Windows 10 S release date, news and features

Microsoft officially pulled off the curtain on its oft-leaked and already-tested lightweight version of Windows 10 on May 2. Originally expected to be called Windows 10 Cloud, it is instead simply named Windows 10 S. 

The company issued invites to the press early that month, and TechRadar was in attendance to provide the latest news and impressions from its New York City briefing.

Since its release, we’ve learned a few more details regarding Windows 10 S that Microsoft didn’t exactly wave and scream about during its reveal of the operating system (OS).

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? A new, lightweight version of Windows 10
  • When is it out? Available now
  • What will it cost? Free to all schools using Windows 10 Pro

Windows 10 S release date

Windows 10 S debuted on May 2, with devices using the OS available on the same day. Microsoft’s event invitation itself was titled “#MicrosoftEDU”, making no misgivings about its aims with the new OS.

However, to be clear, Windows 10 S is not for individual sale, but rather will be found on new devices issued to IT administrators in education as well as those on shelves. It’s no coincidence that Windows 10 S is focused on the education sector, where Google’s Chromebooks are currently ruling the roost.

With an event name like that, it would have made sense for Microsoft to make Windows 10 S available at the start of the 2017 school season, but we’ll take an earlier launch no problem.

Windows 10 S price

Windows 10 S doesn’t cost a dime. Well, not to schools sporting Windows 10 Pro already, that is. The cost of the OS is, more than likely, being subsidized by hardware makers in its pricing albeit for far less than Windows 10 proper if not for free.

As Windows 10 S is competing directly with Chrome OS, Google’s operating system for its Chromebook platform, it makes sense to use the same business model. Google doesn’t sell that OS individually for customers to install on machines themselves. As such, Microsoft seems to have followed suit.

In short, you won’t be paying for Windows 10 S so as much as you’ll pay for the hardware running it (with whatever Microsoft’s charging its partners, if anything, to license the software baked in that price somehow, too). 

Save for the new Surface Laptop, the laptops running Windows 10 S start at $189 (about £146, AU$251) and cap out at $299 (about £239, AU$396). Premium category laptops will also be joining the Windows 10 S family, though no pricing information on those has been confirmed at this time.

What is Windows 10 S?

As we said, Windows 10 S is a more lightweight, pared down version of Windows 10. Specifically, the OS can only support apps downloaded from Microsoft’s Windows Store and those already baked into the OS.

In fact, Windows 10 S users won’t even have the choice of which browser or search engine they use, with Edge and Bing being the only options, respectively. But hey, at least converted Apple users can take solace in the fact that their Spotify music libraries can now be accessed through the Windows Store.

This talk of a version of Windows that can only download Microsoft-approved apps is familiar, isn’t it? Microsoft believes it has mastered this approach since the turbulent days of Windows RT and Windows 8 with Bing – both of which tried to position Microsoft as the sole provider of apps through curation.

The good news is that this allows for a startup time of under 5 seconds as opposed to the 30 – 40 second startup time of Windows 10 Pro. Not only that, but configuring settings (such as Wi-Fi, webcam, etc.) across an entire classroom of students is as easy as inserting a USB stick in each of their laptops.

Being in competition with Google’s Chrome OS, Microsoft has of course positioned Windows 10 S as a more secure PC operating system. Already though, ZDNet found a hacker able to break into Windows 10 S’ security in under three hours using infected macro-based Word documents. Still, Windows 10 S proved to be a much tougher egg to crack than vanilla Windows.

Should you find a must-have app that isn’t available in the Microsoft Store in Windows 10 S you can switch from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro – i.e. the Windows 10 we know that can install any app – for a fee. It’s $49 for individuals, a fee that’s waived for Windows 10 S devices sold to schools.

Better yet, Microsoft more recently made it possible for Windows 10 Pro upgraders to make the move back down to Windows 10 S. So if you change your mind after installing Windows 10 Pro on that shiny new Surface Laptop, you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t tied to your decision one way or the other.

That said, what can you expect to see included in laptops and/or tablets running Windows 10 S? Well, the Edge browser, OneNote and Windows Ink are all givens. The standard Movies and Groove Music apps, as well as niceties like Maps and Mail and Calendar are shoo-ins, too. (Oh, and Cortana!)

Windows 10 S even still features File Explorer, and although many of the laptops that come with the lightweight OS pre-installed may ship with smaller capacity SSDs, Microsoft’s forthcoming introduction of OneDrive Files On-Demand will make it so files can be stored in the cloud, but still viewed the same way as locally stored content – File Explorer UI and all.

  • Now, will Microsoft shock us all with the Surface Pro 5?

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

Surface Pro 5 release date, news and rumors

After it was reported back in April that Surface sales had dropped 26% year-on-year, it was made plainly apparent to us that a Surface Pro 5 was long overdue. 

However, instead of revealing a numbered fifth entry in the Surface Pro lineup, Microsoft launched the Surface Laptop and a Surface Pro with revamped specs and improved Surface Pen and Type Cover accessories.

Although it’s not a proper sequel to the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Pro does come with a host of new features including fanless Kaby Lake processors, an enhanced PixelSense display and support for 4G LTE mobile broadband.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The would-be fifth Surface Pro tablet
  • When is it out? Maybe never, but the 2017 Surface Pro is out now
  • What will it cost? Likely as much as – if not more than – the current model

Surface Pro 5 release date

Reports dating back to March 2016 led us to believe that the Surface Pro 5 would come out alongside the Windows 10 Creators Update, and that would have made complete sense if it had actually come to fruition. Instead, the Creators Update launched featuring a handful of new designer- and gamer-focused software features, but with no first-party hardware in sight.

Our next bet was that the Surface Pro 5 would be shown off at the #MicrosoftEDU event in New York City. However, that was more of a shot in the dark; there were no rumors leading into that event that suggested we would see anything more than a stripped-down version of Windows 10 and a more conventional Surface Laptop. 

There’s still a chance, however, that we’ll see the Surface Pro 5 make its rounds this autumn when the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is expected to land. Though the Surface Pro just landed in June, with Microsoft’s stylus-centric Whiteboard app having been leaked and set for a release later this year, we may very well see the Surface Pro 5 pop up alongside it.

Surface Pro 5

We doubt the Surface Pro 5 will look terribly different from the previous

Surface Pro 5 price

Historically, Surface pricing scarcely fluctuates with each new variation. For that reason, we expect to see the Surface Pro 5 start at $899 (£749, AU$1,349) and escalate from there depending on specially configured hardware and bundled accessories.

At the Shanghai event on May 23, the Surface Pro was revealed to come with a $799 in the US, £799 in the UK (that’s around AU$1,380) price tag for the entry-level model. If the Surface Pro 5 is indeed the Surface Pro, then we now know for sure what the price will be. If the Surface Pro 5 is actually a more powerful version of the Surface Pro, then we should expect a higher price tag.

That said, while it wouldn’t be ideal for Microsoft’s loyal following if the company deviated too far from the norm, ambitious upgrades may necessitate that it does. For the price of the next Surface Pro to differ from its predecessors, it would have to offer some serious advantages over its last-gen sibling – not just a run-of-the-mill spec boost. 

Regardless, the ball is in Microsoft’s court here, and if pricier new additives are implemented into the baseline model, it’s not unprecedented for PC makers to issue a price hike (see: the latest MacBook Pro).

Surface Pro 5 specs

In terms of specs, what little we know is based on tweets from Microsoft informant Paul Thurrott whose sources have told him that the Surface Pro 5 will indeed use an Intel 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor. 

More likely, though, is that he was confusing the Surface Pro 5 for the new Surface Pro considering it, too, uses Kaby Lake.

As it stands (and as Thurrott had also predicted), the Surface Connect proprietary charger is here to stay, meaning the latest Surface Pro – and presumably the Surface Pro 5 – don’t use USB Type-C for charging or data transfers.

Surface Pro 5

Image Credit: Patently Mobile

Surface Pro 5 design

Ahead of its announcement, a leak published by VentureBeat showed off a number of press renders that claimed to be of the Surface Pro 4’s successor. As it turns out, that was only half true. These designs ended up representing the Surface Pro rather than a true Surface Pro 5.

Those who were hoping for an intense overhaul of the Surface Pro 4’s appearance will certainly be in for a rude awakening. Yet, for those of us who adore the SP4’s current look and only care about performance refinements, this will do just fine.

Surface Pro 5 stylus and Dial

One piece of the puzzle regarding every new Surface is how Microsoft will upgrade its Surface Pen stylus accessory that comes bundled with each tablet. The most recent Surface Pro iteration may have been treated to a helping of 4,096 pressure sensitivity levels, but back in January 2016, we were led to believe that a rechargeable stylus was in the works in Redmond.

Another interesting patent filed by Microsoft describes a renewed Surface Pen loop, designed to latch the Surface Pen onto your Surface devices via a USB connection. Not only would it hold the Surface Pen into position when needed, but it would simultaneously charge the accessory for prolonged continuous use. 

Of course, Microsoft also has the Surface Dial in its clasp. The designer-focused puck-like accessory was briefly mentioned in a slideshow presentation in December, with ZDNet having picked up the slides itself for use in a news story. The company claims that peripherals such as the Dial, wearables, headsets and more are factors essential to what is perceived as the “modern PC.”

Of course, Microsoft also has the Surface Dial in its clasp. The designer-focused puck-like accessory was briefly mentioned in a slideshow presentation in December, with ZDNet having picked up the slides themselves for use in a news story. The company claims that peripherals such as the Dial, wearables, headsets and more are factors essential to what is perceived as the “modern PC.”

Also mentioned was the incorporation of “hero features” such as Cortana and Windows Hello, meaning a fingerprint scanner may not be too far off either. After all, the Dell XPS 13 did it with a $25 add-on configuration. Perhaps we could even see the day when a fingerprint reader is implemented in the Surface Pen itself. 

Surface Pro 5

Microsoft’s Panos Panay revealing the Surface Pro 3 in May 2014

What we want to see

As much as we’ve been impressed by the Surface Pro 4 and its follow-up – hibernation bugs aside – there will always be room for improvement. (That would be the case even if it had earned our Editor’s Choice award.) From the screen size and resolution to the hardware found inside, we have a few ideas for how Microsoft could craft an even better Windows 10 tablet.

Longer battery life

This is a bit of low-hanging fruit, but countless customers have lamented the Surface Pro 4’s battery life, regardless of issues with its “Sleep” mode. We rated the device for five hours and 15 minutes of local video playback.

That’s well below Microsoft’s promise of nine hours of video playback, a benchmark that even the 2017 Surface Pro couldn’t achieve in our review (our test resulted in 6 hours and 58 minutes of video playback). Our video playback figure is in line with the average laptop, though it’s a far cry from what its nemesis, the MacBook, can achieve.

Ideally, and realistically, we’d like to see at least seven hours of battery life reliably from the next Surface Pro tablet. That would put it closer in line with the MacBooks as well as competing tablets, like the iPad Pro. Surely, you’ll need as many milliampere hours in the Surface Pro 5’s lithium-ion battery as you can get. 

However, if that’s too much to ask, USB fast-charging would serve as a welcome alternative.

Surface Pro 5

Can the screen get much sharper? Why yes, it can

An even sharper (and/or bigger) screen

With the Surface Pro 4 and the subsequent Surface Pro, Microsoft managed to outrank countless rivals in both the laptop and tablet spaces when it comes to screen resolution. With a razor-sharp 267 ppi (pixels per inch) already at 2,736 x 1,824 pixels within a 12.3-inch screen, it’s not as if the Surface Pro 5 needs to be much sharper.

However, if the next Surface Pro were equipped with, say, a 4K (3,840 pixels wide at the very least) screen, that would rip its productivity and entertainment capabilities wide open. Film and photo editors could work at the native resolution that’s increasingly becoming the norm, while average Joe’s (teehee) could finally watch Netflix in 4K on a tablet.

That said, the realm of super sharp resolutions might be reserved for the Surface Book range at this point. So, why not up its size a bit?

The Surface Pro 4 is big enough for almost all tasks, but it’s still not the established default size for most laptops: 13.3 inches. Then again, doing so may cannibalize Microsoft’s market by negating the need for its Surface Book.

On the other hand, maybe the iPad Pro is onto something with its 12.9-inch display. After all, we’re not asking for a gargantuan, monster-sized tablet – just a slight size boost. Assuming the resolution doesn’t bump up too much alongside a size increase, the extra space could allow for a battery life boost.

Surface Pro 5

Now, imagine if the next Surface rocked USB-C

It might finally be time for USB-C

With the latest MacBook Pro and HP Spectre among the most famous devices to adopt the latest in USB interfaces, USB Type-C (or simply USB-C) is an overdue feature for the Surface Pro. 

A reversible, versatile port (or two?) may be just what the Surface Pro 5 needs to mitigate the product line’s lacking input/output problem. A single USB 3.0 port and a proprietary charging port aren’t going to cut it for much longer, and with the help of a specialized set of adapters, USB-C is infinitely more utilitarian.

At the same time, Microsoft may want to include a standard USB 3.0 port, too, in order to natively meet the system requirements for its own Windows 10 VR headsets. If the company wants to lead the pack in the business of affordable virtual reality solutions, it’s a no-brainer to make the Surface Pro 5 compatible.

There’s no telling if or when we’ll see a true Surface Pro 5. Perhaps it serves Microsoft’s customers just as well to release slightly better hardware biennially than to perform a complete face-lift on the Surface Pro even less frequently. Nevertheless, we’re sure to see some sort of new Surface product alongside the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update later this year.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

Prepare for the summer of sound with the Sony XB40 portable speaker and noise-cancelling MDR1000X headphones

Sony has released two amazing products that will make your music sound better than ever before – be it in the middle of a party with the Sony XB40 wireless portable speaker, or drowning out life’s distractions with your favourite tunes and Sony’s MDR1000X noise cancelling headphones.

Both of these products feature state-of-the-art features, gorgeous designs and above all else – amazing sound quality that will make this summer sound better than ever before.

Even if you’re listening to compressed files from an MP3 player, or playing music throughout your house, you’ll be amazed at the clarity and quality of your music.

Get the party going with the Sony XB40

Become the life and soul of the party this summer with the Sony XB40 wireless speakers. Thanks to the built-in flashing lights, you can instantly create a party atmosphere anywhere – while the EXTRA BASS functionality can transform your music and make your favourite songs sound as good as they should.

Best of all, the party can keep going day and night thanks to up to 24 hour battery life, and thanks to the water-resistant design you can take the Sony XB40 to the pool or the beach for the ultimate summer party.

Bluetooth and NFC features let you easily connect your smartphone or media player to the Sony XB40 speakers with just a tap – and the smart Bluetooth technology inside the speaker ensures you get the best possible sound quality.

Want to fill your entire house with music, or ensure your tunes can be heard in your garden while soaking up the sun and cooking a BBQ? Thanks to the easy to use Party Chain feature, you can wirelessly connect a number of Sony XB40 wireless speakers together to really get the party going. Fancy a spot of DJing? Use the Fiestable app to control playback, adjust the built-in lights and add sound effects to your tunes.

Award winning sound with the Sony MDR1000X headphones

If you’re after a more intimate listening experience with audiophile-grade sound quality, than the award-winning Sony MDR1000X headphones are a must.

Thanks to industry leading noise cancellation, you can block out the noisy distractions of modern life and fully immerse yourself in your music. If you’re jetting off to a well-deserved holiday this summer, then the Sony MDR1000X headphones will block out the sounds of the aeroplane – and any loud passengers.

You can also feel like you’re in the recording studio with your favourite artists thanks to High-Resolution audio support that includes S-Master HXTM technology to reduce distortion and allow you to enjoy all the subtleties in your music.

The headphones feature a powerful 40mm driver with Liquid Crystal Polymer (LCP) diaphragm, which means even the deepest bass beats are reproduced perfectly.

While high resolution audio positively sings thanks to the craftmanship of the Sony MDR1000X, even compressed audio files such as MP3s will benefit from these headphones, with the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX (DSEE HX) upscaling the files and restoring high-range sound that is often lost through compression.

The Sony MDR1000X headphones are the perfect pair of cans to take around with you when camping, glamping and enjoying the best festivals this summer thanks to an included protective carry case that helps you transport them securely.

Due to their amazing build quality, design and audiophile sound quality, it’s no surprise that these headphones have won numerous prestigious awards, making them the perfect accessories for this year’s summer of sound.

Pokemon Go update: all the news and rumors for what’s coming next

Update: Raid Battles have now been switched on in Pokemon Go but at the moment they’re limited to players level 35 and up in a select number of gyms, according to the Pokemon Go Twitter account. Not to worry, everyone else; it’s been promised that this is just part of the roll out and more players across more gyms will gain access to the new feature over the next few days.

You can read all about the new Raid Battles below.

Original article continues below…

Pokémon Go has been out for a long time now, and while the app has progressed a lot in this time – just remember how unstable the servers when it launched – there’s still lots more work to be done.

Some of these features are ones that developer Niantic spoke about prior to the release of the game, while others have been promised since the game’s release.

Without further ado, here’s our guide to every new update rumors as well as the tweaks promised by Niantic so far. 

  • Pokémon Go tips and tricks: how to get better at the game
  • How to fix the biggest problems with Pokémon Go
  • Pokémon Gone: how Pokémon Go can bring back lapsed trainers

Latest Pokemon Go update

Just as we approach one year since the launch of Pokémon Go, Niantic has announced a huge new update to the game that will start rolling out from June 19. 

These changes are undoubtedly the biggest the game has had in a long time and they should have a positive impact by adding variety to the gameplay and more of a reason to compete in Gyms.

Gym changes

Gyms are being overhauled, new items are being added and a brand new cooperative group gameplay feature called Raid Battles is being introduced in the coming weeks.

Gyms have been changed up to encourage players to engage with them more often, adding a spinnable Photo Discs like the ones currently at Pokéstops which will distribute unique items and Gym Badges.

Gym Badges will serve as mementos but you’ll also be able to level them up through further interactions with Gyms which will earn you unique opportunities to receive bonus items.

Gyms will also now have six permanent slots that can be filled by the controlling team’s Pokémon and teams looking to take over the Gym for themselves will battle these six Pokémon in the order they’ve been assigned to the Gym. Each slot must now be filled by a different Pokémon (no double Digletts, please). 

A big problem with Gyms in Pokémon Go is that players would often dump powerful Pokémon there and never return to check on them. A new motivation system is changing that. Now, when a Pokémon is defending a Gym they’ll lose motivation over time and their Combat Power will temporarily decrease, making them even more easy to defeat. Trainers from the Gym’s ruling team will need to take time feed the Pokémon defending their Gym berries in order to maintain their motivation. 

Raid Battles

The biggest new feature is Raid Battles which aims to bring a more cooperative and social dynamic to gameplay. When it’s introduced in a few weeks, players will be able to team up with others near them and work together to defeat powerful Pokémon known as Raid Bosses. 

Raid Battles are timed in-game events that’ll be located at Gyms. When they’re happening, the Gym will be unavailable and a large egg will appear on top of it with a timer. When the timer reaches zero, the Raid Boss will be revealed. Players from all teams will be able to join together to defeat the Raid Boss, earn new items or even catch the Raid Boss.

To get involved, you’ll need a Raid Pass and you can get one of these for free each day by visiting a Gym, though they can also be purchased.

Players will also be able to form private raid groups with their friends using a customized code system. 

After defeating a Raid Boss you’ll get rewards, some of which are exclusive, including Rare Candies, Golden Razz Berries and two Technical Machines (Fast and Charged).

The changes to Gyms will start being rolled out worldwide today (with Gyms being temporarily disabled to do so) and players will see Raid Battles introduced to the game in the coming weeks. 

Pokémon Go update rumors: what we may see next

The expansion into generation 2 Johto region Pokémon was the first of three major updates planned for this year according to Niantic CEO John Hanke. 

During a keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Hanke said there would be three “major” updates to the game later in 2017, though he didn’t reveal exactly what they’ll be.

Here’s what we’ve previously heard about updates to Pokémon Go that Hanke may be referring to.

Pokemon Go

Trading

Trading was a key component in the original games, but it’s remained absent from Pokémon Go despite repeated assurances that the feature is on its way.

In the beta, trading was a local-only affair, meaning that you couldn’t trade with players over the internet, and Niantic has now confirmed that will be the case for when it starts in the core game.

Pokemon Go

Tatsuo Nomura, senior product manager at Niantic told Polygon trading “won’t be “through the internet” when it launches.

We can’t wait for trading to make its way into the game. It always feels like a bit of a waste transferring rare Pokémon just because they’re a duplicate, and it’ll be great being able to put them to use.

Player-vs-player battling

Another feature that’s been rumored for some time is battling between players.

As it currently stands the only battling functionality in the game is between players and opposing gyms, but since before the game’s release Niantic has been promising that PvP battling is coming and CEO John Hanke has confirmed it’s in the works.

Legendary monsters

It was confirmed by the Niantic CEO John Hanke that the company plans to bring the legendary Pokémon to the game by the end of 2017.

A more exact date than that wasn’t given, but recent datamining through the game’s latest update has led fans to believe we could see them Pokemon like Moltres, Articuno, Zapados, Mew and MewTwo appear very soon. 

The Silph Road group on Reddit has trawled through the game’s latest update code and found references to legendary Pokemon. What they’ve found suggests that the Pokemon will be able to be encountered during the new Raid Battles and players will need a Legendary-class Raid Battle ticket to take part in the battle. 

Of course, this is all conjecture and we can’t be sure if this is how Legendary Pokemon will be involved with the game when they do appear. However, at the very least we know they’re on the horizon. 

  • Pokémon Go: Legendary monsters are coming by the end of the year

Commercial partnerships

When Pokémon Go was at the height of its popularity, commercial locations which happened to also be  PokéStops or gyms sometimes found an increase in the number of customers they were attracting. At the very least they had something that would draw them in. 

It was no surprise, then, when rumors emerged that Niantic was considering teaming up with McDonalds that would see the fast food companies many chains become PokeLocations in which customers would be able to access exclusive in-app content. 

This rumor hasn’t actually come to anything, but recently leaked internal memos are pointing to another partnership, this time between Niantic and Starbucks. 

The memos, which were intended for Starbucks employees only, suggest that the partnership will see the majority of US Starbucks branches become either  PokéStops  or Gyms and that when players are in a Starbucks location they’ll have the chance to unlock a limited edition  Pokémon Go-themed Frappucino. Though even customers who haven’t unlocked the beverage in the game will still be able to buy it.

The leaked memo states that the promotion is due to begin on December 8 and Starbucks’ expectation is that it’ll encourage more customers to visit and “increase number of transactions.”

The most interesting part of the memo, though, is that it states this partnership will see the introduction of a brand new  Pokémon into the game. There’s no information on what this  Pokémon will be or whether it will only spawn in Starbucks locations so speculation is rife. 

It does feel slightly off that a game that claimed its intention was to encourage people to explore cultural locations where they live is now trying to draw them into corporate locations instead. However, it’s early to judge and only time will tell how these commercial partnerships will play out and whether or not they’ll be good for the player. 

  • Want more Pokémon Go? Check out our Pokémon Go tips and tricks guide.

Want to buy yourself a Pokémon Go Plus wearable? Check some of today’s best deals down below.

The best Xbox One bundles and deals in June 2017

Looking for the best Xbox One bundles or Xbox One deals? You’re in the right place for the cheapest Xbox One prices from around the web as we’re constantly on the lookout for the best offers. It’s what we do every day, not just Black Friday.

The Xbox One S has generally replaced the original model now, but we still see the some cheap discounts, so keep an eye out on both comparison charts and bundle lists below. Don’t forget, Xbox One bundles are usually way better value than buying a console on its own.

Looking to buy in the UK or Australia? You’ll want to take a look at our UK page or AU page.

cheap xbox one s deals

The best Xbox One S deals

Before you look at the older Xbox One bundles, you may want to consider the new Xbox One S. The slimmed-down design looks much better than the original chunky box and the power brick has been absorbed. The main draw though is 4K visual support meaning you’ll be able to watch specialized 4K Blu-Ray and Netflix content in 4K on your new 4K TV. The new version’s 2TB, 1TB and 500GB models launched recently and have been selling very well.

The best original Xbox One deals

These prices are for the older Xbox One model. The console is considerably larger and has an external power brick. It won’t play Netflix or Blu-Rays in 4K, but is just as an effective games console as the new Xbox One S. Nowadays though, we’re finding the Xbox One S deals are even cheaper, so we’d only go for the older model if you spot a seriously cheap deal.

Xbox One bundle of the week

1TB Xbox One S | Gears of War 4 | $288 @ Amazon
   Gears of War 4 should be high on the must-buy list of any new Xbox One S owner. So this is an ideal bundle, especially if some of the other bundled games like FIFA 17 or Battlefield 1 don’t take your fancy. More to the point this is a fantastic price for the increasingly rare 1TB Xbox One.

View this Xbox One bundle: 1TB Xbox One S with Gears of War 4 $288 @ Amazon

Xbox One bundles

Xbox One S | Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Season Pass | Amazon vouchers | $294 @ Amazon
 Ghost Recon: Wildlands is one of the best games on Xbox One this year, especially once you take it for a spin online. You won’t get left behind with this deal either as this is the Gold Edition of the game which comes with the season pass. Amazon has also thrown in two $10 vouchers for their digital music and video stores. A clear winner for the best Xbox One bundle this week.

View this Xbox One bundle: Xbox One S, Wildlands and Amazon vouchers $294 @ Amazon

Xbox One S | Minecraft Favorites | $249 @ Microsoft
Even if you’re not bothered about Minecraft, this is a cheap way of getting a brand new Xbox One S in your life. All in all, a very tidy Xbox One bundle.

View this Xbox One bundle: Xbox One S with Minecraft Favorites $249 @ Microsoft

Grey Xbox One S | Battlefield 1 | $272 @ Amazon
 This is the cheapest grey Xbox One S Battlefield 1 bundle we’ve seen in a while. You’re only getting a digital copy, but it’s still way cheaper than buying a physical copy separately and you get the limited edition grey console.

View this Xbox One bundle: Grey Xbox One S with Battlefield 1 $272 @ Amazon

Xbox One S | Battlefield 1 | $249 @ Abt
Alternatively, get the white Xbox One S console with a digital copy of Battlefield 1 for just $249.99 at Abt.com.

View this Xbox One bundle: Xbox One S with Battlefield 1 $249 @ Abt

cheap xbox one s deals

Blue 500GB Xbox One S | Gears of War 4 | $299.99 @ GameStop
Sadly, we’ve seen this for $50 less, but the increasingly rare nature of this deep blue edition is driving the price up sharply. Gears of War 4 is a solid addition to the series from a fresh studio studio.

View this Xbox One bundle: Blue 500GB Xbox One S with Gears 4 $299.99 @ GameStop

Xbox Live Gold deals

Need to top up your Xbox Live Gold membership? Don’t pay the default automatic $60 renewal price. Check out our range of Xbox Live Gold deals  to save some serious money.

Still considering a PS4 instead? Then you’ll want to take a look at our cheap PS4 deals guide

This optical technique could solve virtual reality’s eyestrain problem

After wearing a virtual reality headset for a while, you may have noticed that eye fatigue starts to set in. The reason is a little-known neuroscience effect called the vergence-accommodation conflict.

In short, it’s a mismatch between your eyes physically aiming at something and focusing on something. Most VR glasses ask you to stare at a screen a few centimetres from your eyes, but focus on a point that’s much further away – a task that confuses the brain, which is used to those things usually being in the same place.

Now, however, optical engineers have developed a new type of 3D display that they say could solve this problem. 

“We want to replace currently used AR and VR optical display modules with our 3D display to get rid of eye fatigue problems,” said Liang Gao, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

“Our method could lead to a new generation of 3D displays that can be integrated into any type of AR glasses or VR headset.”

How it works

Their new display module measures only 1 x 2 inches, but can produce depth cues that the brain sees in the same way it sees thing in the real world. It does that by dividing a digital display into subpanels that each create a 2D picture. Those subpanel images are shifted to different depths but the centers are all aligned with each other.

The result is images that appear to be at a different depth when a user looks at them. An algorithm blends the edges together so that the depths appear continuous, assembling a single 3D image.

“People have tried methods similar to ours to create multiple plane depths, but instead of creating multiple depth images simultaneously, they changed the images very quickly,” said Gao. 

“However, this approach comes with a trade-off in dynamic range, or level of contrast, because the duration each image is shown is very short.”

The next step is reduce the system’s size, weight and power consumption so that it’s more practical for actually mounting to a person’s head. The team is now searching for partners to commercialise the technology.

The full details of the system were published in the journal Optics Letters. 

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Shadow of the Colossus and the danger of holding onto the past

Before I grab you by the arm and drag you into my flux capacitor-equipped Mario Kart for this week’s Throwback Thursday column, I’d like to offer an apology for my absence last week. I do have a good excuse, though: I was attending E3 where I was focusing so much on the future of games I didn’t get a moment to go hands on with the past.

Lately, though, the future of games seems to involve a lot of nostalgic nods to days gone by. 

This year Microsoft announced it was extending backwards compatibility to original Xbox titles, Nintendo revealed the classic Metroid series would be making its way to the Switch and Sony unveiled a trailer for a PlayStation 4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus. 

That weird sound you heard during PlayStation’s E3 livestream? Yeah, it wasn’t a breeze – it was my sharp intake of breath. Colossus is my bae.

Return of the remake

I first played Shadow of the Colossus when it was released on PlayStation 2 2006, not long after I’d completed ICO which I’d unearthed in my local library’s rental section. Since its first release Shadow of the Colossus has been remastered for PlayStation 3 with improved HD resolution and some added PlayStation Network features.

The PlayStation 4 version promises to be a complete remake; though the game content will be the same it will apparently have entirely new assets and updated, modern controls.

Even though I knew I adored Shadow of the Colossus overall, my memories of the game’s specifics had become pretty vague. So on my return from E3 I decided to pull out my PS2 copy and see just how much a PS4 remake is needed. 

First things first, if any game deserves an Ultra HD update it’s Shadow of the Colossus. To be honest, anything that comes from the minds of Team Ico should be in 4K but Shadow of the Colossus is especially deserving. 

It may be minimalist but, boy, is it stunning and I really can’t wait to pore over every little detail in 4K. Plus, HDR support will be incredible in a game that makes such effective use of light and shadow. 

Changing views

One of my favorite things about writing this column is that it gives me an excuse to jump back into games I haven’t played in years without feeling any guilt about my growing pile of unplayed brand new games (also known as my Smaug pile). 

It’s amazing how much your view of a game can change purely because you yourself have changed and this was something that I found especially apparent when revisiting Shadow of the Colossus.  

When I first played Shadow of the Colossus nearly a decade ago I very much took it at face value – its visual and narrative simplicity, to me, indicated that it was a simple but enjoyable game overall. 

I was playing a hero, tasked with taking down evil giant monsters to rescue a beautiful princess. A classic tale, almost like an ancient myth. Of course, myths tend to be more than just stories.

Tale as old as time

This time my view was very different. This time it was apparent to me that Shadow of the Colossus isn’t a tale of heroism; it’s a tale of grief. More than that, it’s a tale of the inability to overcome grief and the dangers of that.

I still see Shadow of the Colossus as a beautiful puzzle not-quite platformer that stands apart from other games by virtue of its visuals and innovative gameplay and combat. However, I also now see it as a game that manages to intricately weave complex but universal human emotions into an epic, unearthly tale and somehow give me a greater understanding of them. 

Basically, it got better, though there’s a chance my mind has been ruined by an English degree that forced me to critically analyse things that potentially aren’t even there. 

If you’re not familiar with it, the game follows a protagonist called Wander. Wander comes to the Forbidden Land on the back of his horse, Agro, with a sword in hand and the lifeless body of the beautiful Mono. He seeks out a powerful being who can return Mono’s soul to her body and bring her back to life. 

The being, Dormin, tells Wander that first he must hunt down and defeat 16 Colossi across the land, but warns that Wander will have to pay a heavy price for what he wants. 

“It doesn’t matter,” replies Wander.

This tells you everything you need to know. Wander is not driven by any kind of traditional heroism or self-interest, he just can’t let go of Mono and will do anything to see her returned to life. 

The fact that after each Colossus defeat you’re returned to Mono’s side to see her lifeless body is good indication Dormin knows Wander’s inability to cope with loss is his manipulable weakness.

Not all those who wander are lost

Grief is an isolating, self-destructive and often desperate emotional state and all of this is reflected perfectly in Shadow of the Colossus’ world, character actions and the game controls themselves. We don’t need any more words than “it doesn’t matter.”

Like Ico before it and The Last Guardian after it, Shadow of the Colossus doesn’t have much in the way of direct storytelling but it really doesn’t need it. Most of the story is told through action and environment which is as refreshing now as it was when the game was first released. It’s a lesson in ‘show don’t tell’.

Really, anything other than the game’s haunting, and far from overused, soundtrack would feel out of place in the world. Any excessive use of human voice, no matter how pleasant its tone, would ruin the innate melody of the game and ground it in a way that would undermine its sense of scale and universality. 

The Forbidden Lands are huge, open and beautifully bare. You’re not going to encounter any NPCs here – it’s just you, your horse and your determination. The sense of loneliness this world manages to convey is sometimes overwhelming to the point that you’re thankful when the soundtrack begins to swell because it means you’re approaching something else even if it’s not someone else. 

Though it’s often said you never forget the first time you see a Colossus in the game, I think the first time you bring one to the ground is more striking because it’s really not as satisfying as you expect it to be. 

They’re some of the greatest boss battles in gaming because each encounter is unique and forces you to think, but across each fight there’s an underlying sense of scurrying desperation as you cling to these monsters and hope they don’t throw you off before you can locate their weak points. 

The fact that some of them don’t even engage you in battle until you try to kill them really takes any sense of victory out of the defeat. In fact, as you move through each Colossus you only feel a growing sense of dread that you’re doing the wrong thing (because you totally are). 

The game’s controls are often criticized for being clumsy and unintuitive and it’s said that they’ll be improved for the remake. Though they’re sometimes problematic I hope they don’t change too much because these controls also convey Wander’s grief and desperation in a way words couldn’t. 

The fact that you have to hold down R1 to cling to a ledge rather than just tap it; the almost hesitant implications of having to press O twice to raise and swing your sword when fighting the Colossus; every action in Shadow of the Colossus feels very deliberate because of its controls, which only makes its ending more impactful and sad. 

There’s even a scene towards the end of the game which gives you control of Wander seemingly only to make it clear how out of your control things have become. 

Aggravating Agro

That said, I can’t really defend Agro’s AI and I can’t wait to see it improved. That horse is still as hopeless as I remembered and I can only assume Agro is short for aggravation because ugh. And although I appreciate the cinematic camera angles, they’re sometimes more of a hindrance than anything else. 

Returning to Shadow of the Colossus has been a genuinely rewarding experience for me and although it’s possible that I’ve simply emotionally projected onto the game, the fact that I’ve been able to do so quite so easily speaks volumes for a game that barely speaks itself. 

Now that E3 has physically drained me and Shadow of the Colossus has turned on the emotional tap I think it’s time to bring this column to a close before I slump over the keyboard.

The less we could all think about how the destructive nature of being unable to let go of the things we’ve lost plays into this column overall would be just great, thanks. 

  • Emma Boyle is taking a look back at games gone by (some of them older than she is.) Follow her time traveling adventures in her weekly Throwback Thursday column. Got any games you like to see her try? Let her know on Twitter @emmbo_

VR headset from ex-Nokia team will mimic your eye with ’70x’ the clarity of rivals

Virtual reality headsets are advancing all the time, but none yet have managed to truly mimic seeing the natural world through human eyes. That may change, however, thanks to the work of startup Varjo – a team made up of ex-Nokia staff that thinks its cracked natural vision in VR.

It’s working on a headset which it claims, according to The Verge, has displays which offer 70 times the clarity of rival hardware. It’s something Varjo is calling “human eye resolution.”

But rather than just cramming in loads of extra pixels, Varjo is trying something a little bit different.

Two eyes, loads of screens

Varjo’s headset will use multiple displays to mimic how the human eye interprets the world. In the center of your field of view will sit pixel-dense displays, within which individual pixels will be indistinguishable. But at the extreme edges of your field of view, they’ll use lower-resolution displays. 

With your brain focussing on the central area, it’ll be tricked into thinking the clarity of the central screen is repeated wherever you look, with the fuzzier outer screens acting to replicate our peripheral vision.

Pair this with eye-tracking software that powers results similar to foveated rendering (something Oculus too is exploring), and you’ve the recipe for an efficient and visually-impressive headset.

The team still has the headset in the development stage, but is looking to launch with a few industry partners later this year. A consumer launch will follow in 2018, but Varjo warn to expect its headset to be priced at the top-end of the VR headset pricing scale – somewhere in the thousands of dollars range.

That high price tag may support a dual purpose though – Varjo is looking to allow the headset to work as an augmented reality device too, by equipping cameras to the outside of the device and relaying the video feedback in real-time to the internal displays.

An ambitious project then, and definitely one to watch.

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Here’s how Intel is bringing the Olympics into the future

Intel has announced a multi-year partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to bring “new levels of fan interaction” to the Olympic Games.

With this partnership, Intel hopes to use its technology to advance how people view the global sporting event, with the first showing planned for 2018’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

One way Intel hopes to add its technical expertise to the Olympics is though expanding virtual reality broadcasting of the event, claiming that its True VR technology will offer the first live VR broadcast of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to home viewers.

Additionally, Intel plans to boost the spectacle of the Games with 360-degree replay technology that covers action from all angles at Olympic venues as well as a drone-powered light show that will project images onto the sky.

5G will also be a major component of Intel’s team-up with the Olympics, with Intel announcing that platforms running the next-gen wireless standard will be prominent during next year’s Winter Games.

Intel’s partnership with the IOC is set all the way until 2024, meaning the company’s tech will make an appearance at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, and the 2024 Olympic Games, which has yet to name a host city.

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Why the ThinkPad TrackPoint still a thing, according to Lenovo’s chief designer

For those that didn’t come up in the professional world during IBM’s heyday, yet work on one of Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops today, might wonder why the TrackPoint is still around. After all, it was IBM’s crown achievement way back when, but trackpads have come a long way since.

We had the lucky chance to ask Lenovo chief design officer David Hill just that during the Lenovo Transform event in New York City recently, and you might find the answer surprising. (And, no, it’s not just to keep the ThinkPad veterans happy.)

Better yet, Hill shared his thoughts with us on what else of the original ThinkPad design has survived all these years, and how those features continue to differentiate the line of laptops from the competition. Bonus: Hill hints at whether we’ll ever see dual-screen ThinkPads from Lenovo again.

What follows are Hill’s thoughts on these several subjects from our chat, edited slightly for brevity and clarity.

The first-ever ThinkPad in the, well, plastic

On what of the 1992 ThinkPad’s bento box-inspired design has survived 25 years on

David Hill: [Late designer Richard Sapper’s] idea was about this sort of simple surprise. If you look at his work, many of his objects he designed over the course of his career, they’ve had a transformative aspect.

He was fascinated by this concept that an object was simple when you were not using it and complex when you were. He wanted ThinkPad to be this black box that you would look at and say, ‘what’s that?’ 

The keyboard, if you recall, lifted up [to reveal] all of the components inside – like a bento box. It was brilliant. It was also incredibly efficient, as everything that goes into a laptop is generally square.

Even though dimensions and things have changed, primarily in thickness, I think it still has the spirit, the essence of what it is to be a ThinkPad – it’s just the measure is different. It still has this mysterious quality to the outside. It has this jaunty stamp in the corner that says ‘ThinkPad’.

We’re the only company that puts our logo off-center. Why do we do it? First off, who would change it at this point? You’d have to be kind of stupid. Also, at the time, it was a nice contrast to the stark geometry of this box. So, it kind of had this personality, and the three colors were kind of playful – and it suggested the fact there was a color display.

So, even though we’ve squeezed all of this way down, we’ve changed a lot about the keyboard, for instance, it still is a ThinkPad. You can tell. 

Even the keys have a unique shape, and that’s for a reason – you can type better on them. It has that curve at the bottom edge that actually makes it less likely to make a typing error. It has a dish because your finger is curved, so it has a self-centering quality. 

You know, everybody else makes square keys, I don’t know why – I guess they haven’t looked at the human finger yet. Maybe, someday, they’ll figure it out.

Compared to the latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon

On how ThinkPad’s design efficiency compares to a certain key rival’s

That efficiency still is relevant to us in the world of computer design. Oddly enough, with the borders on screens getting smaller and smaller, it gets more and more useful to us.

If you look at some companies – I won’t name any names, but they make aluminum computers out of California – they have really wide borders. And, in that design, they taper way off the edges. Well, they can do that because they have such a huge border.

But, if they ever want to make a computer with very narrow borders, they will have to be square. I have news for them, because we’ve already done it.

The inimitable, indomitable TrackPoint

On why the TrackPoint has persisted amid ever-improving trackpads

It’s a little bit like an automatic transmission versus a stick shift. If you know how to drive a stick, you don’t want an automatic transmission. If you don’t drive a stick shift, you’re not going to buy a car that’s got one. 

One of the advantages of a TrackPoint is that your hands don’t have to leave the home row to move the cursor. So, you can type and move the cursor without doing this [mimes a hand shifting between a keyboard and a trackpad].

Plus, your finger doesn’t really have to move, because a TrackPoint is strain-gauged, so it measures pressure. It doesn’t move around like a joystick, it’s measuring pressure. Some people get it and some people don’t; some people acquire the taste. It’s hard to explain, but I still think there’s a use for it.

Lenovo’s defunct Adaptive Keyboard well predates Apple’s Touch Bar

On what IBM’s – and now Lenovo’s – legacy of experimentation means for today’s ThinkPads

I tell people all of the time that when you buy a ThinkPad, you’re actually buying 25 years of ThinkPad. You’re buying this culmination of information that we have. If you’re buying somebody else’s, you’re buying whatever they thought of last week.

They might make some mistakes. We’ve already made the mistakes. We’ve ironed them out; we won’t do them anymore. If you name it, we’ve probably made it or thought about it. If you don’t make those mistakes, maybe you don’t know how far you can go.

Will it ever see the light of day again?

On whether we’ll ever see experiments, like the dual-screen ThinkPad W700DS, return from the grave

Personally, I thought that product was kind of cool. It was a computer maybe only a giant could love, because it was really, really big. But, it was also extremely powerful. And, the dual-screen thing I thought was very useful.

It may have life in the future, but at the time it was very experimental and added a lot of thickness and such. But, the displays just keep getting thinner, so it might come back.

It would make a whole lot of sense for creative pros…

On whether we’ll ever see ideas like the Yoga Book make their way to ThinkPad

I think that consumer in general is a good breeding ground for future ideas that find their way into business. There’s a long history of this. 

If I go back and think about IBM, and its commercial desktop business, one time they said they would never sell a color monitor – wrong. At one time, they said they would never sell a commercial desktop with a CD drive – wrong. There was another guy who said, “we will never sell a commercial desktop with speakers. People don’t want to listen to anything at work, that’s stupid.”

So, consumer is a great place to flush that stuff out.

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