Tech round-up for February 28: Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ have a new camera feature, Alto's Odyssey is awesome, Philips LED lights and sleep, social media and protests

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Alto’s Odyssey is my new favourite mobile game, Philips LED lights help you sleep better, and the impact of social media on brands and the NRA. But first, what makes Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ so special.

Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones introduce bold new camera feature

In terms of form factor, the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ are much the same as the models Samsung released last year at this time. With an edge-to-edge display that curves at the sides and a snappy super AMOLED screen, they are handsome devices.

What Samsung introduces with these new handsets is a new approach to the smartphone camera: an adjustable aperture. The wide-angle lens in both the S9 and S9+ has an aperture with two settings. You can set the smartphone to automatically adjust the aperture depending on the light available, or you can manually control the f-stop.

The other feature Samsung is excited about is AR Emoji, which takes a photo of you and turns it into a cartoon avatar which can be animated and sent to friends and family through messaging and social media apps as a GIF or PNG file.

I’m hoping to take one of Samsung’s new handsets for a test drive, and will report back on the experience.

The two phones are available in Lilac Purple and Titanium Grey and will be shipped on March 16. The S9 will retail for $960 and the S9+ for $1,100 without a contract.

Samsung is also offering a trade-in program for older phones that will net a minimum of $100 towards a S9 or S9+.

Philips LED lights to help adapt sleep patterns

There’s nothing worse in the world than an alarm clock. Regardless of whether you’ve got a bell or a hazard sound or the radio to wake you, the problem with alarms is they jar you out of your sleep.

What’s best is for your brain and body to cycle out of sleep naturally.

Philips has a line of wake-up LED lights (between $100 and $220) that help this happen. You program these to wake up at a certain time, and about 30 minutes before that the sunrise-style golden light turns on, and gradually gets brighter. Just as if you were waking up to the sun rising.

This allows your brain to start cycling out of deep sleep and into a more wakeful stage. The increasingly bright light essentially gets you ready to wake up.

You can also have the devices play natural sounds to complete the waking up process, including birds chirping or sounds of the ocean.

And Philips’ BLU Energy light ($150) can help mitigate the negative effects that come from jet lag and shift work. These lights can sit on your desk or table and emit an intense, daylight-like light that can boost energy levels and mood.

Social media campaigns forcing brands to dump NRA partnerships

Ever since the horrific school shooting in Florida, social media channels have been used for conversation and discussion about the issues surrounding tragedies like these.

But it’s different this time, I think. We’re at an inflection point where action and activism online, and through social media, are effective in ways they weren’t a few years ago.

The young people who are calling for action are getting the better of the trolls for one thing, indicating that youth are fluent in social media.

But brands, being confronted by consumers on social media, are dropping their support for the National Rifle Association.

Avis Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz all dropped discount programs for NRA members, as did United Airlines:

MetLife, the Wyndham Hotel Group, and LifeLock, an identity theft protection service offered by Symantec, followed.

Next up are calls for action against the NRA’s broadcast division, NRA TV. It’s available online and also on streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku.

A sample of shows available on NRA TV: Armed & Fabulous, Empower the People (sponsored by Sig Sauer), and Love at First Shot (sponsored by Smith & Wesson).

Clearly some quality programming there.

Alto’s Odyssey the best mobile game to be released in months

Coming from Toronto studio Snowman, Alto’s Odyssey is a delightfully serene adventure. It’s a sequel to the equally excellent Alto’s Adventure, but this time you’re sandboarding instead of snowboarding.

The iOS exclusive has you zipping down slopes, hopping over rocks, grinding rails, and jumping over crevasses. There are some clever changes to the gameplay this time around, too, including the ability to carve into cliff faces in order to get vertical. And as you progress through the game you move through different environments, too, from the jungle to the canyons.

It’s all played with simple taps on the screen, so Alto’s Odyssey is easily played while on the bus, and it’s the perfect way to zone out for a few minutes in line.

The accompanying soundtrack is suitably soothing, providing the perfect backdrop to the swish of your board.

Alto’s Odyssey is the best $5 you’ll spend this year.


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