "Might," because all I played was a 45-minute demo, and he only appeared in a single scene. Who knows how often he shows up, or how his story plays out?

But what I can say is that in two or three minutes, Bernthal put on a better show than the entirety of Ghost Recon Wildlands. He's got that Heart of Darkness, that Apocalypse Now madness down. You can hear it in his voice, as the Walker regales his comrade with stories about adventures in Mexico, breaking every once in a while to relay commands. It's mesmerizing, his monologuing. We shot a lot of weapons and killed a lot of enemies in my Breakpoint demo, but the part I truly enjoyed was simply sitting back and watching that scene play out.

You'll find it approximately halfway through the gameplay video above of our E3 demo, after we've rescued the scientist from the first base. We've also embedded another monologue video towards the end of this article.

Other than that, this is Ghost Recon Breakpoint running on a PC, though I was forced to play with a controller. Fairly standard at press demos, unfortunately. I also didn't get the specific hardware specs for our demo, but it looked about as good as Wildlands before—which is to say, the draw distance is pretty phenomenal. I'll miss the quiet realism of Bolivia, but I won't miss the long stretches of emptiness. Breakpoint looks more like a video game landscape, but also seems more interesting to explore as a result.

As for the Ghost Recon aspects? I had a decent time, but it was a fairly short demo and we weren't too concerned with tactics. Hell, with four strangers playing together it's a miracle we pulled off even one sync-shot at the beginning.

ghost recon breakpoint classes Ubisoft

Scouting with your drone is still a lengthy part of the pre-mission prep process, which I find kills the pacing a bit. The two bases we assaulted were very distinct though, with plenty open spaces mixed with more confined chokepoints, which led to interesting fights. The AI is also a crafty asshole, and multiple times I found myself flanked without even realizing it—though our headsets were mixed for chat more than in-game audio, which didn't help in that regard. The Division 2's AI fought in a similar fashion though, and it's neat to see Ubisoft pushing shooter AI in this direction for its teamwork-oriented games. I definitely felt exposed whenever I strayed too far from my comrades.

Whether it can sustain my interest over 30 or 40 hours though? I don't know. Wildlands started fine, but I quickly grew tired of assaulting outpost after outpost after outpost, especially since it rarely forced me to use new tactics or even switch out my weapons. Breakpoint's gear score system might necessitate the latter at least, but I'm hoping for more varied mission goals and unique setpieces to break up the monotony.

Really I'm just there for Bernthal though. The whole idea of a rogue soldier creating a drone army on a private island is dumb, but I really enjoyed what little of his performance I saw in the demo, and it's enough to make me optimistic about a game I had zero reason to be optimistic about post-Wildlands.

And that's encouraging news for Ubisoft, I guess. After all, Breakpoint is set to be their only release this fall. Better make it a good one.

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Original author: Hayden Dingman
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PCWorld's June Digital Magazine: This is the first foldable tablet

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Enjoy the best of PCWorld.com in a curated Digital Magazine for Android and iOS. pcw primary june19IDGStay on top of the latest tech with PCWorld’s Digital Magazine. Available as single copies or as a monthly subscription, it highlights the best content from PCWorld.com—the most important news, the key product reviews, and the most useful features and how-to stories—in a curated Digital Magazine for Android and iOS, as well for the desktop and other tablet readers.In the June issueOn the cover of the June issue is Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 foldable prototype. Find out why it may have killed the laptop for one editor. In the features section, find out how Windows and Chrome quietly made 2019 the year of Linux on the desktop. Plus, we lay out the best free PC games currently on the market.Other highlights include:News: Samsung pushes back Galaxy Fold release to 'run further internal tests' following poor reviews
Hands on with HP's Omen X 2S 15: The world's first dual-screen gaming laptop Acer Predator Triton 500 Review: This thin and light laptop even has GeForce RTX Graphics Cards: The best cards ranked, from fastest to slowest Here's How: Should you buy a laptop with 8th-gen or 9th-gen Core CPU? It's all about cores and clocks More Here's How: 5 How to stop your iPhone videos from turning into a blurry mess on Android phones (and vice versa) Video highlightsWatch: Last Cam Standing is PCWorld’s video series that determines the best phone camera for still images in a King-of-the-hill style battle. In the latest episode, Samsung's Galaxy S10+, the Nokia 9 Pureview, and Google's Pixel 3 take on the current champion - Apple's iPhone XS.How to subscribe and start readingSubscribers can visit this page to learn how to access PCWorld on any device and start reading the current issue right away. Subscribers: Update your PCWorld app to the latest version today!Not a subscriber? With the PCWorld's subscription, you get access to the digital magazine on as many devices as you’d like. Subscribe today!To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Original author: PCWorld Staff
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Alienware m15 review: The power of OLED compels you

The Alienware m15 midrange gaming laptop we’re reviewing here is in a bit of a weird spot at the moment, caught mid-refresh. In October of 2018 the Alienware m15 debuted—at long last, a slimmed-down version of its longtime Alienware 15 laptop. But only a few months later that version is seemingly on its way out, with the announcement at Computex that the product line will soon be updated with the “Legend” design language first seen on the flagship Alienware Area-51m.

The first-gen m15’s not dead yet though. Just before Computex, Alienware sent us an updated version of the original m15, bumping up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q graphics and a stunning OLED display. The company confirmed that this model will be around through the holidays, overlapping with the redesigned versions. And if you hadn’t guessed already, it doesn’t come cheap. 

Hardware

Not cheap at all. Our m15 variant lists for an eye-watering $2,780. For that, you’ll receive an Intel Core i7-8750H, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q graphics card, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a 512GB M.2 SSD, a supplemental 1TB hybrid drive, and the aforementioned OLED display.

And sure, you can get a more expensive Alienware m15. The top-of-the-line model is an OLED-equipped variant with an Intel Core i9-8950HK, RTX 2080 Max-Q and 32GB of RAM which lists for $4,480 through Alienware’s site. That’s mortgage-your-house money.

Alienware m15 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Up against that kind of exorbitance, $2,430 seems almost affordable. That said, it’s worth noting we just reviewed another laptop with similar hardware last month—the Lenovo Legion Y740. It features the same Core i7-8750H and RTX 2070 Max-Q, but for only $1,920 list. Plus it was on sale when we reviewed it, dipping as low as $1,540.

The Legion Y740’s 144Hz G-Sync display didn’t look nearly as nice as Alienware’s OLED option. I called it “nothing special,” to be specific. But for almost $1,000 less? Well, it might be better to take the mediocre built-in screen and buy yourself a nice, large monitor on the side. Or a fancy mouse and keyboard. Your call, I guess.

There are also plenty of options if you want a cheaper m15. The low-end model starts at $1,330 and features a GTX 1660 Ti—essentially an updated GTX 1060—plus a Core i5-8300H, a piddly 8GB of RAM, and a single 1TB hybrid drive. You can mix and match practically every part between that and the $4,000 monstrosity listed above to configure your perfect machine.

Design

The Alienware m15 isn’t that much larger than the Razer Blade or other small form-factor gaming laptops, but it feels larger. I’m going to guess it’s the blunt angles, a proclivity for flat planes and sharp angles on the m15 where the Blade chooses curves. It feels aggressive.

Alienware m15 IDG / Hayden Dingman

But measuring 14.3 x 10.8 x 0.83 inches and weighing in at 4.8 pounds, the Alienware m15 is a huge improvement over Alienware’s old laptops. The 2017 Alienware 15, for instance, measured 15.3 x 12.0 x 1.0 inches, and weighed a back-breaking 7.7 pounds. The Alienware m15 is an actual laptop, portable enough to carry around all day. 

As someone who reviewed a few of those old Alienware laptops, I find this m15 fascinating. It’s so small! And yet it’s so recognizably Alienware, with its iconic, vaguely pentagonal silver lid, and three etched lines converging beneath the alien-head logo. This has been a key part of Alienware’s look since 2013, a through line that lent its laptops (and desktops) a vaguely science-fiction appeal. It’s weird to think the m15 will be its final hurrah.

Nostalgia aside, it’s also incredibly gaudy—but hey, you’re buying Alienware. You know what you’re getting.

Anyway, the m15 trots out the silver shell one last time, tweaking it where necessary to match the thinner chassis. For the most part that means fewer LEDs. There’s still RGB lighting on the alien logo, but the LED strips found on the side of both the Alienware 15’s monitor and base have been removed for the more portable m15 model. It’s a sturdy lid, with a gentle slope on the front to facilitate opening.

Alienware m15 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Crack it open and—oh wow, that OLED screen. That’s honestly how it went, for me. It was immediate, a rush of color and those deep, rich blacks that make an OLED screen pop. Usually I need to A/B test a bunch of laptop displays to see where one excels, another fails. But Alienware’s OLED screen is so obviously head-and-shoulders above the norm, you can’t help but fall in love with it the moment you turn it on.

There’s a reason you don’t see it more. First and foremost, it’s expensive. Alienware makes it a $350 add-on. That’s a lot to spend, just to move from an IPS display that’s good enough for most people’s purposes to OLED.

There’s also that pesky burn-in problem. Nobody wants the Windows taskbar permanently seared into the bottom of their laptop monitor.

Battery life fluctuates more, too. The reason OLED screens have such great shadows is because there’s no backlight. Wherever you see black, the display is effectively “off.” As a fan of Windows 10’s dark mode, that’s great news—but if you love bright-white light, there’s a chance OLED will be less power-efficient than a standard LCD.

Caveats aside, it looks incredible. I hope we see OLED in more laptops this year—though I’ll be curious whether burn-in reports start cropping up as well.

Alienware m15 IDG / Hayden Dingman

Moving on, Alienware’s keyboard is surprisingly good. Keystrokes are a bit shallow, but have a pleasant clickiness to them. The numeric keypad seems superfluous, crammed on the right side with smaller-than-average keys. I like numpads, but think the m15 would’ve been better served by a tenkeyless layout with more room to breathe.

The trackpad is the real letdown. For one, it’s another area where Alienware’s stripped out RGB LEDs. The old Alienware 15/17 had a backlit trackpad, which was mostly pointless but kind-of cool in Alienware’s usual flashy way.

That’s not the source of my grief, though. No, I’m lamenting the fact that Alienware went with a press-to-click trackpad instead of implementing discrete mouse buttons. It’s unconscionable. The Alienware 15/17 had dedicated mouse buttons, and I don’t know why the m15 changed it up. Sure, most people will use a mouse when they have the chance, but Alienware finally made a halfway-portable gaming laptop. I want to use it everywhere, and the lack of mouse buttons really puts a damper on that plan. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I always prefer a gaming laptop with actual buttons. It’s just more reliable.

Alienware m15 IDG / Hayden Dingman

I’m also annoyed (albeit unsurprised) by the rear-facing ports on the m15. To be fair, Alienware is more generous with its side-facing ports than most. There are two USB-A ports on the right side, plus another on the left, and jacks for headphones and ethernet. The power port is on the rear though, which I find problematic unless I’m at a desk. It’s joined by the HDMI and DisplayPort outs, Alienware’s proprietary Graphics Amplifier dock port, and the sole Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) input.

Finally, the audio is loud but weak. The m15’s primary speakers fire outward from the left and right sides of the laptop, which leaves them prone to being muffled by an actual lap. On a desk the situation’s slightly better, but even by laptop standards the m15 lacks bass presence. My verdict? They’re a compromise, especially given how loud the m15’s fans get under load.

Performance

For years Alienware held off making thin and portable laptops because it didn’t want to compromise performance. Thus going into the Alienware m15 review, I was worried we might encounter trouble. We can rest easy: Alienware’s done well with the hardware it’s got.

Let’s dig into the benchmarks, starting with our HandBrake test. This is our primary CPU test, wherein we encode a 30GB MKV file using the “Android Tablet” preset. It’s a strenuous task, not just for the CPU but the entire machine, with all the heat that’s generated over the 20 to 30 minutes it takes.

The Alienware m15 struggles a bit, finishing in 33 minutes or thereabouts. That’s slightly slower than most Core i7-8750H machines we've tested by a minute or two. Nothing too serious, but it does indicate potential difficulty dispersing heat from the CPU.

Alienware m15 - HandbrakeIDG / Hayden Dingman

The same pattern arises in Cinebench, another CPU-focused benchmark. Again, we see the m15 settle near the bottom—though Acer’s Predator Helios 300 is right down there with it, suggesting this isn’t an aberrant score for the Core i7-8750H even if it is on the lower end.

Alienware m15 - CinebenchIDG / Hayden Dingman

Regardless, the problem seems confined to the CPU. When we run the Alienware m15 through 3DMark’s FireStrike Extreme benchmark, a synthetic GPU test, it has no such issue. In fact, there’s good news: The Alienware m15’s implementation of the RTX 2070 Max-Q is significantly better than the Lenovo Legion Y740's we looked at last month. Take a look at the chart:

Alienware m15 - 3DMarkIDG / Hayden Dingman

The bad news is it’s still not that much better than a full-size GTX 1070 on today's non-ray-traced games, which makes it hard to justify the 2070 Max-Q’s (generally) higher price. There’s a slight bump—not to mention the 2070 Max-Q handily outpaces the RTX 2060. And if you’re looking for future-proofing against the ray-traced games of the future? The m15’s got it.

Real-world gaming performance is similar. Again, the 2070 Max-Q is about on a par with a GTX 1070. If you can find old 1070 stock floating around, that’s probably the way to go. In both Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of Mordor though, the Alienware m15 puts up respectable scores that handily trounce 2060-equipped laptops.

Alienware m15 - Tomb RaiderIDG / Hayden DingmanAlienware m15 - Shadow of MordorIDG / Hayden Dingman

Have I mentioned games look damn good on this OLED screen?

Speaking of which, I mentioned earlier that OLED is more power-conscious than LCD screens in some ways and less in others. Luckily, Alienware’s packed a massive 90Whr battery into this tiny laptop—no, I don’t know how—and as a result the m15 actually lasts a decently long time. Our rundown test involves looping a 4K video at 250 nits, with the audio set to 50% and headphones plugged in. The m15’s 3-hour, 13-minute lifespan won’t exactly keep you going all day, but for a gaming laptop? One with this hardware? I’m actually impressed. I was expecting closer to the Alienware Area-51m's result when we reviewed it earlier this year. It has a similar 90Whr battery and only lasted 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Alienware m15 - Battery LifeIDG / Hayden Dingman

Bottom line

I still think the RTX 2070 Max-Q is in a weird spot, what with full-size GTX 1070 laptops remaining on the market, performing basically the same and usually priced much lower. And I think this particular Alienware m15 is in an even weirder spot, given there’s an m15 redesign already announced.

That said, this laptop doesn’t necessarily need to suffer for the sins of its parents. The OLED display is love-at-first-sight for me. Maybe not “I don't care that it costs $1,000 more than some laptops with comparable performance” love, but...well, depends what you care about. I could certainly see someone making the argument at least, and the m15’s internals perform well enough to do the display justice. After all, if you’re buying a screen that looks this damn good, you want whatever’s on it to look good too, right?

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Original author: Hayden Dingman
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Amazon is running a monster sale on PNY storage devices at all-time-low prices

Deal

Amazon has discounted many of PNY's flash drives and SSD to all-time-low prices. pny storagePNYBeefing up your storage options can make your life a whole lot easier, and today, an Amazon sale on a solid lineup of PNY storage products can help you add some space at crazy-low prices. You'll find discounts from flash drives to SSDs, so whatever your storage needs, you should be able to find one that works for you.First up is a five-pack of 32GB Attache USB 2.0 flash drives is $22Remove non-product link, down from a list price of $30. With a sliding collar design, these flash drives are ultra portable and are compatible with most PC and Mac computers. Also marked down is a 128GB Elite-X Fit USB 3.0 flash drive for just $17.49Remove non-product link, down from a list price of $29.75 and an all-time low. This tiny flash drive features read speeds up to 200MB/s and is also compatible with a wide range of devices, and with five of them you'll never have to search to hard to find one.If you're looking for larger amounts of storage, a 120GB CS900 2.5” Sata III internal solid state drive is a ridiculous $17.49Remove non-product link, down from a list price of $30. That's a crazy low price for that much storage and it's fast as well, featuring read speeds of 550MB/s and write speeds of 515MB/s. It's also pretty rugged and should withstand drops and extreme environments.And those are just thew ones that caught our eye. There are plenty of other options on sale today, so check out the deal page for the full lineupRemove non-product link.To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Original author: Alexandria Haslam
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Watch The Full Nerd talk about AMD and Nvidia news live!

News

The Full Nerd is live on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter. thefullnerdlogo1280x720Adam Patrick Murray/IDGJoin The Full Nerd gang as they talk about the latest PC hardware topics. Today's show dives deep into AMD's announcements around Ryzen 9 3950X and Navi, aka Radeon RX 5700XT. And oh yeah, there are some juicy rumors about what Nvidia Super means. As always we will be answering your live questions so speak up in the chat.

If YouTube is not your thing you can also watch us on Twitch, Facebook, and Twitter.

Join the PC related discussions and ask us questions on Discord.
Follow the crew on Twitter: @GordonUng @BradChacos @MorphingBall @AdamPMurrayCheck out the audio version of the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app so you can listen on the go and be sure to subscribe so you don't miss the latest episode!To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
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What's inside the Atari VCS: Faux wood paneling, AMD's Ryzen, and the soul of a Steam Machine

Surprise! The Atari VCS still exists. The last time we saw it was GDC 2018, at which time I asked “What the hell is this?” and Atari provided very few answers. As I now know, that’s because the entire project was in flux, a pivot point where one partner left the project and another came on.

Now, more than a year after Atari started raising money, the Atari VCS is a mostly functional product. But will anyone buy it? And really, what the hell is it? We met with Atari behind closed doors at E3 2019 to find out.

Full steam ahead

“Steam Machines are actually a pretty good comparison,” says Atari’s Rob Wyatt when I bring them up. “Everyone always compares us to retro boxes, which we’re not. Or they pick PlayStation, which we’re not.”

Atari VCS IDG / Hayden Dingman

Pinning down the Atari VCS is harder than I thought. Atari is happy to say what the VCS is not—but that’s not very helpful, so Steam Machines are as good a place to start as any. The Atari VCS is essentially a low-end PC, built around (I was told by Atari) AMD’s Ryzen Embedded R1606G processor, a dual-core/quad-thread part that clocks at 2.6GHz, with 3.5GHz boost. It’s housed in a box that resembles the wood-paneled Atari 2600 of old, a retro touch for any living room, and then finished with a custom Linux-based operating system.

Valve’s dream isn’t dead, it’s merely found home with a new company.

Of course, Atari believes it will succeed where Valve failed—for price reasons, primarily. The least expensive Steam Machines retailed for around $500 in 2015. The entry-level Atari VCS with 4GB of RAM retails for $250 and the higher-end 8GB model for $280. Atari said multiple times during our demo that “We are the most powerful PC for $250.”

Atari VCS IDG / Hayden Dingman

Prototypes (front) and finished products (back)

That may be true, but it’s still not much power. And the value proposition gets even dicier when you factor in controllers. Atari’s planning an “All-In” kit, with the 8GB Atari VCS, the Atari VCS Classic Joystick, and the Atari VCS Modern Controller for $390. (You can already preorder the All-In kit at Gamestop or Walmart.)

imageXbox One S 1TB Console - Battlefield V Bundle

That’s firmly in actual console territory. Speaking to Wyatt, he acknowledged that even though the Atari VCS is “not a console,” the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are Atari’s biggest competition. You can get an Xbox One S for $225 these days, including a copy of Battlefield V. That’s an established and venerated ecosystem, with nearly a decade of software to experience—two, if you count backwards compatibility.

So why buy an Atari VCS?

Sandbox

Let me serve you up the pitch as Atari laid it out for me. There are essentially two groups the Atari VCS might appeal to.

The first is obvious: Nostalgics. People who love Atari, or loved Atari. People who miss wood paneling, but want an Atari 2600 that can run Netflix or Spotify or whatever. People who care about the brand or the look even though Atari now is very different from Atari in the ‘70s. Turn on the VCS and there’s a nifty startup animation that begins as a game of Asteroids and after a few well-placed shots ends with a vector-styled Atari logo. Cool, yeah?

Atari VCS IDG / Hayden Dingman

Atari’s Modern (Definitely Not An Xbox) Controller

Atari’s betting big on its back catalog again, but in a frankly kind of bizarre way. Wyatt’s apparently created an entire Atari emulator for the VCS from scratch, which is a good start. Instead of just giving VCS purchasers those old 2600 games though, Atari is...selling them. Piecemeal. We were shown a store demo, and classic Atari games seem to run about a dollar per.

Once you have them, you can pop open the emulator at seemingly any point—even (though we didn’t see this in action) while waiting through load screens for a different game, which sounds smart! I played a bit of Space Invaders, and it played like the Atari home version of Space Invaders.

I can’t imagine spending $280 on a machine to play Space Invaders though, and I definitely can’t imagine spending that money and then finding out I need to purchase Space Invaders for another $1.

Maybe it’s simply Not For Me, and that’s fine. Atari did say “We want to democratize the world of ROMs and emulators,” and that the VCS is for the Atari fan who “doesn’t know how to go find that stuff, who doesn’t know what a Raspberry Pi is.” I’m certainly not part of that group.

But I assume you, a reader of PCWorld, isn’t in that group either—so what’s the value proposition for you?

Sandbox Mode.

Again, this isn’t an idea that’s unique to Atari. Really, I’m stunned how similar the Atari VCS is to Steam Machines. Load up Atari’s OS and you’ll find a Games tab with your purchases (both emulated classics and Atari’s modern first-party games). There’s also an Apps page, with placeholder art in our demo for Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, and so on. And then there’s the store, also done in the same tiled interface.

On each tab, there’s a tile dead-center labeled Sandbox Mode. It’s a prettied-up bootloader basically. Select it, and you can choose whether to boot into Atari’s OS or any other OS you’ve installed—including Ubuntu (which we saw running at E3) or Windows.

Atari VCS IDG / Hayden Dingman

Atari’s (Reimagined) Classic Joystick Controller

For better or worse, Sandbox Mode is the reason the Atari VCS price is so high. Via Wyatt, “By not entering the market with a loss-leader product, we can be more flexible.” Sony and Microsoft lose money on consoles for the first few years, expecting to make it up over the hardware’s lifespan through software and licensing fees. Atari isn’t doing that. You don’t have to buy any games from Atari.

“The goal is you’ll stay in the Atari world and use the Atari store and buy games from Atari,” said Wyatt, “But because we don’t have to lock the hardware down, we can open it up to the Sandbox Mode where you can just use it as a PC under your TV.”

Or in other words, “You never have to enter the Atari world again. If you want to pop this under your TV—a fancy-looking box that’s fairly powerful, can do 4K, can stream all your apps—but you want to do it from Ubuntu, you can. We want you to stay in the Atari world, but it’s up to us to create a compelling reason for you to do that.”

Atari’s betting on people liking the look of the VCS enough to want it for custom projects, basically. “Emulation” is usually a dirty word in these sorts of presentations, but it was all over the place during my VCS demo—not just in regards to Atari’s official emulator, but discussions of more gray-area emulation as well.

Put it this way, Atari’s not endorsing you buying the VCS and turning it into a NES/SNES/PlayStation/N64 box with a sturdy case and modern hookups—but it’s also not preventing you from doing so. As Wyatt put it, “You’re not hurting us by buying it.” Atari doesn’t lose money regardless of what you choose to do with the VCS afterward.

Bottom line

Whether that’s enough to entice people? I’m not sure.

atari vcs Atari

If anything, the component I’m most excited about is actually the Classic Joystick. Atari plans to sell it separately for $50, and the Xbox-style “Modern Controller” for $60. Both will apparently work with Windows machines at release.

And honestly it’s the most compelling part of the package. It looks like an old 2600 joystick, with a stick and single button on top. There’s an extra trigger on the side though, plus rumble capabilities inside, and the stick rotates to simulate a flywheel as well. If you’re looking for a cheap and sturdy way to emulate old arcade games, the Classic Joystick might be a solid jack-of-all-trades solution.

The rest, I’m more skeptical about. Admittedly less skeptical than I was coming out of GDC last year, as Atari’s proved the VCS is (probably) a real product and not vaporware. “Most powerful PC for $250” or not though, I’m just not really sure what people will do with it, what niche it’ll fill. Atari clearly believes there is a niche, but so did Valve—and five years after the fact, we’ve never seen a second generation of Steam Machines. I’m no slavish Valve fanatic, but I do tend to think if they can’t pull something off (with more money and connections than god), it’s probably a dead end.

We’ll see though. The Atari VCS is due to ship in March 2020, and is available for preorder at Gamestop or Walmart starting today, with more info on games, apps, and et cetera due later in the year. Keep an eye out.

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Original author: Hayden Dingman
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Lenovo Smart Clock review: Great form compensates for a lack of function

When it comes to screens, the general rule is the bigger the better. The Lenovo Smart Clock turns that belief on its head. With a screen that’s smaller than most smartphones, the Smart Clock is a full-featured, great-sounding Google Assistant-powered smart speaker with just enough display to comfortably view photos, videos, and, of course, the time, which should make it the perfect mix of sight and sound.

Except Lenovo hasn’t properly taught it to do the things you expect a smart speaker with a display to do. It doesn’t link with Google Photos to show pictures you’ve snapped. It can’t display videos. And it doesn’t use the new Home View for controlling lights, thermostats, and other connected devices. So basically, the $80 Lenovo Smart Clock is really just a smart clock.

But it’s a really good one. The Lenovo Smart Clock is an excellent (and cute) addition to the ever-expanding smart display lineup, one that’s smaller than the both Google Nest Hub and the new Echo Show 5 that Amazon is shipping later this month. And if you’re tired of using your phone to wake up, it’ll definitely make a great addition to your nightstand.

Small and sophisticated

The Lenovo Smart Clock clearly takes its design cues from the Nest Hub. While significantly smaller than Google’s device, the Smart Clock has a gray fabric-wrapped back that covers its 1.5-inch 3W speaker and passive radiators. It’s a bit bulbous at roughly 3 inches deep and I could do with thinner bezels, but the Smart Clock is still plenty small enough to keep on a nightstand.

lenovo smart clock side Michael Simon/IDG

The Smart Clock is a bit bulbous but it’ll still fit on your nightstand.

And that’s probably where you’ll want to keep it. The Smart Clock’s 4.48- x 2.9-inch frame is about the size of an old-fashioned alarm clock, a one-time bedside staple that was long-ago replaced by a smartphone on a charging stand. But where even the best always-on displays and wireless charging stands feature tiny numbers that aren’t so easy to see with bleary eyes.

The Smart Clock doesn’t have that problem. Like alarm clocks of yore, its display can easily be seen from across a room, and a variety of faces will keep it looking fresh each morning. There are 10 different styles to choose from, and they’re all refreshingly different. There are analog, digital, minimal, and colorful faces, as well as weather-themed faces and a funky word-based one. An option to randomly cycle through them would be nice to have, but it’s easy enough to change and customize the various faces by long-pressing on the screen.

A really smart clock

The Smart Clock doesn’t actually do anything a Google Home Mini can’t, but it’s a much better bedside companion. It’s not just that it has a screen. Lenovo has carefully considered the ways in which you will use the Smart Clock to emphasize features that aren’t as prominent on other smart speakers. For example, if your Wi-Fi goes out, it’ll still display the clock rather than the an error screen.

lenovo smart clock main Michael Simon/IDG

The bezel is big enough, but there’s no camera on the Lenovo Smart Clock.

For one, it doesn’t have a camera. Lenovo understands that the majority of Smart Clocks will be placed in a bedroom, so rather than implement a set of switches and toggles to turn it off, it simply eliminated the risk altogether. The lack of a camera might be a deal-breaker for some, but I’m willing to bet most people will buy it because it doesn’t have a camera rather than despite it.

But the best feature of the Smart Clock is a simple one: alarms. They’re always a tap or a swipe away, but like any other Assistant device, you’ll mostly set them by asking. Like the Sunrise feature on Pixel phones, alarms start off low and gradually increase in volume, so as to not jerk you out of a deep sleep. The speaker is surprisingly good too, so it’s a bummer that you can only set it to play one of six preset tones rather than a song or station.

It’s been so long since I used an alarm clock with actual buttons that I hadn’t quite realized how much of an annoyance snoozing has become on smartphones and smart speakers. On the Smart Clock, you can tap anywhere on the screen to snooze rather than struggle to tap a small smartphone target or hope it can understand your groggy mumbles. And there’s a setting to adjust the length of snooze time, too: a small but welcome addition. There’s even a Nap Timer, which starts a 20-minute timer for a quick stretch of shuteye.

lenovo smart clock menu Michael Simon/IDG

A cat nap is never more than a swipe away on the Smart Clock.

Amazon offers the same features with the Echo Spot (and presumably the Echo Show 5 as well), but no other Google Assistant device has such a stellar alarm experience. It’s what separates the Smart Clock from other Assistant speakers, and my guess is it will be the start of a new line of diminutive smart displays. Google recently rebranded its 7-inch display as a Nest product, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smaller one introduced in time for the holiday shopping season.

A semi-smart display

For as good as it is at alarms, however the Smart Clock isn’t as great at being a smart display. While it dutifully does the things a smart speaker should—home control, general knowledge questions, music playback, etc.—it doesn’t take advantage of its screen beyond showing the time. So you don’t get maps, song lyrics, or the Smart Dashboard on the Google Nest Hub.

lenovo smart clock maps Michael Simon/IDG

You won’t be see Maps on the Lenovo Smart Clock.

The biggest deficiency is that it can’t display photos. While its screen is a good deal smaller than the Google Nest Hub or even most smartphones, it’s still plenty large enough for photos, especially when the 2.5-inch circular Echo Spot manages to do it. Google Photos integration should be a tap and a toggle away. Alas, it remains out of reach.

You also can’t watch videos on the Smart Clock. While it connects with a Chromecast to beam things that Assistant finds, it can’t actually show them on its tiny screen. That means if you put a Smart Clock in your kitchen, you won’t be able to use it to view recipes. Instead, Assistant will read you the steps like it would on a Google Home, but all the speaker will show is the colored circles logo. It’s a bummer since the Smart Clock display is the perfect size for a countertop.

Should you buy a Lenovo Smart Clock?

The Lenovo Smart Clock is one of the most intriguing smart speakers to come along in a while, mainly because it doesn’t try to be a do-everything device. It shirks many of the features we’ve come to expect in visual smart speakers, but in the process it creates a new type of device.

lenovo smart clock alarms Michael Simon/IDG

Alarms are a revelation on the Smart Clock.

As its name suggests, the Lenovo Smart Clock is truly a smarter clock. And it’s a great one. The only problem is the price. At $80, it’s only $10 less than the upcoming Echo Show 5 and about $20 less than the going rate for the Google Nest Hub. If you’re patient, you’ll probably be able to get it for closer to $50, but waiting for a sale to bring a device down to the price it should have been at in the first place is hardly a strong buy recommendation.

But even if you pay full price, you won’t be disappointed with the Smart Clock. You just might want to buy a more capable smart display to go with it.

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Original author: Michael Simon
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The 10 best PC games of E3 2019

E3 2019 is over, and what did we learn? Well, March and April of 2020 are going to be an absolute embarrassment of riches. Four of our favorite games from this show are due to release during that two-month timespan, including heavy hitters like Dying Light 2 and Cyberpunk 2077.

Indeed, our favorite games of E3 2019 are more predictable than usual I think. Whether it’s because these games stood that far above the rest this year or because there’s less to choose from, the end result is the same. Comparing beforehand, my stalwart editor Brad Chacos and I had pretty much the exact same list.

It’s that kind of year though, and I’m not going to complain about 10 games so incredible-looking they eclipse all others. That’s at least 10 games I’m looking forward to playing in the next year or two. If you’re looking for a wider look at the show’s biggest reveals, be sure to check out our roundup of the 41 must-see PC game trailers of E3 2019. These games were the best of the best though. Without further ado…

The Outer Worlds

“The Outer Worlds feels even more like Fallout: New Vegas than I expected.” That’s our headline, and that should tell you all you need to know about why we’re excited. Obsidian’s essentially created a spiritual successor sans-license, with a V.A.T.S. stand-in (Tactical Time Dilation) and the same sort of humor Fallout is known for. But in space!

It’s hard to know how long The Outer Worlds will be or how deep an experience, but our 30-minute demo made it look like one of the most promising games releasing this fall, especially for fans of old-school RPGs, skill checks, and branching quests. Uh...so that’s me, then.

Watch Dogs Legion

I liked Watch Dogs 2—a lot, actually!—but I wouldn’t have expected Watch Dogs Legion to end up on our E3 favorites list. It’s wildly ambitious though. No doubt you’ve already heard about Ubisoft’s “Play As Anyone” tech, which allows you to recruit any character in the game to DedSec’s cause, and then play through the story as them. Want to recruit all the guards at Scotland Yard? You can do that, or stage an uprising from a dance club, or assemble a crack team of grandmas.

Obviously I chose the last option, and it was fascinating to play some fairly standard Watch Dogs missions as an old woman who could barely run or climb, but was very talented at using the word “Buggered.” I have high hopes for the story as well, given the dystopian look of this post-Brexit London. It took an entire console generation, but it looks like Ubisoft might finally capitalize on the promise of that original Watch Dogs demo.

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 was our favorite demo at E3 2018, and no surprise it appears on the list this year as well. We’ve already written an in-depth account of this year’s hour-long demo, but CD Projekt once again took us through a mission with no clear winners, and highlighted how the mission might change for Netrunners versus more combat-focused characters. Oh, and it also focused on Keanu Reeves’s character “Johnny Silverhand” of course.

I’ll say this, Cyberpunk 2077 looks more and more like an unofficial Johnny Mnemonic sequel every time we see it, and I am into it. Most surprising is the fact it’s due out in April 2020, before the new consoles arrive. I’m amazed it’s that close, and even more amazed it’ll apparently run on an Xbox One/PlayStation 4. Even my beefy GeForce GTX 1080 Ti-equipped PC is already sweating over the prospect of running this game’s luscious open world.

Planet Zoo

I love Planet Coaster, I love builder games, more generally, and I love animals. My excitement for Planet Zoo really boils down to those three components. Our behind-closed-doors demo focused on the Savannah biome, with large open areas for the various giraffes, cheetahs, wildebeest, chimpanzees, and so on that called this zoo home. And to be honest, I could’ve spent an hour just watching the animals walk around and feed.

Frontier highlighted some of the management and construction features as well though. You’ll be educating your visitors, not simply displaying animals. Staff Paths return from Frontier’s Jurassic World game, and you’ll need to balance the animal’s needs with the zoo’s theme park facade. And expediting that, you’ll have access to Frontier’s amazing construction tools again. Make the best zoo imaginable, or a hellish nightmare where all the animals escape. Your choice.

Dying Light 2

Another returning entry, Dying Light 2 impressed us last year with its ambitious branching storyline. Techland promised we’d not only change our own fate but the city’s, affecting which faction controlled certain districts, and in turn what rules were in effect, what items were sold, and so on.

But for 2019 they brought an even more ambitious demo. Every two or three minutes a binary choice popped up, and pressing left or right on the analog stick affecting how the entire mission played out. Stay with your dying friend or chase the escaping attackers? Kill the driver or spare him? And this culminated in the final choice, which saw an entire district of the city emerge from underwater, giving us a new area to explore—and a new zombie type to combat in the process.

It looks incredible, and like Cyberpunk I’m amazed it’s due out next April, before the console generation changeover. It barely seems possible.

Baldur’s Gate III

It’s been a week since we found out about Baldur’s Gate III and I’m still riding high. Nearly two decades after Baldur’s Gate II we’re finally getting a sequel, and it’s developed by Divinity: Original Sin studio Larian, and it involves a Mind Flayer invasion. It’s the best-case scenario as far as I’m concerned, especially since it’s being based off modern Dungeons & Dragons and not the THAC0-ridden version used by the Infinity Engine games.

There aren’t many details on this one yet, and I don’t expect it to release in 2019 even if it was announced at Google’s Stadia showcase as a “launch window” title. An early-to-mid-2020 release seems possible though, and I can’t wait to see more.

John Wick Hex

John Wick Hex is the coolest licensed game I’ve played in...forever.

Mike Bithell and Co. are calling it a “Timeline Strategy Game,” a brand-new genre. Every action John Wick takes requires a certain amount of time, and the same goes for his enemies. You’re vying for the upper hand, using quick actions to incapacitate one enemy and then shooting another, returning to the first to finish him off, and hoping you don’t get overwhelmed by the third running in from the doorway. Time pauses after every action, so you have plenty of time to think it over—but it’s even more fun if you act on instinct, keeping the game in pseudo-real time and getting into the flow of it.

Personally I think the most obvious touchstone is Superhot, in that your goal is to kill a lot of people without getting overwhelmed, and the only way to do so is to carefully manipulate the time mechanics. But then...it’s not really Superhot either. Rarely do we see a brand-new type of game demoed at E3, and John Wick Hex is a way more interesting adaptation than some generic John Wick shooter could ever be.

Forza Horizon 4: Lego Speed Champions

“Forza’s Lego expansion is the most charming game at E3,” I tweeted after my demo on Sunday—and I stand by it. Planet Zoo gives Lego Speed Champions a run for its money, but I’d still give the edge to Forza. It’s the same arcade racing we loved in Forza Horizon 4, but blocky. The cars are made of Lego, the environments are made of Lego, and even the post-race celebrations are Lego. The demo race also took us through a few themed environments, including a pirate zone and a haunted forest.

It’s cute, and perhaps even better than Forza Horizon 3’s Hot Wheels expansion. Best of all, it’s available right now. I’m looking forward to playing this for my post-E3 wind-down this weekend.

Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal is “More Doom” and that’s all I needed. I didn’t need a single trailer, I didn’t need a single demo. As soon as Bethesda said id was creating a follow-up to the glorious 2016 reboot, I was on-board.

Of course trailers and demos don’t hurt, and what we’ve seen of Doom Eternal looks like it’ll be one of 2019’s standout releases. It’s fast and frenetic and in your face, same as the previous entry. But now it’s all of those things in what looks like more ambitious levels, with more of the society-gone-to-hell look, mixing familiar landmarks with demonic influences. And I never expected to say this, but I’m curious about the story as well. 2016’s Doom was great at satirizing corporate influences and building the Doomslayer into a weird demigod of vengeance, and it looks like Doom Eternal will lean even further into those ideas.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

Finally, my favorite demo of E3 2019. We saw Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 at GDC earlier this year, a behind-closed-doors look at the beginning of the game before it was even announced. You can read my more in-depth impressions of that demo here.

Our E3 demo was more of the same, showcasing another early mission and the various ways it could play out—betraying your contract, murdering or sparing the target, fighting your way through The Jungle or taking the stealthy route. There are a lot of choices to be made, just as you’d expect from a follow-up to the original Bloodlines. And while our demo still looked a bit janky, the promise of this sequel is enough to win my heart. The characters are instantly memorable, be it the ethereal Elfi or the skulking Slugg, and the spot-on recreation of Seattle landmarks is breathtaking.

Here’s 20 minutes of gameplay capture from our E3 2019 demo:

This is another early-2020 release, which along with Watch Dogs, Cyberpunk, and Dying Light 2 means you’d better get a sick note from a hospital, not just your local primary care doctor. Next year’s shaping up to be one of those 1998-caliber years people talk about forever, and that’s before the new consoles launch. E3 might be in its death throes, but it sure chose a great year to go out on.

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Original author: Hayden Dingman
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Intel's NUC Compute Elements hopes to make laptops modular

Stop us if you've heard this one before: Imagine buying an ultrabook laptop or all-in-one PC that could be one day be easily have its guts swapped out for a faster CPU, faster RAM and faster SSD.

If that sounds faintly like Intel's failed Compute Card imitative from 2017, it is kinda. But when we talked to Intel officials recently at Computex in Taipei, they claimed to have thought about what made Compute Card fizzle and addressed it.

While the previous version was limited to 5-watt Y-class CPUs, the new NUC Compute Elements can run 15-watt U-class chips. Part of that is helped by the design of the NUC Compute Elements, which uses the backside as a giant heat sink. Inside you'll get an 8th-gen U-class CPU, SSD, RAM and wireless modules.

Intel NUC Compute Elements Gordon Mah Ung

The top of the NUC Compute Elements will essentially function as on big heat spreader for the CPU, chipset, SSD and RAM underneath.

One big departure from the Compute Card is the use of an edge connector on the NUC Compute Elements rather than a custom port style. The Compute Cards were designed to be slid into and out of a larger chassis to make upgrades as easy as possible, or even become portable computing devices you could carry around and slide into a custom dock.

The edge connector also has far more functionality exposed, Intel said. The original Compute Card featured a proprietary connector that offered up to a single 4K display, single 1080p display, four USB ports, and two PCIe lanes. With the Intel NUC Compute Elements, just about all of the modern connectivity in a laptop is offered through the pins.

u cpu map Intel

Intel's new NUC Compute Elements should offer far more connectivity than the failed Compute Card.

In a way, you can almost think of the NUC Compute Elements as the guts of a motherboard in a module that can be put into a slot. Intel believes this new take will allow computer makers to use a single uniform chassis for multiple configurations.

While it is technically possible for a consumer to buy a modular laptop and crack it open and upgrade to a newer module down the road, Intel isn't pushing end-user upgrades as the purpose of the NUC Compute Elements. Instead, it's for smaller PC vendors. While a large computer maker has the resources to spin up designs for, say, a 10th-gen CPU quickly, far smaller PC vendors can't do so. The NUC Compute Elements could help them push new models to customers far more quickly. So maybe this time, Intel's tiny computer has a better chance

Intel NUC Compute Elements Gordon Mah Ung

The NUC Compute Elements is about the size of a business card.

And yes, if you're wondering what the advantage would be for a larger PC vendor to use a technology that essentially levels the playing field with much smaller PC vendors—there isn't. Intel, in fact, freely admits that large OEMs might pass on Intel Compute Elements in favor of their own tailored designs. 

Intel NUC Compute Elements Gordon Mah Ung

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Original author: Gordon Mah Ung
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The blazing-fast 500GB Samsung 970 Evo SSD is 33% off at Amazon

Deal

The 500GB Samsung 970 Evo is $50 off at Amazon today. samsung970evoSamsungIf you have an empty M.2 NVMe slot in your desktop or laptop, now’s the time to put it to good use with an ultra-fast SSD. Amazon is selling the 500GB Samsung 970 Evo for $100. This is the all-time low on Amazon for this drive, and about $50 cheaper than it was just a few days ago (and for most of May and early June).You won’t find the Samsung 970 Evo in our round-up of the best SSDs of 2019, because it’s overshadowed by its siblings, the Evo Plus and 970 Pro.Nevertheless, when  we reviewed the Samsung 970 Evo in April 2018, we loved it as a fast yet affordable drive that delivers much better bang for your buck than the 970 Pro. The 500GB 970 Evo does tend to run out of cache during especially large write jobs, which means performance slows noticeably–by about half during our tests.That’s not great, but massive file writes aren’t a frequent task in the real world unless you’re installing games every day or working on gargantuan photo or video files. The average PC user should be very happy with this drive—especially at this price.[Today’s deal: 500GB Samsung 970 Evo for $100 on Amazon.]To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
Original author: Ian Paul
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