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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, some YouTube videos intended for kids have content decidedly not for kids and a review of BioWare’s new game, Anthem. But first, mobility plans in Canada and hands-on with the new Samsung Galaxy S10 handsets.

Hands-on with Samsung’s new smartphones and earbuds

In a Vancouver hotel room last week, I got my hands on some of the new gadgets Samsung announced in an event in San Francisco.

The Galaxy Fold was not among them, sadly. And company representatives were not able to say when the folding smartphone may be making its way to Canada.

What will be in Canada as of March 8 are the Galaxy S10e, the Galaxy S10, and the Galaxy S10+.

The biggest difference between the three models is the screen size and the pricing:

  • S10e: 5.8-inch, starting at $1,020
  • S10: 6.1-inch, starting at $1,260
  • S10+: 6.4-inch, starting at $1,420

There are some additional differences. The S10e has a flatscreen, not the curved, wrap-around display of the S10 and S10+. It also has a fingerprint scanner on the side of the phone.

The S10 and S10+ have an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor under the display. This is a new approach to fingerprint security that “reads the 3-D contours” of your finger or thumb, which Samsung says makes it more secure.

All three handsets have three cameras on the rear of the phone, a telephoto, a wide-angle, and an ultra-wide-angle. When you’re setting up your shot and using fingertips to pinch-zoom, the device will select and use the best lens for the picture you want to take.

The killer feature of the new S10 handsets, though, may be that they can act as a wireless charging pad. Not only can they charge wirelessly, but they can also distribute power wirelessly. In the hotel room, I saw a S10+ charge a Galaxy Watch and Galaxy Buds. You can use the smartphones to charge anything that uses the Qi wireless charging standard.

I also took a look at the new Galaxy Buds earphones from Samsung, which are priced at $199 and are wireless, delivering five hours of talk time or six hours of listening on a charge. The earbuds each have microphones which deliver robust voice audio and can allow you to hear outside sound. They’re also priced $20 cheaper than Air Pods.

Canada’s cheapest mobility plans aren’t actually cheap

An article by Global News journalist Dani-Elle Dubé that published on the weekend breaks down the mobility plans available in Canada.

Her results show that there’s effectively no difference in pricing between the three national carriers. For the same packages, there wasn’t more than a $5 difference between Bell, Rogers, and Telus.

Dubé also reports that the most recent data from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada shows that Canadians continue to pay the highest rates for cellular and wireless data compared to other countries.

YouTube has a problem with videos for kids

Clips of video content inappropriate for children have been spliced into videos posted to YouTube and YouTube Kids. One of the first reported incidents came from paediatrician Free Hess.

Earlier this month, she was notified that the same clip – featuring Filthy Frank talking about suicide – had appeared in another video intended for kids.

YouTube has since removed the video, but it had reportedly been available online for months before being flagged by Hess.

I don’t think this is a grand conspiracy to affect youth. More likely it is the work of ignorant, idiotic people who think this is a simple prank. It’s not, of course.

But this is a problem YouTube has to solve. And policies against such actions are useless if there isn’t a better system in place to flag and remove this dangerous content.

Relying on users to complain about the offensive content isn’t enough. A vulnerable child can’t un-see content that could incite them to suicide.

This is why broadcasters and publishers are irreplaceable. There’s little chance of content like that accidentally appearing on a channel that has been properly curated by a human.

Anthem has a great story but it sucks at telling it

Anthem is something of a quandary for me. There’s a lot to love about this game, published by Electronic Arts and available for PS4, Windows, and Xbox One. But there are aspects of the experience that are, frankly, frustrating.

Developed by Edmonton’s BioWare and under the guidance of Casey Hudson, Anthem was always going to have a lot to live up to. After all, this is the studio that has given us some of the best storytelling and role-playing experiences with games like Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect, and the first Mass Effect trilogy was a success in part because of Hudson’s vision.

When it comes to those aspects, Anthem is outstanding. The world that BioWare has created is unique, distinct, and compelling. The Anthem in question is actually the “Anthem of Creation”, a relic of an earlier time, and it has the power to shape and shift life itself. The set up here contains lots of myth and mystery and high stakes.

The characters are similarly diverse and interesting, and the writing that pulls it all together excellent. Again, this is what we expect from Bioware.

Players become Freelancers, once respected explorers and protectors that kept the chaotic forces of the Anthem at bay, but now eking out an existence on the frontier, where human settlements are still under threat. They are still explorers and protectors, but they just don’t have the same elevated status.

To complete the contracts that sustain them, Freelancers pilot Javelins, suits of powerful, mechanized armour. Freelancers become more powerful and capable by improving the Javelins that are available to them, and changing out the weapons and appliances equipped. What this means is that with one character, you can effectively switch from a heavy fighter to a fast-moving scout to a support, instead of being locked into a character class for the entire game.

There are familiar elements, here, but with science fiction games that make heroes out of players, they are expected and allowed.

Despite the narrative excellence, though, Anthem fails because it forces multiplayer on gamers.

The missions that give players a chance to develop their skills and follow the narrative require four players to complete. If you don’t have friends to play with, the game matches you up with others.

Knowing that not everyone wants to interact with strangers, Anthem doesn’t ask you to. But there is no opportunity for the story to be delivered asynchronously, so if I get twisted around a bit trying to find the next waypoint while the others get there quickly, or if I want to take my time getting over there because I see a crafting item I can collect, I miss out on everything that happens. I miss out on the battle, I miss out on the collection of loot and experience, and I miss out on getting an understanding of the story.

So while I’m not forced to interact with other players, my progress and experience of the game is completely entwined with them. There’s no opportunity for me to play the story on my own. In attempting to create a new approach to cooperative multiplayer, BioWare has effectively eliminated the single-player experience.

Anthem is a game with incredible potential that is thwarted by insisting on telling me how to play.

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Categories Corus Radio Network | Consumer technology

This week on The Shift with Drex, I talked about the new handsets and wearables announced by Samsung in San Francisco, Amazon deciding not to set up HQ2 in New York (Queens), the CRTC finding that Canadian telecom providers are regularly misleading customers, Activision Blizzard’s layoffs and record profits, and a review of Crackdown 3.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Amazon and NYC are fighting, CRTC finds Canadian telecoms are jerks, and Activision Blizzard are only there to serve shareholders. Plus, a look at Crackdown 3, exclusive to the Xbox One. But first, news about Samsung’s folding smartphone, the Galaxy Fold, and other new products from the Korean tech company.

Samsung unveils the Galaxy Fold and other new products

It’s not the first folding smartphone, but so far it seems to be the standard setter. The Galaxy Fold sports two batteries and 12 GB of RAM, and is a small, 7.3-inch tablet that can be folded in half. When it’s folded it has a 4.6-inch display. It can run three apps at the same time, and will adjust automatically when you move between folded and tablet modes. It’s only going to be available in the U.S. for now, and it’s going to cost a whopping US$2,000.

Also revealed by Samsung today was the new line of Galaxy S10 smartphones, including the S10e (5.8-inch), the S10 (6.1-inch), and the S10 Plus (6.4-inch). These are available in Canada starting on March 8.

Among the new features of the S10 is a fingerprint sensor that is under the screen allowing for a full-screen, notchless display. The S10 and S10 Plus have three cameras on the back, and the S10 Plus has two cameras on the front. The S10 Plus is also configurable with up to 1 TB of storage.

Also revealed today were three new wearables:

  • Galaxy Watch Active
  • Galaxy Fit: fitness tracker
  • Galaxy Buds: Cordless in-ear listening

Amazon HQ2 not going to Big Apple after all

So Amazon has decided not to put a campus in New York after all. Curbed has a great timeline of the affair.

The cancelled plans could be considered as a win for activists who were concerned about the tax breaks that were being offered and what the deal would do to Long Island City, which is in Queens just across the East River from Manhattan.

Big business proponents, though, decry this as a lost opportunity.

I suspect that metro New York is going to be just fine.

Canadian telecom providers are misleading customers, finds CRTC

Today, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) released its report on Misleading or Aggressive Communications Retail Sales Practices.

“Having considered the matter in depth, we found that it is apparent that misleading or aggressive retail sales practices are present in the telecommunications service provider market in Canada and, to some extent, in the television service provider market. These practices exist in all types of sales channels, including in store, online, over the telephone, and door to door. They occur to an unacceptable degree; they are harming Canadian consumers, in particular vulnerable Canadians; and they are a serious concern for us.”

I think they are a concern for everyone with a mobility plan, internet plan, and/or television plan.

So what should be done?

“In our view, consumer protections should be strengthened to address the occurrence of misleading or aggressive sales practices and to ensure that Canadians are empowered to make informed decisions and are treated fairly.”

The federal government is currently reviewing the Telecommunications Act and the Broadcasting Act, which the CRTC enforces.

Activision Blizzard celebrates profits while laying off staff

Last week, just before CEO Bobby Kotick reported Activision Blizzard had “achieved record results” last year, the company laid off 800 people.

Polygon has a good analysis of what’s going on.

It’ll be an interesting year for the game publisher, which appears to be down to a couple of titles: Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch.

Crackdown 3 is a perfect power fantasy at play

Crackdown 3, developed by Sumo Digital and published by Xbox Game Studios, is an Xbox One exclusive, and is the latest open world game in the series that started on the Xbox 360 with 2007’s Crackdown.

This third game is much the same in concept. You play as an “agent” in a city that is entirely open and available to you. It’s a sandbox in the truest sense, a place where you can run, jump, and throw down with the bad guys.

Here, the bad guys are Terra Nova, an evil corporation that orchestrated a worldwide power outage and has complete control over the city of New Providence. Your task is to take out the various arms of the corporation, and the lieutenants running them, all in service of taking down the company.

You improve your character just by playing. Using explosives improves your explosive abilities. Using vehicles improves your driving ability. Collecting agility orbs, which are scattered around the city, improves your ability to navigate the environment.

The campaign story is sparse but clever, with interesting dynamics developed between the evil Terra Nova characters, but the characters themselves come perilously close to stereotype.

If you’re not expecting anything more than exploring the geography, blasting away at the enemies that swarm you, then Crackdown 3 is the power fantasy for you.

The multiplayer experience, Wrecking Zone, feels kind of stapled on and thin. The core idea is that everything in the environment is fully destructible, including those skyscrapers you’re leaping off. This only adds to the feeling of power. It will be a much better experience once Microsoft updates it to allow for you to play with friends in a party, something that is pending, but until Wrecking Zone can bring more than simple destruction, it’s limited.

Crackdown 3 isn’t an earth shattering game, but I was perfectly content to play it for about 15 hours to play through the campaign. I’ll go back someday.

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Categories Corus Radio Network | Consumer technology

This week on The Shift with Drex, I talked about whether Netflix’s Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch, was designed from the start for data mining and Netflix’s Smart Downloads feature for mobile devices. I also talked about the latest data breaches, the importance of passwords (and my love of 1Password), and the new short film from Neill Blomkamp, Conviction, set in the world of BioWare video game, Anthem, which you can watch below.

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Categories Consumer technology | Video games

This week, Netflix brings smart downloads to iOS and Neill Blomkamp brings a short film based on Anthem to YouTube. But first, news on the latest data breaches and why a subscription to 1Password is the way to go.

Data breaches and stolen account details proliferate online

Early this year, the website, Have I Been Pwned reported that some 773 million email addresses and passwords had been discovered on a hacking site by Troy Hunt, a security expert who runs HIBP.

Many of the email addresses in that collection had already been revealed, leading Hunt to posit that this data dump was an amalgamation of different data breaches.

Then, this week, the Register reported that “Some 617 million online account details stolen from 16 hacked websites are on sale from today on the dark web, according to the data trove’s seller.”

This includes data from companies – Canadian photography site 500px among them – that had not previously disclosed data breaches to customers.

These incidents simply underscore how necessary it is to be vigilant with your passwords. Use different ones for every account and change them regularly.

Using a password manager helps. I use 1Password.

Why I’ve subscribed to 1Password

I’ve been using 1Password to manage my passwords for years, but I’ve just upgraded to a subscription. Previously, I’d just pay for a license when a new version of the software came out. Like many other software companies, though, 1Password has added the option of getting password management as a service, instead of a standalone product.

This means that I’ll always have the latest and best version of the software, and it also means that I have access to 1Password on all of my devices and operating systems without having to purchase additional licenses. Before, I’d have paid for the macOS software and the iOS software separately.

The math was actually simple. It’s cheaper to subscribe if you’re purchasing the software on multiple platforms and upgrading with every release.

I’ve gone one better with my subscription, though, by getting a Family subscription. This gives five people in my family the full service I’ve been enjoying. As my kids get older and start creating their own online accounts, this is critical.

It’s also helping me with my parents. Now, instead of trying to teach them how to stay secure while using the internet, I can just help them understand how to use 1Password. Plus, I can set up a separate vault for their passwords and I can be an administrator, to help them if they need it, and so that if the worst actually happens, I have access to critical information.

Because you don’t just store passwords in 1Password. I’ve got identity information, credit card and banking details, and all kinds of account data locked in the 1Password servers.

And I know they are secure. Matt Davey, the “Chief Operations Optimist” for 1Password, told me that their cloud solution has a $100 million bounty to whoever is able to break into the system. It remains unclaimed.

The cloud service that comes with the 1Password subscription is how I can access my information from anywhere. And with the travel mode, I can flick a switch when I hit an international border, and all of that login information disappears from my mobile devices. Once I’m across, I flick the switch again, and the data floods back onto my device.

It’s painless. It’s useful. And all I need to do is remember one password.

Smart downloads from Netflix makes watching easy

It’s not like tapping on screen is difficult, but Netflix has made it easier to watch shows on your mobile devices with the introduction of “smart downloads”. And while it’s a small, minor thing, it’s appreciated. Smart downloads has been available to Android users since last summer, but now it’s available on iOS, too.

Here’s how it works. When you’re watching episodes of a show, I suggest “Russian Doll”, when you’ve finished an episode Netflix will automatically download the next episode and delete the one you’ve just finished.

If you’re concerned about data usage, you can set it to download only over Wi-Fi (or you can disable the feature entirely), but not having to manage episodes and data storage on your mobile devices is just another thing that Netflix is doing to keep audiences happy. And watching.

Neill Blomkamp creates live-action short film based on Anthem video game

Tomorrow, Conviction will premiere on the YouTube channel of Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios.

The live-action short film is set in Fort Tarsis, the city that is the hub of action in Anthem, the video game developed by BioWare and being published next week by Electronic Arts.

The Vancouver-based director had been tapped by Peter Jackson to direct a movie set in the Halo universe. When that project died, Blomkamp went on to direct District 9, Elysium, and Chappie.

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