Last night, on The Shift with Drex, Drex and I talked about what’s new in the just-announced Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ smartphones, the new mobile game Alto’s Odyssey, how Philips LED lights can help you sleep, and social media protests against the NRA.
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
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:
United is notifying the NRA that we will no longer offer a discounted rate to their annual meeting and we are asking that the NRA remove our information from their website.— United Airlines (@united) February 24, 2018
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.
Last Wednesday, on The Shift with Drex, Drex and I talked about the modern book of the month club from Tor, a prediction of what the new Samsung smartphones will have that others don’t, the Black Mirror-inspired website that predicts the end of your relationship, and the redesigned video game Shadow of the Colossus for the PS4.
Tech round-up for February 21: Tor's modern book club, Shadow of the Colossus on PS4, Samsung Galaxy S9's special surprise, Black Mirror website
This week, a website predicts the end of your relationship, the Shadow of the Colossus PS4 remaster is sublime, and Samsung bucks the trend with the upcoming Galaxy S9 and S9+. But first, Tor modernizes the book of the month club.
Tor’s electronic book-of-the-month club
Everyone likes to get stuff for free. Book publisher Tor has a monthly book-of-the-month club which gives a free book to subscribers to its mailing list.
This month it was Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, the first book in the author’s Wheel of Time series. Other titles given out by the publisher have included John Scalzi’s Old Mans War and Catherynne Valente’s Deathless.
It’s a smart promotional play by Tor, as the books in the club tend to be key backlist titles that stand a good chance of selling more books.
The book of the month is only available for a couple of days, so sign up for next month now so you don’t miss out.
Shadow of the Colossus redesigned for powerful PS4 console
Originally released in 2005 for Sony’s PlayStation 2 game console, Shadow of the Colossus has already been remastered for the PS3. Now the scintillating game has been remade for the PS4, which not only introduces ultra high-definition graphics, but also updates the game for a modern audience.
But the core of the action adventure platforming game remains the same. A young man wants to revive a young woman, and agrees to destroy some creatures to do so. The creatures, the colossi of the game, are massive things made of geological components like rocks and earth and grass. Players need to climb up the bodies in order to destroy them.
There is very little narrative context here, and while replaying the game I found myself feeling as I did back in 2005: guilty.
Because while huge and imposing, the colossi are actually passive creatures simply existing in the world. They can be dangerous if you get close, but they aren’t overtly violent. It’s more like they don’t really notice you. Even when you start attacking them they aren’t aggressive, but more reacting defensively.
The game on the PS4 is stunning. Shadow of the Colossus was one of the first games that started using the graphical power of consoles to present a sense of scale, and with this redesign and the horsepower in the PS4 you really get a sense of the majesty of the colossi.
Which only serves to drive the discomfort that I felt while killing the creatures. It’s the kind of emotional experience that can come from playing games.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ expected to have something special
If the rumours are true, when Samsung reveals its new flagship smartphones, the S9 and S9+, they will have something other premium devices don’t: a headphone jack.
Apple dropped the headphone jack with its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7+ models, a decision that was kept with the iPhone 8, iPhone 8+, and iPhone X. Google followed suit with the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.
But Samsung was resolute with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, released last spring. It appears as though the company will continue to buck the trend with the new models.
We’ll know more next week. Samsung is expected to unveil new handsets on Sunday, February 25, in Barcelona, just before the Mobile World Congress trade show.
The end of your relationship predicted by a website based on “Black Mirror”
With the tagline, “Everything happens for a reason,” the Coach.Dating website is a unique online experience.
You must visit the site at the same time as your partner – the system provide a unique URL you share with them to connect the two of you – and you must respond to a prompt simultaneously.
The website returns a number that is an ostensible prediction. In my tests, it seems more random than anything, though.
Viewers of the Netflix series Black Mirror may find this all a bit familiar. With good reason, because this website was designed to emulate the dating experiences that are central to the plot of Season 4 episode, “Hang the DJ.”
Last Wednesday, on The Shift with Drex, Drex and I talked about the drone show during the PyeongChang 2018 opening ceremonies, the ski jackets and pants that have battery-powered warming worn by athletes there, the story of Amazon’s Alexa assistant ordering cat food while listening to a TV commercial about cat food, and how facial recognition technology is racially biased.