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The European Union may have characterized its $5 billion Android antitrust fine as punishment for an intransigent Google, but the practical reality might be different. Bloomberg sources have claimed that Google offered to make changes to its Android policies in August 2017, not long after it received an EU antitrust penalty for its product search practices. Although Google didn’t dive into specifics, it had offered to “loosen restrictions” in Android contracts and had considered distributing its apps in “two different ways.”
The EU wasn’t having it, according to the sources. Officials reportedly said only that a settlement was “no longer an option,” and that Google’s offer was “too little too late.” It couldn’t even mention the possibility of paying a fine as part of an agreement — regulators had effectively locked in their course of action. Google had tried to talk about ending the probe considerably earlier than that, according to the tipsters, but regulators supposedly either stonewalled or said it was too early to negotiate. If so, there may have only been a brief window of opportunity for a truce.
The revelations, if accurate, ultimately leave Google in the same boat: it’s now facing a giant fine and significant changes to its mobile strategy if its appeal doesn’t succeed. They do suggest that the penalty wasn’t inevitable, though, and that Google might well have implemented Russia-style changes months sooner if the EU had wanted to bend.
Whenever Apple releases its AirPower multi-device charger, it might have some fresh competition. Recently discovered images and listings have revealed Samsung’s Wireless Charger Duo, which (as the name implies) could offer fast charging to two devices at once. It wouldn’t be as flexible as Apple’s device since you’d need to place your devices on specific spots. However, you could top up a phone and the upcoming Galaxy Watch at the same time, or even two phones at once if you’re using it as a family charging station.
We wouldn’t make bets on pricing at this point. Given that the leaks revolve heavily around the Galaxy Note 9 and Galaxy Watch, there’s a good chance that Samsung could unveil the Wireless Charger Duo at its August 9th event. It might just be a matter of weeks before you can check one out first-hand.
This is the Samsung Wireless Charger Duo (EP-N6100) for the Galaxy Note 9. Charges the Galaxy Watch alongside the phone. pic.twitter.com/VnP10xAhvb
Toughened glass has long protected your phone against a singular drop, but one-and-done isn’t how it works in real life — we’ve all seen butterfingers users whose device falls to the floor on a seemingly weekly basis. Those not-so-coordinated people might have a little less to worry about going forward. Corning has unveiled Gorilla Glass 6, whose composition has been altered to better survive multiple drops without breaking. In tests, it could handle an average of 15 drops on to a rough surface from 3.3 feet. That’s up to twice as good as Gorilla Glass 5, and supposedly much better than rivals whose glass might not even make it through the first fall.
Version 6 is also supposed to withstand drops from “higher heights.” Corning hasn’t talked about improvements to scratch resistance, though, so you shouldn’t expect your phone to look as pristine as it did before the fall.
The glass is already in production and under study by “multiple customers,” although it might not reach shipping phones for “several months.” You probably won’t see Corning’s new formula until sometime in 2019. It should be a welcome addition, though. Now that many phones have glass backs, curved displays or both, the strength of that glass is more likely to affect the durability of the entire design.
Samsung has been teasing the prospect of a foldable-screen smartphone for years, and even hoped to launch one this year. Now, however, it looks like that pipe dream might become a reality… if a little later than expected. Wall Street Journal sources have claimed that the folding-screen handset (codenamed “Winner”) is now slated to arrive sometime in early 2019. It would have a 7-inch screen and would fold in half “like a wallet,” with a compact “display bar” on one side of the folded phone and cameras on the back. It sounds somewhat like the design from a 2016 Samsung patent application, although there’s little doubt that the real world product would vary sharply.
The company will reportedly start by targeting the handset at niche audiences like gamers. However, it eventually hopes for a “broader” debut in the second half of 2019, and the goal is to offer a third flagship on par with the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines. This might not be a one-off experimental phone like the Galaxy Note Edge, then.
There might be a major wrinkle to that, however: the price. Between the exotic display and the requisite high-end components (such as a large battery and a fast processor), Winner could “easily” cost more than $1,500. If you thought the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone X were expensive handsets, they would seem like relative bargains after this.
You should see something somewhat more affordable in the future. The same tipsters reported that Samsung’s promised Bixby smart speaker is expected to launch in “the next month or so” for $300 with a release likely coming around that of the Galaxy Note 9. The device supposedly looks like a bowl on legs, and would tout directional audio that can be sent in the direction of whoever’s speaking. Samsung may pitch it as a high-end music player, which would have it compete with the likes of Apple’s HomePod and Google’s Home Max. It might face an uphill battle — Bixby is still struggling more than a year later, and there’s no guarantee that version 2.0 will lure people away.
Many people will tell you that teens’ constant device use leaves them unable to focus, but is that actually the case? The answer is a giant “maybe.” A newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has linked Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms in teens to frequent device use. Out of 2,587 high school students studied over a two-year period, those who used multiple digital media types several times a day were about twice as likely to report strong ADHD-like symptoms (such as a lack of impulse control and patience) as their peers. The more digital media they used, the more likely it was that symptoms would surface.
It’s tempting to make teens swear off non-essential use of digital devices after that, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut as it seems at first blush. To start, the researchers noted that this doesn’t establish a causal link between device use and ADHD. It’s hard to tell how many already had ADHD-like symptoms and simply funneled that into device use. And when the symptoms were self-reported, it’s possible that some withheld the truth about their habits to avoid feelings of guilt and shame. The scientists themselves also took care to contextualize the results — that twice-as-likely figure was “statistically significant,” but the connection was ultimately “modest.”
Still, the study suggests that parents may want to discuss curbs on device use. That doesn’t necessarily mean imposing hard limits, but it may mean encouraging healthier habits (such as ignoring notifications or reducing their frequency) and discovering any underlying issues that might spur non-stop activity. It also suggests that screen time management tools from Apple, Google and others could be helpful. Whether or not gadgets play a role in fostering ADHD, they can also keep the associated behavior at bay.
Microsoft debuted its much-rumored smaller Surface device this week, hoping to tempt the Windows faithful with a compact $399 option. Wired has a detailed look at the Surface Go, including a chat with chief product officer Panos Panay.
Google is expanding the reach of Gboard’s Morse code support. The search firm has introduced the accessibility-focused keyboard to Gboard for iOS, making communication easier for iPhone and iPad owners with limited motion. As before, it replaces the usual letters with giant dot and dash buttons and offers text suggestions that include the Morse code for a given word. If you’re not sure how to write, don’t worry — Google is providing some help on that front as well.
The company has introduced a Morse Typing Trainer web game for Android and iOS that teaches you how to write Morse code using Gboard. You’ll have a grasp of Morse code within an hour, Google said. While you might want to turn elsewhere if you want complete mastery, this could get the ball rolling if you want to start typing as quickly as possible.
Sony’s latest high-end phones have proven a mixed bag between the hot Xperia XZ2 Compact and the so-so regular XZ2. It might stand a better chance among more affordable phones, though: it’s launching the Xperia XA2 Plus, bringing the company’s latest design language (and importantly, features) to the mid-range. It builds on the existing XA2 phones with a 6-inch, 18:9 ratio “Full HD+” display and the first use of Sony’s High-Resolution Audio tech in a mid-priced phone. In theory, you won’t have to splurge on high-end hardware to improve the quality of compressed tunes or Bluetooth music streaming.
You’re otherwise looking at the XA2 unveiled at the start of 2018, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Plus packs a reasonably fast Snapdragon 630, either 4GB or 6GB of RAM, 32GB to 64GB of storage, a 23-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel wide-angle selfie cam. There’s a hefty 3,580mAh battery inside, which bodes well even with a large screen draining energy.
Sony delivers the XA2 Plus starting in August. It’s not certain if or when it might reach the US, although we wouldn’t be surprised if you could buy it unlocked at a certain point. Really, it comes down to whether or not you’re satisfied with the current crop of mid-grade phones or would prefer Sony’s latest take on Android at a more wallet-friendly price.
There’s finally a new Star Ocean game after 2016’s barebones Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. Unfortunately, Star Ocean: Anamnesis, the latest entry, free-to-play, only on smartphones, and a gacha game to boot. The first of those would be forgivable if not for the second, but as a slot machine for collecting characters from Star Oceans past it turns the series’ once absurd fusion of medieval fantasy and Star Trek scifi into something that just feels mundane.
There are two types of JRPGs: the ones you love and the ones that are incomprehensible and anime as hell. During the PS1-era I played as many of them in either camp as I could get my hands on. I even finished a lot of them, no matter how tedious and off the rails they eventually became (looking at you The Granstream Saga). Star Ocean: Second Story was one of the few JRPGs to balance its overly chatty, melodramatic characters and 11th hour deus ex machina moments with a mix of deep, real time combat, overworld exploration, and an in-depth crafting system.
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Star Ocean: Anamnesis feels like it’s taken that recipe and tried to translate it into an Excel spreadsheet full of stats, proper nouns, and anime fighters, without any real logic tying it all together. I started the game as the captain of a ship under attack by pirates. A few minutes later, I had crash landed on an alien planet. By the end of the hour I was spending thousands of gems on a magician so she could use her powers to summon old Star Ocean characters with star rating ranging from one to five. It all felt like a JRPG-ified Trivago app currently draining the battery on my phone. For a dollar you can get just over 100 gems. This currency is required to do everything from efficiently level up existing characters, gain new ones, and even restore a stamina meter that keeps you from being able to play endlessly without spending money. The main screen is flooded with menus, each vying for attention, like a work email inbox coded in bright and interesting colored emoji.
On each planet is a map of nodes. Traveling to one starts a quest, either a string of long-winded dialogue between me and my crashed ship’s AI or, more often, a battle. It can be hard to tell the difference, since both dialogue and battles mostly involve tapping various parts of the screen at regular intervals. I’m sure the early part of the game is deceptively easy to help with the on-boarding process, but it’s also terribly boring. Characters have different skill sets, like front line fighter, back line magic user, or healer, and using special attacks use up action points that take time to slowly recharge.
Combat in Star Ocean games takes place in real time, but with the ability to occasionally pause to micromanage characters’ next set of actions. Star Ocean: Anamnesis relies more on choosing the right characters and equipment before going into battle, making it feel like managing a fantasy football team rather than a fight for survival. There are tons of weapons to equip and levels of rarity to optimize, but none of it ever feels tangible beyond the fleeting joy of getting something unusually good out of a the most recent drop.
However, after only a few hours with the game, some part of it has its hook in me. It started when I heard the series’ iconic sound prompt upon tapping the screen for the first time, and the game has continued to nudge its way further into my childhood memories with every old character who pops up. I may not play long enough to get Second Story’s overpowered but tragic fencer Dias Flac from one of the randomized pulls, but I certainly want to play a little bit longer.
Star Ocean: Anamnesis might sound like it has a silly name, but it’s brutally accurate. Anamnesis describes the experience of remembering something from a previous existence, a sort of deja vu for the reincarnated soul. While the game is hands down an exploitative, if charming, nostalgia trap, it’s still an effective one for fans of Star Ocean, even ones like me who can scarcely remember the person they were or their frame of mind back when they first learned to love the series. But when prompted by a familiar face, ancient weapon, or sweet sound effect, I can at least remember the feeling of having loved it, which seems to be the only thing, for better or worse, animating Anamnesis’ microtransaction-based design.
Now that Google Assistant has a slew of voices to choose from, shouldn’t you have an easy interface for picking one of those voices? You do now. Google is rolling out an update that gives US users a new, simple interface for changing Assistant’s voice. It’s very colorful, to put it mildly: you just tap on a color associated with a given voice (Google told us it chose them at random) and listen to be sure they’re the dulcet tones you want to hear.
The addition should be platform-agnostic and will be widely available in the US by the end of the week. It’s not certain when other countries will receive the fresh interface, but that’s also dependent on having multi-voice support in the first place. If you live in a region where you only have one voice to choose from, you’ll just have to be patient.