My suggestions for tech gifts recently published in the Straight. Take a swing by there for ideas on mobile devices, electric bicycles, home entertainment, home automation, and toys and kid stuff.
Mike Smyth was covering for Charles again this week. Mike and I talked about the new iMac Pro computer, updates to the Waze navigation app, and my holiday gift buyers guide to video game hardware and software.
Tech round-up for December 15: New iMac Pro tips the scales, talking to Waze during the holidays, best video games for your gift list
This week, specs on the new iMac Pro Apple just released, and new updates to Waze support better voice activation and HOV-lane routing. And the best video game hardware and software for the holiday gift-buying season.
New iMac Pro now available from Apple
In response to the needs of professional customers, Apple’s hard at work on a new desktop computer that can be fully configured and upgraded. Until that engineering work is completed, though, Apple has just released a professional version of its all-in-one computer, the iMac Pro.
The system uses the 27-inch Retina 5K monitor Apple developed and is equipped with four Thunderbolt 3 ports, to which you can connect up to two RAID systems and two 5K displays. Of course, you don’t need the extra displays unless you want them, because the computer has a stunning 5K display built-in.
The computer also has a completely new graphical processing unit (GPU) that was designed with video, animation, and graphics users in mind.
If you’re into the numbers, the iMac Pro has up to 18 cores of processing power with a processor that can be boosted up to 4.3 GHz. It maxes out at 128 GB of memory and comes equipped with a solid-state drive up to 4 TB in size.
The iMac Pro is priced starting at $6,300, which is not cheap (if you max out on the specs you can easily push the price tag beyond $15k). But this is a machine made for high-end creative work.
Updates to Waze just in time for all that holiday driving
The navigation app, Waze, has recently been updated with some new features that will help you find the best routes to get around while you’re going from grandma’s house to Uncle Vern’s to the community craft fair to the local church bake sale. And home again.
The most significant addition is the ability to activate the app by saying, “OK Waze,” instead of having to tap away on a screen. This is infinitely better for drivers, or course, because it’s illegal to be using your smartphone while driving unless you’re hands free.
In addition to being able to talk to your Waze app – and there are multiple voices you can have talk back to you, by the way – there are two things that Waze has added to its routing ability that will also help. The first is support for HOV lanes. If you’re traveling with enough passengers to qualify for access or you’re in a vehicle that has permission to use the lanes, Waze can now take that into account when plotting your route. At the moment, this feature is only available in Canada for Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.
The second change affects motorcyclists. Waze now has a “motorcyle” type vehicle option in the app settings. Enabling this means that the algorithms used by Waze will take into account roads that may be better for motorcycles (no gravel), and those routes that have been shown by other motorcycle riders to be preferred (curvy).
Video game gift guide
Consoles and systems
If I’m buying a new console right now, and I want it as future-proof as possible, I’m getting the Xbox One X. Not only can you play games on it, but it’s the best 4K Blu-ray player on the market. If you don’t have a 4K TV and don’t plan on getting one anytime soon, though, the Xbox One S is available in some great bundles for a reasonable price.
If you’ve got a PS4 or are getting one (if you’re getting one, opt for the Pro model), then PlayStation VR is the easiest and best way to get into virtual reality experiences. Many of the best VR games are found on PSVR, including Superhot, Farpoint, Star Trek Bridge Crew, Resident Evil VII: biohazard, Doom, and Skyrim.
The only place you can play some of the year’s best games is on Nintendo’s Switch. That includes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. There’s a reason Nintendo has sold 10 million units since the Switch released in March.
Open world adventures
My pick for game of the year is Horizon Zero Dawn (Sony), a PS4 exclusive which delivers an original narrative that is fully realized. The outsider Aloy, who lives on an Earth that is many generations in the future, is clever and competent and completely able to uncover the story of what happened to the planet that we know. Guerrilla Games has built a world here populated with varied and diverse cultures. The fact that you get to hunt gigantic robotic creatures with a bow is a bonus.
You can go back to the world of JRR Tolkien with Middle-earth: Shadow of War (Warner Bros. Interactive). A sequel to Shadow of Mordor, this game again uses the interesting “Nemesis” system, in which key enemies you interactions with remember those events, and have repurcussions in the world. This time, you, playing as the Ranger Talion, need to recruit your own army of evil creatures in order to attack Sauron.
The world of Hyrule is wide-ranging and expansive in the Nintendo Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo). Link awakens with no memory, and has to explore and discover and expand his powers so he can confront Calamity Ganon, the main protagonist. This is the first time that a Zelda game has been presented with an open world design, and it is a revelation.
The latest chapter in Ubisoft’s series of games about the ongoing conflict between the Assassin’s and the Templars goes back to the beginning in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Set in Egypt, which is rendered in stunning visuals, this is the best game in the franchise yet. Explore the world of pyramids and strange mythologies while interacting with characters based on real-life historical figures including Cleopatra.
While The Long Dark world and systems have been playable for a while, the narrative that Hinterland has been working on for the world they’ve created is now available. The first two of five chapters of “Wintermute” provide a context for the world that’s been developed. Something has happened to render technology useless. Now you must survive. The Long Dark is filled with the sounds of snow crunching underfoot and the brilliance of the aurora in the sky, and it takes place in a remote northern forest called Great Bear, a nod to the geography and history of the Comox Valley home of Hinterland’s founder, Raphael van Lierop.
Ready, set, action
A science-fiction adventure featuring changeling aliens and a twisting storyline, Prey (Bethesda) is perfect at evoking an “I’m all alone” paranoia. This first-person shooter was designed with multiple systems in an open-world environment, so as you explore the Talos I space station you’ll be able to find your own path to success and survival.
The premise behind Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory; PS4, Windows only) is unnerving: the protagonist, Senua, has suffered a psychotic break. As you become her, you’ll contend with the kind of perceptual discord experienced by people with some kinds of mental illnesses, like auditory and visual hallucinations. It’s a challenging but worthwhile experience that also happens to be a decent fighting game with tricky puzzle elements.
The most recent action adventure in this franchise is another PS4 exclusive. Like other games in the series, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (Sony) plays on the “buddy cop” movie trope but here the two main characters are females who were secondary characters in earlier titles. Written with crisp dialogue that is performed to perfection, there’s nothing to lose if you pick this one up to play.
Shoot or be shot
The Destiny franchise is still, to my mind, one of the best gaming experiences available. Destiny 2 (Activision) improves on the first game in every way. With a variety of game modes, and opportunities to step into the world for short forays or long campaigns, it’s a game designed to appeal to the needs and wants of all fans of first-person shooters. Just released is Destiny 2’s first expansion, which takes us to Mercury where the robotic Vex are up to no good.
You’ve seen the new Star Wars movie, but the way you can really feel like you’re in the world is by playing Star Wars Battlefront II (EA). The game is constructed for dozens of players to fight against each other at the same time, but it also has a strong single-player story, too, that puts you in the shoes of a soldier fighting on the side of the Empire.
If your kids are getting bored with basic kid video games, it’s time to introduce them to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft). The Nintendo Switch exclusive is bright and fun and features the characters that kids know and love, but in a turn-based, tactical game. This will be to young players a new kind of game with different play styles and mechanics that will challenge them to think strategically in ways they haven’t before.
Stab or be stabbed
The sublime fighting game called Absolver (Devolver Digital) is a stunning achievement. It combines an open world setting with multiplayer and cooperative modes and provides the kind of role-playing tuning for martial arts fanatics that gearheads have long appreciated in car racing games. You build your own martial style from the various strikes, parries, and feints that you learn, and you can also equip a wide range of weapons and armor. It’s tactical fighting at its best.
If you’re more into swordplay, For Honor (Ubisoft) lets you pick your favourite edged weapon and wield it against all manner of martial archetypes, from Old English knights to Feudal Japanese samurai to vikings from the far north. You need to choose your group carefully, because the weapons available to you are determined by that selection. You won’t, for example, ever see a viking berserker wielding a katana.
Running and jumping
In this new platform adventure, Mario is joined by Cappy, a sentient hat that Mario can throw to attack enemies and also to possess them. The 3-D world of Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo) is fun and engaging, and there’s great diversity in the kingdoms that you’ll explore. You need to find Power Moons to move from one kingdom to another, and you can use coins to spend on items that will unlock new areas. Play this only on the Nintendo Switch.
Don’t think for a second that because Cuphead (StudioMDHR) is presented in a cute, old-timey illustration style that the game will be a cinch. The Canadian-made game is more of a shooter than it is a pure platformer, requiring players to run, jump, and shoot at the enemies flooding the screen. Cuphead and Mugman are cute, sure, but they’ve got a job to do.
The Finch family believes it is cursed, and in What Remains of Edith Finch (Annapurna Interactive), the last remaining member discovers the story of the family going back generations. Details and secrets are uncovered as she explores the family manor and grounds, and it’s only a little unsettling when you find that in visiting shrines to family members who have died, you experience the death of that person.
The year is 2088, and something has gone wrong on the space station Tacoma (Fullbright). Your task is to find out what happened to the missing crew and you do this by interacting with the station’s AI. You can also watch recordings of the events that occurred, which are rendered as 3-D holographic images you can follow through the station.
There were lots of calls about mobile phones. But we also talked about home automation, video games and entertainment, and I tell Gloria what’s on my wish list this year.
My segment begins at the 26:20 mark.
Charles Adler Tonight, December 8: #tesla, #electricbikes, #amazonprimevideo, #appletv, #youtube, #xboxonex, #samsung, #qled, #roku
Mike Smyth is in the chair while Charles is away. Last Friday, Mike and I talked about the new electric vehicles announced recently by Tesla, as well as the electric bicycle manufacturers in Canada. Plus: Amazon Prime Video comes to Apple TV, while YouTube gets pulled from Amazon Echo devices. And the tech holiday gift guide, home entertainment edition.