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AT&T restores cellphone service after US outage affecting thousands of users

2 days 15 hours ago

AT&T has resolved a widespread outage that had affected over 70,000 customers by 8AM ET, according to tracking site Downdetector. Most of these issues were centered in Houston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Atlanta. This impacted cellular service and data connections, with many customers noting that they couldn’t even contact 911.

It’s still unclear as to what caused the service interruption. In a brief statement to CNBC, AT&T said it is “working urgently to restore service.” The company encouraged customers to make use of Wi-Fi calling until the problem is handled.

Thousands of Verizon and T-Mobile customers also reported outages, but both companies said that those impacted had been trying to contact AT&T numbers. The market has declared this a serious problem, as AT&T shares were down nearly three percent as of this story's original publish time.

Cellular interruptions are a regular part of life, but the fact that many impacted customers cannot contact 911 and other emergency services is particularly worrisome. The San Francisco Fire Department has urged city residents to try calling 911 from a landline or to “get ahold of a friend or family member” who has signed up for a different carrier.

We are aware of an issue impacting AT&T wireless customers from making and receiving any phone calls (including to 911).

We are actively engaged and monitoring this.

The San Francisco 911 center is still operational.

If you are an AT&T customer and cannot get through to 911,… pic.twitter.com/TUIEBkqmkI

— SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT MEDIA (@SFFDPIO) February 22, 2024

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens noted that the city employees could make and receive 911 calls, but that many AT&T customers could not. Dickens has suggested that city residents contact AT&T for service inquiries, and not Atlanta’s emergency services system. The Massachusetts State Police echoed this sentiment, noting that customers had been flooding its 911 center with inquiries about cellular service. “Please do not do this,” the law enforcement agency wrote on X.

This is an ongoing issue and we’ll update this story when the service is restored or when AT&T issues an update on the cause.

Update, February 22 2024, 3:55PM ET: This story has been updated to reflect that AT&T has since restored its cellphone service nationwide.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/us-cellphone-outage-hits-thousands-of-att-users-nationwide-162000029.html?src=rss
Lawrence Bonk

Reddit is licensing its content to Google to help train its AI models

2 days 16 hours ago

Google has struck a deal with Reddit that will allow the search engine maker to train its AI models on Reddit’s vast catalog of user-generated content, the two companies announced. Under the arrangement, Google will get access to Reddit’s Data API, which will help the company “better understand” content from the site.

The deal also provides Google with a valuable source of content it can use to train its AI models. “Google will now have efficient and structured access to fresher information, as well as enhanced signals that will help us better understand Reddit content and display, train on, and otherwise use it in the most accurate and relevant ways,” the company said in a statement.

Access to Reddit’s data became a hot-button issue last year when the company announced it would start charging developers to the use its API. The changes resulted in the shuttering of many third-party Reddit clients, and a sitewide protest in which thousands of subreddits temporarily “went dark.” Reddit justified the changes, in part, by saying that large AI companies were scraping its data without paying. In a statement, Reddit noted that the new arrangement with Google “does not change Reddit's Data API Terms or Developer Terms” and that “API access remains free for non-commercial usage.”

The deal comes as Reddit is expected to go public in the coming weeks. Neither Google or Reddit disclosed the terms of their arrangement but Bloomberg reported last week that Reddit had struck a licensing deal with a “large AI company” valued at “about $60 million” a year. That amount was also confirmed by Reuters, which was first to report Google’s involvement.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/reddit-is-licensing-its-content-to-google-to-help-train-its-ai-models-200013007.html?src=rss
Karissa Bell

Framework's new sub-$500 modular laptop has no RAM, storage or OS

2 days 17 hours ago

Framework is all about modular, upgradable laptops and now the company is offering people a more-cost effective entry point. It has dropped the price of its B-stock Factory Seconds systems (which are built with excess parts and new components). As such, it's now offering a Framework Laptop 13 barebones configuration for under $500 for the very first time.

The 13-inch machine comes with an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor with Iris Xe graphics. So the CPU should be sufficient for most basic tasks and some moderate gaming. Here's the catch: Frameworks' barebones laptops don't include RAM, storage, Wi-Fi connectivity, power adaptor or even an operating system.

Tinkerers (i.e. folks who likely would be most interested in playing around with a Framework system) are likely to have some spare parts kicking around anyway. You can buy whatever other components you might need from the Framework Marketplace. To that end, Framework says it's selling refurbished DDR4 memory at half the price of new.

One other thing worth noting is that Framework's B-stock systems have an original display with "slight cosmetic issues." The company notes that these can range from things like fine lines that can be seen from a certain angle or a lack of backlight uniformity that may be seen on a white screen. A-stock systems have a matte display, but they're a little more expensive. Factory Seconds laptops are available in the US, Canada and Australia for the time being.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/frameworks-new-sub-500-modular-laptop-has-no-ram-storage-or-os-184711789.html?src=rss
Kris Holt

There’s a Playdate games showcase on February 28

2 days 17 hours ago

The little console that could, Playdate, is getting a developer’s showcase on February 28 at 12PM ET. Manufacturer Panic promises a 14-minute presentation chock full of new games that may or may not make use of the console’s weird little crank.

We only know one game that’ll be featured at the event, but it’s a doozy. Lucas Pope, the creator behind Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn, has been busy prepping a Playdate title called Mars After Midnight. We’ll likely get a new trailer for the game, which was first revealed back in 2021. Panic also says the event will include a “release update” on the title. So, the long wait is nearly over.

Mars After Midnight has been called a “spiritual sequel” to Papers, Please, though one set on an alien world and not in a fictional cold-war era country. You play as a door guard of an alien colony tasked with letting people in. That certainly sounds a whole lot like Papers, Please to me. As you can see, the graphics look absolutely gorgeous and the game certainly makes use of that crank.

Panic hasn’t teased any other games that will take center stage during the showcase, so its anyone’s guess. This is a quirky console that practically requires unique gameplay elements, so we could be in for some nifty surprises. The company has said the event will not feature any updates on hardware, for those looking for a Playdate 2.

To that end, the console is nearly two years old but only recently became readily available for purchase. Before last week, customers would have to wait months upon ordering the console before shipment. Now, you’ll get one within two to three days.

For the uninitiated, Panic has whipped up a really distinctive and magical portable gaming console. The bright yellow Playdate boasts a traditional D-pad, two buttons and, most importantly, a crank-based control mechanism. The console costs $200 and each purchase gets you 24 free games, with two unlocking each week for 12 weeks. This is the first developer’s showcase for Playdate since November of last year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/theres-a-playdate-games-showcase-on-february-28-183125090.html?src=rss
Lawrence Bonk

Chrome's latest experimental AI feature can help you write

2 days 19 hours ago

Google has added an experimental generative AI feature to its browser with the launch of Chrome M122. The new AI tool is called "Help me write," because it can literally help you write more descriptive sentences or even full paragraphs from a short prompt. Google says the tool uses its Gemini models to understand the context of the web page you're on so that it could generate appropriate suggestions. If you're on a review page, for instance, it can give you a suggestion that reads like a review instead of a sales copy.

Google

In one of Google's examples, the tool was able to spit out a decent description of what the person was selling with a prompt that simply read: "moving to a smaller place selling air fryer for 50 bucks." The tool suggested a full paragraph that was able to better communicate the user's message. "I'm moving to a smaller place and won't have room for my air fryer. It's in good condition and works great. I'm selling it for $50. Please contact me if you're interested," the suggestion read. 

In another example, the user asked the tool to write them a request to return a defective bike helmet and to communicate that the product developed a crack, which isn't mentioned in the product warranty. As you can see in Google's examples, you can change the length and tone of the suggestion if the first thing the writing aid comes up with isn't good enough to serve your needs. Once you're done, you can click the Replace button to switch your prompt with the suggested writeup.

Google

To activate the experimental tool, you have to go into Settings in Chrome's three-dot drop-down menu. There, you can find the Experimental AI page where you can activate "Help me write." To use the feature, just highlight the text you want to rewrite and then right-click on it to summon the "Help me write" box. Take note that it's only available for Chrome browsers on Macs and Windows PCs in the US at the moment. It can also only understand prompts and write suggestions in the English language. 

Google first announced the arrival of the writing tool back in January, when it revealed that it was going to start integrating AI features into its Chrome browser. In addition to "Help me write," Google said that it's also giving the browser an AI-powered tab organizer and the ability the generate customized themes. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/chromes-latest-experimental-ai-feature-can-help-you-write-170014645.html?src=rss
Mariella Moon

Riot's Project L fighting game is officially titled 2XKO

2 days 19 hours ago

It's been a big few months for fighting games between the likes of Mortal Kombat 1, Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8 all popping up. There's another would-be major player sitting in the wings though, as Riot is preparing to enter the fray. The publisher has provided an update on Project L, the long-awaited League of Legends spin-off it announced in 2019. The fighting game now has an official name: 2XKO.

Let's be honest, that's a real stinker of a name, It's isn't exactly going to roll off the tongue. Some of those commenting on a YouTube video in which Riot made the announcement suggested that "Double KO" would have been better. It's hard to disagree.

The name stems from the format of 2XKO. It's a 2 vs. 2 tag-based fighting game, borrowing an idea popularized by the Marvel vs. Capcom series. You can play solo or, in a nice touch, recruit a friend as your tag partner and battle another duo. Riot also says 2XKO will have streamlined controls and mechanics to help players jump in, but notes that there will be a "high level of depth and mastery."

In the gameplay teaser, 2XKO looks pretty solid. It appears to have Riot's trademark level of polish with smooth animations and distinct, eye-catching looks for each of the LoL characters. It's just a pity about that name.

Riot plans to release 2XKO on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S in 2025. As with its other tentpole titles, 2XKO will be a free-to-play game.

The publisher will set up demos at fighting game events throughout this year, starting at Evo Japan in April. Riot is also hoping to run at-home playtests and you can sign up at the game's website.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/riots-project-l-fighting-game-is-officially-titled-2xko-165335886.html?src=rss
Kris Holt

The 8Bitdo Ultimate C controller is on sale for $25 today only

2 days 20 hours ago

8Bitdo makes some of the best third-party game controllers around, and one of them is now on sale for close to a record low price. The Ultimate C controller has dropped from $30 to $25.49 today only as it's an Amazon lightning deal. It’s only a few cents more than the lowest price we’ve seen for the peripheral to date.

The Ultimate C is compatible with a wide range of devices and platforms, including Windows PC, Steam Deck, Android and Raspberry Pi. It's a cheaper version of some of 8BitDo's other peripherals. 

It doesn't rely on Bluetooth or a 2.5GHz connection. Instead, the Ultimate C connects to your gaming system via a 2.4GHz USB dongle. 8BitDo was also able to reduce costs by opting for a charging cable instead of a dock and removing the profile toggle seen in pricier models. There's no support for 8BitDo's Ultimate customization software either, but the firmware is upgradable.

The tradeoffs may just be worthwhile for an inexpensive gamepad from a well-known peripheral maker. The controller will run for up to 25 hours on a single charge, according to 8Bitdo, and there's support for asymmetrical rumble when playing games on Windows (where you can plug-and-play via a wired connection as well). The field green and lilac purple colorways are quite fetching too.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-8bitdo-ultimate-c-controller-is-on-sale-for-25-today-only-160914390.html?src=rss
Kris Holt

Arturia adds an 88-key option to its KeyLab Essential mk3 line of MIDI controllers

2 days 20 hours ago

Arturia just announced the KeyLab Essential 88 mk3, a larger sibling to the previously-released Essential 49 and 61 MIDI keyboards. As the name implies, this is a full-size 88-key controller that allows you to play the entire note range of a piano at the same time. There’s no need for changing octaves here.

Just like the other entries in the KeyLab Essential line, the 88 mk3 is intended to be a budget-friendly alternative to the flagship KeyLab controllers. The build is solid, with semi-weighted keys, though slightly less premium than the standard KeyLab 88. There’s also a reduced number of hands-on controls when compared to the flagship, though there’s still plenty to tinker around with.

To that point, the KeyLab Essential 88 mk3 includes the same screen as the smaller keyboards, for navigating presets. There are also nine knobs and nine faders for controlling parameters across Arturia’s line of softsynths.

Additionally, you get built-in control scripts that work with a number of popular DAWs, like Ableton Live. This allows you to do things like mix tracks using the built-in faders or stop and start recordings from the controller itself. 

There's also a contextual button below the screen that offers even more control over your plugins and virtual instruments. You may notice there’s only eight drum pads, but the KeyLab Essential line lets you switch to a second bank for the full 16. The keyboard features a hold function, new scale and chord modes and an arpeggiator.

Finally, this keyboard comes with plenty of software to get started with. The included bundle features Native Instruments’ iconic The Gentleman piano, the UVI Model D recreation, a two-month subscription to Loopcloud and a subscription to the Melodics tutoring software. Like always, you also get Ableton Live Lite and Arturia’s Analog Lab V.

We don’t know how much this will cost yet, but we reached out to Arturia for pricing information. As a comparison, the 61-key KeyLab Essential mk3 costs $249 and the 49-key version comes out to $199. Also, last generation's KeyLab Essential 88 costs $379, so expect it to fall somewhere in that range. The KeyLab Essential 88 mk3 will be available in both black and white. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/arturia-adds-an-88-key-option-to-its-keylab-essential-mk3-line-of-midi-controllers-160017251.html?src=rss
Lawrence Bonk

Sony is working on official PC support for the PS VR2

2 days 21 hours ago

Sony is looking to make its latest PlayStation virtual reality headset more useful by allowing folks to run PC games on it. The company said that it's "currently testing the ability for PS VR2 players to access additional games on PC to offer even more game variety in addition to the PS VR2 titles available through PS5." Sony hopes to roll out PC support for PS VR2 later this year and said to stay tuned for more updates.

Official PC support is something many enthusiasts have been hoping for, since the PS VR2 is, for the most part, a great virtual reality headset. Modders have been working on ways to make the device work with the likes of SteamVR, but official support will make things much easier. 

Despite Sony announcing PC support plans in a blog post detailing some of the titles that are on the way to PS VR2 on PS5, it's hard to argue that the headset has an especially strong library of games as things stand. Sony itself has only released three VR experiences for the platform since it debuted a year ago. In fact, the company has not announced any future first-party games for PS VR2. The lack of backward compatibility with PS VR titles limits the current headset's library too. 

Some notable developers also have cold feet about making PS VR2 versions of their projects. The eponymous studio behind popular VR social space Rec Room says porting the game to PS VR2 would be too expensive.

So, enabling folks to more easily use PS VR2 for virtual reality experiences on PC is a smart idea. They'll be able to tap into a wider selection of games, including big hitters like Half Life: Alyx, on a headset that has excellent dual OLED displays. That could help Sony shift more PS VR2 units. It also gives Sony more of a reason to release Horizon: Call of the Mountain on PC so that the entire Horizon series is available on that platform.

Meanwhile, if Sony enables virtual desktop support, there's the possibility that PS VR2 users will be able to access Xbox Cloud Gaming through a web browser. Wouldn't that be something?

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/sony-is-working-on-official-pc-support-for-the-ps-vr2-150632224.html?src=rss
Kris Holt

Hero Journey Club wants to meet gamers’ mental health needs, just don’t call it therapy

2 days 21 hours ago

Maybe you’ve seen the ads on social media: “Crush depression with Animal Crossing”; “Meet with a therapist while playing Stardew Valley.”

Advertisements for Hero Journey Club’s gamer-focused mental health support groups have flooded the internet in recent months, drawing a mix of skepticism and enthusiastic intrigue from those who have been targeted by them. “Struggling with loneliness? Come join us,” the ads beckon. For some people who already turn to video games as an antidote to the difficulties of everyday life, Hero Journey Club’s promises of community and a safe space to do inner work really hit home.

But while Hero Journey Club may be a lot like therapy, the service it provides is not therapy, technically. It’s not licensed healthcare, a point that anyone who signs up is told from the outset and must consent to before proceeding. The Journey Guides, however — as the session leaders are called — are qualified mental health professionals.

To be hired, one must have at least a master’s degree from an accredited graduate program in clinical psychology, mental health counseling, marriage/family therapy or licensed social work, says CEO and Hero Journey Club co-founder Brian Chhor. They must be either licensed or in the license-eligible phase of obtaining their credentials. And, of course, they should be passionate about gaming.

Hero Journey Club, which launched in 2022, offers support for people dealing with loneliness, depression, anxiety, addiction and other issues. Journey Guides do not dispense diagnoses or treatment, but lead group discussions under the framework of some of the most common psychotherapy approaches. That includes acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

A subscription costs $30 per week, which gives participants (Journeyers) access to weekly sessions held over Discord voice chats, each lasting about 80 minutes. New users are matched with a group of up to five people based on information they provide during the onboarding process, but Journeyers’ identities are kept completely anonymous beyond their Discord handles and the names they’ve chosen to have others call them by. Each group has its own private server, where users can stream gameplay.

Hero Journey Club

The gaming element is meant to serve as both a means to help people relate to one another and to give them something to do with their hands, Chhor told Engadget. Some groups play “cozycore” games like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing: New Horizons, while others may play Valheim, Red Dead Redemption 2 or something else. The game doesn’t have to be multiplayer; in some groups, everyone might be playing different games. Journey Guides sometimes plan in-game activities for their groups to work on — like decorating a space in Animal Crossing based on one’s inner-child — or just let everyone play their own way.

Chhor, who started working with digital health startups after studying regenerative medicine and biodesign at Stanford University, told Engadget the mission behind Hero Journey Club is one he has a personal connection to. He grew up in a family that often used video games as a way “to cope through stress and to escape,” and gaming over Discord is how they came together during the pandemic to support a cousin who was struggling with loneliness and suicidal ideation but didn’t have immediate access to therapy.

“Mental illness, I’ve seen, primarily impacts people who are the most vulnerable in our society,” Chhor told Engadget. That got him thinking about creating “a community-first model,” one “that can take therapy out of the clinic, and into the spaces where people already spend time and feel connected.”

The cost of one-on-one therapy can be a huge barrier for those seeking help, on average falling somewhere between $100-200 per session in the US without insurance, which many therapists do not accept. For people who don’t live in a major city, the availability of practitioners can be extremely limited, while therapists in dense metropolitan areas are overloaded with bookings amid soaring demand for mental health services.

And people of color, LGBTQIA+ people and others from marginalized communities remain underserved, often facing biases and discrimination that lead to inadequate care or prevent them from getting any care at all. Even group therapy in its more traditional forms, while significantly more affordable at an estimated one-third to one-half the price of individualized treatment, can seem daunting for people with social anxiety.

Hero Journey Club aims not only to “foster a sense of belonging through community,” Chhor said, “but also, using evidence-based techniques, to help people get the tools they need.” For one, the sessions give Journeyers a place to work on interpersonal skills and, ideally, learn how to structure healthy relationships and set boundaries that serve their needs, HJC’s Chief Clinical Officer Derrick Hull told Engadget. Hull holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Columbia University and has been in the psych tech space for over a decade, most recently working for Talkspace and, previously, Noom.

Journeyers also work toward greater psychological flexibility, or a person’s ability to adapt and cope with stressors like negative or disturbing feelings, instead of being consumed by them, Hull said. A lot of people are “afraid to feel their feelings,” he said. “They don't know what to do with their feelings, especially in a social setting where the stakes are a little bit higher: ‘What if I overreact, what if I fall apart?’” Journeyers can develop that emotional regulation while being part of “a community where everybody feels seen and supported.”

Research in recent years has added support to the idea that gaming — especially with others — can have positive therapeutic effects. A 2021 systematic review of more than two dozen studies concluded that playing commercial video games can in some cases help to reduce stress and anxiety levels. The potential benefits aren’t tied to one genre or format alone, either; the different studies observed improvements in players of casual puzzle games, AR games, action-adventure and survival horror titles, among others. And unlike games that are created specifically for therapy settings, commercial games are widely known and readily available.

Writing for The Conversation earlier this year, Tyler Prochnow, an Assistant Professor of Health Behavior at Texas A&M University, noted that young men in particular are less likely to seek out mental health support due to social stigmas, and cooperative gaming in that case can be a critical intervention. Video games can help them “find empathy and build crucial social connections,” he wrote, adding that “the social features of online games may literally provide young men a lifeline when they have nowhere else to turn.”

As skeptics on social media have frequently pointed out in response to the Hero Journey Club ads, anyone can create a Discord server to bring fans of a particular game together for free. Plenty such gathering places already exist. But that argument neglects to account for the people who struggle to make friends on their own. And, online spaces made up of large groups of strangers have a tendency to breed toxic behavior.

Hero Journey Club strives to offer a gaming community where toxicity is absent. “You have to be able to create that kind of safety in order for a community to actually solve the loneliness problem,” Hull said.

Both Chhor and Hull say Journey Guides are thoroughly vetted in a multi-stage interview process, not just to ensure their on-paper qualifications are up to snuff but also to be certain they’re adequately able to address the needs of a diverse userbase. Most Journeyers are between ages 18 and 45, with the bulk of them in their late 20s and early 30s. Many are neurodivergent, queer and/or people of color. According to Chhor, 70 percent come from marginalized communities.

Hero Journey Club

In its infancy, though, Hero Journey Club still has some of its own issues to sort out. The company is working to tighten up its admittedly broad privacy policy to assuage any concerns about how Journeyers’ personal information might be used. Other high-profile telecounseling platforms before it haven’t set the best example; last year the FTC came after BetterHelp for allegedly sharing customers’ data — including health information — with Facebook, Snapchat and other third parties for targeted advertising without explicit user consent.

Hero Journey Club does not share users’ information or personal stories for advertising purposes unless they’ve signed a waiver giving the company permission to do so, a spokesperson told Engadget. Any data used for other reasons, like research, is anonymized.

Additionally, some people who tried out the service have said it all felt a bit disorganized, that the reality didn’t didn’t quite line up with the expectations they had based on how it’s marketed.

John, a 37-year-old lifelong gamer and new father, told Engadget he signed up for Hero Journey Club a few months ago while dealing with loneliness after moving with his family from Oklahoma to Seattle. “I thought, maybe this is a nice place where I’ll be able to find people to be friends with,” he said. “I’m an older person, so it’s harder for me to go out and meet people.”

But he says the first session left a bad taste in his mouth, so he didn’t go back. It felt like the Journey Guide was being “kind of irreverent,” he said, and when he chimed into the group discussions he said he was shut down by the guide, who said he was giving unsolicited advice. It left him feeling concerned that “the social interactions are going to be moderated too much” to allow for any real connections to be made. And, “We didn't talk about video games,” he said. “Nobody was streaming their video games. Nothing.”

“It feels like an unfinished product,” he told Engadget. “It feels like they're trying to do something but they're inexperienced with it.”

Amanda McGuire — who says she applied to work as a Journey Guide while in school for her master’s — told Engadget that the way it’s advertised felt “a little misleading” after she had the opportunity for a closer look, both in terms of the mental health services and the actual involvement of gaming. As part of the interview process, McGuire had to lead a Hero Journey Club session. She ultimately was not offered the position but has since gone on to work for Therapists of Color New England as a clinical therapist.

Interactive therapy, McGuire said, can be a great thing, and she’s worked with children and teenagers using approaches like VR. “Sometimes, we'll play Minecraft and talk, and I think it can be a great tool. But I’m not sure if it works the way they have everything structured with Hero Journey Club.”

Hero Journey Club

The anonymous Discord setup was “disorienting,” with no video to put a face to who may be talking at a given moment, and the fact that it doesn’t offer participants true clinical care didn’t sit right with her. “I'm concerned that people will try to replace actual therapy with Hero Journey Club,” she said.

Guides can help Journeyers connect with licensed healthcare professionals outside of Hero Journey Club so they can receive diagnoses and individualized treatments, both Chhor and Hull said. They’re encouraged to take such steps, and Journey Guides are equipped to provide Journeyers with crisis resources if needed.

Of the people who have found community in Hero Journey Club, some say it’s been invaluable — a place where they can come out of their shell and finally feel heard. “The Journey Guides are really good at what they do,” an anonymous Journeyer who deals with agoraphobia, social anxiety and other issues told the Daily Dot last year. The HJC community, they said, has “genuinely helped [them] quite a lot.”

Others have been quick to come to the service’s defense against the naysayers online, many saying they’ve found it to be a safe and welcoming space where they can work through difficult issues. “They're doing good work, though it's also clear that they're still learning,” one person commented in response to a Reddit post last January that questioned Hero Journey Club’s authenticity.

In the time since, Hero Journey Club has grown sixteenfold, according to Chhor. The retention rate is high, he said, and people stay with it for about seven months on average. “Our first three groups are still with us today,” Chhor said. This month marks two years, “and they're still with us.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/hero-journey-club-wants-to-meet-gamers-mental-health-needs-just-dont-call-it-therapy-150027098.html?src=rss
Cheyenne MacDonald

Our favorite instant-read meat thermometer is on sale for $79

2 days 22 hours ago

The Thermapen One instant-read meat thermometer is on sale for $79, which is $30 off the MSRP of $109. This is an Engadget exclusive and the sale runs from February 22 through February 28, or whenever the stock runs dry. In other words, move quickly if you want to snag one of these.

There are plenty of meat thermometers out there, but this is our favorite. The Thermapen One made our list of the best grilling gear for several reasons. It’s incredibly fast, offering precise temperature calculations in under a second. The display is bright and easy to read, with an auto-rotating screen that makes the numbers easy to see no matter how you hold it.

At the end of the day, speed and precision are what you want with a meat thermometer. The Thermapen One kicks it up a notch, however, by including a sleep/auto-wake feature that preserves battery life and an IP67 rating to protect it from accidental spills. Gravy and sauce will always find a way to get on just about everything.

The Thermapen One also made our list of the best small kitchen gadgets, as you can’t get much smaller than a thermometer. We called it “the best your money can buy.” As a matter of fact, the only bad thing you can say about this thing is that it costs more than rival products. This sale helps offset that. Again, the deal disappears into a puff of smoke on February 28 or when supplies run out.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/our-favorite-instant-read-meat-thermometer-is-on-sale-for-79-140045704.html?src=rss
Lawrence Bonk

NVIDIA is testing an app that unifies GeForce Experience and Control Panel

2 days 22 hours ago

NVIDIA is testing out a new unified app that lets users adjust GPU settings, install software and fine-tune gameplay, all from the same place. Currently, you have to access the dated Control Panel app and do some heavy menu diving to do stuff like configuring G-Sync. There’s also an entirely separate "user-friendly" app called GeForce Experience for basic GPU adjustments, driver updates and quick settings. So this collapses two different things into one.

The appropriately-named NVIDIA app is just a beta for now, but seems to do a whole lot. You can use it to update drivers, discover and install standalone applications like GeForce Now and make all kinds of GPU adjustments. To further simplify things for PC gamers, you can also use it to fine-tune both game settings and driver settings. It’s pretty much a one-stop shop.

There’s a redesigned in-game overlay for easier access to recording tools and performance monitoring. The overlay also lets you apply various gameplay filters, including AI-powered filters available to GeForce RTX users. The app looks to be squarely aimed at those who balk at the perceived complexity of PC gaming. You can even use it to redeem bundles and rewards and opt into experimental features and new RTX capabilities. 

Speaking of new RTX capabilities, the app lets users easily experiment with that new remix tool that adds AI-optimized upscaled textures to older games. The celebrated Half Life 2 is getting an unofficial RTX remaster thanks to this technology. The app will also have access to a new feature called RTX Dynamic Vibrance that beefs up visual clarity and improves upon the current Digital Vibrance feature found in the current Control Panel app.

To celebrate this beta release, NVIDIA has unveiled a new Game Ready Driver for the survival crafting game Nightingale. This driver optimizes the game with DLSS 3 and adds the company’s Reflex latency-reducing tech. As for the beta, it’s available for download right now. So go ahead and give it a shot.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nvidia-is-testing-an-app-that-unifies-geforce-experience-and-control-panel-140037038.html?src=rss
Lawrence Bonk

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth review: A whole new world

2 days 22 hours ago

I’m not sure if there’s a good way to name the second part of a trilogy of games based on an original title that’s the seventh in a series of games. But this one is called Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.

Rebirth takes the characters and world reintroduced with Remake and does a better job at scaling it all up. Instead of one single metropolis, Midgar, this time, it’s a world tour. There’s also an expanded roster of playable characters almost doubling Remake’s total, each with a unique playstyle once again.

The expansive new world finally takes advantage of the PS5 hardware. Rebirth feels like a fantasy world and Square Enix has successfully combined exploration in a Final Fantasy title with rich, dense cities and settlements, more like its golden era RPGs. Sure, Final Fantasy XVI gave me world to explore, but there wasn’t much in a lot of it. (Even if it had the narrative excuses for why.)

The Gold Saucer is a multi-story Disneyland with mogs and chocobo characters emblazoned everywhere, theme park rides, travelators, holograms and glossy surfaces. Meanwhile, Cosmo Canyon looks like a tree house that took a hundred years to make, filled with tourists and woo-woo hippies. There is even a hippie circle where you can share your truth. (Funnily enough, there’s an Ayahuasca-style vision sequence in the game, which has nothing to do with Cosmo Canyon – which is a bit of a waste.)

The story of Rebirth follows protagonist Cloud and the rest of his party as they chase antagonist Sephiroth, getting sinister mega-corporation Shinra riled up along the way.

Cloud seems increasingly unhinged as Sephiroth seemingly worms his way into his head. It is a slightly different route to the original game, adding an extra layer on top of the missed memories and his unusual origins. In fact, in the second half of Rebirth, not only does Cloud become increasingly unlikeable, but I start to dislike the rest of the party for not calling him out on his poor decisions and weird behavior. Childhood friend Tifa? You're an enabler. My unease with the main characters persists through to the end, unfortunately.

The party hops between towns, boarding ships, or finding different breeds of giant rideable birds that can traverse mountains or shallow water. It’s these areas outside of the city hubs where the exploration, the battles and the side quests happen. So many side quests.

Remake had some dull side quests – a lot of fetch quests seemingly there to eke out the playtime. Rebirth suffers from this too – this isn’t quite Witcher-level side quests – and I think it’s exacerbated when you’re playing a game whose story beats you kinda know, as you’re going to feel diverted from them.

As you enter new regions, new points of interest will populate your map. These can range from natural springs to artifact hunts (featuring an iconic Final Fantasy series mainstay) that could include holographic battles, a new tower defense game and a card game that I was more than willing to invest a little too much time into.

There's also a lot of items to pick-up, reminding anyone of the gathering-and-crafting headaches of many current-gen games, from Baldur's Gate 3 to Horizon to... most open-world games, to be honest. Fortunately, despite my trepidation, you don't have to collect everything. The game provided enough items just through my normal exploration to make the items I wanted. Particularly potent accessories and items are usually locked behind an item that only the strongest monster in a certain region drops. 

Square Enix

At least the lion’s share of side quests, games and challenges are optional. If you’re not interested in figuring out a route to a rocky outcrop to defeat a monster, then you really don’t have to. You can just make a beeline for the next primary objective and see where the story goes.

Rebirth doesn’t address all the questions you may have about this Remake trilogy. You’ll have to wait for the third part of the story, and I also don’t want to ruin the story for fans who waited decades for this project. 

There are occasional flash… sideways, to an alternate timeline where most of the original party died in an accident, but spin-off protagonist, Zack, another SOLDIER like Cloud, is still alive. His death in the original game was a major story beat, alongside another: the death of main party member Aerith. Does she survive Chapter 2? Will this be Final Fantasy 7’s The Empire Strikes Back? I can't say but there is one particularly satisfying final battle.

Some side quests held my attention. If anything, sometimes I got so distracted that I lost track of the story’s twists and turns. Rebirth benefits from a rich collection of characters both from Remake and the original, helping to add interest to what are sometimes merely item-collecting quests.

More often than not, I was happy to be distracted because the art direction and environment design were just so gorgeous. It all looks bigger and better than Remake, no more two-dimensional wallpaper skies and horizons. From the top of Cosmo Canyon, you can still see the fans of the Cosmo area, there for your flying bird exploration.

During my playthrough, there were some questionable graphic textures, especially in the overworld, but Square Enix launched a patch to correct most of this a day before this review’s embargo. While I'm no pixel peeper or FPS obsessive, before the patch I did find Performance mode (FF7 Rebirth once again offers a high-frame option and a high-res option to play in) a little too blurry. I hope future updates address that. Despite all that, this is often the prettiest PS5 game since Horizon Forbidden West.

Once again, Square Enix has folded in a soundtrack filled with new melodies and even more remixes and reimaginings of the basic MIDI originals from 1997. My pick: the new Cosmo region overworld theme, which screams Beck. A music reference also from 1997.

Square Enix

This game is delightfully stupid in places, intentionally. There’s a sense of humor that gets as ridiculous as any Like a Dragon sidequest. Segways? Yes. Ninja clones of the most annoying character, yes, a catdog riding a giant bird, yes.

The battle system takes what Remake introduced and adds further cooperative attacks and skills. There are synergy skills, instant, no-cost attacks and defensive moves that combine your controlling character with party allies. Then there are synergy abilities (completely different) that build up over a battle, as you use your more typical attacks and spells. These are more like special attacks, often ensuring you can beat tricky enemies. Alongside damage, they’ll offer a buff, like faster attack gauges, unlimited MP or raising the limit levels of characters to even more powerful ultimate moves.

Square Enix

It seems, at the start, excessive, and I am someone who owns a $150 polygon figurine of Cloud in a dress. The whole system (including pressuring and staggering, the elemental weaknesses, status effects, buffs, debuffs, limit breaks, and an active time battle (ATB) gauge needed to do anything substantive with your players) is a lot.

Even if you’re coming from Remake, as I did, Rebirth’s battle system can overwhelm at the start. While the game introduces these new synergies in simpler two-party battles, it never quite offers a good enough explanation for utilizing it in early battles. As I mentioned in my preview, there’s a new aerial combat system, but aside from Cloud, I have no idea how to launch other characters into the air without tapping into dedicated synergy abilities.

Fortunately, the battle system as a whole, muddy learning curve aside, is fun. And extremely satisfying once you figure out the patterns and behaviors of certain bosses. I'll admit: I died a few times. But I never felt frustrated by it.  

I really enjoyed the battle challenges in Remake, and Rebirth has seemingly just shy of a hundred of them, spread across battle arenas, holodeck fights and rare monsters in the wild. I’m already fascinated with the card game Queen’s Blood. Card games have their own entire side-story, but the best parts are the card ‘puzzles’ where you have to really understand how the more unique cards work to win.

Square Enix

Other highlights include a bunch of reimagined minigames beyond the Queen’s Blood, though. So. Many. Minigames. There’s a new Fort Condor tower defense game, the bike ride battle from Remake, a holographic Super Punch-Out-styled game, a Star Fox-style shoot-em-up – in fact Super Nintendo seems to have heavily inspired the game selection at Rebirth’s Gold Saucer amusement park. There’s a lot to do, and while there are certainly repetitive elements, it feels like the game is providing them for completionists, not everyone else.

I completed all the side quests in two areas, playing the game in a new dynamic difficulty setting, where enemies won’t scale down their levels as you play, but they will scale up, meaning you’re not going to steamroll the game if you’ve grinded for a few levels before. Of course, there’s standard difficulty too. It will definitely be a challenging playthrough if you haven’t played Remake. And don’t worry if you haven’t the original 1997 game: Rebirth ensures die-hard fans and newcomers can follow along, with many easter eggs for the former if they pay attention.

Rebirth is the difficult middle chapter. Remake on the PS4 showed it was possible to imagine a PlayStation game for the modern era, with deeper combat, and beautiful graphics, but perhaps not quite the heft to create FF7, the world. That's what Rebirth seems to achieve. Looking back on Remake now, entirely set in the city of Midgar, it seems claustrophobic by comparison. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/final-fantasy-7-rebirth-review-a-whole-new-world-140018063.html?src=rss
Mat Smith

Scientists develop 'nanosphere' paint that could reduce planes' carbon dioxide emissions

2 days 22 hours ago

Paint might not seem like the heaviest component to consider when building a large device like an airplane, but its mass can add up. Now, a new and lightweight substance could provide a welcome substitute: Two material scientists from Kobe University, Fujii Minoru and Sugimoto Hiroshi, have discovered nanospheres that are near-invisible silicone crystals. The particles can reflect light thanks to very large and efficient scattering, research published in the journal of ACS Applied Nano Matter details. The result could mean covering a surface in vibrant color while only adding 10 percent of the weight that paint would bring, Fast Company reports.

This reduction could have a tremendous impact on factors such as cost and carbon dioxide produced. Simply put, a plane must use more fuel as its weight goes up, thus directly increasing the amount of money airlines spend (and then charge customers), along with the quantity of fuel burned as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Minoru and Hiroshi's discovery focuses on structural rather than pigment color to exhibit and maintain hues. The former absorbs wavelengths while reflecting the ones the human eye picks up. Structural colors, on the other hand, are "intense and bright colors result from the interaction of light with periodic micro- and nanostructures that cause color by interference, coherent scattering, or diffraction," according to the Encyclopedia of Nanotechnology.

The team's work follows previous research in which they were able to build nanocrystals to a specific size. Then came the creation of colloquial suspension, which keeps the crystalline silicon nanoparticles mixed with supporting liquid rather than separating. At present, the color of the nanosphere-based ink varies as the team changes the nanocrystals' sizes. Larger particles create warm hues like red, while smaller particles display cooler tones like blue. These shades should remain identical no matter the angle at which a person sees them.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/scientists-develop-nanosphere-paint-that-could-reduce-planes-carbon-dioxide-emissions-134733040.html?src=rss
Sarah Fielding

Xiaomi 14 Ultra combines a 1-inch camera sensor with four AI imaging models

2 days 23 hours ago

Xiaomi just couldn't wait until MWC to unveil its latest Leica-endorsed flagship phone. Following the 12S Ultra and 13 Ultra, Xiaomi is finally catching up with the competition by picking up Sony's second-gen 1-inch mobile camera sensor, the LYT-900, for its brand new 14 Ultra flagship phone. This marks the second device to don this crème de la crème of imaging silicons, after Oppo's Hasselblad-tuned Find X7 Ultra from early January. That said, the Xiaomi 14 Ultra does have a slight edge with its faster main variable aperture at up to f/1.63, beating the Find X7 Ultra's f/1.8 — on paper, at least.

With the exception of the faster f/2.5 aperture on the new 120mm periscope shooter, the remaining three Summilux rear cameras are almost identical to the previous set, and they are still powered by a Sony IMX858 sensor each. The biggest change in this field is the new Xiaomi AISP neural chip, which claims to be the world's first AI large-model computational platform for photography. This leverages four large models — "FusionLM," "ToneLM," "ColorLM" and "PortraitLM" — to fine-tune results, especially with digital zoom at 30x or more.

Xiaomi

The 14 Ultra also packs some surprises in the battery, durability and connectivity categories. As seen in the super-slim Mix Fold 3 and Honor Magic V2, the 14 Ultra is Xiaomi's first candybar to jump onto the silicon carbon cell bandwagon, in order to pack 5,300mAh of juice into a space that's 8 percent smaller. Xiaomi claims that compared to the previous model, you get 17-percent more stamina with this battery upgrade. To replenish the battery, you get both 90W of wired fast charging and 80W of wireless fast charging — these take 12.5 minutes and 20 minutes to reach 50 percent, respectively.

Going along with the "Year of the Dragon" theme, Xiaomi claims that the 14 Ultra's "Dragon Armor" structure has double the bending resistance, thanks to its special "6M42" aluminum alloy mid-frame (supposedly crafted with a better grip as well). The Chinese brand even claims that this part is 8-percent stronger than the iPhone 15 Pro's titanium frame." aluminum alloy mid-frame (supposedly crafted with a better grip as well). The Chinese brand even claims that this part is 8-percent stronger than the iPhone 15 Pro's titanium frame, but it decided to offer a more premium titanium version as well.

Xiaomi

This metallic frame is complemented by a "Dragon Crystal" glass — shielding the 6.73-inch AMOLED screen (3,200 x 1,440 120Hz; made by TCL CSOT) — with apparently 10 times more drop resistance. Xiaomi also touts its new vegan leather material, which has been certified by SGS to have six times more wear resistance, has more dirt resistance and is less prone to yellowing due to ultraviolet rays — an important breakthrough particularly for the white version. But if you prefer something shiny, the 14 Ultra is also available in a blue "Dragon Crystal" ceramic flavor, which resembles ceramic but isn't as heavy — it only weighs 5 grams more than its vegan leather counterpart. Regardless of the cover material, this device has IP68 rating for dust and water resistance.

Much like the 14 and 14 Pro from October (and the SU7 electric sedan's in-car entertainment system), the 14 Ultra runs on Xiaomi's Android-based HyperOS, and it's powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor. This is cooled by a dual-loop vapor chamber, which also sucks heat out of the camera modules. The processor is backed by Xiaomi's new proprietary chip, the Surge T1, which apparently boosts cellular connectivity by up to 37 percent, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections by up to 16 percent.

Xiaomi

This device also supports two-way satellite calling and texting, now with 60-percent faster satellite locking and 29-percent faster satellite connection. As a bonus, when you're lost, you can send your location data along with vital signs from your wearable device — presumably exclusive to one of the latest Xiaomi watches or smart bands. Sadly, these satellite features are likely limited to China for now.

We'll likely be hearing about the Xiaomi 14 Ultra's global launch at MWC next week, but for now, we can refer to the Chinese pre-order pricing. The vegan leather and ceramic variants all start from 6,499 yuan (about $900) for the 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage configuration, and max out at 7,799 yuan ($1,080) with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. These will be available for retail from February 27. The titanium version with dark gray vegan leather is based on the top configuration but costs an extra 1,000 yuan ($140), and it won't be available until March 12.

Xiaomi

Likes its predecessor, the 14 Ultra has an optional photography kit with a shutter button grip that adds an extra 1,500mAh of power. The upgrade this time is the new video recording button, along with a customizable jog dial. You can get this accessory for 699 yuan ($100) as a bundle with the phone.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/xiaomi-14-ultra-combines-a-1-inch-camera-sensor-with-four-ai-imaging-models-131127654.html?src=rss
Richard Lai

The best gaming laptops for 2024

2 days 23 hours ago

Gaming laptops are the true Transformers of the PC world: They’re powerful enough to play your favorite titles, but you can also harness their speed for media creation or extreme multitasking, like streaming high-resolution gameplay to Twitch. These days, you can even find some that weigh less than the smallest MacBook Pro, making them capable ultraportable productivity machines too. For the demanding Apex Legends player, or the power user just looking for a capable GPU to handle video encoding, it’s easier than ever to find a gaming laptop that works for you. We’ve outlined our current top picks here, along with everything you need to know before purchasing a gaming laptop.

What we look for in a gaming laptop

Price 

Your laptop buying journey starts and ends with the amount of money you're willing to spend. No surprise there. The good news: There are plenty of options for gamers of every budget. In particular, we're seeing some great entry-level PC gaming choices under $1,000, like Dell's G15 lineup. A cheap gaming laptop in this price range will definitely feel a bit flimsier than pricier models, and they'll likely skimp on RAM, storage and overall power. But most cheaper laptops should be able to handle the majority of video games running at 1080p at 60 frames per second, which is the bare minimum you'd want from any system.

Things get interesting when you start looking at the best gaming laptops in the mid-range space, with prices at $1,000 and higher. At that point, you'll start finding PCs like the ASUS Zephyrus ROG G14, one of our favorite gaming notebooks. In general, you can look forward to far better build quality than budget laptops (metal cases!), improved graphics power and enough RAM and storage space to handle the most demanding games. These are the gaming machines we'd recommend for most people, as they'll keep you gaming and working for years before you need to worry about an upgrade.

If you're willing to spend around $1,800 or more, you can start considering more premium options like Razer's Blade. Expect impeccably polished cases, the fastest hardware on the market, and ridiculously thin designs. The sky's the limit here: Alienware's uber customizable Area 51m is an enormous beast that can cost up to $4,700. Few people need a machine that high-end, but if you're a gamer with extra cash to burn, it may be worth taking a close look at some of these pricier systems.


CPU and GPU

The answer to this question used to be relatively simple: Just get an Intel chip with an NVIDIA GPU. But over the last few years AMD has stepped up its game with its Ryzen notebook processors, which are better suited for juggling multiple tasks at once (like streaming to Twitch while blasting fools in Fortnite). Intel responded with its impressive 12th and 13th-gen chips, but it’s nice to have decent Ryzen AMD alternatives available, especially since they’re often cheaper than comparable Intel models.

When it comes to video cards, though, AMD is still catching up. Its Radeon RX 6000M GPU has been a fantastic performer in notebooks like ASUS’s ROG Strix G15, but it lags behind NVIDIA when it comes to newer features like ray tracing. (We’re still waiting to test AMD’s new Radeon 7000 series mobile graphics.) At the very least, a Radeon-powered notebook can approach the general gaming performance of the NVIDIA RTX 3070 and 3080 GPUs.

If you want to future-proof your purchase, or you’re just eager to see how much better ray tracing can make your games look, you’re probably better off with an NVIDIA video card. They’re in far more systems, and it’s clear that they have better optimized ray tracing technology. NVIDIA GeForce RTX GPUs also feature the company’s DLSS technology, which uses AI to upscale games to higher resolutions. That’ll let you play a game like Destiny 2 in 4K with faster frame rates. That’s useful if you’re trying to take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor.

You’ll still find plenty of laptops with NVIDIA’s older RTX 30-series GPUs these days, and they’ll still give you tremendous performance. But to be safe, it’s probably worth opting for the newer RTX 40-series systems, since they support the newer DLSS 3 technology and offer a wealth of performance upgrades. (If you’re looking out for the best deals, you can probably find some killer RTX 3070 laptops out there.) The entry-level RTX 4050 is a solid start, but we’d suggest going for a 4060 or 4070 if you’re aiming to maximize your framerates on faster screens. The RTX 4080 and RTX 4090 are both incredibly powerful, but they typically make systems far too expensive for most users.

It’s worth noting that NVIDIA’s mobile graphics cards aren’t directly comparable to its more powerful desktop hardware. PC makers can also tweak voltages to make gaming performance better in a thinner case. Basically, these laptops may not be desktop replacements — don’t be surprised if you see notebooks that perform very differently, even if they’re all equipped with the same GPU.


Screen and refresh rate

Screen size is a good place to start when judging gaming notebooks. In general, 15-inch laptops will be the best balance of immersion and portability, while larger 17-inch models are heftier, but naturally give you more screen real estate. There are some 13-inch gaming notebooks, like the Razer Blade Stealth, but paradoxically you'll often end up paying more for those than slightly larger 15-inch options. We’re also seeing plenty of 14-inch options, like the Zephyrus G14 and Blade 14, which are generally beefier than 13-inch laptops while still being relatively portable.

But these days, there is plenty to consider beyond screen size. For one: refresh rates. Most monitors refresh their screens vertically 60 times per second, or at 60Hz. That's a standard in use since black and white NTSC TVs. But over the past few years, displays have evolved considerably. Now, 120Hz 1080p screens are the bare minimum you'd want in any gaming notebook — and there are faster 144Hz, 240Hz and even 360Hz panels. All of this is in the service of one thing: making everything on your display look as smooth as possible.

For games, higher refresh rates also help eliminate screen tearing and other artifacts that could get in the way of your frag fest. And for everything else, it just leads to a better viewing experience. Even scrolling a web page on a 120Hz or faster monitor is starkly different from a 60Hz screen. Instead of seeing a jittery wall of text and pictures, everything moves seamlessly, as if you're unwinding a glossy paper magazine. Going beyond 120Hz makes gameplay look even more responsive, which to some players gives them a slight advantage.

Steve Dent/Engadget

Not to make things more complicated, but you should also keep an eye out for NVIDIA's G-SYNC and AMD's FreeSync. They're both adaptive sync technologies that can match your screen's refresh rate with the framerate of your game. That also helps to reduce screen tearing and make gameplay smoother. Consider them nice bonuses on top of a high refresh rate monitor; they're not necessary, but they can still offer a slight visual improvement.

See Also:

One more thing: Most of these suggestions are related to LCD screens, not OLEDs. While OLED makes a phenomenal choice for TVs, it's a bit more complicated when it comes to gaming laptops. They're mostly limited to 60Hz, though some models offer 90Hz. Still, you won’t see the smoothness of a 120Hz or 144Hz screen. OLEDs also typically come as 4K or 3.5K panels – you'll need a ton of GPU power to run games natively at that resolution. They look incredible, with the best black levels and contrast on the market, but we think most gamers would be better off with an LCD.

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget


Other things to remember when buying a gaming laptop:

  • Get at least 16GB of RAM. And if you're planning to do a ton of multitasking while streaming, 32GB is worth considering.

  • Storage is still a huge concern. These days, I'd recommend aiming for a 1TB M.2 SSD, which should be enough space to juggle a few large titles like Destiny 2. (If you can afford the jump to a 2TB SSD though, just do it.) Some laptops also have room for standard SATA hard drives, which are far cheaper than M.2's and can hold more data.

  • Get your hands on a system before you buy it. I'd recommend snagging the best gaming laptop for you from a retailer with a simple return policy, like Amazon or Best Buy. If you don't like it, you can always ship it back easily.

  • Don't forget about accessories! For the best performance, you'll need a good mouse, keyboard and headphones.

How we test gaming laptops

We review gaming laptops with the same amount of rigor as we approach traditional notebooks. We test build quality by checking cases for any undesirable flexible spots, as well as the strength of screen hinges during furious typing and Halo Infinite sessions. We benchmark every gaming notebook with PCMark 10, a variety of 3DMark tests, Cinebench and Geekbench. We also use NVIDIA’s Frameview app to measure the average framerates in Cyberpunk 2077, Halo Infinite and other titles. For media creation, we transcode a 4K movie clip into 1080p using Handbrake’s CPU and GPU encoding options.

Displays are tested under indoor and outdoor lighting with productivity apps, video playback and gameplay. We also try to stress the full refresh rate of every gaming notebook’s screen by benchmarking Halo Infinite, Overwatch 2 and other titles. Laptop speakers are judged by how well they can play back music, movies and the occasional game session with detail and clarity, and without any obvious distortion.

When it comes to battery life, we see how long gaming systems last with a mixture of real-world productivity apps and gameplay, and we also test with PCMark 10’s “Modern office” battery test. In addition, we’re judging the quality of a machine’s keyboard with typing tests as well as relative accuracy and comfort during extended gaming sessions.

Other gaming laptops we’ve tested

Framework Laptop 16

We were eager to test the Framework Laptop 16 since it promised both modular customizability and a decent amount of gaming power. But while we appreciated just how repairable and upgradeable it is, its actual gaming performance was middling for its high price. You could always buy it without the additional GPU, but that makes it more of a daily workhorse than a gaming system.

MSI Stealth Studio 14

On a brighter note, we were pleased to see MSI return to form with the Stealth Studio 14, which is far faster and more attractive than the previous model.

Razer Blade 16 and 18

We were amazed to see a genuine 4K/1080p native screen in the Razer Blade 16, but it’s far too expensive and impractical, even for such a pricey brand. Similarly, we found the Razer Blade 18 to be both oversized and overpriced.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-gaming-laptops-172033838.html?src=rss
Devindra Hardawar

Meta’s Oversight Board will now hear appeals from Threads users, too

2 days 23 hours ago

Meta’s Oversight Board is expanding its purview to include Threads. The group announced that Threads users will now be able to appeal Meta’s content moderation decisions, giving the independent group the ability to influence policies for Meta’s newest app.

It’s a notable expansion for the Oversight Board, which up until now has weighed in on content moderation issues related to Facebook and Instagram posts. “Having independent accountability early on for a new app such as Threads is vitally important.,” board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in a statement.

According to the Oversight Board, user appeals on Threads will function similarly to how they do on Instagram and Facebook. When users have “exhausted” Meta’s internal process, they’ll be able to request a review from the Oversight Board. Under the rules established when the board was formed, Meta is required to implement the board's decisions regarding specific posts, but isn’t obligated to adhere to its policy recommendations.

Adding Threads’ content moderation to the board’s scope underscores the growing influence of the Twitter-like app that launched last summer. Threads has already grown to 130 million users and Mark Zuckerberg has speculated that it could one day reach a billion users.

Officially, Threads has the same rules as Instagram. But Meta has already encountered some pushback from users over its policies for recommending content. Threads currently blocks search terms related to COVID-19 and other “potentially sensitive” topics. The company also raised some eyebrows when it said last week that it wouldn’t recommend accounts that post too much political content unless users choose to opt-in to such suggestions.

Regardless of whether the board ends up weighing in on those choices, it will likely be some time before Threads users see any changes as the result of the board’s recommendations. The Oversight Board only accepts a tiny fraction of user appeals, and it can take several weeks or months for the group to make a decision, and many more months for Meta to change any of its rules as a result of the guidance. (The board can, in some cases, expedite the process.)

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/metas-oversight-board-will-now-hear-appeals-from-threads-users-too-130003273.html?src=rss
Karissa Bell

The Morning After: These are the first Xbox-exclusive games heading to Switch and PS5

2 days 23 hours ago

In the big Nintendo Direct presentation yesterday, we learned of two of the four Xbox titles Microsoft said would appear on “the other consoles.” One of them is Pentiment, coming to Nintendo Switch, PS4 and PS5, well, today.

Microsoft

The critically acclaimed Pentiment has been an Xbox, PC and Xbox Cloud exclusive since launch in late 2022. It has an eye-catching animated historical art style — and is delightfully niche. The game’s director, Josh Sawyer, said creating and launching a game like this would never have been possible without Game Pass, which, as Kris Holt notes, makes it an unusual pick to be transferred to other platforms. Xbox boss Phil Spencer said earlier this month the titles hopping platforms had all been on Xbox and PC for at least a year and had hit their “full potential” on those platforms.

The other game coming to other consoles is Grounded — pretty much Honey I Shrunk the Kids, the game — and will land April 16. Microsoft also later confirmed that Hi-Fi Rush and Sea of Thieves are coming to PlayStation 5.

— Mat Smith

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Watch the first Borderlands movie trailer

It stars Cate Blanchett, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Hart and Jack Black.

YouTube

There’s a Borderlands movie coming out, and we have our very first teaser trailer. This footage gives us a glimpse of all of the major characters. Cate Blanchett is taking a nice fat paycheck starring as the famously short-tempered Lilith, who’s searching for a mysterious vault. Comedian Kevin Hart portrays the mercenary Roland, and Jamie Lee Curtis plays the scientist Dr. Tannis, who featured in all three games. Also, you can’t have a video game adaptation without Jack Black, it seems.

Continue reading.

Apple Sports puts real-time scores on your iPhone lockscreen

It’s a smoother way to follow your favorite teams.

Apple

Apple has launched a new iPhone app, offering real-time stats for a number of major sports leagues. Once you’ve installed Apple Sports, you can set your favorite team and get a trove of data on your lock screen in the live activities box when the team is playing. The app is free and available in the US, UK and Canada for basketball, hockey and soccer. The company said other sports, including baseball and football, will debut when new seasons kick off.

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FTC concludes Twitter didn’t violate data security rules, in spite of Musk’s orders

Staff disregarded Musk’s directive to provide outsiders with “full access to everything.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concluded Elon Musk ordered Twitter (now X) employees to take actions that would have violated FTC rules on consumer data privacy and security. Twitter security employees “took appropriate measures to protect consumers’ private information,” likely sparing Musk’s company from government repercussions. FTC chair Lina Khan wrote: “Ultimately, the third-party individuals did not receive direct access to Twitter’s systems, but instead worked with other company employees who accessed the systems on the individuals’ behalf.”

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This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-these-are-the-first-xbox-exclusive-games-heading-to-switch-and-ps5-121538895.html?src=rss
Mat Smith

India’s government is forcing X to censor accounts via executive order amid the farmers’ protest

3 days ago

X, formerly Twitter, is once again restricting content in India. The company's Global Government Affairs account announced that the Indian government had issued an executive order mandating that X withhold specific accounts and posts or face penalties such as "significant fines and imprisonment." X further stated that it doesn't agree with the order and is challenging it. 

The designated posts and accounts will only be blocked within India, however, there's no clear list of those affected. "Due to legal restrictions, we are unable to publish the executive orders, but we believe that making them public is essential for transparency," the Global Government Affairs post stated. "This lack of disclosure can lead to a lack of accountability and arbitrary decision-making." X claims to have notified all affected parties. 

The posts likely center around the ongoing farmers' protest, which, since February 13, has seen multiple farmers' unions on strike in a bid to get floor pricing, or a minimum support price, for crops sold. Violent clashes between protesters and police have already resulted in at least one death, AP News reports. Mohammed Zubair, an Indian journalist and co-founder of Alt News, shared purported screenshots of suspended accounts belonging to individuals critical of the current government, on-the-ground reporters, prominent farm unionists, and more. 

This forced blocking is far from the first incident between X and India. In 2022, X sued the Indian government for "arbitrarily and disproportionately" applying its IT laws passed the year prior. The law required the company to hire a point of contact for the local authorities and a domestic compliance officer. Prior to this concession, in early 2021, the Indian government had threatened to jail X's employees if posts about the then occurring farmers' protest stayed live on the site. Shortly after, the country mandated that X remove content criticizing its COVID-19 response.

India dismissed X's suit in June 2023, claiming the company didn't properly explain why it had ever delayed complying with the country's IT laws. The court also fined X 5 million rupees ($60,300), stating, "You are not a farmer but a billon dollar company." The order followed shortly after Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey claimed that India had threatened to raid employees' homes and shut down the site if the company hadn't taken down posts during the farmers' protest. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/indias-government-is-forcing-x-to-censor-accounts-via-executive-order-amid-the-farmers-protest-112617420.html?src=rss
Sarah Fielding

Google's sign-in and sign-up pages have a new look

3 days ago

After teasing it for the past couple of weeks, Google is rolling out a new sign-in page with a slightly cleaner design. The changes are small and don't affect functionality, but it's something that users encounter often, and Google has been using the previous version since it changed its logo, as far as I can see. 

The refresh puts the sign-in (and sign-up) page more in line with the company's Material Design ethic introduced back in 2014. To that end, it's now aligned left (instead of centered) and features an orientation that automatically adjusts to your screen's size — so it's wider on PC screens and narrower on smartphones. It shows up on all types of devices, but may not appear on older browsers, the company said. 

The biggest previous change Google made to its sign-in page was putting password entry onto a second page back in 2015. That update was made "in preparation for future authentication solutions that complement passwords," and to reduce confusion among people who have multiple Google accounts, it said at the time. 

Google emphasized that the change will be permanent, much like the switch to Gmail's integrated view. The rollout will be fairly gradual, starting on February 21 and set for completion by March 4, 2024.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/googles-sign-in-and-sign-up-pages-have-a-new-look-111546179.html?src=rss
Steve Dent