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Twitter Blue gets better as it rolls out in the U.S. and New Zealand, 13 Marvel films get better picture size with Disney+, and NordVPN has some timely warnings about which electronic devices are most vulnerable.

Twitter Blue subscription service rolls out to U.S., NZ

Canadian Twitter users got early access to Twitter Blue, a subscription service from the social media company, and now customers in the U.S. and New Zealand can take advantage of the premium features too.

For a monthly cost of $3.49 CAN, subscribers get access to a time-limited “undo tweet” edit function, bookmark folders, and threaded reading.

With the rollout to the U.S. and New Zealand comes some additional subscriber perks.

Personalization options have been improved, and in addition to being able to change themes and colours you can also customize the navigation links that appear at the bottom of the smartphone app, so if you are using Spaces frequently you can have that more available.

I think the most significant update to Twitter Blue, though, is the ability to read articles from news organizations ad-free.

This comes courtesy of the Scroll acquisition by Twitter earlier this year, and it essentially streams articles from the sources into your Twitter feed.

And a portion of your subscription fee goes to license the content that you are reading, so you can support the journalism for the outlets you like simply by reading articles.

You’ll also get a list of Top Articles that reflects what people in your timeline have been reading in the past 24 hours.

As for Spaces, Twitter has made recording available to hosts so the audio conversations can be saved and shared after the event concludes.

Thirteen Marvel movies get enhanced aspect ratio for Disney+ subscribers

On Friday (November 12), a baker’s dozen of Marvel films will be available to watch with the expanded aspect ratio used in IMAX theatres on Disney+.

That means, according to Disney, up to 26% more picture because the aspect ratio for IMAX theatres these days is 1.90:1, compared to the 1.70:1 (16:9) most streaming services deliver.

The movies being shown with this bigger picture include:

  • Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings
  • Black Widow
  • Iron Man
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Doctor Strange
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Black Panther
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Ant-Man and The Wasp
  • Captain Marvel

Disney has designated Friday as Disney+ Day, for what it’s worth.

Be an aware buyer of tech products this holiday season

Even with the supply chain problems and shortage of computer chips, electronics are bound to be on many holiday wish and shopping lists this month.

NordVPN, which provides virtual private network services, has suggestions for us so that we can at least be aware of how the gadgets and gizmos we buy can put us at risk.

More than 90% of Canadians have internet-connected devices in their homes, according to a survey conducted by the company.

These include routers, televisions, lighting and heating controls, game consoles, home security devices, and appliances. Even smart speakers and baby monitors can be vulnerable. The ecosystem of these products is commonly referred to as the “internet of things”.

The company warns that gadgets that are new and without much market competition and devices that store or provide access to sensitive information are particularly worthy of wariness.

As such, NordVPN suggests avoiding “devices that are too new to be have been properly tested” and to “take proper care of your device once you purchase it”.

Most important is to change the default login and password.

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This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about Bandai Namco’s game Scarlet Nexus, the Xbox FanFest Trivia contest coming up on November 13, and Discovery Tour: Viking Age from Ubisoft. We also discussed Amazon’s Echo Buds and Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 mobile device.

Listen in at 41:33.

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Bandai Namco’s Scarlet Nexus is a sleeper hit with quick action and a deep story, win a Halo Infinite Xbox Series X console in the Xbox FanFest Trivia contest, Discovery Tour: Viking Age uses Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as a learning system.

Action RPG Scarlet Nexus provides novel-like depth

Set in a future when people have developed psychic abilities and strange creatures invade Earth to feed on our brains, Japanese role-playing game Scarlet Nexus is the sleeper hit of the fall.

You play as one of two psionics who’ve been recruited to be on the Other Suppression Force, the troupe that has been tasked with protecting humanity from the strange creatures that threaten us.

Through the game you’ll be accompanied by a group of OSF psionics and you’re able to borrow their unique powers to supplement your attacks.

Much of the combat occurs as arena battles where you’ll use both weaponized attacks and your psionic abilities.

The story, though, is complex and twisting, and you only get half of the story. To get the full picture, you need to play the game as the other protagonist, who is accompanied by an entirely different group of agents. Each of these supporting characters is fully realized, and if the story isn’t enough for you, the interactions between the characters will be.

Backed by an energetic industrial electronic metal soundtrack, Scarlet Nexus is a pleasant surprise.

Scarlet Nexus is published by Bandai Namco and is available now on PS4, PS5, and Windows, and on Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S with Xbox Game Pass. Rated teen.

Xbox FanFest Trivia contest will test your knowledge of 20 years of Xbox

Xbox is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and on Saturday, November 13 you’ll have a chance to show how much you know about Microsoft’s gaming platform and ecosystem in a trivia contest.

The Xbox FanFest Trivia contest runs from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. PT (5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern). It will include questions about Xbox’s “near future, to present, and recent history, and then head back through time, even pre-dating the original launch”.

There are five questions in each round, and rounds one through three are open to everyone. The 2,500 highest scores move on to rounds four and five. The 500 best scores from there go to rounds six and seven, the best 100 go to eight and nine, and only the 10 highest scores move on to the final round.

And only one person will be named the FanFest Trivia Winner and the person who will be awarded a grand prize package with an approximate retail value of nearly $1,700 USD:

  • Halo Infinite Xbox Series X bundle
  • Beoplay Portal wireless gaming headphones from Bang & Olufsen
  • Xbox force feedback racing wheel
  • one year subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
  • Xbox 20th anniversary special edition wireless controller
  • $85 USD in gift cards for the Xbox Gear Shop

To participate you first need to register for Xbox FanFest. If you’ve done that, or after you’ve done that, you navigate to the “Xbox FanFest exclusives” page where you can “opt-in” for the trivia contest.

You must opt in by 11:59 p.m. PT on Tuesday, November 9 to take part in the contest. You’ll be sent an email with details on how to enter the event.

The official rules set out the various prizes available to be won. They include:

  • 10 first prizes of an Xbox 20th anniversary special edition wireless controller and $85 USD in gift cards for the Xbox Gear Shop
  • 100 second prizes of $85 USD in gift cards for the Xbox Gear Shop
  • 500 third prizes of $35 USD in gift cards for the Xbox Gear Shop
  • 2,500 fourth prizes of a $10 USD gift card for the Xbox Gear Shop

Learn more about viking culture in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Ubisoft’s Discovery Tour: Viking Age

Discovery Tour: Viking Age is a new interactive educational experience from Ubisoft that is built on its game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

The video game is set in ninth-century Norway and England as is the Discovery Tour, which is a non-violent learning experience developed in collaboration with historians and archaeologists.

Also involved were museums that provided access to real historical artifacts, including the Hampshire Cultural Trust in the Winchester area of England, the British Library, the York Archaeological Trust, the Preston Park Museum and Grounds, the National Museum of Denmark, and the Reunion des Musees Nationaux in France.

With Viking Age, the developers at Ubisoft Montreal put storytelling at the centre, so players aren’t just roaming around, but are interacting with the virtual world and its characters.

Owners of the game can get Discovery Tour for free. The experience is also available as a separate app on Windows ($25) and in early 2022 Ubisoft will be releasing it as a standalone for PS4, PS5, Stadia, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

Ubisoft has created similar virtual experiences for Egypt and Greece based on research conducted during the development of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, respectively.

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Amazon’s Echo Buds can’t compete on price anymore, Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is a well-built dual-screen device.

Amazon’s Echo Buds wireless earbuds are fine

When Amazon first released the Echo Buds wireless earbuds in the U.S., the appeal was that you could get all of the functionality that was offered by more expensive brands for a reduced price.

But six months later, as the earbuds get released in Canada, that’s no longer the case.

There’s lots to admire. The Echo Buds are light and comfortable. They are equipped with active noise cancelling (ANC) and are resistant to water and sweat. And while the microphones were adequate for making calls, I found the sound quality to be quite tinny unless I was listening to music with heavy bass, in which case I didn’t notice that.

What really sets the Echo Buds apart from other wireless earbuds is the Alexa digital assistant integration, which is great if you’re active in that ecosystem.

But the Echo Buds cost $155, $180 if you want to upgrade to a wireless charging case, and you can get other earbuds from other manufacturers that are either cheaper, sound better, or have better features for an extra $20.

It’s possible that Amazon will discount the Echo Buds as we get closer to Christmas, and if the price comes down these are a great wireless option.

Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is a great dual-screen mobile device

Microsoft famously abandoned the mobile phone business in 2016, but with the Surface Duo device, first released in September 2020, the company has returned to the mobile hardware game.

And having spent some time with the Surface Duo 2 I can tell you that the dual-screen handset is a solid and interesting device.

It really is solid. Microsoft product designers made the decision to go with two distinct screens, as opposed to a single folding screen. The two hinges have an industrial flavour and allow the Duo 2 to lay flat, or to fold 360 degrees.

The Surface Duo 2 has an 8.3-inch screen, up from the 8.1-inch screen in the original model, with a perfectly synced 90 Hz refresh. You can open it up all the way and use it as a single screen and you can select the screen you want to use, a nice touch for left-handed people.

The screens curve in the hinge area to minimize the space when the device is opened up. I found that after a bit of time I didn’t even notice the gap between the screens when I was doing something that used the entire real estate.

But in truth, more often I used the two screens independently. It’s great when you’re browsing the internet, for example, because you can have two different tabs open at the same time. Or you can have your email in one window while typing in the other.

Kindle, Spotify, and TikTok are all updating apps specifically for the Surface Duo 2.

It’s great for gaming, too. Game developers are configuring experiences to take advantage of the two screens, and three new games from Gameloft have been tuned this way: Asphalt 9 Legends, Dungeon Hunter 5, and Modern Combat 5.

You can also pair an Xbox controller to the device and play games on the cloud through the Xbox app.

The Surface Duo 2 is intended, Microsoft told me in a briefing, for productivity and collaboration. The price supports that notion, starting at $1,900 for 128 GB storage, and you can upgrade to 256 GB or 512 GB storage for a few hundred dollars more.

It runs Android 11, which better accommodates foldable devices, but the interface has been redesigned to resemble Windows 11.

When closed there’s a “glance bar”, an LED notification light that runs along the edge of the device to indicate whether you’re getting a phone call, or a message, or if your battery is running low.

It’s got a triple-lens camera system on the back that takes advantage of the two screens by giving you edit settings on one screen and a preview of your image on the other. The front-facing camera is ideal for video conferencing.

The Surface Pen is also supported, and with the Surface Duo 2 charging cover there’s a little nook for the stylus that can charge it.

Microsoft’s Surface Duo 2 is a premium handset with features that aren’t for everyone. But of the dual-screen devices available, it’s the one that feels like it’s been designed with a purpose, and not just to show it can be done.

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This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about Eidos-Montreal’s fun game, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the remastering of three of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto titles, and the story for Halo Infinite. I also review the Google Pixel 6 Pro and talk about the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship winners.

I come in at 37:36.

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