Tag: Hands On

Fake iPhone X has a fake notch, obviously

We're only one week away from iPhone X pre-orders, but the counterfeit market is already offering a variety of similar-looking devices to a particular crowd. As I anticipated, I came across one such clone while wandering around Hong Kong's Global Sources electronics fair earlier today, courtesy of a Shenzhen company by the marvelous name of Hotwonder. Its Hotwav Symbol S3 (also not the best name) is essentially an entry-level 4G Android phone shamelessly packaged into an iPhone X-like body, except for one notable difference: the screen "bezel" is white instead of black.

You see, unlike the real deal, the Symbol S3 only uses a rectangular display (a 6-inch 1,440 x 720 IPS panel), so if you strip away the white paint around it, you'll end up with an ordinary-looking smartphone with a regular forehead and chin. In other words, the white contour and notch are for mimicking the specially-cut shape of the iPhone X's OLED display, but such illusion only works when the background is black. Not to mention that the Android interface here is a dead giveaway, anyway.

Of course, you can't expect this random Chinese factory to clone Apple's TrueDepth sensor, but it did fill the notch with a pair of cameras plus an LED flash, making it a total of four bokeh-enabled cameras on this device: 5 megapixels plus 2 megapixels on the front, and 13 megapixels plus 2 megapixels on the back. Hotwonder also took the liberty to add a fingerprint magnet mirror finish to the back side, which could be considered as a bonus feature for those who carry a pocket mirror around.

The Symbol S3's spec sheet lists Android 8.0 as its operating system, and it can be equipped with either MediaTek's new MT6739 chipset (1.3GHz, 4x Cortex-A53, dual-LTE or LTE + WCDMA) or its much older MT6592 (1.7GHz, 8x Cortex-A7, 3G only). The device also packs a 2,900 mAh fixed battery (no wireless charging here), 16GB of internal storage and a mere 2GB of RAM. Yikes.

It's unclear how much this cheeky device will retail for, but I wouldn't be surprised if you can buy seven or eight of these for the price of one genuine iPhone X. But seriously, don't.


‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ turns the Empire into an unlikely protagonist

Star Wars: Battlefront did a lot of things right, but it was criticized for not having a lot of depth, primarily due to the utter lack of a story-driven single player campaign. That's a shame, because the Star Wars universe is rich enough that fans are genuinely interested in stories that go far beyond what's presented in the main film series. Fortunately, for Star Wars: Battlefront II, EA developer Motive was tasked with making a compelling story mode. Having completed a 90-minute playthrough of the game's prologue and first two chapters, it's safe to say that Battlefront II should have something to lure Star Wars fans who aren't necessarily interested in multiplayer adventures.

As we learned back at E3, the Battlefront II campaign centers around the Imperial forces and "Inferno Squad "Commander Iden Versio. In a lot of ways, the campaign feels like 2016's Rogue One in that it shines a light on parts of the Star Wars world we haven't seen -- but it seeks to tie them into the larger narrative that we know from the films. In this case, Versio is leading her Imperial Squad on a mission on Endor when suddenly, the Death Star explodes. Yup, the game is picking up at the end of Return of the Jedi, showing things from the perspective of an Imperial army suddenly thrust into disarray, with their leader dead and most advanced weapons destroyed (again).

The missions themselves don't do a ton to hint at where the story will go. The prologue and first chapter focus on Versio's escape from the clutches of the Rebels and her team's escape from Endor, while the second chapter is largely focused on space combat in Versio's TIE Fighter. From a pure gameplay perspective, it's a good start that introduces what I presume will be the game's core components.

For starters, I got to pilot Versio's droid in a stealth mission sneaking around Rebels as I tried to free her from prison. After that was the expected combo of stealth and blaster battles as I escaped Endor. The game lets you switch between first and third person while controlling Versio; being able to go into first-person mode definitely helped when I was dealing with a slew of enemies. Finally, the TIE Fighter sequences introduced the game's space dogfights, something that was definitely fun but also a bit frustrating, as I kept piloting my TIE Fighter into other ships or large space debris, earning me an instant death.

The more traditional ground-based combat segments were easier for me to handle, and they also quickly showed off the various ways you can customize Versio to suit your play style. Naturally, she can carry several different weapons that can be found around the levels, including balanced blasters, faster automatic weapons and long-range sniper-style guns. But Versio also has a handful of special weapon slots that that let her equip more powerful items, like a shotgun-style blaster that quickly takes down opposing soldiers. There's also a tool that aids with stealth missions by revealing the positions of all enemies within a limited range so you can see who's coming and what areas you might want to avoid.

To keep things balanced, you can't use these special skills indefinitely -- they all have cool-down timers to keep you from being too powerful. But in just a few chapters of play I already had more skills than I could equip at one time, which added a nice bit of flexibility to the game; it feels like it'll allow players to approach the game in entirely different ways.

Overall, the game played well and felt polished -- but that's table stakes for a major studio like EA. The bigger question is, how will this work as an entry into the Star Wars universe? Specifically, I was wondering how much interest players would have taking the side of the Empire when basically all of the major pieces of the Star Wars story are from the perspective of the Rebels. Playing the "bad guys" could be fun, but how satisfying would that story be in the end?

"I think Star Wars fans are generally hungry for new characters and new stories," Motive Game Director Mark Thompson told me after I had finished my playthrough. He thinks that hunger will give them the freedom to pull of a story where you play an elite member of the Empire. "It's a new perspective on the galaxy," he added. "What was it like to be a trooper in the Empire when everything went wrong, when the Death Star exploded, when Palpatine died, when Vader was dead. What does the Empire even look like after that?"

That's a good question, and a final cutscene that we saw made me even more intrigued about where the story would go. Some seeds of doubt about how long Versio would stay loyal to the Empire were definitely sewn, though I haven't seen enough to make more than a vague guess about where the story is headed.

And for those who crave more direct ties into the Star Wars universe they know from the films, Thompson notes that Versio won't be the only playable character in the campaign. "You do actually play as the iconic characters," he said. "There are chapters in the campaign where you get to play as people like Luke Skywalker." I didn't get so far as to confirm that you get to play as Skywalker himself, but there's a strong implication that you'll get to meet and play as familiar characters from the original trilogy -- something that would fill in the scant bits of info we know about Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the crew between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

But Motive isn't interested in just letting you replay notable scenes with classic characters. If those familiar faces are being used in the game, it'll be in entirely new situations; conversely, with new characters like Versio, Motive felt comfortable showing events we've already seen, because it's from an entirely new perspective. "We can take Luke Skywalker somewhere you've never seen him before, doing things you haven't seen him do," Thompson said. "Whereas, with Iden, we can take her unfamiliar perspective to a familiar event or location like Endor and do something that's new and different."

Even after just 90 minutes of play, Battlefront II feels like a new direction for a Star Wars story. It's hard to miss the fact that the goal is to gun down Rebels, the same troops you're rooting for when watching the Death Star blow up at the end of Return of the Jedi. Smooth and varied gameplay are obviously key to making Battlefront II a success, but a new, intriguing window into the Star Wars universe is what will really make the game stand out for legions of fans. At the very least, it should help you get your fix in the weeks before The Last Jedi hits theaters.


Surface Book 2 hands-on: The sequel we’ve been waiting for

It turns out the Surface Laptop isn't Microsoft's only proper notebook this year. The Surface Book 2 was just announced, and at first glance, it seems to fix all of the issues we had with the original model (as well as last year's refresh). It has a stronger hinge, so there's no more screen wobbling as you're typing, and it's more powerful than before. Microsoft also added a 15-inch model, making the Surface Book 2 even more of a direct competitor to the MacBook Pro line. Based on my short hands-on time with both new laptops, it's clear that Microsoft is once again delivering some stiff competition against Apple's premium notebooks.

At this point, it's pretty clear that Microsoft can build some solid laptops. (If you would have told me that when the terrible Surface RT debuted, I would have laughed in your face.) The Surface Book 2 continues that trend, with sturdy and smooth metal cases that simply scream high-end. And, just like before, you can hit a button on the keyboard to "unlock" the screen to remove it and use as a tablet. Alternatively, you can just flip the display around and plug it back into its base to use the laptop in "studio" mode. It's a similar experience to what you can get from 2-in-1 convertible notebooks, but without being able to flip the screen a full 360-degrees.

The real magic behind the Surface Book 2 is its revamped fulcrum hinge. It's certainly sturdier than before -- I picked it up and tried to shake the screen, but it wouldn't budge. And it was steady as a rock while I tried to type with both notebooks in the air and on my lap. Paradoxically, it's easier to remove the displays as well. Everything around plugging the display and keyboard base together simply works more smoothly, thanks to improved connectors. Unfortunately, the hinge still adds a rounded bump to the Surface Book 2's profile. I don't mind it much, but it could be annoying if you prefer slimmer notebooks.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

One of the big complaints with the original Surface Book was how much its screen moved while you were typing. It wasn't a major issue when you were using the laptop on a flat surface, but it could get frustrating when you had it on your lap. It was a constant reminder that you were using a tablet that connected to a keyboard base, rather than a traditional notebook. Of course, it makes sense that Microsoft ended up delivering a stronger hinge. It simply wouldn't have been able to add a larger model without it.

While the 15-inch Surface Book 2 is slightly heavier than the comparable MacBook Pro -- 4.2 pounds versus 4.02 pounds -- it still feels easy to hold. And for many, the additional weight will likely be worth it for more powerful graphics. The larger Surface Book 2 features NVIDIA's GTX 1060 GPU, which is far more capable than the 15-inch MacBook Pro's Radeon 555 and 560 GPUs. The smaller 13-inch Surface Book 2 weighs in at 3.38 pounds or 3.68 pounds, depending on if you're getting integrated graphics or NVIDIA's GTX 1050. Apple's slim 13-inch MacBook Pro is a mere three pounds, but once again Microsoft's laptops have the graphics advantage.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Both Surface Book 2 models feature gorgeous displays, something Microsoft has gotten steadily better at over the past few years. The 13.5-inch notebook still features a 3,000 by 2,000 pixel display, while the 15-inch one sports 3,240 by 2,160 pixels. While they're not 4K, they still look very sharp when displaying text, photos and video. Both screens also felt well-balanced when in standalone tablet mode. The smaller one weighs 1.59 pounds, while the 15-inch display clocks in at 1.8 pounds. Sure, they're far heavier than the iPad and just about every other standalone tablet. But they're still easy to hold if you just want to watch Netflix in bed, or read the New York Times app on the couch without holding the keyboard.

Since these are Surface devices, you can bet that Microsoft is pushing its new Surface Pen heavily. It originally debuted with the Surface Laptop, and it works just as well on these new machines. We're at the point where drawing on Surface devices feels almost as instantaneous as putting ink to paper.

As you'd expect, both Surface Book 2 laptops handled just about everything I threw at them, be it dozens of browser tabs while streaming video, or games like Minecraft. You've got Intel's new 8th generation CPUs and their improved graphics to thank for that. At this point, they seem like powerful notebooks that can easily satisfy demanding users. They're also more port friendly than the newest MacBook Pros, with two USB 3.1 Type A ports, a single USB-C connection and an SDXC card reader.

I didn't have a chance to really stress-test either machine, but I'm looking forward to putting them through their paces closer to their November 16th ship date. Microsoft is still being coy about pricing, though. All we know is that they'll start at $1,499/£1,499 for the Core i5 13-inch model with integrated graphics, and $2,499 for the 15-inch model. If you want a Core i7 and a dedicated GPU, be prepared to shell out much more.


Google’s second Daydream headset is all subtle improvements

Samsung's Gear VR ushered in an age where we strap our phones to our faces for entertainment. But when it debuted last year, Google's $79 Daydream View managed to make the whole process look just a little less geeky. To coincide with the launch of its new Pixel smartphones, Google whipped up an updated version of the Daydream View that costs $20 more than the old one. So, what's actually new here? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

First off, no one could blame you for having trouble telling the new Daydream View apart from the old one. Google's cozy design language is still in full effect — it's all gentle curves and soft fabric here -- and you still just place the phone onto the headset's flap and cinch the whole thing shut with a bit of elastic.

Don't be fooled though, there's more going on with the new View than you might expect. Some phones were prone to overheating and shutting down in the original headset. Obviously, this is no bueno for a device that sits so close to your face, so Google added a magnesium heatsink to help phones shed heat.

So far, it seems to be working pretty well. I spent the better part of my weekend sitting on the edge of a virtual lake angling for virtual fish in hourlong chunks, and the Pixel 2 only got about as warm as it did after playing a typical mobile game. Then again, your mileage may vary depending on how long you stay in your virtual realm of choice — most of my time with original Daydream was spent watching videos or playing games like Don't Talk and Nobody Explodes in short bursts.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

This has its drawbacks, though. The heatsink's placement means you can't just stick the Daydream controller into a slot on the front flap anymore. Instead, Google stuck an extra elastic loop on the back of the new View's headband for the controller. It's functional, sure, but it's far less elegant than Google's original solution. At least the controller's buttons are more pronounced so you'll never mix them up. The Home button feels a touch more concave than before, and the Apps button is raised instead of flat.

More important, the new View is much better at shutting out stray light that can distract from the VR experience. The original was notorious for letting light bleed through small gaps where the headsets rested on people's noses, and I'm glad Google finally got around to fixing it by improving the foam cup your face pushes up against. You'd think a more secure seal against your face might get a little uncomfortable, especially because the View largely relies on a single elastic strap to keep everything snug. Not so. The pad that presses into your face now seems to spread the weight around more evenly, and the new View comes with an extra strap that sits atop your head to help make the whole thing a little less front-heavy.

The other major change to the View's design becomes apparent when you look into the headset for the first time. Comparatively speaking, the new Fresnel lenses used to magnify a phone's screen are huge. Google made the change to increase the headset's virtual field of view by 10 percent, and while that sounds like a pretty modest bump, it meant I take in more of whatever world I was in at a glance. More important, these new lenses also make the sweet spot -- that point where your eyes can perfectly focus on the screen -- a little larger than before. After five or six minutes of trial and error, I got the ideal strap lengths locked in, and I've been staring at the sweet spot ever since.

So yeah, the hardware has been improved in subtle, helpful ways. The software experience, meanwhile, hasn't really changed. You'll be plopped into the same virtual forest in front of the same virtual menu to access the same virtual apps. That's what makes the new Daydream such a hard sell: Because all of the heavy lifting is handled by the smartphone, the actual experience isn't hugely different from before. When it comes to content, Google still has a ways to go -- at current count, Google has around 250 Daydream apps, but the Gear VR's head start still means it has a stronger catalog of exclusive apps to work with. In particular, Samsung and Oculus' mobile headset has a better selection of licensed experiences -- you'll need a Gear VR if you want to cruise through Blade Runner's techno-noir LA or peer into a handful of Disney-themed worlds.

Ultimately, the new Daydream View is a solid new choice for people with compatible phones looking for a crash course in virtual reality. If you already have an old View and haven't run into the trouble others have, there's no pressing need to upgrade. And if you fall into the category of people who yearn for a more powerful mobile VR experience, well, you should probably just wait for Google's standalone headset instead.


Chinese startup’s ‘8K’ VR headset is surprisingly advanced

As much as I enjoy the occasional VR gameplay, I've been waiting for headset manufacturers to boost the pixel density in order to reduce the screen door effect, as well as to widen the FOV (field of view) for a more immersive experience. There's no doubt that the big names like HTC and Oculus are already working on it, but to my surprise, a Chinese startup by the name of Pimax simply went ahead. At CEATEC, I came across the Pimax 8K headset which not only features an incredible 7,680 x 2,160 resolution (more on that later), but also laser tracking that works with HTC Vive's base stations, plus an impressive 200-degree FOV which is almost double that of existing offerings.

Before we go any further, yes, the 7,680 x 2,160 resolution here isn't the "8K" you're thinking of (that's 7,680 x 4,320, twice as many pixels), and some went as far as accusing the company of misleading people with the product name. Pimax argues that the "8K" here is to highlight the much higher horizontal resolution which, to be fair, is an industry first. A more accurate way to describe this is that each eye is looking at a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) panel with a 90 Hz refresh rate inside the headset, and if you ask me, this sounds just as impressive in today's market. Maybe "Pimax 4K Duo" would be less controversial?

Speaking of display panels, unlike the PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, the Pimax 8K uses CLPL or "customized low persistence liquid" panels instead of OLED. Pimax claims that with CLPL it has "completely eliminated ghosting and improved brightness" (presumably a comparison to traditional LCD). CLPL and OLED apparently only have some minor differences in terms of contrast and color temperature, but the former can achieve a higher pixel density for the same cost. It's unclear what sub-pixel arrangement has been applied to this CLPL technology, but I'll update here if I hear back from Pimax about this.

As I waited in line for some hands-on time, I noticed that the demo setup was running on an MSI laptop equipped with an NVIDIA GTX 1080 GPU. I thought: surely that would struggle with an "8K" output? I later found out that Pimax 8K is actually designed for 4K input or less (the prototype was using HDMI, but the final version will likely use DisplayPort instead), and then it upscales the signal to "8K" internally. This means your PC could get away with using just an NVIDIA GTX 980 or GTX 1070, and you'd still be able to enjoy the invisible pixel grid on the displays.

Indeed, the brief session of Fruit Ninja through a Pimax 8K was literally the most immersive VR gameplay I've ever had. As soon as I put on the headset, I was amazed by the lack of black border within my vision. For the first time ever, I finally felt like I wasn't looking into a VR headset! The device felt comfortable to wear and didn't feel heavy despite its bulky look -- unlike the StarVR with a similarly wide 210-degree FOV. Pimax claims that its headset is actually lighter than a Vive, but it has yet to finalize the weight.

As expected, I could not see any sub-pixels thanks to the insanely high display resolution, nor did I notice any ghosting. Interestingly, I only found out after the demo that the laptop was actually just pushing a 2,560 x 1,440 output, but what I saw was still significantly better than what I'm used to on other VR headsets. So far, this whole package is basically everything I've ever wanted in a VR system. Head tracking and the Vive-like controller worked fine, too, though I'll need more hands-on time to assess their reliability.

For those who originally assumed that the Pimax 8K would take an "8K" signal, well, that's what the higher-end Pimax 8K X is for. This special model is made for the hardcore users who plan to use the headset with at least an NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti (pending further testing but may require SLI configuration) or the next-gen NVIDIA Volta, and the headset will likely have two DisplayPorts -- one for each 4K panel. The image quality here would obviously be better than the upscaled view on the Pimax 8K, but given the demanding hardware requirement for an "8K" output, the Pimax 8K would make more sense for most of us.

In fact, there's also a more affordable Pimax 5K based on the same headset design but houses two 2,560 x 1,440 CLPL panels instead. Still, this resolution is higher than what PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are offering, so this "5K" model will no doubt appeal to those who want to try high-end VR with a smaller budget. At the time of writing this article, this is still available for $349 on Kickstarter if you already have a Vive base station plus controllers, and it's expecting a January 2018 delivery; though if you want the two base stations plus two controllers as well, you'll have to fork our an extra $300 and wait until February for the delivery.

As for the Pimax 8K, it's starting at $499 and is also expecting a January 2018 delivery; but like the Pimax 5K, you'll need to add $300 for the controllers plus base stations, and expect a February delivery as well. Alas, the higher-end $649 Pimax 8K X is no longer available, but its backers will have to wait until May.

The company added that expansion modules are in development, and these will provide features like inside-out tracking, eye tracking, wireless transmission, scent and more. It's a highly ambitious move from a startup, but we'll be happy enough just to see the delivery of the headsets themselves.

Source: Kickstarter, Pimax


Oculus’ Santa Cruz gets closer to the future of wireless VR

Earlier today, Oculus announced Go, its first-ever consumer-ready standalone headset. But it's actually been working on another standalone headset -- Project Santa Cruz -- for a while longer. I had a chance to try on a really early version of it last year, and it was so unfinished that an Oculus helper had to put it on for me. Today at Oculus Connect 4, I tried on the latest version of hardware as well as the new Santa Cruz controllers, and the difference is night and day. It felt like a completely finished product.

We weren't allowed to take photos of the headset, but the photo seen here offers a good representation of what it looks like. From the mesh fabric surrounding the display to the adjustable head straps, the latest Santa Cruz prototype now looks almost like a wireless version of the Rift. It has an elastic strap along the top, while the rear plastic appears to be clad in a soft elastomer shell.

Putting it on was surprisingly easy -- I just wore it like a backward baseball cap -- and I was ready to go with just minimal adjustment. There's an IPD (interpupillary distance) wheel on the left underside if you want to adjust that too. On the whole, the headset feels soft, snug and lightweight -- easily one of the most comfortable VR headsets I've ever tried.

Then, an Oculus helper placed the new Santa Cruz controllers on my hands. They instantly feel much more compact than the Touch, with a fatter, stubbier grip. Also notable is the lack of a thumbstick; in its place is a large circular touchpad. One big reason for this design difference is that the Oculus folks wanted the infrared LED ring to face upwards, in order to get better tracking from the headset. And in order to move the ring to the top, some design adjustments had to be made. The grip and trigger buttons are still there, however, and feel easy enough to press.

I was instantly launched into a demo, where I was instructed to feed and play with an adorable dog-dinosaur creature hybrid. I used my virtual hands to pluck fruit from the tree and feed them to it, and I also threw a stick into the distance to have the creature fetch it for me. And because I wasn't tethered to a PC, I could walk around the room with ease and didn't have to worry about tripping over wires. Using the controllers as virtual hands felt pretty natural (thanks to the 6DOF tracking), and I got used to it fairly quickly.

I was then guided to yet another demo, and it was set in the Dead and Buried universe, where I was instructed to fend off zombies. This time, feeling untethered really made a big difference. I was able to swing around 360-degrees and shoot the undead that were coming at me from all sides. What's more, I was able to walk around the room to pick up additional weapons and gear (they included a shotgun, dynamite and a big shield). I even pressed down on an Acme-style TNT bomb detonator to set off an area of explosion.

In a way, it was a little unnerving to have so much freedom. I caught myself not wanting to move too far forward, in fear of going outside of my zone and bumping into a wall. I had to sort of peek underneath my headset every so often to make sure I wasn't too close to any furniture or obstacles. I wasn't at all -- the Oculus helpers would've told me otherwise -- but I still felt overly cautious at times.

Another thing that struck me was the audio. I had no headphones on, and still the audio came through loud and clear. That is thanks to the Santa Cruz's spatial audio tech, which lets you listen to the game audio without any headphones. I really appreciated this, because I was able to listen to the people around me while also interacting with the game.

On the whole, the experience was truly amazing. It was really as if I was using a Rift, but without being attached to a PC. It's clear that truly wireless VR is where Oculus is going -- while Go appears to be positioned as the entry-level version, Santa Cruz seems like the one you really want.

Of course, Oculus is quick to point out that Santa Cruz is still in prototype stage, and the final product might not look like this at all. The controllers might look and feel completely different in the end. Seeing as what I tried felt pretty great already, the final version of Santa Cruz seems very promising indeed. Oculus will be shipping its Santa Cruz headsets to developers next year, and we're hoping it's as good as we think it'll be.


OMRON’s updated ping pong robot can serve and take smashes

It's CEATEC, so I knew OMRON would once again bring out its massive table tennis robot to belittle us humans, but what I didn't expect was a significant performance jump this time. FORPHEUS, now at its fourth generation, features improved AI to boost its responsiveness -- so much that it can now predict and attempt to deal with smashes. Compared to the earlier versions which went easy on me, I found this one to be far more enjoyable with faster rallies. Better yet, there's now a companion robot arm that throws a ball up and lets FORPHEUS serve, thus making the robot a more realistic trainer or opponent.

The rest of the robot is apparently the same as before. You still get a display on both sides of the "net" for showing the player's status (not that the robot needs to see it). There is a three-camera system facing the human player in the main body, and the bat below it is driven by three arms plus a 5-axis motor. These are all powered by a massive motion controller computer sat behind the stage.

While OMRON doesn't actually offer FORPHEUS as a product, the robot does help showing off the company's mechanical and automation prowess to potential industrial clients. Still, I hope FORPHEUS will get to make a cameo appearance at the 2020 Olympics, because at this rate, it'll likely be able to sustain interesting games against the top athletes by then.

Source: OMRON


Nike’s NFC-powered NBA jerseys are a door to exclusive goods

When the National Basketball Association's 2017-2018 season tips off on October 17th, it will mark the beginning of a new era for the league. For the first time in more than a decade, all 30 teams are going to wear Nike uniforms on the court. The company is replacing Adidas as the NBA's main apparel sponsor, after its sportswear rival decided not to renew a deal that had been in place since 2006. Now, as part of Nike's plan to create novel experiences for fans through this partnership, it is launching jerseys from every NBA squad with a technology called "NikeConnect."

The jerseys feature authentication tags powered by Near-Field Communication (NFC), which can be paired to an iOS or Android device via a companion NikeConnect app. People who buy these will get access to exclusive content from their favorite team and players, including personalized videos, pictures, GIFs, tickets and game highlights directly from the NBA. Not surprisingly, Nike is also using the tech as an opportunity to sell you stuff, so you'll have the chance to buy limited-edition products, such as sneakers and other gear that's suggested based on whose Connect jersey you're rocking.

Based on our NikeConnect demo, everything works seamlessly and with little effort. To connect your jersey to your phone or tablet, all you have to do is fire up the NikeConnect app, wait for a "Ready to Scan" prompt, tap your device on the NFC hangtag and, voila, you're good to go. After that, you'll be greeted by a video message from a player on the team whose jersey you bought. Right now, because the season hasn't started, certain content is from last year. But Nike says that as soon as the new campaign begins, you'll see game highlights, GIFs and new products pop-up.

In addition to those offerings, Nike's teaming up with Spotify to serve you playlists curated by NBA athletes. And there's also a 2K18 tie-in, which will give you "boosts" to use in the video game. Again, all of the content you'll see in the app is based on whichever NBA Connected jersey you have. Say yours is from the Warriors' Kevin Durant -- then you should expect your app's feed to be filled with stuff related to him. That includes being able to buy limited-edition versions of his signature shoe, which will give you an advantage over shoppers who don't have a jersey.

Nike says the key with Connect was to not sell the jerseys at a premium, or at least not for more than NBA jerseys tend to cost. They're priced between $110 and $200, with the most expensive being the "Authentic" models, which are made from the same materials as the ones NBA players wear. You'll notice subtle design cues throughout the jerseys, such as a golden tag that pays homage to the number of championships your team has won. The stitched Swoosh logo on the front is also notable, particularly because the league didn't let Adidas display its own in years past.

Beyond its current app functionality, which may be a bit gimmicky, there's plenty of potential for Nike to use Connect in more ways. What if the company adopted the technology to fight counterfeits? Something like what's being done in football, where NFC tags are being used to help teams keep track of memorabilia. When asked that question, a spokesperson said the company's certainly looking into all options available, though nothing is officially in the works at the moment.

Nike's focused on making Connect work with the NBA at the moment, but it's only a matter of time before it brings its jersey tech to other sports. The company already has a deal with the National Football League, as well as some of soccer's biggest clubs, including F.C. Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Juventus. And with the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia just around the corner, so don't be surprised when Nike-sponsored teams who make it to the tournament sell kits with NikeConnect in them.

You can buy the NBA Connected jerseys online right now, while brick-and-mortar retailers will have them on October 12th. Just don't expect to see LeBron James or Stephen Curry wearing one with NFC tags when they play, as the tech is designed to be only for fans of the sport, not the actual players. Maybe that'll change in the near future.


Sphero’s R2-Q5 ‘Star Wars’ droid is basically a goth R2-D2

Sphero just announced a new app-controlled robot a few days ago, the Mini, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have anything else in the works. The company has now revealed the latest member of its Star Wars family, R2-Q5, the Empire's version of the beloved R2-D2 character. As is the case with all of Sphero's toys, you can take charge of R2-Q5 via its Droids app for iOS and Android, where you'll be able to drive it, hear it make sounds and use it to play various mini games. You'll need to act fast if you want one for yourself: Sphero says the number of R2-Q5 numbers made is in the "low thousands," and Best Buy has an exclusive on it in the US, while John Lewis has that honor in the UK. Pre-orders are open now for $200/£200, with shipping expected to happen around October 27th.


Sometimes, all you need in life is a cat tail cushion

You may not instantly recognize the name "Yukai Engineering," but you may have already come across its earlier products like the Necomimi brainwave cat ears or the Bocco "family robot" at some point. At CEATEC, the Japanese company unveiled its latest wacky product, the Qoobo "tail therapy" robot. This is essentially a cushion with a realistic cat tail that reacts to stroking and patting, such that it's able to comfort its "owner" like a real pet would simply through tail wagging. To make it more lifelike, Qoobo also wags its tail randomly when it is left alone for too long.

As a cat owner myself, I was surprised by how realistic the tail moved, especially with how its wagging intensity increased as I petted it harder (my cat would eventually warn me with a bite). Interestingly, the stroking detection is mostly done with just one accelerometer inside the body, according to CEO Shunsuke Aoki. He added that despite the cat-like appearance, the realistic tail movement is actually based on research on both cat and dog behavior. Still, I'd like to think of Qoobo as more of a cat, and that's me speaking as an owner of both a cat and a dog.

The idea of Qoobo originated from one of Yukai Engineering's 20 employees in an internal competition about half a year ago. The designer had a cat, but since the apartment she moved into didn't allow pets, she had to leave her cat with her parents. This inspired her to come up with a lifelike pet substitute that would make her feel better whenever she thought of her cat. And of course, this would double as a therapy robot for potentially treating depression and anxiety, as not everyone has access to a therapy cat or dog for various reasons -- be it costs, allergies or the aforementioned apartment restrictions.

Qoobo will be launched via a crowdfunding platform later this year for around $100, and it's expecting a June 2018 delivery. It'll have two color options: "husky gray" and "French brown." The final product will have an eight-hour battery life with USB charging, though Aoki has yet to decide where to place the USB port. Admittedly, we had a good laugh about this, too.

Source: Qoobo