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Game

Xbox Design Lab controller option explosion just made your decision even tougher

Microsoft announced some new additions to Xbox Design Lab customization options today. When the service re-launched earlier this year with Xbox Series X gamepads, it was missing some customization options it had previously. Those are now available once more, along with some entirely new options and designs inspired by four big games.

Grips and metallic finishes back on the menu

Returning to Xbox Design Lab today is the option to outfit your custom controller with rubberized grips or a metallic finish for specific controller components. Prospective buyers can choose to outfit their controller with rubberized grips both on the sides and back of the gamepad, though those grips only come in one color (black).

The d-pad and triggers can be given a metallic design as well. There are 19 colors in all, according to Microsoft, making for quite the long list of options: Sterling Silver, Pewter Silver, Gunmetal Silver, Abyss Black, Retro Pink, Deep Pink, Oxide Red, Zest Orange, Gold, Electric Volt, Velocity Green, Glacier Blue, Dragonfly Blue, Mineral Blue, Photon Blue, Midnight Blue, Regal Purple, Nocturnal Green, and Warm Gold.

In addition to those returning customization options, Microsoft has also launched some new stuff as well. As revealed in that list above, Dragonfly Blue is an entirely new color that can be applied to some components. Microsoft also says that Military Green and Electric Green have been replaced by Nocturnal Green and Velocity Green, respectively.

Finally, there are four pre-made controller designs (pictured in the gallery above) inspired by Forza Horizon 5, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Battlefield 2042, and Riders Republic that customers can use as a jumping-off point for their own custom controllers. On their own, the controllers look pretty good, though each one comes with rubberized side and back grips along with metallic d-pads and triggers, so customers may want to tweak those before checkout.

New options come at a premium price

That’s because rubberized grips and metallic components add a decent amount of money to the overall cost of an Xbox Design Lab controller. For example, rubberized grips for the sides and back cost $5.99 each, while metallic d-pads and triggers cost $3.99 each. That doesn’t seem like much, but when you consider that Xbox Design Lab controllers start at $69.99, it’s possible to craft a controller that costs just a few cents shy of $100 – assuming that you also opt for a $9.99 engraving on it.

That’s a pricey controller for sure, but that’s if you choose every premium option available. Mixing and matching those premium options will, obviously, save you some cash, resulting in a custom controller that’s still expensive but not triple-digit expensive.

Xbox Design Lab has proven to be a popular service for Microsoft, so if you’ve ever wanted to create a controller that’s uniquely yours, you now have more options in that endeavor. These new options are live on the Xbox Design Lab right now, but just a head’s up: At the time of this writing, the website seems to be having a few issues, so you may have to refresh a few times before any changes you make to your controller are applied.

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Tech News

Small phone lovers rejoice: The Asus Zenfone 8 is a fantastic option

For those of us who remember the early days of smartphones, “handsets” were fairly small devices that worked great for one-handed use. But thanks to burgeoning specs and features—as well as user demand for more screen real estate—phones have become larger and larger, and now smaller options are hard to find. Into this landscape walks Asus and its Zenfone 8, the company’s latest mainstream flagship device. This sub-6-inch phone doesn’t sacrifice power for size, and it’s a fantastic option for small phone lovers.

Asus Zenfone 8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Left to right: Asus Zenfone 8, Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, and Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra.

At PCWorld we know Asus more for its laptops and PC hardware components, but its phone division has been making some very strong devices for many years now. In fact, a couple of months ago, Asus released the ROG Phone 5, which I consider to be the one of the best “gaming phones” available. The Zenfone line is aimed more at mainstream users, and despite having a small marketshare worldwide, it’s garnered a nice following.

For the Zenfone 8, Asus wanted to make “the ultimate compact Android phone,” aiming it at the small phone market that has been traditionally underserved. And, wow, did they swing for the fences. The 5.9-inch FHD+ AMOLED Samsung panel runs up to 120Hz and has a peak max brightness of 1100 nits. Display nerds will also enjoy hardcore specs like 112 percent DCI-P3 and Delta-E<1 for super accurate colors. This display is beautiful in every environment and a real treat for small phone lovers.

Asus Zenfone 8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Inside the Zenfone 8 is the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G chip paired with up to 16GB or LPDDR5 RAM and up to 256GB of UFS3.1 SSD and cooled via heat-pipe. Comparing Zenfone 8 to my time with the ROG Phone 5 sporting similar specs, I found the mainstream phone to be just as snappy and responsive. Nothing was lacking for power, and I was super impressed with its performance in both normal and heavy tasks, like gaming. The phone did get a bit hotter under heavier workloads than the ROG Phone 5, but with the size reduction that didn’t surprise me and it wasn’t a serious problem.

The 4000mAh battery probably contributed to that heat as well, because that’s a huge battery to put in a phone. But despite the power and size, the battery did get me through a full day of use with the display refresh rate set to auto. The 30W Hypercharge system—which Asus claims is the “most powerful charger of any phone below 6 inches”—helps to top off the phone in an emergency. 

Asus Zenfone 8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

More than enough screen to read articles.

When it comes to software, ZenUI 8 is based off Android 11 and sticks pretty damn close to stock but with some smart improvements. Added features are all smart additions and help to get the most out of this hardware: Battery care options are plentiful; there’s some extra sound tuning for more pleasing audio out of the dual speakers; and the same feature-rich Game Genie software found on the ROG Phone 5 can be used to configure your gaming experience.

All of these features and more are easy to navigate within the settings and are powerful additions to Android, but ZenUI 8 is not without its quirks. I had problems using my third party launcher with the newer swipe navigation system, and saw some odd flash frames when exiting apps. With a bit more ironing out, ZenUI would easily become my custom Android OS of choice. 

Asus Zenfone 8 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

One-handed mode ensures even the smallest hands can reach the top.

Probably the weakest part of the Zenfone 8 is the design—it’s very basic and uninspiring. This doesn’t bug me too much, though, as the phone will most likely live in a case, and Asus’ focus is more on one-handed usability rather than flashy aesthetics. Asus said they put a lot of time and research into finding the best blend of height and width to support single-handed use, and here they hit the nail on the head.

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Tech News

Huawei Watch 3 vs Samsung Galaxy Watch 3: The better option

The smartwatch industry is gaining pace with more OEMs joining the party. After Samsung, which has been a fiercer competitor for the Apple Watch, the likes of OnePlus and now Huawei is trying to make inroads. To present a viable option, Chinese tech giant Huawei has announced its first smartwatch running the in-house HarmonyOS. Dubbed Huawei Watch 3, it has launched alongside a Pro variant.

Given that the new operating system and an excellent set of features will make this Huawei wearable a worthy contender, we thought it would make sense to compare it with the existing, top-of-the-line Android-based smartwatch – the Galaxy Watch 3. Of course, HarmonyOS is a different operating system but it draws many comparisons to Android, and it’s fair therefore, to understand which wearable is worth your wrist.

We have already pitted the Galaxy Watch 3 against the Apple Watch Series 6 and the OnePlus Watch, here we will compare vital features to give you an idea of what’s what when it comes to the Huawei wearable and the Galaxy watch.

Huawei is known for offering watches that are very capable fitness trackers, priced competitively. Huawei Watch 3 is built on this winning formula of its precursors along with an emphasis on further accuracy of fitness data and good battery backup. Let’s then learn how the two full-fledged smartwatches packed with fitness functions and personalization options compare against each other.

Design and display

Staying true to its image of a more traditional watch, the Huawei Watch 3 comes in circular stainless steel and ceramic case (Watch 3 Pro has a titanium case). With a 1.43-inch AMOLED display, which supports an impressive 60Hz refresh rate, the watch has a bezel-less design with the screen stretching from edge to edge.

Since the rotating bezel has gone, Huawei has included an Apple Watch-style digital crown, which can rotate to scroll through the features on the screen. Additional pusher at 4 o’clock launches workout mode with a click, so you can instantly launch your running or cycling mode and begin tracking your regime. The watch has 2GB RAM and 16GB of internal memory.

Galaxy Watch 3 on the other hand has a little more premium feel to it with a choice of either stainless steel or titanium case (available in larger display size only). It also has a rounded face and comes with a precision rotatable bezel to toggle between features when you don’t want to interact with the touchscreen. The watch has 41mm and 45mm Super AMOLED display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass DX with only a GB of RAM and 8 gigabytes of onboard storage.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 comes with the option of three watchbands – leather, quick-change sport & hybrid – there are plenty more on offer through third-party vendors. The choice of straps is available with the Huawei wearable as well, it comes paired with either leather, silicone, metal link or nylon straps, which can be swapped according to your mood.

Software and features

Huawei Watch 3 comes with a new operating system, which provides the watch a fresh UI. If you have used a Huawei wearable before, it wouldn’t really feel alien. The OS is now called the HarmonyOS but reportedly it’s based on the LiteOS, which has been used in the Huawei smartwatches since it was forced out of Google Wear due to US trade restrictions.

That said, you would instantly latch on to some additional capabilities of the Huawei smartwatch, which now supports 4G eSIM and can be used independently to receive call and message notifications. In addition to allowing voice calls, Huawei has made video calling through MeeTime Service possible directly from the watch.

Huawei Watch 3 has a redesigned home screen with grid-style app layout as opposed to the list format and allows Huawei Music subscribers to stream music on the go. Moreover, the watch now has Huawei AppGallery pre-installed with the hope of attracting more third-party developers to provide content so that it can give competition to Apple and Android watches on the market.

Despite the option, the third-party support on the Huawei Watch 3 is pretty limited at the moment. Music streaming is also confined to only Huawei Music. Not that Galaxy Watch 3 has spectacular third-party support, but comparatively it’s better on the Sammy wearable that touts software, which surpasses the current version of the WearOS as a go-to option for Android users. Both watches are compatible with Android and iOS.

Powered by Tizen OS, the Galaxy Watch 3 allows you to receive smartphone notifications and even view messages from select messaging apps right on the writs. The watch comes in Wi-Fi and LTE variants and supports offline streaming of music locally and through Spotify. You can store music, photos and more on the 8GB internal memory of the watch for on-the-go entertainment. Interestingly, Huawei Watch 3 will not allow contactless payments outside of China, where it’s currently available. Galaxy watch comes with Samsung Pay to make contactless payments from the wrist.

Health and fitness

For health monitoring and activity tracking, the Huawei Watch 3 comes with some of the features and sensors party to its predecessors. This includes heart rate monitoring, SpO2 and sleep tracking. Huawei has not stopped at that, it has now added a temperature sensor to the Watch 3. This sensor can continuously track body temperature by skin contact through the course of the day.

Of course, this not precise for medical purposes, but it definitely alerts when the body temperature is rising or falling. The 50-meter water-resistant watch is pre-installed with Huawei’s own Health app and reportedly has hundreds of different preset workout modes for running, swimming, cycling and more. This list of activities also includes skateboarding and dancing.

Coming on to the Galaxy Watch 3, it has a unique automatic fitness tracking feature that kicks in without you having to set it, so when your running, cycling or swimming, you can take care of your regime and the watch will start tracking on its own. Like the Huawei wearable, this also features heart rate, SpO2 monitoring and sleep tracking.

Samsung wearable is water-resistant up to 50 meters and can also record ECG (electrocardiogram) for 30 seconds. Unlike the other watches, Galaxy Watch 3 has a detailed sleep tracking function to monitor deep sleep, REM and even the wake after sleep onset.

Battery life

Smartwatches are battery guzzlers by virtue. This is because they have to manage continuous health and fitness tracking, display notifications and do a lot more. The trend is changing with new models wherein companies are working on better optimization. Huawei has tried to make some alterations and its new wearable has three days of battery life in regular smartwatch mode, with always-on display deactivated that is.

By deactivating Wi-Fi, cellular connection and GPS, Huawei says the Watch 3 can give up to two weeks of backup. In the low power mode, you can still continue to track activities and workouts while the watch can be instantly juiced up with Qi wireless charging. Galaxy Watch 3, however, disappoints on the battery front. In normal usage, its 340mAh Li-Ion battery can only last for up to two days.

Pricing

Huawei Watch 3 is available for preorder in China for CNY 2,600 (roughly $410), the sale will begin from June 11. The watch is expected to start retailing globally in select markets from June 18. 41mm Galaxy Watch 3 started at $399 and the 45mm model retailed for $429.99 while for the LTE option you had to shell out $449. The watch can now be bought for as low as $190.

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Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds fully leak, including white/gold option

Another leak has surfaced that all but confirms certain details about Sony’s anticipated WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds. The model, which we’ve seen leak in the form of both images and renders, will allegedly pack active noise cancellation, as well as a number of other high-end features. With this, Sony’s new true wireless earbuds will be set to compete with the AirPods Pro.

The new leak comes from German website Winfuture, which has a solid track record for revealing products before they’re officially announced. This time around, the leak involves the Sony WF-1000XM4, including what appears to be press photos credited to Sony. The images show the true wireless earbuds with black/gold and white/gold color options.

The big feature here is the Active Noise Cancellation, which will block out most unwanted ambient noises for those times you need peace and quiet. The report also alleges that the upcoming WF-1000XM4 will support Sony’s LDAC tech for streaming hi-res audio, as well as an IPX4 housing for water resistance in those cases where you get caught in the rain.

As expected, the earbuds will be joined by a charging case that, the report claims, will combine with the batteries in the earpieces to offer a total of 24-hours runtime with ANC turned on and 36 hours with it turned off. The case reportedly supports USB-C for wired and Qi for wireless charging.

The WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds are expected to launch soon, though we don’t yet know when Sony will reveal them. The report claims the earbuds will be priced at around 279.90 EUR in Europe, which would work out to around $350 USD.

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Computing

Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 Yoga gets a bright display option and Intel’s latest CPUs

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga is a premium corporate laptop with 360-degree hinge, and it moves into its 5th generation with the 10th generation of Intel Core processors—the latest Comet Lake CPUs with vPro security. (The current generation already uses the first wave of 10th-gen chips without vPro.)

Due to ship later in 2020 with a starting price of $1,599, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga will also offer a new display option: a full HD PrivacyGuard Panel that thwarts peekers and offers a maximum brightness of 500 nits. We don’t know the cost of this option. 

lenovo thinkpad x1 yoga tabletLenovo

The 360-degree hinge allows tablet use. There is an integrated pen. 

We do know the major specs for the next ThinkPad X1 Yoga, listed below. Note that ethernet is available only via external dongle (as is true for prior generations, due to the slender chassis): 

CPU: Intel 10th-gen (Comet Lake) Core i5 and Core i7, including vPro versions and the 6-core Core i7-10710U

RAM: 8GB to 16GB LPDDR3

Display choices (all 14-inch diagonal):

  • Full HD (1920×1080) touch or non-touch, 400 nits’ maximum brightness
  • Full HD IPS touch with PrivacyGuard and 500 nits’ maximum brightness
  • WQHD (2560×1440) IPS with 300 nits’ maximum brightness
  • HDR 400 UHD (3840×2160) with 500 nits’ maximum brightness

Graphics: Integrated

Storage: Up to 2TB PCIe SSD

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Game

PlayStation Direct could be the best PS5 restock option this week

If you’re looking to secure a PlayStation 5, your best bet this week could be PlayStation Direct. Sony’s direct selling website has always been a popular option for those looking to buy a PlayStation 5, but this week in particular seems to be a very active one for it. PlayStation Direct has restocked consoles twice in a row this week, and that could suggest that there will be more PlayStation 5 consoles on offer as we approach the weekend.

Before you get too hopeful, it needs to be clear that this is just speculation on my part – I don’t have any insider information about when Sony plans to restock the PlayStation Direct website, but the fact that it’s already been restocked twice this week (today and yesterday) could potentially mean that more consoles are on the way. It’s as good a sign as we’re bound to get, anyway.

Unfortunately, even if there are more consoles on the way, it isn’t easy to know when Sony will list them. Both today and yesterday, the queue opened up around the same time in the mid-afternoon, so that could be a safe time to start checking tomorrow and on Friday. Sony, sadly, doesn’t really give a heads up when it comes to PlayStation Direct restocks, so you’ll definitely need a little bit of luck if you’re going to catch the queue in time.

That queue is precisely what’s appealing about purchasing through PlayStation Direct. Everyone trying to visit the PlayStation 5 listing on PlayStation Direct will first be placed in the queue, and bottlenecking the number of people who are going through the checkout process helps immensely. If you’re lucky enough to get through the queue while there are still PlayStation 5 consoles in stock, getting through checkout and actually completing an order is a lot easier and a lot less stressful than it is through other retailers.

So, if you’re looking to pick up a PlayStation 5, then PlayStation Direct could very well be your best bet for the rest of the week. We’ll see if another restock happens tomorrow, but for now, check out our tips guide for securing either an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5.

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Tech News

Verizon 5G prepaid plan adds Unlimited Ultra Wideband option

Verizon has launched a new prepaid 5G unlimited plan, including 5G Ultra Wideband and mobile hotspot support for the carrier’s fastest mmWave connections. The $75 per month plan joins Verizon’s existing prepaid 5G options, throwing in the mmWave access that the carrier has currently launched in 64 metro areas.

The perks of the plan actually depend on which of Verizon’s 5G networks you’re connected to at the time. If you’re on the 5G Ultra Wideband network, you get unlimited mobile hotspot support, for example, to share that connection with other devices.

Outside of mmWave, however, if you’re on regular 5G or 4G LTE, your hotspot use will not only be slower but capped. Users get 10GB of data in that case, per month, throttling back to 600 Kbps at most for the rest of the billing period. Regardless of network, you get unlimited calls, text and data from the US, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

While the plan is $75 per month, Verizon also has a handful of discounts to trim that down. Those who sign up to auto-pay, for example, get $5 per month off. After three months of service customers will be eligible for a further $5 per month off as part of its loyalty discounts; after nine months of service, an additional $5 per month comes off, bringing the cost to $60 per month.

The reality, of course, is that the plan is only really worth considering if you live near a 5G Ultra Wideband coverage area, or regularly travel to one. Right now, that’s a fairly limited selection, typically not even city-wide but in fact just portions of cities. If you can find mmWave coverage it’s definitely faster, but it’s that finding part that’s tricky. Verizon’s 5G map shows the service available for both its network types.

That given, Verizon’s existing 5G unlimited prepaid plan – $65 per month, or $50 per month after the same auto-pay and loyalty discounts as the more expensive plan – might be better. It includes regular 5G Nationwide access, but not 5G Ultra Wideband. Even with mobile hotspot service an extra $5 per month, that’s still cheaper than the new plan.

The other consideration is a 5G-compatible phone. Those with an existing phone – which will need to support both 5G Sub-6 GHz and mmWave in order to take advantage of both of Verizon’s network types – can get a $60 saving if they port their number to the prepaid plan. Alternatively, Verizon is happy to sell you something like the TCL 10 5G UW, at $399.99 among the cheapest new options in the US with access to both flavors of 5G.

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