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This week, Amazon makes dumb speakers smart, hackers get rewarded for their efforts, and Borderlands 3 is announced. But first, Huawei’s P30 series of smartphones take the best photos.

Huawei leaps ahead of the crowd with P30 handset photography

Last week I attended a briefing for press detailing Huawei’s new line of smartphones, the P30 series. Paul Dayco is the chief technical advisor for Huawei Canada, and explained that the “P” is for “photography”.

And there’s lots of buzz about the photographic potential of these handsets. The P30 has a 5x optical zoom (compared to 2x in most other handsets), a 10x hybrid zoom, and a 50x digital zoom (compared to 10x in most others).

This is made possible by the quad-lens camera system on the back of the device that makes use of Leica optics:

  • ultra wide angle, which can be used for panorama photos but also for super-macro (close up) photos
  • wide angle
  • telephoto
  • “time of flight”, which is used to enhance auto focus and depth effects

The “super zoom” technology Huawei has in this device uses a periscope-like design, which arranges the lenses differently in the handset so that more of them can be used.

And the larger sensor and larger aperture means more light is pulled into the camera system, reportedly allowing for the best low light pictures possible from a smartphone. This is all supported by a dual optical image stabilization system

There’s another camera on the front of the phone that provides 32 MP selfies with high dynamic range (HDR).

This is all in addition to high speed charging (up to 70% in only 30 minutes) and reverse charging (you can charge any Qi-compatible device from the back of the handset, including earbuds and even toothbrushes) in a sleek chassis.

The P30 has a 6.1-inch OLED display and is available for around $900 to $950 outright.

The P30 Pro has a 6.47-inch curved OLED display and is available in black or “breathing crystal” (a shimmery finish that takes on the colours and textures of the environment) for between $1,100 and $1,200.

I’ve got a P30 Pro to play with, and am going to report back in a couple of weeks on what my experience is taking photos and shooting video with it.

Add Alexa to any speaker you want with Echo Input

If you’ve already got amazing speakers and are getting tired of hearing everyone else talk about their “smart” speakers, you can stop being annoyed and simply upgrade.

The Echo Input is kind of like a dongle that you plug into speakers with a 3.5 mm audio cable or through Bluetooth, and it gives your speakers Alexa functionality. So you can use your speakers the way anyone else would use an Echo.

You can ask Alexa for the weather forecast, or to give you the news headlines. You can even stream music from Amazon Music or Spotify.

The Echo Input is priced at Cdn$45.

Pwn2Own competition sees hackers infiltrate Model 3 system

At the end of March, teams of computer programmers tackled some interesting challenges in Vancouver.

It was the Pwn2Own competition that was part of the annual CanSecWest conference. The event is a product of the Zero Day Initiative, which was created by computing company Trend Micro to reward hackers (Trend Micro calls them “researchers”) for discovering and privately reporting software vulnerabilities.

Pwn2Own is a hacking contest. Competitors are given specific tasks and constraints, and are rewarded with cash and “Master of Pwn” points for being the first to succeed in the task.

This year, a Tesla Model 3 was added as a target. The target was the web browser that is part of the Model 3 system, and which is used by Tesla to deliver updates to the car.

Fluoroacetate, a team made up of Amat Cama and Richard Zhu, were named Masters of Pwn, having earned $375,000 and 36 points, in addition to the laptops and Model 3 they were awarded for winning stages.

Borderlands 3 is the game you want to play right now

Announced by Gearbox Software at PAX East last week, Borderlands 3 doesn’t release until September 13, but I’ll be watching the reveal trailer – it’s below – daily until then.

The first-person shooter, role playing game hybrid franchise was an epiphany when the first game came out in 2009. The games are raucous, rambunctious, and ridiculous, with a unique art style, atypical narrative development, and plenty of humour.

One of the things that makes Borderlands games so appealing is the continual collecting of loot from caches in the environment and from the bodies of the bad guys you take out.

You’ll be able to play on PS4, Windows, or Xbox One, and you can pre-order now to get the “gold weapon skins pack”.

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This week on The Shift with Drex, I talked about the new games coming to PlayStation VR, including Concrete Genie, Blood & Truth, No Man’s Sky, and Marvel’s Iron Man. Also, Alexa now understands Quebecois, the Unidentified Human Remains Interactive Viewer, and the new web browser, Brave.

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This week, Alexa learns a new language, B.C.‘s Coroners Service finds a way to use interactive mapping, and Brave is a browser for a new world. But first, the new games coming to PlayStation VR.

PlayStation VR goes where no virtual reality has gone before

In New York last week, I spent an afternoon trying out some of the new games coming to PlayStation’s virtual reality system.

There were 8 games to sample, although limited time meant I could only try out half of those. I skipped Everybody’s Golf VR, Five Nights at Freddy’s VR, Ghost Giant, and Trover Saves the Universe.

Here’s what I did play.

Concrete Genie

This game, from Sony studio Pixelopus, is a companion to the upcoming PS4 game of the same name, in which a young boy discovers his paintings come to life. The VR experience is sublime, and proves what creative director Dominic Robilliard told me as I was donning the headset: “Anyone can be an artist.” You use the Move controllers as paint brushes and, guided by a cute creature from the PS4 game, you really just create colours and textures in the virtual space around you. It’s a peaceful experience, and reminded me a lot of the gentle creativity that came from playing Flower. It will be something different to everyone.

Blood & Truth

One of the first VR demos I experienced was the London Heist, which became part of the PlayStation VR Worlds sampler. It’s from Sony’s London Studio, and Blood & Truth was informed by development of that early experience. The idea is to make you feel like you’re in the middle of a Guy Ritchie film, so there’s lots of well acted, snappy dialogue in this authentic, on-rails shooter with an action hero aesthetic.

No Man’s Sky

One of the most exciting games these days is No Man’s Sky. After a rocky launch, which was the result of unrealistic expectations on all sides, the developers at Hello Games have continued to improve the game and have turned it into something more in line with what they had promised: a never ending exploration of space.

And now you can do that exploration in virtual reality.

Sean Murray, one of the founders of Hello Games, walked me through the demonstration and he explained that this is not just a port of the game, even though the entire game is playable in VR.

The “huge technical challenge” required a reinvention of the mechanics and the interface. And it is amazing.

The massive sandbox is mind blowing when you’re immersed in it. You raise your hands to interact with your controls, which appear above your wrists as holographic interfaces, and flying your spaceship requires you to control things with virtual flight sticks.

Murray said that he believes exploration is better in VR and it certainly was for me. i spent 20 minutes in the rig and it felt like

It is absolutely transformative.

Marvel’s Iron Man VR

Seattle-based Camouflaj was ahead of the curve with its adventure game, Republique, and they are on top of the world having been handed Marvel’s premiere Iron Man franchise.

The goal, studio founder Ryan Payton told me, was to get you in the suit, because that’s where the power fantasy lives.

Iron Man is made for VR, because Tony Stark is, in a sense, in a VR experience himself. And when you put on the VR rig, it’s akin to putting on the Iron Man helmet. You use the Move controllers for thrust and combat, in the same way Stark uses his hands.

Expect the game to last for 8 to 10 hours, alternating between set pieces where you are Iron Man, and cinematics featuring Tony Stark and other characters delivering story sequences.

Alexa speaks French. Canadian French

Amazon announced recently that its Echo smart speakers can now understand Quebecois. You can change the language settings of your Echo on your smartphone or tablet through the Alexa app. It is configured in the “settings” section.

Using the power of the internet, and distributed memory, to identify people who have died

The British Columbia Coroners Service is “responsible for investigating and determining the circumstances of all unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths in the province”. At the end of March, the service launched a new interactive map it hopes will help it solve some cold cases.

The Unidentified Human Remains Interactive Viewer was built using ArcGIS, a product of Esri, a global technology company.

The map includes coloured pins – red for female, blue for male, green for unknown – marking the locations in B.C. where human remains were found that have not been identified. Clicking on a pin gives you the case number and details about the remains, including the date the remains were discovered and any biographical details that were deduced, such as age, height, and eye and hair colour.

Some files include very specific information included to help with identification.

One of the single feet found in the coastal waters off Quadra Island, for example, includes this notation: “Left foot dressed in a wool sock and Size 8.5 white Reebok shoe. Reebok Canada shoe was in production after Jan 1993.”

Speaking for the Coroners Service in an interview with the Globe & Mail, Andy Watson said some 200 cases from as far back as 1953 are included.

“Typically speaking, these are unwitnessed deaths,” Watson explained to Ian Bailey. “They may be deaths where bodies may be found after some time so being able to identify them is a challenge.”

Brave is a new browser for a new world

If you’ve found yourself thinking about what you’re giving up when you use the internet these days, you might want to give a new web browser a spin.

Brave was built with privacy in mind. It has blockers in the browser, and it counts how many ads and trackers it blocks on your behalf.

And it provides true private browsing with Tor. It prevents your ISP from seeing what you’re browsing, and prevents sites you visit from seeing your IP address, which can be used to track you.

This all brings a faster browsing experience, too. Brave claims it can load some sites up to eight times faster than other browsers.

There are mobile versions for Android and iOS which will save you bandwidth by blocking ads and trackers. Which, ultimately, saves you money because you’re not having to pay to download the things companies are using to track and target you.

Now I just need 1Password to build a browser extension for it.

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