Tech round-up for May 8: Pixel 3a, Nest Hub, Instagram likes disappear, new Oculus VR, Facebook bans, Detective Pikachu leaked online, Toronto's Call of Duty pro team

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This week, news from Facebook’s F8 conference, new Facebook bans have been announced, Pokemon’s Detective Pikachu movie has leaked online maybe (maybe not), and Toronto’s getting a pro Call of Duty team. But first, Google’s new Pixel 3a handsets and the Google Nest Hub.

Google developer’s conference first day highlights

I/O, Google’s annual developers conference, runs this week, and in a keynote yesterday to kick off the event, the company had plenty to announce. Here’s a rundown of the big news.

New, cheaper Pixel handsets

Available now is the Pixel 3a smartphone, which packs all the main features you want in a handset into a more affordable package: $549 for 5.6-inch and $649 for the 6-inch (Pixel 3a XL).

You can get these in three colours and the device is made of polycarbonate (plastic) and not metal, like the Pixel 3 devices. Other things that make these cheaper are a slower processor, no wireless charging, and no water resistance.

But Google claims the camera on the 3a is the same as on the Pixel 3 and will deliver just the same stunning photos.

Google Nest is the brand for all smart home stuff

Formerly known under the “Home” moniker, the Google connected devices that make your home smart are being tagged with the “Nest” brand now, leveraging the name established by the first smart thermostat.

The Nest Hub is a new product with a seven-inch screen, designed to be the assistant that provides central access to thermostats, lights, can act as a speaker and also a digital photo frame. You can preorder the Nest Hub for $169.

More from F8, Facebook’s developers conference

In a keynote address, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook would be reducing the impact of the news feed on user streams, and instead would be highlighting posts coming from groups that you’ve joined. The idea is to encourage users to expand their connections through groups.

This seems like it’s part of the shift to provide an experience that is less fraught and less open to influence by “bad actors”.

Messenger is also being refocused, giving you the opportunity to prioritize the people you are connected with there.

With Instagram, meanwhile, Canada will be the location of a trial in which “likes” are hidden on feeds. In a release, the company said this is being tested to see the result of users being able to “focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get”.

New VR headsets announced

Facebook owns Oculus, the company that helped pioneer modern virtual reality headsets, and last week announced that the two new iterations of the technology are being released this month.

The Oculus Quest is a self-contained system that doesn’t need a computer to operate and the Oculus Rift S is an update to the more powerful kit that replaces the need for external cameras with what’s called an “inside-out” tracking system.

Both systems are priced at CAN$549. A Quest with double the storage space (128 GB is available for $700).

Facebook bans individuals and organizations that promote hate

Last week, Facebook escalated its efforts to scrub extremists from its platform. It designated a number of individuals and groups – including Alex Jones, Infowars, Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Gavin McInnes – as “individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate”.

They have been banned from Facebook.

While this seems like it’s happened before – Jones was officially banned late last year, but managed to maintain a presence nevertheless – the new Facebook initiative is different because it extends to any individual or group who promotes the banned individuals or shares their material.

Detective Pikachu movie leaked online

It doesn’t hit theatres until Friday, but Detective Pikachu, which stars Ryan Reynolds as the cute little pocket monster, is already available on YouTube.

At least, that’s what Reynolds would have you believe. In a Twitter post this week, he appears to call out the apparent plagiarism.

Watch the video – embedded below – for a great troll: a full 100 minutes of Pikachu dancing to ’80s-era synthesizer music.

Toronto is getting a Call of Duty eSports team

Since 2016, Activision has been running the Call of Duty World League, in which gamers compete in Call of Duty matches.

With prize pools that are regularly in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – championship purses are in the millions – the CWL World League is massive. And now it’s being further professionalized with a city-based Call of Duty league.

The five teams announced to date are based in Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Paris, and Toronto.

The Toronto franchise is owned by OverActive Media, which owns the Toronto Defiant, a team in the Overwatch League.

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