Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Withings Pulse HR review: A longer-lasting competitor to Fitbit’s Alta HR

January 20th, 2019
Withings Pulse HR review: A longer-lasting competitor to Fitbit’s Alta HR

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Withings has returned as its own company after a short stint under Nokia, and it's brought out some new fitness trackers to take on the top contenders. The $129 Withings Pulse HR looks and acts much like Fitbit's Alta HR: its svelte, rectangular module tracks heart rate all day and night as well as daily activity and workouts.

Plenty of fitness trackers have debuted in the past couple of years, but the Alta HR remains our top pick for most users. Withings is hoping to dethrone it in the minds of the public by offering a device that's even more subtle in design and promises weeks of battery life. But those things aren't achievable without sacrifices, and the options Withings left out of the Pulse HR may deter some from choosing it.

Design

The Pulse HR may be nondescript, but that doesn't mean it's not solid. Stainless steel makes up most of the module, along with a polycarbonate surface coating that makes the top part soft to the touch. The OLED display is only as big as it has to be—it doesn't take up the entire flat surface of the modular, rather only the middle third or so.

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Posted in alta HR, Features, Fitbit, fitness tracker, Gadgetology, Nokia, pulse hr, Tech, wearable, Withings | Comments (0)

Twenty legal battles that stand out across Ars’ 20 years of covering them

January 18th, 2019
The US Supreme Court is shown on the day of the investiture ceremony for new Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh on November 8, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / The US Supreme Court is shown on the day of the investiture ceremony for new Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh on November 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The legal system is often a confounding place, where disputes are adjudicated—it’s a world full of jargon that we journalists try to explain as best we can. And over the last two decades, legal cases have remained a fixture on Ars Technica.

We’ve brought you endless news of initial criminal or civil complaints in that time. And in the most important cases, Ars has followed them, blow by blow, through various motions. We sat in every session for the criminal trial of Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht and took a similar approach to the API patents saga of Oracle v. Google, for instance.

Just this week, Ars sat in the courtroom as Defense Distributed and the State of New Jersey argued over legal jurisdiction and matters of free speech intersecting with future technology. It echoes back to our site's legacy of watching the march of technology and innovation directly intersect with an evolving legal system—it has been nearly 20 years since we covered Microsoft’s infamous antitrust battles around the turn of the century. These literally became the subject of CNN decade documentaries since then.

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Posted in ayyadurai, criminal, Features, lawsuit, Policy, Uber, waymo | Comments (0)

Where will NASA go in 20 years? It may depend on private space and China

January 16th, 2019
NASA's human spaceflight program has been in low-Earth orbit since 1972. Will we go beyond in the next 20 years?

Enlarge / NASA's human spaceflight program has been in low-Earth orbit since 1972. Will we go beyond in the next 20 years? (credit: NASA)

Anniversaries offer a moment for reflection, so when Ars Technica reached the start of its 20th anniversary recently, I inevitably paused to consider the state of US human spaceflight in 1998.

In 1998, NASA launched the Lunar Prospector mission, which found water on the Moon. It was also the year when 15 countries came together to agree upon a framework for the International Space Station and later launched the first piece of the laboratory into orbit. And also that year, promisingly, NASA’s new X-38 spacecraft made its first successful test flight. All of these events would, in various ways, help determine the course of US spaceflight development that led us to today.

Looking back, one thing soon became clear: past is prologue, and the rhythm of history repeats itself. The human spaceflight achievements of 20 years ago seemed to foreshadow the current state of play in space, so seeing how the seeds planted then have both bloomed and withered likely offers some helpful perspective on what may happen in the future.

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Posted in Features, science | Comments (0)

The best PCs, gadgets, and future tech of CES 2019

January 14th, 2019
Lowered Samsung Space Monitor

Enlarge / Samsung's Space monitor in a lowered configuration. (credit: Samsung)

CES 2019 has finally come to an end—and by and large, it was a more interesting show than last year's. To that end, the Ars reviews staff has put together another annual Best in Show list, and this group of products we consider particularly interesting.

As was the case with CES 2018, the main takeaway from most of the press releases and product pitches we've read and heard over the past couple of weeks has been "Google Assistant and/or Amazon Alexa are in everything." But to be frank, we don't find that to be the most interesting thing happening at CES right now. For most users, digital voice assistants are still just a curiosity, and nothing major happened at CES to push them forward—the voice assistant story this year was simply one of ubiquity. The best innovations and products in this category were largely iterative ones or one-off clever designs that wouldn't find a place in broader "CES trends" pieces.

By contrast, our list is a small one given the vast number of products at the show. There's always a tension when judging CES products this way: do we select the products that represent remarkable innovation and give us a glimpse of something neat or useful in a not-too-distant future or the products that are going to be easiest to recommend to prospective buyers right now in 2019? This year, the Ars team wants to err on the side of the here and now, but we stretched that a little bit for certain gadgets that pushed the envelope while still being viable products that will ship to real users.

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Posted in CES, CES 2019, Features, Tech | Comments (0)

Hackers find Super NES games mentioned in Switch’s emulated NES files

January 14th, 2019
This cat's reaction of a real SNES mimics our reaction to the existence of SNES game references in the Switch's NES emulation files.

This cat's reaction of a real SNES mimics our reaction to the existence of SNES game references in the Switch's NES emulation files.

Dataminers have discovered references to numerous Super NES games in the files for the Switch's "Nintendo Entertainment System - Nintendo Switch Online" subscription emulation service, suggesting that the company could be planning to expand the system's emulated offerings in the future.

Switch hacker KapuccinoHeck—who has previously shared mods and hidden data for Splatoon 2 and other Switch games—used Twitter to link to the text of a file full of internal string variables purportedly stored in the NES Online's file system. Fellow modder OatmealDome confirmed that file's authenticity via Twitter. Though Ars has not been able to independently verify the file's existence in the Switch's NES Online app, the information comes from hackers who have provided reliable datamining information from Switch games in the past.

In addition to information about the current NES Online software selection, the shared file also includes references to the following Super NES games, many of which include extensive descriptions of those games in Japanese and/or English:

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Posted in Datamining, emulator, Features, Gaming & Culture, Nintendo, online, SNES, super nes, Switch | Comments (0)

From Uncharted to Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope dishes on his illustrious game-dev career

January 12th, 2019
L-R: One of the hundreds of characters in the 2013 video game <em>Papers, Please</em>; game developer Lucas Pope, standing in his hometown of Saitama, Japan; the captain of a cursed pirate ship fom Pope's 2018 game <em>Return of the Obra Dinn</em>.

Enlarge / L-R: One of the hundreds of characters in the 2013 video game Papers, Please; game developer Lucas Pope, standing in his hometown of Saitama, Japan; the captain of a cursed pirate ship fom Pope's 2018 game Return of the Obra Dinn. (credit: Sam Machkovech / Aurich Lawson)

SAITAMA, Japan—Return of the Obra Dinn, the latest video game from designer, programmer, artist, writer, and musician Lucas Pope, revolves around a massive cast of characters. Of course, there is one minor detail—they're all presumed dead.

In the game, players must sort through the histories and fates of dozens of men, women, and children by working as an insurance adjuster. There's a cursed cargo ship and magic, yes, but also a giant log book, a glossary, and a massive list of names to account for and cross-reference.

If you didn't know Pope's pedigree—as one of the best independent game makers in the world, and the one-man shop responsible for Ars Technica's 2013 Game of the Year Papers, Please—you might think that premise sounds humdrum. But as in his other games, Pope somehow turns the humdrum into something incredible. Upon first boot, the goal can feel intimidating. Every crew member fills the pages of your virtual book, and the task of keeping them straight is enough to set an anxious player on edge.

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Posted in Features, Gaming & Culture, lucas pope, papers please, return of the obra dinn | Comments (0)

Software patents poised to make a comeback under new patent office rules

January 10th, 2019
Software patents poised to make a comeback under new patent office rules

Enlarge (credit: imagedepotpro)

A landmark 2014 ruling by the Supreme Court called into question the validity of many software patents. In the wake of that ruling, countless broad software patents became invalid, dealing a blow to litigation-happy patent trolls nationwide.

But this week the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) proposed new rules that would make it easier to patent software. If those rules take effect, it could take us back to the bad old days when it was easy to get broad software patents—and to sue companies that accidentally infringe them.

The Federal Circuit Appeals Court is the nation's highest patent court below the Supreme Court, and it is notoriously patent friendly. Ever since the Supreme Court's 2014 ruling, known as Alice v. CLS Bank, the Federal Circuit has worked to blunt the ruling's impact. In a 2016 ruling called Enfish, the Federal Circuit ruling took a single sentence from the Supreme Court's 2014 ruling and used it as the legal foundation for approving more software patents.

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Posted in Alice v. CLS Bank, Features, Policy, software patents | Comments (0)

Guidemaster: How to buy a Chromebook, plus our best picks

January 9th, 2019
There's now a pretty wide range of Chromebooks available—and we've tested <em>a lot</em> of 'em.

Enlarge / There's now a pretty wide range of Chromebooks available—and we've tested a lot of 'em. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Chromebooks dominated the affordable laptop scene in 2018. The same wasn't true just a few years ago, when most were unclear what to do with Google's browser-based operating system. But now, after Chromebooks have successfully infiltrated the education market, users both young and old are familiar with Chrome OS.

Chrome OS runs exclusively on Chromebooks, the name for the laptops, two-in-ones, and now tablets that run Google's operating system. If you've used the Chrome Web browser before, you know how to use Chrome OS—the browser is the portal to nearly everything you can do on Chrome OS. Google created an operating system that's simple to use, efficient, and low maintenance in the sense that it doesn't take a ton of power to run a Chromebook well.

All of those factors, plus the recent introduction of Android apps into the ecosystem, have made Chromebooks popular with younger users, teachers, and anyone who works and plays primarily within the confines of the Chrome Web browser.

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Posted in 2-in-1, Acer, ASUS, Chrome OS, Chromebook, dell, Features, google, guidemaster, Laptops, Lenovo, Samsung, tablets, Tech | Comments (0)

Video: Dead Space’s scariest moment almost dragged down the entire project

January 8th, 2019

Video directed by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript. Special thanks to Glen Schofield and Chris Stone for assistance gathering footage.

I need to get this out of the way right up front: the War Stories video crew here at Ars loves Dead Space. The game turned 10 years old this past October, and it's a near-perfect execution of the survival horror genre—the world, the sound design, and the mechanics are all spot-on, even after a decade. It's also one of the games we've had on our War Stories to-do list since the very beginning, and we're excited to finally have this video to share with you all.

Executive producer/creator Glen Schofield was fortunately just as excited to talk about the game as we are, and he invited us into his home to tell us the tale of how Isaac Clarke and the USG Ishimura came to be. Creating Dead Space required Schofield and team to create not just an entire original IP (complete with lore and world-building) but new game mechanisms and new ways to tell a story. The focus of putting the player directly into protagonist Isaac Clarke's somewhat clunky shoes affected every decision, and the resulting game managed to be refreshingly original while also paying respectful homage to other horror movies and games (most notably Event Horizon and Resident Evil, respectively.

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Posted in Ars Technica Videos, console gaming, Dead Space, Dead Space 2, Features, Gaming & Culture, Glen Schofield, horror, PC gaming, videos, war stories | Comments (0)

They’re dead to us: The Ars Technica 2019 Deathwatch

January 5th, 2019
No one wants to celebrate a company going away, though these organizations certainly seem to be on a tenuous track.

Enlarge / No one wants to celebrate a company going away, though these organizations certainly seem to be on a tenuous track. (credit: Picture Post / Getty Images)

It’s come to this again: 2018 has passed, making the dumpster fire that was 2017 look a bit more like the glory days. Last year ended with the government partially shut down and the market in a deep slide. Tech companies seemed out to outdo each other as cautionary tales, with some of 2017’s biggest losers extending their death rolls and some of the biggest players in the industry seeming to deliberately set themselves on fire.

So, once again it’s time to call out the Deathwatch. If you’re stumbling across Ars’ Deathwatch for the first time, this is not a prediction of the actual demise of companies or technologies. It takes a lot to actually erase a company or a technology from the face of the Earth these days. Even the worst ideas and businesses often linger on through inertia or get absorbed by some other company and metastasize in new and horrific ways—for example, Yahoo. (We’ll get to them soon enough.)

Instead, Deathwatch is our annual way of identifying those entities facing a different sort of danger: economic, cultural, or legal peril that could render a company irrelevant, inconsequential, or (in some cases) chum for legal and market sharks. Some organizations that have been put on Deathwatch have died a thousand deaths—take RadioShack, for example (a 2014 Deathwatch alumnus... which died a second time after a 2017 reboot). Others, such as BlackBerry, have persisted but have changed so much that they are no longer recognizable as the entities they once were. And then there are others that have so much runway in their death spiral that they could persist as a cautionary tale for decades to come.

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Posted in Biz & IT, Deathwatch, Features | Comments (0)