ZTE Axon M International Giveaway!

Welcome to the Sunday Giveaway, the place where we giveaway a new Android phone each and every Sunday!

A big congratulations to last week’s winners of the Best of Android Three Phone Giveaway: Stijn C. (Belgium), Alexander C. (USA), and Vlad I. (Canada).

This week we are giving away a brand new ZTE Axon M!

The phone of the future is here.

The ZTE Axon M has two 5.2-inch screens for double the productivity and double the fun. With those two screens, you’ll be able to run two apps side by side, or use both screens together as a whole canvas.

Under the hood, the Axon M comes with a Snapdragon 821 processor, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB of storage, and up to 2 TB of microSD expansion. It also has a 20 MP sensor with an f/1.8 aperture that can be used as both the front and back cameras.

Want to learn more about the ZTE Axon M? Check out our related coverage below:

  • ZTE Axon M review: the foldable phone is here
  • ZTE Axon M specs: two displays, Snapdragon 821, and a single 20 MP camera
  • ZTE Axon M: ZTE’s crazy foldable smartphone

Enter the giveaway here

ZTE Axon M International Giveaway!

Don’t miss: Best Android Phone (December 2017) Giveaway

Winners gallery

Terms & Conditions

  • The giveaway is an international giveaway (Except when we can not ship to your country.)
  • If we can not ship to your country, you will be compensated with an online gift card of equal MSRP value to the prize.
  • We are not responsible for lost shipments.
  • We are not responsible if your giveaway prize malfunctions.
  • You must be age of majority in your Country of residence.
  • We are not responsible for any duties or import fees that you may incur.
  • Only one entry per person; please do not enter multiple email addresses. We will verify all winners and if we detect multiple email addresses by the same person you will not be eligible to win.
  • We reserve all rights to make any changes to this giveaway.
  • This giveaway is operated by AndroidAuthority.
  • The prize will ship when it is available to purchase.

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms

The last time I wrote about idle games was nearly 2 years ago. In that time the games have evolved further. And if you look at my Steam account, Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms is a game I have played for over 300 hours. Or rather, not played. Or to be even more precise, played for a few hours, but have left running on my computer for over 300 hours. It’s complicated!

Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms combines the idle game genre with the RPG genre, and sprinkles a bit of an endless runner into the mix. You start out with one dwarven warrior, Bruenor (who is “famous” in the lore of D&D) on a side-scrolling screen encountering endless hordes of monsters on his way. The dwarf kills monsters, and you can help by dealing damage through clicking on monsters. Every monster drops gold. And that gold can be used to increase your click damage, or to increase the level of Bruenor, or unlock additional heroes and level those up. Once you have fulfilled certain requirements, e.g. kill 25 monsters, you can advance to the next level, where there is the next endless stream of monsters.

Because that is the point of an idle game, there isn’t a whole lot to do. However the game has more strategic depth than one would think, because you need to arrange your heroes in a formation. And with levels each hero acquires special abilities which influence his neighbors in the formation. At one point you will have more heroes available than there are slots in the formation. And selecting the best heroes in the best formation is far from a trivial task. In addition there are some story elements, mostly in the form of friendly banter between the heroes. So for an idle game it is the most interesting and strategic game I know. Yeah, I know, that isn’t saying much. But, anyway, I keep “playing” this.

The math behind the game is interesting in as far as it is exponential, and human brains have problems with exponential. Your stats and gold found quickly go up into million, billions, trillions, quadrillions, etc., until you switch to scientific notation in the settings because you don’t even know the units any more. The one thing that remains linear is gems, with just a handful of them dropping every 5 levels at each boss. With gems you can buy chests, which contain things like helpful potions or gear for your heroes. And, because this is a free-to-play game, of course you can also buy those chests for real money. I probably spent more than I should have, but sometimes when I feel down I use buying special offers in free-to-play games as a sort of retail therapy, and this is my current game of choice for this. I don’t claim that this is rational behavior. 🙂

One of the more interesting choices to do in this game is choosing when to stop a run and to start over. At the end of a run you get divine favor in function of the amount of gold you gathered. And that divine favor increases the amount of gold you will find on the next run. The exponential math is tuned in a way that your divine favor basically determines how far you get in a run, because at some point gold gathering and level gaining becomes very slow, while the monsters keep getting harder and harder, until you can’t beat them any more. So the ideal strategy is doing a run until you hit a progress wall, and then reset to collect divine favor and start the next run. The game is organized in a way that this also over time gives you access to different stories and locations. To make this trickier you can also spend your divine favor for bonuses, but of course if you spend too much the lack of divine favor hurts you more than the bonuses help.

The reason for my 300+ hours is something that I am not really happy about: Idle offline gives far less rewards than idle online. For example while the game is running online, you can set the levels to auto-advance. The latest patch even added “familiars”, which are legal click-bots, but also only work when the game is running. Thus one is pushed towards leaving the computer on for example at night. The whole thing smacks a bit of mining bitcoins, only that the rewards of the game are less valuable than bitcoins. Offline you still gather gold and divine favor at the level you currently are, but with diminishing returns. If you are on holiday and offline for a week you don’t come back with a huge amount of divine favor collected, you’d have gathered more online in a day or two. Still it is nice to get at least some rewards while offline.

Overall I like the game for the D&D Forgotten Realms theme, and the relatively large number of non-trivial decisions you need to make to advance. But it remains an idle game, and I am well aware that this won’t be everybody’s cup of tea.

7th Continent – Non-Spoiler Hints

As I mentioned before, some people consider the 7th Continent to be a very hard game. After playing some more and watching on Youtube how other people play, I think I know why. Basically the 7th Continent is Sid Meier’s definition of a good game: A series of interesting decisions. Which means that there is a very real possibility of making the wrong decisions. Now of course I can’t tell you which one is the good decision for each of the thousand cards in the game. But I can tell you how to avoid making systematically the wrong decisions in general gameplay.

1) The first easy systematic error is regarding your hand size. Every action in the game involves drawing cards (although sometimes you can draw zero of them); and whenever you draw cards, you can keep one of them. But at the end of the action you need to discard down to your hand size, which is just 5 in solo, 3 with two players, and even less with more players.

If you want to do well in the 7th Continent you need to first use the cards in your hand to get below your maximum hand size before you choose any action on a tile. That also means that when choosing cards to keep, the cards you can play quickly are better than those you might only need in certain situations. Think of it that way: Playing a card or discarding a card due to full hand size both end you with the card on the discard pile. But if you played it, you got some useful effect out of it, which is obviously better.

2) Look at the terrain tiles carefully. In the 7th Continent the artwork on the terrain tile is part of the gameplay and not just decoration. Most importantly look out for hidden numbers, which allow you to replace your current tile with one with more options. But other elements like plants can also become important, provided you found the information what that plant is good for. On some of the event cards the artwork is actually the clue to what is the right decision.

3) Hunt as much as possible. If a terrain card has animal tracks and a spot/observe action next to them, that frequently means a hunting ground. Unless your discard pile is empty, you’ll always want to hunt first, explore other stuff later. And of course you should cook the meat you find if at all possible.

These tips should get you started on a successful adventure full of exploration. If you still find the game too hard, you have two options: One is replaying from the start and using previous knowledge to concentrate on the essential stuff (my wife and me did much better on the starting isle the second time around). The other is to modify the rules. You can use the 777 card. Or you can create a save checkpoint, which is not foreseen in the rules: When you reach a card that feels like a major decision point in the game, e.g. a non-terrain card that asks you whether you want to go north, east, or west, you can simply take a notepad and write down the number of that card, as well as list the cards from your satchel/journal. Then if you die, you can restart from there instead of from the beginning, especially if you already did the beginning several times and don’t want to repeat it.

Facebook uses facial recognition to let you know when your face shows up in a picture

Facebook already uses facial recognition to some extent. Starting today, however, the social media juggernaut will expand on how it uses the technology by notifying you when someone uploads pictures with you in them, even if you weren’t tagged in them.

According to Facebook’s blog post, the idea behind Photo Review is to give you more control over your online identity by giving you more privacy settings to work with. For the time being, those settings are the only means to tinker with facial recognition, with folks being asked to grant Facebook permission to use facial recognition across the service.

This would allow Facebook to implement more features that use facial recognition, such as account recovery, though that remains to be seen. Facebook also says there will be an easier on-off switch if you find facial recognition to be more trouble than it’s worth.

As for Photo Review itself, it is powered by the same AI technology that suggest friends you might want to tag in your pictures. The good news here is that you do not have to be friends with someone for Photo Review to kick in — so long as you have friends in common, you will be notified.

When you are notified, you then have the choice to add your tag to the photo, leave yourself untagged, or report the photo as inappropriate.

However, you will only be notified of an untagged picture of yourself if you are part of the image’s intended “audience.” More specifically, the poster must set the image’s audience to “everyone” for you to be notified. The only exception to this is if the image was set as a profile picture, which is useful if you want to identify fake accounts.

Editor’s Pick

Apart from that, Photo Review could also be used to take a trip back in time. Talking to The Verge, Facebook head of privacy Rob Sherman says Photo Review nudges you about photos you might have forgotten about. From there, you basically climb down the social media rabbit hole, looking at older pictures and friends you previously didn’t engage with as much.

Facebook says Photo Review is rolling out to most regions, though folks in Canada and the EU will not get to use it due to data laws that restrict the use of facial recognition.

Want to switch your provider? Soon you’ll be able to do it with a single text in the UK

  • UK regulatory body Ofcom is introducing a new way to move mobile providers called “auto-switch”
  • Under the new rules, consumers will be able to switch networks with a single free text message
  • The rules will come into play in July 2019

Switching your network carrier can be an absolute nightmare what with all the different deals, new customer bonuses, and contractual small print to consider –  and that’s before all of the “please stay with us” phone calls you have to grit your teeth through when calling your current carrier.

Thankfully, the process has been getting easier in recent years, with improvements to number porting and simpler ways of unlocking phones. Now, in the UK at least, swapping providers is about to get even easier thanks to a new system set to be implemented by the regulatory body, Ofcom.

Dubbed “auto-switch”, Ofcom’s new rules distill most of the arduous process into a single code that does everything for you. Said code comes directly from your current operator via an online form, a phone call, or even a quick free text message.

Editor’s Pick

Once you have the code, all you need to do then is head over to whichever network you want to switch to, sign up, and provide them with the code. Think of it as a Porting Authorization Code (PAC code), but for your entire account.

Even better, once the code has been processed your old contract will terminate immediately, effectively ending any confusion or additional charges that might arise from the usual 30-day notice periods. The new system also lets you switch early by paying off your current contract when you originally request an auto-switch code.

If any of that has confused you (I was, if only because it sounds far too good to be true), Ofcom has provided a handy cartoon that shows the entire process in four simple steps which you can see below. As a result of the changes, Ofcom says it will be saving UK consumers around £10 million each year due to the ban on notice periods.

The sweeping changes will no doubt delight buyers, but Ofcom is fully aware that the new rules will put a lot of pressure on the current systems operators have in place. To help usher in the new age of easy-switching, Ofcom is setting a deadline of July 1st, 2019 so providers can make the necessary changes.

What do you think of the changes? Let us know in the comments.

pRoDuct oR SerVice – sell it on “AmaZon marketpLace”

amazon

Amazon, the E-commerce giant, is one of the oldest merchants on the web and has over 200 million customers worldwide. Amazon is the unrivalled marketplace to sell products online. It provides an excellent platform for conducting online business and has proved beneficial for both buyers and sellers. Amazon is an extremely popular e-commerce site that can help expand your reach in the market and improve the visibility of your product in a unique way.

There are various reasons why you should consider selling at Amazon Marketplace

  • Increase Sales: The best reason of selling on Amazon is the scale of their online visitors.
  • Acquire Potential Customers from across the Globe: Amazon has millions of varied customers across the globe who visit on a frequent basis.
  • Quick and Stress Free Shipping: Amazon can ship your product, through Amazon’s FBA service, Fulfillment by Amazon, to the customer faster and at cheaper rates than you can do it yourself.
  • Effortless, Trusted Shopping Experience for Customers
  • Secure and Timely Payments: Amazon offers hassle-free and timely payments. Payment for your product is deposited into your bank account and you are notified via email that your payment has been made. Also, Amazon deducts its fees only after you make a sale.

Amazon Marketplace – Account Types

Before start selling products you should first choose the type of account, then decide what product to sell and finally decide how to manage shipment and returns.

Amazon offers two types of Account

1) Individual Account
2) Professional Account

Differences between Individual and Professional selling plans

Individual sellers are on a pay-as-you-go system and use a basic set of tools for listing and order management. While Professional sellers pay a monthly subscription fee of $39.99, they also receive a waiver of the $0.99 fixed closing fee for each order and can access additional tools for listing inventory and managing orders.

Amazon Marketplace – Listing a New Product

If you want to list a new product in the Amazon catalog, then you need to follow the steps given below:
1) Log-in to your account
2) Click on sell button
3) Select your account type
4) Fill the following form

It may take a few days for the product to begin appearing in the search list.

Listing Products in Masses
What if you want to sell thousands of products? Entering the details of each item would be very tedious. In such a case, uploading lists of products into Amazon Seller Central comes to your rescue. It does not mean that you do not need to input the product data. You obviously need to enter all the data, the product cost, its condition, quantity, etc. but you will be entering it into a spreadsheet and upload the spreadsheet on Amazon. The entire procedure of uploading is the same as discussed earlier.

Amazon Marketplace – Pricing Tools

Amazon has a repricing tool that could be quite useful. Merchants need to use such pricing tools because prices change very quickly with upcoming new merchants and new inventories. So, one needs to keep a check and keep the prices reasonable without making any changes manually. These tools use Amazon Web Service’s Application Programming Interface (API). They track information about your pricing and your opponent’s pricing and modify your pricing to appear more competitive, thereby escalating your sales and drawing you closer to the Buy Box.

Amazon has no objection to merchants using these tools. In fact, they understand that managing large number of products isn’t possible without automation and they like tools with a tendency to push the pricing down, because it provides lower prices to their customers.

Amazon Marketplace – Price Calculator

It is quite an effort to know how much revenue you can generate by selling a product on Amazon. Being one of the most popular marketplaces for online merchants, Amazon has a wide array of fees – marketplace account fees, variable cost fees, referral fees, shipping costs, etc. The fee depends upon whether you are an individual seller or a pro merchant, shipping your product yourself or using FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon).

One cannot estimate how much profit can be earned by selling a product. Here, the readymade Price Calculators come to the rescue and helps you calculate how much profit are you going to make on the sale. Amazon Price Calculators are well equipped to help the sellers in determining their total profit on items after shipment and all monetary transactions.

Want to Learn Digital Marketing?

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

I never owned any Nintendo Wii or 3DS console. Which means that I have never played any game of the Animal Crossing franchise. I was aware that these games existed due to the generally good press they got, but never played one. So when recently Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released on iOS, I decided to give it a try. And ended up seriously disappointed: There is no game in this game!

My general model of modern games is that they have a core game, e.g. combat or a type of puzzle, embedded in a shell of story, rewards, and character progression. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp certainly has the shell part of that: There is a basic story, you do get plenty of rewards for what you do, and there is some sort of character progression in the form of levels and friendship levels to a growing number of animals. However there isn’t really a core game. The core consists of clicking on resources to gather them. And that’s it. There is no puzzle to solve to gather those resources, no monster to kill, nothing. Some of the resources have a vague hint of a game, which is tapping once to start the process, and then needing to tap a second time within a time window when “tap” is written on your screen, but that is as complicated as it gets. Other resources, like fruits from trees, don’t even have that, you just click to gather them.

Crafting isn’t really a game either, you just provide the money and resources and wait for minutes or hours until your crafted item is finished. So all you can do in this game is gather resources, and keep various animals happy by providing them either the resources directly or some furniture crafted from those resources. There is a complete absence of any challenge or even actual gameplay. Describing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as a game for children is actually insulting to children.

That the mobile version only provides you with limited amounts of resources every 3 hours or lets you wait for hours for your crafting to finish, but then “allows” you to speed those things up with a currency you get for real money is just the icing on the cake. After playing the game long enough to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally overlooked a real game in there, I just uninstalled Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Unless you desperately want a game with absolutely no challenge or real gameplay at all, I can’t recommend this.

Trump’s Bizarre Love Affair With Putin Deepens: What Is He Hiding?

A Washington Post feature on Trump’s Russia fixation is oddly credulous: Is wounded pride really the issue here?

On Thursday, The Washington Post published a long article about how Donald Trump is dealing with Russia as president. It wasn’t exactly reassuring. The reason is not that he’s poised to start a war, as he seems to be with North Korea, but that he’s giving away the store to the other side. It’s disturbing because Trump doesn’t seem to be capable of even thinking about America’s relationship with Russia like a president at all. He gets so upset by the investigation into election interference and his subsequent actions that intelligence briefers reportedly don’t mention it as a priority, slipping it into the written material — which he’s said in the past he doesn’t need to read — or sliding it far down the list of items of concern to avoid provoking his ire.

The upshot is that the president isn’t able to focus on relations with Russia at a time when it couldn’t be more important to do so. Trump’s insistence that there was no election interference has taken on the character of a bizarre fixation that is inhibiting the rest of the government from doing its job. And it seems nobody has a clue what to do about it.

The article is full of interesting details about the inner workings of Trump’s national security team and how they deal with this mercurial boss.  For instance, he once assumed his highly qualified Russia expert Fiona Hill (the co-author of a major biography of Vladimir Putin) was a clerical worker. Trump asked her to retype a memo, became angry when she seemed confused by the order and demanded that national security adviser H.R. McMaster reprimand her — which, astonishingly, he did.

But then, none of that should be too surprising. Trump is no more respectful of world leaders with whom he doesn’t feel that personal kinship. He reportedly got bored in the middle of a briefing about Angela Merkel and went into the bathroom, leaving the door open and telling his aides to speak up while he primped in front of the mirror. We all saw his refusal to shake Merkel’s hand in front of the press and this derisive tweet from a couple of years ago:

He apparently doesn’t consider her an equal on par with strongmen like Putin or China’s Xi Jinping, both of whom he shows a deference that verges on obsequiousness.

The article is a portrait of a man-child, so deeply over his head that you wonder if he isn’t literally going to hold his breath until he turns blue before it’s all over. In that sense, it tracks with the recent New York Times article that depicted Trump tweeting from his pillow in the morning, wandering around in his bathrobe, drinking two six packs of Diet Coke and watching up to eight hours of cable news a day.

After reading both of these articles, you get the sense that somebody in the White House has decided that the best defense against charges that Trump colluded with Russia is for people to believe that he behaves as he does because he’s a narcissistic simpleton who can’t deal with the fact that he didn’t win the popular vote. While that description may be accurate, it doesn’t let him off the hook.

The Post’s reporters vaguely examine the possibility that there could be some blackmail material or kompromat hanging out there, or that Trump has some serious financial exposure somewhere in his past. But the article primarily relies on his aides’ portrayal of him as someone who believes in the power of his personality to bond with Vladimir Putin, and believes that together they will solve the world’s problems.

Furthermore, the authors seem to take at face value the assertion that Trump’s insistence that the Russians played no part in the election is because “the idea that he’s been put into office by Vladi­mir Putin is pretty insulting.” Trump is essentially depicted as a juvenile egomaniac who lacks the capacity or imagination to have done anything as sophisticated as collude with a foreign country.

This is spin that I often see reporters and pundits regurgitate on TV, as if this can all be explained away by the proposition that Trump is a buffoon who is constantly frustrated by people saying he didn’t really win. But this fails to account for all the sucking up he did toward Putin during in the campaign and his continued inability to say a bad word about him ever since. It’s not as if Trump is usually at a loss for a well-timed insult.

It also fails to account for the fact that Trump has shown not even minimal interest in doing a “deal” with Russia that would benefit the United States. While he repeatedly insults our allies and crudely demands that they pay protection in return for the U.S. living up to its treaties and commitments, he asked for nothing from Putin in return for lifting sanctions and putting up barriers to NATO expansion, other than a vague promise that everyone “gets along.”

The idea that Putin is the only man on earth Trump sees as a partner in bringing peace on earth just doesn’t pass the smell test. That the self-anointed master negotiator has not seized the opportunity to use the knowledge we have about election interference as a bargaining chip, and instead seems inclined to grant Putin his wish list for nothing in return, does not give one much confidence.

Trump lies about everything, so there is no reason to take him at his word on any of this. Of course he is upset about the Russia investigation, and of course it bothers him that people might think he didn’t legitimately win the election. But it’s hardly likely that he behaves this way because he’s an innocent man. In fact, it’s ludicrous. Everything we know about him suggests the opposite.

Whether it’s about Trump’s past financial exposure or the rumored salacious kompromat or some agreement over dirt on Hillary Clinton or a big hotel deal, there is definitely more to this. He doesn’t act like a man who has been unjustly accused. He acts like a man who’s hiding something and thinks if he blusters and blames he can hide his guilt from his staff and even from himself. He can’t.

 

 

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Smartphone VR: Another 3D fad or the real deal?

This is the second in the three-part series looking at 3D imaging. In the first, we looked at why every time “3D” has failed to become totally mainstream. Today, 3D is back and trying to make a splash in mobile devices – this time in the form of “virtual reality.” Is VR — especially on smartphones — going to be a long-term success, or just another example of a 3D fad?

VR headsets like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and similar “tethered” products have made great strides in the last few years. So-called “mobile” VR headsets, like Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream, have been even more successful (or at least more widespread). They’re basically head mounts for your smartphone with some optics thrown in, and lately it seems like everyone is making one. But will it stick?

Having just looked at the fanfare-and-failure cycles of 3D in general, should we really expect VR to really have staying power? Will it make a big splash and then fade just like its predecessors?

Wikipedia A Samsung VR conference in 2016

At heart, VR headsets are stereoscopic “3D” displays, with the all same potential problems and an added twist. It’s “virtual reality” because it lets you look around at, and interact with, this illusory three-dimensional world. That requires displaying the correct images to create a stereo effect, figuring out where the viewer is actually looking, and changing the image to match in real time. 

At the heart of it, VR headsets are stereoscopic 3D displays, with the same potential problems as every other example of the species.

If you move your head to look behind something, then that something had better move out of the way in your field of view, just as though it were really there. VR requires combining a convincing stereoscopic display with the sensors and graphics processing power needed to render and update your virtual view in a smooth, convincing manner. This is part of why I said that augmented reality is an even bigger challenge: if you’re going to, say, place an imaginary creature on a real tabletop, then not only do you have to render the creature correctly but keep it in the proper relationship to its real-world surroundings.

A dedicated, “tethered” VR headset can pull off all of its assigned tasks pretty well. Connecting it to a standalone computer, which could be anything from a barebones notebook to IBM’s Watson, means you can throw as much processing power as you can muster at problems. But the simple fact that it’s a product designed solely for the purpose of VR means that it has displays, optics, head-tracking systems, and so forth than could all be optimized to that goal. That’s not to say these products are going to be the perfect answer, but they’ve at least got a big leg up on the other option.

Editor’s Pick

That other option is “mobile” VR, which is typically a plastic mount with straps to go over your head and lenses over your eyes, and you supply the rest— namely a smartphone, which provides the displays, processing, and position sensing needed to create a virtual world. This is, in my not-so-humble opinion, a remarkably bad idea.

That “s” on “displays” wasn’t a typo. Yes, your phone only has the one display, but here it’s forced to play the role of two. Left-eye and right-eye images have to be shown simultaneously, and it’s up to the optics in the headset to deliver those correctly to the eyes. That means only half the pixels on the screen are available for each image, which leads to an aspect ratio and resolution charitably described as “less than optimal.”

A Galaxy S8 features a 5.8″ 2960 x 1440 OLED screen at 570 PPI. It’s a really nice smartphone display in anyone’s book, but close to a 2:1 aspect ratio. Splitting it in two in a VR headset means each eye gets an almost perfectly square display to use. That’s not good when we’d really like to have a wide field of view. The human eye uses something roughly equivalent to a 5:3 aspect ratio (of course, it’s also not a nice clean rectangle, but rather a sort of fuzzy oval).

There are two ways to fix this. You could use the full area of each half, displaying pre-distorted image on the square space and relying on the optics to stretch the image to the desired wider area— the same sort of trick used in anamorphic movies. However, If the distortion introduced into the image isn’t exactly what the optics were designed to “undo,” you’ve got problems. The other option is to just not use the full height of the display. If, on the S8, we have a 1440 x 1440 space for each image, but we want, say, a 16:9 view, we could just center a 1440 x 810 image in that space and it would be good to go, albeit at well under half the phone’s full resolution.

We could just demand a higher resolution in our phone screens. “But Bob,” I hear you protest, “didn’t you just tell us a few weeks ago that packing more pixels onto a phone was a bad idea?” Yes, I did. That article also generated some comments which took me to task for ignoring the needs of VR. But that was my point: smartphone display choices should ignore VR, at least as a top priority.

Smartphone display choices should ignore VR, at least as a top priority

Phone-based VR headsets represent the entry level in the VR market. They suffer from too many compromises already to be the choice for serious VR users, and paying for the extreme levels of screen resolution needed to address just that one issue makes no sense. As good as they are, smartphone graphics processing and position/orientation sensors just aren’t up the task of matching what you can do with a dedicated headset and tracking hardware.

Again, consider the Galaxy S8. It’s got an MSRP of more than $700—over $200 higher than Samsung’s own Odyssey VR/MR headset, which features dual 1440 x 1600 OLED displays coupled with a full array of cameras, motion and position sensors, integrated headphones, and adjustments for interpupillary distance. Putting a higher resolution display in a phone just for VR is like paying to put a Ferrari engine in a Toyota Prius. Sure, you’d get a lot more power, but the platform just isn’t meant to do what you want. You’re better off just buying the product meant for that use in the first place.

Graphics processing burden goes up literally geometrically with increased resolution, which isn’t the best idea for a battery-operated device.

We could even put a 4K display into a phone, and get a great resolution for each eye. The graphics processing burden goes up geometrically with increased resolution. Even if you build the added power into the processor, it just isn’t the best idea for a battery-powered device. Phone-based VR is best for what it was supposed to be: a quick and relatively economical means of introducing VR into the consumer market. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking it’s the right answer for the serious VR fanatic.

It’s not like dedicated VR headsets are perfect either. They still suffer from all of the other problems we’ve described earlier with stereoscopic displays, with the additional concern that motion tracking and its resulting view is never going to quite match what we see in real life. VR is getting a lot of attention in education circles, to name one interested market, but how long will that love affair last if kids get severe eye fatigue from using it?

24th Air Force

There’s a way around even that concern, though. All we need is a display that can produce a real three-dimensional image, one that actually has the appearance of solid objects occupying space, and without any glasses, headsets, head tracking, or any of those burdens. We’ve even already seen examples of this; surely everyone by now has seen a hologram. You’ve probably even got a few in your wallet, on your credit cards.

So when can we replace our old-fashioned flat displays, and free us from all this stereoscopic nonsense?Stay tuned.

Uses and abuses of challenge

Once upon a time, in a past so long a go that few people remember it, computer games came with an options menu in which you could choose the difficulty and challenge of the game yourself. The idea was that all of us would like games to be both winnable and not a pushover, but because preferences on how easily winnable a game should be, as well as experience and skill in a game, vary from user to user, it would be best to have several options in order to please everybody. Now that was way back when games still came in a box. With games increasingly switching to a “game as a service” online experience, difficulty settings fell out of favor. Somehow it appeared to make more sense if the same orc in World of Warcraft held the same challenge for each player, with the only variable being the power level of the player himself. With less and less single-player games around, and PvE games being more and more replaced by PvP, difficulty setting have become increasingly rare.

I’ve been playing a bunch of pseudo-PvP games on my iPad lately. Pseudo because I don’t necessarily fight another player online at the same time, but my army fights his computer-controlled army. That usually was nice enough at the start of the game. But then with each win I gained some sort of trophies or ranking, so that later I was matched against more and more powerful players. Ultimately it was obvious that this was a no-win proposition: The better I did, the more likely it became that I would lose the next game. The only strategy that worked was to deliberately lose games, to drop down in rankings, to then win the now easier PvP games in order to achieve the quests and goals the game set me. But that sort of cheesy strategy isn’t exactly fun.

The other type of game I played recently is the one in which your performance doesn’t actually matter at all any more. I played Total War: Arena, but many team vs. team multiplayer games fall into the same category: The contribution of any single player to the outcome of a 10 vs. 10 battle is only 5%. That gets quite annoying if you come up with a brilliant move and outmaneuver another player and crush him, only to find that the 9 other players on the enemy team obliterated your 9 team mates, and you lost the battle. Especially since in Total War: Arena you end up with more rewards having done nothing much in a won battle than for a great performance in a lost battle.

Finally my wife was complaining about a problem with challenge levels in her iPad puzzle games: The games are free to play, they get harder and harder with each level until you can’t beat it any more, and then the game offers you a way out: Use some sort of booster, which of course you need to pay real money for, to make the too hard levels easy enough to win again.

Somehow I get the feeling we lost something important when difficulty sliders went out of fashion. However the discussion of difficulty and challenge is complicated by the fact that this is one of the issues where gamers are the most dishonest about. Gamers tend to say they want more challenge, but when you observe what they are doing, e.g. attacking the enemy castle in a PvP MMORPG at 3 am in the morning, it is clearly that they are mostly occupied with avoiding or circumventing any actual challenge. Pay2Win and loot boxes wouldn’t be such an issue if gamers weren’t actually spending their money on improving their chances to win. If most gamers were so interested in challenge, then why is there so much cheating and botting going on? People want to win, by any means, and by talking up the challenge they want to make their win look more impressive. Which is kind of sad, if you think about it, that their positive self-image depends on being a winner in a video game. Many a fragile gamer-ego can’t admit that they’d quite like a relaxing game that doesn’t constantly challenge them to the max. I do.