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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Trump’s suspension from Facebook is upheld, Otterbox has a Grogu stand for your Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker, MSI’s Summit series laptops are lightweight and golden, Apple improves the Arcade and Fitness+ services, PS5 exclusive Returnal is a fast-paced roguelite that frustrates and compels.

Facebook’s Oversight Board has decided to uphold Donald Trump’s ban

Facebook’s ban of Donald Trump has been upheld by the company’s Oversight Board.

In a decision published this morning, the board said that two posts by Trump on January 6, “severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines,” and that he, “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.”

But the Oversight Board does not believe that an indefinite suspension was warranted, because Facebook has no clear policy for such things. As a result, the board has asked Facebook to itself review the indefinite ban.

So it seems Facebook will have the final say on whether Trump gets back on the platform.

The Facebook Oversight Board is reputed to be independent of the company itself, established in the fall of 2019 to “promote free expression by making principled, independent decisions regarding content on Facebook and Instagram….”

In practical terms, the board was created so that Facebook could demonstrate that it was willing to have an outside group play a role in content moderation. It is seen as a way to preempt government intervention.

In advance of the announcement about Trump’s suspension, the board tweeted out an infographic explaining its process.

But as Kara Swisher posted on Twitter today, the board is “paid for by Facebook with members handpicked by Facebook in a system essentially created by Facebook.”

Despite the fact that the Oversight Board is a corporate advisory board by another name, it did criticize Facebook for seeking to “avoid its responsibilities” by “applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve.”

Stop trying to avoid making the difficult decisions, in other words.

Worth reading is this summary from Reuters on how the various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, deal with posts from Trump as well as other world leaders.

The Oversight Board believes that these world leaders should not have more flexibility to bend and break the rules, but should in fact be held to a higher standard. “What is important is the degree of influence that a user has over other users,” the board wrote.

“If a head of state or high government official has repeatedly posted messages that pose a risk of harm under international human rights norms, Facebook should suspend the account for a period sufficient to protect against imminent harm,” the decision continued. “Suspension periods should be long enough to deter misconduct and may, in appropriate cases, include account or page deletion.”

Grogu stand for Amazon Echo Dot revealed for May the fourth

If you’ve got an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker, you can show off your Star Wars fandom with a new stand fashioned after Yoda and Grogu, the child star of The Mandalorian.

Created by Otterbox, the Baby Grogo stand is the perfect cradle for the spherical Echo Dot, the recognizable green ears sticking out on either side.

The stand was made available for pre-order yesterday, Star Wars Day. It costs $32 CDN and will be released on June 10.

MSI’s Summit Series laptops were designed for the modern workplace

Computer manufacturer MSI has revealed its 2021 Summit Series of laptop computers.

The Summit E13 Flip Evo (13-inch, starting at $2,100 CAD) and Summit E16 Flip (16-inch, pricing not available) are lightweight machines with 11-generation Intel Core processors.

Both units have 360-degree hinges and touchscreens, so they double as tablets. The convertibles have a unibody design with a unique hinge and 16:10 screens, a bit taller than the standard HD widescreen display so you’re getting a bit more screen real estate in the chassis. MSI says its designers were inspired by the golden ratio.

In addition to the larger size, the E16 Flip has a dedicated Nvidia graphics card to optimize 3D modelling and video rendering.

The E13 and the E16 both come with an MSI Pen, a slick all-metal stylus that looks like a fountain pen and can be used either as a stylus for taking notes or drawing or as a presentation remote. It attaches to the side of the computers with magnets so you’re less likely to lose it.

MSI also has a docking station for the Summit series. Using the Gen 2, ($250 CAD), you can connect up to three displays to deliver 4K video and the dock includes five USB ports and can funnel 100 watts of power.

Apple quietly improves Arcade and Fitness+ services

With everything else Apple has been doing in the past few weeks, the company has also upgraded two of its newer services, providing even greater value to subscribers.

Subscriptions to Apple Arcade cost $6 a month, while Apple Fitness+ costs $13 a month or $100 a year. They are also bundled in the Apple One plans, which cost between $21 and $34 a month. All subscriptions can be shared with up to five other family members.

Apple Arcade expands to include more than 30 new games

Apple Arcade is immediately appealing because for a small monthly subscription you get a library of gaming experiences that you can play without having to bother with ads or micro-transactions.

And now that library includes two new categories of games: Timeless Classics, like backgammon, sudoku, solitaire, and crossword, and App Store Greats, like Fruit Ninja, Threes!, and Monument Valley. These games are only available on iPad and iPhone.

In all, more than 30 games were added to Apple Arcade.

New Arcade Original games, which are playable on all your Apple devices including Apple TV, include NBA 2K1 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends, and a new imagining of The Oregon Trail.

Apple Fitness+ brings in some new workouts, including walks with celebs

Apple Fitness+ is also bulking up, particularly with programs to introduce beginners to a range of physical activities that just might catch on with them.

Among the activities with beginner workouts are yoga, high intensity interval training, and strength sessions.

Other specialized workouts have been added for women who are pregnant and for older adults, each of whom have unique needs.

Earlier this year, Apple added programming for people walking. The Time to Walk series invites notable guests to record their thoughts and stories and inspirations for audiences to listen to while on a walk.

Dolly Parton, Shawn Mendes, Draymond Green, Wanda Sykes, and Jane Fonda have all hosted episodes. In Fonda’s segment, released for Earth Day, the actor and activist shares stories bout fighting against climate change.

Roguelite Returnal is a fascinating sci-fi challenge

I’ve spent a couple of dozen hours playing Returnal, a new third-person shooter from Finnish studio Housemarque, and while it has been frustrating me greatly, it is also utterly compelling to me.

The PS5 exclusive is a roguelite, designed so that players learn how to play by repeatedly dying and having to start over from the beginning. It’s also a challenge, because the game is stingy with its gear and resources. And a lot of your success in the game will come down to the luck of the random drops.

Returnal is also careful not to let too much of the story loose too early, and this is originally what kept me enthralled. While investigating a signal dubbed “White Shadow,” a scout named Selene crash lands on the planet of Atropos, a place populated with strange creatures and strewn with the ruins and remnants of a sentient civilization.

As you progress through the game, ideally getting further each time, you learn more about the planet and its denizens, and you also learn more about Selene. The narrative is . . . weird . . . hovering in that space right before things devolve into outright horror. A house from Earth just happens to be on this alien planet, for example, so you’re never really sure what’s real. But you’ll quickly learn what the real dangers are on Atropos.

Every time you die – and you will die – you start back at the site of your crash and facing a map that is different than the time before. The levels aren’t procedurally generated, but are made up of randomly arranged rooms and arenas that have been carefully designed.

There are six different areas, called biomes in the parlance of game development, that you’ll experience, and you do get more powerful the longer you stay alive, although health and currency remain rare resources.

There’s not a lot to manage. You can only carry one gun at a time, for example. But you will constantly be weighing costs and benefits. You can modify your abilities with artifacts and parasites, but these are temporary, lasting at most the duration of your run. And parasites provide both a benefit and a disadvantage, improving your chance of collecting the currency while damaging you every time you pick up an object.

And some objects and chests in the game are covered in a “malignancy” that, should you choose to use them, have a chance of affecting you with a malfunction.

The traversal and the combat are fast and frantic, the enemies varied and at time overwhelming. I’ve had the best success when I keep moving, and alternate between using my gun and dashing forward to use melee attacks as finishing moves.

Housemarque made good use of PS5 systems including 3D audio and the haptics in the DualSense controller to give the game an added feel.

One big problem, though, is that you can’t save your progress. You can use the Playstation’s rest mode to pause, but that prevents you from playing any other games and doesn’t protect you against anything that might cause the console to restart.

And when it could take you a few hours to complete the game, not being able to take a break isn’t ideal.

I still haven’t decided whether this is a game I’m going to try and beat, even though I am intrigued by the world and I enjoy the furious combat.

Returnal is not for everyone. Some will find the difficulty and the repetition to be frustrating and tedious. But the art direction and sound design help to create a curious, otherworldly experience. If you can put up with the pain, you might find some salvation.

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Categories Corus Radio Network | Consumer technology

This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about Apple’s App Tracking Transparency privacy controls, Samsung’s new Galaxy Book Pro and Galaxy Book Pro 360 ultralight laptops, the new Apple TV 4K, Apple’s AirTags and the “Find My” service, and how you can get Horizon Zero Dawn for free on your Playstation 4 or Playstation 5.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Samsung’s new ultralight laptops, Apple’s new Apple TV 4K and remote, Apple’s AirTags, and Playstation game Horizon Zero Dawn is available for free. But first, Apple doubles down on protecting your privacy.

Apple’s insisting that platforms get explicit permission from you

With the release of iOS 14.5 this week comes Apple’s new app tracking transparency (ATT) privacy controls.

While apps and platforms have been tracking you across different apps and services – they’ve had your implicit permission with an “opt-out” philosophy – now they have to ask for your explicit permission to do so.

In other words, you have to opt-in to allow tracking to occur.

This is what Facebook is so annoyed about, because the platform is concerned that people aren’t going to want to be followed everywhere they go. And Facebook is concerned about what that will do to its business, which relies on being able to track users everywhere they go.

There are some benefits to being tracked, including personalized and targeted ads.

What ATT does is give you an opportunity to decide for yourself whether that’s something that you want.

It may be a bit of a pain as you have to go through the process to permit or deny all of the apps on your iPhone, but once you’ve made the decision for a service you won’t be asked again.

And at any time you can go into your settings if you want to change your mind.

As part of the rollout of ATT, Apple is also setting out rules to curtail platforms and apps from trying to trick users into granting permission, even going so far as to threatening to ban developers for offering incentives for granting the request

Other features arriving with iOS 14.5:

  • Unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask with your Apple Watch
  • Different voices for Siri
  • AirTag support

Samsung’s new Galaxy laptops are ultralights

Samsung held an online event today to show off new Galaxy Book laptops, each of them running Windows 10 and with Intel’s eleventh generation processors.

The Galaxy Book Pro and Galaxy Book Pro 360 models come in 13-inch and 15-inch configurations. They differ largely in the design, with the Pro being a laptop and the Pro 360 being a full convertible with touch functionality, and in the screen, the Pro featuring an AMOLED display and the Pro 360 a Super AMOLED.

And these things are thin and light. All four models are under 12 mm, and the Pro 13-inch is only 0.87 kg (under two pounds!) and the heaviest, the Pro 360 15-inch, is only 1.39 kg (only three pounds).

The Galaxy Book Pro 360 models also come with the new S Pen to be used with the touch screens.

Pricing is as follows:

  • Galaxy Book Pro 13-inch: starting at $1,470
  • Galaxy Book Pro 15-inch: starting at $1,600
  • Galaxy Book Pro 360 13-inch: starting at $1,600
  • Galaxy Book Pro 360 15-inch: starting at $1,730

The systems can be pre-ordered today and will ship on May 14.

Pre-orders made before May 13 will get a pair of Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds.

New Apple TV 4K boosts frame rate, introduces new remote

Apple’s new Apple TV 4K ($229 for 32 GB, $249 for 64 GB) delivers high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Vision video at higher frame rates than before, hitting up to 60 frames per second.

But it’s the new Color Balance feature that has me interested. It uses your iPhone to establish the characteristics of your television, and then adjusts the video output so that the picture you see meets industry-standard specifications.

The Color Balance feature is going to be available to existing Apple TV devices running tvOS 14.5, which releases next week.

The new Siri Remote has a circular clickpad that supports touch control, so you can swipe through content or fast forward and rewind by making circles on the outer ring.

You’ll be able to purchase the new Siri Remote separately for $69. It is compatible with the existing Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD boxes.

You can preorder the Apple TV 4K on April 30, with it shipping to you in the second half of May.

Apple’s expands “Find My” service with AirTags and third-party support

One of the new products revealed by Apple at last week’s briefing was the AirTag, a tiny stainless steel puck that connects to Apple’s “Find Me” network. This means it can be tracked the same way you’d locate a missing iPad, iPhone, or Apple laptop.

The AirTags cost $39 each – you can get a four-pack for $129 – can be accessorized so they can be used as a bag charm, key tag, luggage tag, et cetera. The appeal of the Find My network is that it enables you to take advantage of the worldwide mesh created by Apple devices so you can track things, but it’s all entirely encrypted so you can do so without actually giving away the location of you or your the device you’re tracking.

And Apple has opened up the Find My network to device designers and manufacturers.

The charging case for Belkin’s Soundform Freedom True Wireless earbuds, for example, will be findable with the Find My app.

One company that is concerned about Apple’s AirTags is Tile, which actually created the business that Apple looks to move into with AirTags.

Tile, though, has a range of different products that work with a variety of devices, including Android and iOS devices, Windows computers, and even Fitbits.

And it’s not a terrible idea, I don’t think, if Tile wanted to also create its Slim and Sticker trackers to work with the Find My network and get the best of both worlds.

Get Playstation exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn for free

You’ve got until May 14 to get one of the best games ever made.

Playstation is giving away the complete edition of Horizon Zero Dawn as part of its Free to Play program.

This package includes the Frozen Wilds expansion, and you can play it on a PS4 or PS5.

Horizon Zero Dawn tells the coming of age story of Aloy, a young woman who survives as a hunter in a world that is both strange and familiar.

Released in 2017, the open world action adventure has incredible writing and acting, in a completely believable far future setting.

A sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, from the developer, Guerrilla Games, is scheduled for release this year.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Google’s new Nest Hub, Shaw’s tree planting promotion, and Xbox brings cloud gaming to iOS devices. But first, Apple’s new iPad Pros and iMacs.

Apple’s putting its new M1 silicon into new iPad Pros and iMacs

In yesterday’s online event, Apple revealed that updates to the iPad Pro and iMac product lines are equipped with the new M1 chip.

The M1, which is Apple’s proprietary silicon, is already in the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro (13-inch), and Mac Mini, and is being credited with tremendous increases in processing speed, battery life, and reductions in heat production and noise.

What this means for the iPad Pro (starting at $999 for the 11-inch and $1,399 for the 12.9-inch), which has been built with the A12Z Bionic chip, is up to 50 percent faster computer processing and up to 40 percent faster graphics processing.

With up to 2 TB of storage and a Thunderbolt connection, which allows for high bandwidth transfer to external storage and displays, the iPad Pro suddenly becomes an incredible workhorse for the creative industries, enabling photo and video processing unlike ever before.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro gets a display bump, too, to Liquid Retina XDR with brightness, contrast, and dynamic range that exceeds all other tablets.

The new 24-inch iMac (starting at $1,599), meanwhile, harkens back to the days of the colourful originals from 1998, the first computers that combined the processing components and the monitor in one package.

Available in a rainbow of colours, the design has a single sheet of glass on the front with muted colour which becomes vibrant and bold on the back of the computer.

The M1 chip has brings performance improvements, up to 85% faster computer processing depending on what you’re using now. It’s got a smaller, quieter cooling system, too. This all contributes to the computer taking up half as much volume. The main body is only 11.5 mm and the entire thing weighs just over 4 kg.

The power cable attaches to the back of the computer with a magnet connector, and if you use an ethernet cable, that plugs into the power brick now.

There are new Magic peripherals (Keyboards, Mice, and Trackpads) that are coloured to match the iMac, and one model of Magic Keyboard has a Touch ID sensor that also works with Fast User Switching, so you can change to a different profile on the system with a fingertip.

The new iPad Pro and iMac become available to order on April 30, and will ship in the second half of May.

Google’s updated Nest Hub designed for the bedroom

On the outside, the newest Nest Hub from Google looks much the same as the first one, which was released in 2018. It’s got a 7-inch touch screen and comes in four neutral colours so it blends into any decor.

The $129 smart speaker differs in a few ways, though. It delivers better overall sound thanks to a better speaker with more bass, and its got three microphones to more easily pick up your voice when you’re asking it for a weather report, or to set a timer, or to get the score of the game.

Even though the Nest Hub can play videos from your streaming services, it’s unlikely that you’re going to use one to watch the latest action film, even if you can do it from the comfort of your bed.

But as a digital photo frame and a clock, it’s great.

And you can control it using more than your voice by touching the screen. This Nest Hub can recognize gestures that you make in the air to play or pause audio and turn off timers and alarms.

Another thing that’s new is the switch on the back of the device that turns off all the microphones, which is smart, because Google thinks one of the best places for the new Nest Hub is your bedroom.

The Nest Hub automatically dims its display at night, and you can set an alarm that gradually increases the brightness of the display, mimicking a sunrise.

And you can opt to try Sleep Sensing, a new feature that uses the same technology that enables gestural controls: Motion Sense.

This sensor can detect motion and breathing, and when combined with other sensors like the microphones, light sensor, and temperature sensor, Google has found a way to analyze your sleep patterns and even suggest things you might change that could improve your sleep.

It’s a way to get a read on your sleep without needing to wear a gadget to bed. And after 14 days of tracking your overnight, the Sleep Sensing system will recommend a sleep-wake schedule.

You just might want to remember that microphone off switch on the back of the Nest Hub if you’re in bed, but not sleeping. Catch my drift?

Plant a virtual tree and Shaw will plant a real one

Just in time for Earth Day – which is tomorrow, in case you didn’t already know – you can cause a real tree to be planted in the real world by playing your favourite video game.

The Tree Spree challenge will see Tree Canada planting a real tree for every one planted in any game you play.

Animal Crossing, Minecraft, and Stardew Valley are among the games in which you can grow flora.

Screenshot the tree you planted and tag it with #ShawTreeSpree and the telco will match every in-game tree with one in the real world.

Xbox brings cloud gaming to iPads and iPhones and Windows computers

Here’s another reason to get a subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: the ability to play more than 100 console games on your iPad or iPhone using an Xbox controller.

Xbox Cloud Gaming delivers these gaming experiences through a web browser without the need to install any app.

You’ll also be able to play these games through a browser on your Windows computer.

There’s nothing anyone needs to do to participate. If you’re a member of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you’ll get an email letting you know when you’ve got access to the service, which is in beta right now.

Supported browsers include Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or Safari.

Imagine what it’s going to be like playing Skyrim or Gears of War on one of those slick new iPad Pros.

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