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Game

Meta’s latest VR headset prototypes could help it pass the ‘Visual Turing test’

Meta wants to make it clear it’s not giving up on high-end VR experiences yet. So, in a rare move, the company is spilling the beans on several VR headset prototypes at once. The goal, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is to eventually craft something that could pass the “visual Turing Test,” or the point where virtual reality is practically indistinguishable from the real world. That’s the Holy Grail for VR enthusiasts, but for Meta’s critics, it’s another troubling sign that the company wants to own reality (even if Zuckerberg says he doesn’t want to completely own the metaverse).

As explained by Zuckerberg and Michael Abrash, Chief Scientist of Meta’s Reality Labs, creating the perfect VR headset involves perfecting four basic concepts. First, they need to reach a high resolution so you can have 20/20 VR vision (with no need for prescription glasses). Additionally, headsets need variable focal depth and eye tracking, so you can easily focus on nearby and far away objects; as well as fix optical distortions inherent in current lenses. (We’ve seen this tech in the Half Dome prototypes.) Finally, Meta needs to bring HDR, or high dynamic range, into headsets to deliver more realistic brightness, shadows and color depth. More so than resolution, HDR is a major reason why modern TVs and computer monitors look better than LCDs from a decade ago.

Meta Reality Labs VR headset prototypes

Meta

And of course, the company needs to wrap all of these concepts into a headset that’s light and easy to wear. In 2020, Facebook Reality Labs showed off a pair of concept VR glasses using holographic lenses , which looked like over-sized sunglasses. Building on that original concept, the company revealed Holocake 2 today (above), its thinnest VR headset yet. It looks more traditional than the original pair, but notably Zuckerberg says it’s a fully functional prototype that can play any VR game while tethered to a PC.

“Displays that match the full capacity of human vision are going to unlock some really important things,” Zuckerberg said in a media briefing. “The first is a realistic sense of presence, and that’s the feeling of being with someone or in some place as if you’re physically there. And given our focus on helping people connect, you can see why this is such a big deal.” He described testing photorealistic avatars in a mixed reality environment, where his VR companion looked like it was standing right beside him. While “presence” may seem like an esoteric term these days, it’s easier to understand once headsets can realistically connect you to remote friends, family and colleagues.

Meta’s upcoming Cambria headset appears to be a small step towards achieving true VR presence, the brief glimpses we’ve seen at its technology makes it seem like a small upgrade from the Oculus Quest 2. While admitting the perfect headset is far off, Zuckerberg showed off prototypes that demonstrated how much progress Meta’s Reality Labs has made so far.

Meta Reality Labs VR headset prototypes

Meta

There’s “Butterscotch” (above), which can display near retinal resolution, allowing you to read the bottom line of an eye test in VR. To achieve that, the Reality Labs engineers had to cut the Quest 2’s field of view in half, a compromise that definitely wouldn’t work in a finished product. The Starburst HDR prototype looks even wilder: It’s a bundle of wires, fans and other electronics that can produce up to 20,000 nits of brightness. That’s a huge leap from the Quest 2’s 100 nits, and it’s even leagues ahead of super-bright Mini-LED displays we’re seeing today. (My eyes are watering at the thought of putting that much light close to my face.) Starburst is too large and unwieldy to strap onto your head, so researchers have to peer into it like a pair of binoculars.

Meta Mirror Lake VR concept

Meta

While the Holocake 2 appears to be Meta’s most polished prototype yet, it doesn’t include all of the technology the company is currently testing. That’s the goal of the Mirror Lake concept (above), which will offer holographic lenses, HDR, mechanical varifocal lenses and eye tracking. There’s no working model yet, but it’s a decent glimpse at what Meta is aiming for several years down the road. It looks like a pair of high-tech ski goggles, and it’ll be powered by LCD displays with laser backlights. The company is also developing a way to show your eyes and facial expressions to outside observers with an external display on the front.

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Game

We ran every test you could think of on the M1 Ultra

We’ve now tested every version of Apple’s M1 processor, from the first M1 chip in the 13-inch Macbook Pro all the way up to the M1 Ultra in the new Mac Studio, and the chip’s ability to scale performance is pretty incredible. The M1 Ultra fuses two M1 Max chips together to get you a processor with 20 CPU cores and 64 GPU cores, along with up to 128GB of RAM, and it’s one of the fastest processors we’ve ever tested.

We asked what tests you’d like to see run on the M1 Ultra and assembled quite a list, including Adobe Lightroom and Premiere Pro, Davinci Resolve and Fusion, 3D modeling in Blender, machine learning tests like TensorFlow and Pytorch, and even some gaming.

Amazingly, the M1 Ultra really does seem to be around twice as fast as the M1 Max in most applications. Whatever overhead is required to shuffle data around such a large chip, it rarely impacts CPU performance. The GPU scaling doesn’t fare quite so well. The M1 Ultra was typically 40-80% faster than the M1 Max, still speedy, but not quite as impressive in its scaling as the CPU.

The M1 Ultra does best when its hardware accelerators can kick in. These are the parts of the chip built to speed up specific tasks, namely video rendering and AI processing. In a test processing ten 8K video clips at once, the M1 Ultra did the job in just 29 seconds when its accelerators were able to help out. This was about twice as fast as the PC we were testing, despite it having a 16-core AMD 5950X processor and Nvidia RTX 3080 Ti graphics card.

Apple’s M1 ecosystem does at times feel unfinished. There were more strange bugs than I’d expected, and software compatibility can still be a problem, but it’s improving rapidly. The M1 Ultra wasn’t always faster than my PC, but in some tests it was two or three times quicker, and in only a few cases was it significantly slower. If you use Apple and need a high-end desktop, there’s really no decision, and for everyone else looking for a workstation, the M1 Ultra Mac Studio is a contender.

Check out the video above for the full details of our testing.

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AI

Codeless test automation platform Virtuoso raises $13M

London-based Virtuoso, a startup that offers codeless test automation solutions to enterprises, today announced it has raised $13.3 million in a series A round led by Paladin Capital. The company will use the investment, which also saw participation from Mubadala Capital and a few existing investors, to further develop its automation platform and expand its sales team.

Even though testing solutions have been around for a while, they haven’t been able to keep pace with the rapidly evolving app development lifecycle. In Capgemini’s 2019-2020 World Quality survey, more than half of the organizations said they lacked the right tools for testing and couldn’t automate to the level needed. As many as 60% also said that cost was the greatest challenge to quality assurance. The tools and automation figures improved a little in the next year’s report, but the cost aspect had grown worse, with QA budgets constrained due to the pandemic.

On top of this, just 37% of the organizations said they were getting enough return on the investment made to make the automation effort possible.

Virtuoso’s intelligent automation platform

Founded by Adil Mohammed in 2019, Virtuoso offers a SaaS platform that leverages machine learning and robotic process automation to solve such challenges. The solution uses an advanced NLP and capture engine to allow coders and non-coders to write automated tests in plain English and reduce the time typically taken to test software for bugs and errors.

“You tell our bots what actions to perform, and the bots oblige. We tested this against real user data, and our bots’ accuracy exceeded 95%,” Mohammed told VentureBeat. “By creating tests in this way, you can properly shift left the testing by authoring fully functioning automated tests from requirements or wireframes even before a single line of code has been written. And by using ML, we make sure that the tests are self-maintaining so the effort required to keep them updated is basically zero. The tests are then executed in the cloud.”

Virtuoso claims its platform can cut down the testing time by up to 10 times and decrease QA costs by a significant 80%-90%. Multiple large enterprises have already adopted the solution, including Jato, Macmillan Learning, and Harbr.

Competing companies such as Mabl, Leapwork, Testim, Accelq, and Functionize are also active in the testing automation space. However, Mohammed says that the market is currently very fragmented, with a majority of companies offering human-driven solutions characterized by a high degree of manual testing and non-system-driven automation with little to no ML or RPA.

“Virtuoso is way ahead of the curve in terms of versatility, the tech stack (execution and deployment speed), and ease of use,” he said, noting that the ability to explore and test applications at scale and autonomously using bots is unique in the market. “It lets you do as much without code as you could with code. This point, fundamentally, separates us from the other test automation players.”

Long-term vision

With the funding, Virtuoso will further develop the SaaS platform, transforming it into a fully autonomous testing solution with little to no human interaction.

“The first step in that vision is creating a truly codeless and intelligent test automation platform, which we have done now. We have some major releases coming up in the next 12 months that will advance us towards our long-term vision of autonomous testing,” Mohammed said, without sharing specific details. The company plans to grow its market share in the U.S. while taking the product to software and testing teams in new markets with the support of Paladin and Mubadala Capital.

According to Markets and Markets, the global software testing automation market is expected to grow from $12.6 billion in 2019 to $28.8 billion in 2024.

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Categories
Game

Elden Ring network test codes are blowing up on eBay

It’s not controversial to say that Elden Ring is highly anticipated. So anticipated is Elden Ring that scalpers have found a way to make a pretty penny on the game, even though it’s not out until next year. Yes, it seems that reselling consoles, CPUs, and graphics cards with a significant price hike wasn’t enough for the scalpers of the world, as they’ve also started selling codes to the Elden Ring network test, which is taking place this weekend.

Hundreds of dollars for a network test?

You wouldn’t necessarily think that access to a network test – a closed beta, in other words – would warrant spending hundreds of dollars but, apparently, Elden Ring is a different beast. Though the network test does not begin until this weekend, invitations are currently being sent out to those who were lucky enough to be accepted.

Instead of redeeming their access key and hopping in the game this weekend, some who were selected have instead taken to eBay to list their keys for significant sums of money. All you need to do is head over to eBay and type “Elden Ring” into the search box to see what we’re talking about here; while many of the results will be for Collector’s Edition pre-orders, many others will be for codes to the network stress test.

Those codes are listed at pretty ridiculous prices, too – especially for a stress test that’s only lasting a single weekend and won’t even be live for the entirety of it. Many of the codes are listed north of $200, with some even approaching $300. One auction that’s live now on eBay has already hit $360. It ends after the first round of testing on Friday, meaning whoever buys that code won’t even get to participate in all of the gameplay sessions happening weekend.

Some Elden Ring fans are desperate

Of course, people can list anything on eBay for whatever price they want, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually sell it. We hear that all the time when we see eBay listings that dramatically overvalue a product, and while it is sometimes true that high-priced items ultimately don’t sell, that sadly isn’t the case for these Elden Ring codes.

Looking at the sold listings is even more depressing than looking at the active ones. Several codes have sold today already, with one PS5 key going for an eyewatering $420 (which feels like a joke). Another PS5 code sold for $399.99, while a number of others have sold for around $250.

Scalpers tend to flock to anything they think is going to be a hot commodity, and reselling pre-release orders for games and consoles the seller doesn’t even have in their possession is nothing new. Scalpers on eBay tried the same thing with the SNES Classic Edition before that launched, and last year, FPGA console maker Analogue said that it would be monitoring sites like eBay to stop scalpers from reselling consoles they didn’t actually possess.

Ultimately, the people who are buying these codes can spend their money how they wish. With Elden Rings‘ release just a few months away, however, it seems much better to take a patient approach and play the full game for $60 in February, rather than bits and pieces of the game for hundreds now. That’s just our take on the matter, though.

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Computing

Best Tools to Stress Test Your CPU

If you’ve recently upgraded your processor, or are overclocking it, it can be a good idea to know the best tools to stress test your CPU to check how stable it is. There are a number of CPU stress tests out there, but we have a few favorites you should check out.

The goal of stress testing is to push the computer to failure. You want to see how long it takes before it becomes unstable. It’s usually a good idea to run tests for at least an hour or two, though some can take longer.

Before starting these tests, we’d highly recommend tools like HWMonitor, HWiNFO64, or Core Temp for keeping track of CPU temperature, clock speeds, and power. These can be a valuable resource for making sure your cooling solution is doing its job as these stress tests push your CPU quite literally to the limit. It’s so important that we have an entire guide on how to check your CPU’s temperature.

Here’s the list of four favorite CPU stress tests.

Prime95

Prime95 is one of the most well-known free CPU stress tests out there. It was developed as part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), in which the processor is used to find large prime numbers. Though Prime95 is not originally made to stress test the CPU, the strain in using the processor’s floating point and integer capabilities make it an excellent way to see what your CPU is capable of.

You can run different “torture tests” depending on what you’re trying to stress. The small fast fourier transforms (FFTs) can be a good way to see if there are any issues. The large FFTs really punish your CPU, while the blended tests push RAM usage. A word of caution with Prime95: It has a somewhat negative reputation of putting unnecessary stress on the CPU.

Download Now at Prime95

AIDA64

AIDA64 CPU stress test.

Unlike the other tools on our list, AIDA64 is not free to use. The cheapest version is AIDA64 Extreme, which will run you about $50 for three PCs while the Business and Engineer versions go for $200. This tool is geared more toward engineers, IT professionals, and enthusiasts (as indicated by the various download options). Instead of purely stressing the CPU like Prime95, it simulates a more realistic workload that a CPU is likely to have. This is excellent for gauging workstations or servers that are meant for sustained, high-performance workloads.

AIDA64 is an all-in-one diagnostic tool that can be used to look at details of your particular system. In the System Stability Test, you can choose which component (CPU, memory, local disks, GPU, etc.) you want to stress. While the test is running, there’s a Sensor tab that lets you view the temperature of each CPU core and fan speeds. This can be invaluable to see if your system is being properly cooled and stressed.

Download Now at AIDA64

Cinebench R23

Cinebench stress test.

Cinebench is another well-known free benchmark utility that you may have seen in various reviews. It was created by Maxon, the developer behind 3D modeling application Cinema 4D. Cinebench simulates common tasks within Cinema 4D to measure system performance. Specifically, the primary test renders a photorealistic 3D scene and uses algorithms to stress all CPU cores. The render is about 2,000 objects comprised of over 300,000 polygons.

The most recent version, R23, is able to run a 10-minute thermal throttling test instead of doing just one single run. This can be useful in seeing how much you can push a particular system before it gets too hot. The single run is still available in the advanced options. The newest version also adds support for Apple’s M1 silicon.

Download now at Maxon

CPU-Z

CPU-Z stress and monitoring tool.

This is great all-around stress test software that’s easy to use and free. Like AIDA64, CPU-Z can also gather detailed information on your system, including CPU processor name, cache levels, and even what process node it was manufactured on. You can also get real-time measurements of each core’s frequency. The primary drawbacks are that it doesn’t stress GPUs, though it can stress RAM. It’s focus is CPU stress testing and it’s a very useful tool in that respect.

Download Now at CPUID

HeavyLoad

HeavyLoad CPU stress test.

HeavyLoad is a stress tool developed by JAM Software that features a handy graphical user interface (GUI) to visualize the tests being run. The software allows you to test the entire processor or just a specific number of cores. One useful feature of HeavyLoad is that you can install the tool on a USB drive and use it on multiple computers. This avoids having to install HeavyLoad on every single computer. It’s seful for IT professionals who need to ensure numerous servers are able to handle heavy processor loads. HeavyLoad is also able to stress other components such as GPU, RAM, or storage.

Download Now at Jam Software

IntelBurn Test

IntelBurn CPU stress test.

Despite it’s name, the IntelBurn Test isn’t made by Intel. However, it uses Intel’s Linpack benchmark to measure the amount of time it takes to solve a system of linear equations and then converts that into a performance rate. This is generally the same engine that Intel uses to stress its own CPUs before shipping them out. The interface is pretty simple and easy to use. You can set the level at which the CPU is stressed, how many times to run the test, and how many threads to run.

While this could actually be more accurate than Prime95, it also has the same reputation for pushing a CPU way past its normal limits, perhaps even more than Prime95. Keep tabs on the heat output while running tests. Also, while you can technically use it with AMD CPUs, it may be better to use other benchmark tools instead.

Download Now at Jam Software

OCCT

OCCT stress test software.

You can’t talk about CPU stress testing without including the OverClock Checking Tool (OCCT). It may be the most popular stability-checking tool out there. This is an all-in-one tool that includes four tests for gauging performance: Two for CPU, one for GPU, and one for the power supply. It also embeds the HWiNFO monitoring engine that we mentioned earlier, and it includes a temperature fail-safe that immediately stops the test should a certain component reach an unsafe temperature.

There is a free version of OCCT, but you’re limited to a one-hour test. The Personal edition removes that limitation and also includes the ability to save a full graphical report of the test. The Pro edition adds the ability to run on domain-joined computers and generate CSV files to build customized graphs. Finally, the Enterprise edition allows you to build your own test suite using a drag-and-drop system for easier configuration. Even better, those who prefer a command line will be able to use that in the Enterprise version as well.

Download Now at OCBase

Editors’ Choice




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Categories
Game

Sony test lets some PS5 owners quickly share screenshots and clips via mobile

Sony has tweeted that it’s testing a beta that will let PS5 players share screenshots and clips via smartphone using the PlayStation app. That will match functionality the Xbox has offered for a while now, though so far, Sony is only testing it in a limited release. 

One you turn it on, the new feature will automatically upload captures to the cloud. You’ll then be able to access them on the PlayStation app for 14 days to save on your camera roll, share on social media, or send to PSN friends and parties. It should be less clunky than the current system of direct sharing from the console. 

On top of screenshots taken from the Create Menu or Create button shortcuts, you can share gameplay videos under three minutes in length up to 1080p (not 4K). For screenshots and videos to be auto-uploaded, make sure you’ve linked your PS5 console to the PlayStation app. It also needs to be left in rest mode and have the “Stay Connected to the Internet” setting enabled. For more details, check Sony’s (region-locked) article.  

The update is now available in Canada and Japan only, and as with other beta features, “may not make it into the final version or may see significant changes,” Sony notes. However, it seems as likely as any new feature to come out of beta, so hopefully it will be released to everyone soon. 

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Categories
AI

SportsBettingDime and OpenAI put AI to the assistant coach test

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That motivational speech a coach or business executive gives you might one day soon be generated by an AI assistant alongside other bits of timely advice and insight.

SportsBettingDime, in collaboration with research lab OpenAI, has been experimenting with AI in the form of a GPT-3 text editor to emulate a coach that provides both play-calling advice and motivational speeches based on the situation a team is currently facing. GPT-3 is an AI language model developed by OpenAI that employs a Transformer model to create content in any voice, style, or tone by leveraging assets freely available on the internet.

The basic idea is to aggregate play calls made by other head coaches facing similar situations alongside all the best motivational speeches ever given by head coaches. The GPT-3 text editor then makes suggestions concerning what calls to make and is even capable of synthesizing speeches given by different head coaches to create a new speech.

OpenAI then asked “superfans” to rate both the play calls and the speeches given. The fans didn’t always think much of the play calls being suggested when the game was on the line. In an NBA game down 2 points with 10 seconds left on offense, AI would run a set play that specifically looked for a 2-point jump shot to tie the game. Many NBA superfans would deviate from that strategy, with 28.2% opting to run a set play for a 3-pointer to win the game. In an NFL game, following a touchdown with no time left and being down 1 point, AI would go for a 2-point conversion to win the game instead of a less risky extra point to tie. The AI play calls, however, may still represent the best chance to win the game. After all, fans don’t always make the right call themselves.

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The motivational speeches received higher marks. Out of the five speeches fans were asked to rate, two of the three AI speeches created took the top two spots, with motivational ratings of 6.82 and 6.47. However, a third AI speech was also rated by far the lowest (6.07).

Both of the real coach speeches were identifiable by fans as given by an actual coach. The realness of AI speeches was a mixed bag, with one speech netting a 66.4% real-sounding rating; the other two were rated below 60% for realness. The main limitation identified by researchers is how real the AI-generated speeches can actually sound.

Coaching beyond sports

The study is part of an ongoing effort to determine to what degree AI might be capable of becoming a viable tool to enable other types of leaders to make more informed decisions, said Kristin Tynski, a project manager for SportsBettingDime. “You could apply it to business executives,” she said.

In theory at least, if an AI platform knows what strategies were employed by business leaders that faced a similar challenge, it could provide timely advice to the “head coach” of a business.

It may be a while before AI can deliver on that promise, but it’s worth noting that many of the challenges business leaders encounter today are not new. Other business executives have faced similar challenges that might be readily captured in published case studies in outlets such as the Harvard Business Review.

Humans can come up with any number of innovative approaches to overcoming a particular business challenge. However, people will waste a lot of time agonizing over small issues when a solution to the problem is readily at hand. One way or another, just about everybody will one day have their own personal digital assistant coach. The degree to which anyone will act on that advice naturally will vary based on both mood and previous experiences.

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Categories
Game

PAX West Requiring COVID Vaccine, Negative Test to Get In

PAX West, the Seattle-based gaming convention run by Penny Arcade and ReedPop, has reversed its lax stance on COVID safety. Anyone attending the event will now need either proof that they’ve been vaccinated or a recent, negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test.

PAX West 2020 was canceled, like many other events, due to the coronavirus pandemic last year. The event and its organizers quickly drew criticism earlier this year for announcing that the event would take place in person without any vaccination requirements. Along with a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination, attendees of PAX West will need to provide a “valid, government-issued ID.”

In an email, ReedPop global gaming event director Kyle Marsden-Kish wrote “We are pleased to announce that, in line with the recommendations of state and local public health authorities, we will be implementing a vaccination or negative COVID-19 test requirement for everyone at PAX West.”

We're pleased to announce that, in line with the recommendations of state and local public health authorities, we will be implementing a vaccination or negative COVID-19 test requirement for everyone at #PAXWest. Read the full update at: https://t.co/1ZtYPOCQeI pic.twitter.com/hZJkFeRngR

— PAX (@pax) July 27, 2021

The driving force behind this change in position may be the Delta variant of COVID-19. This version of the virus, first spotted in Washington State this past April, is “more transmissible compared with other variants” according to the Washington State Department of Health. Washington State recently rescinded a majority of its COVID restrictions, but the virus is still present in the state.

Notably, in King County, which includes Seattle, positive cases of COVID-19 have been increasing steadily since the start of July. That being said, the positive case rate is still far below where it was during the virus’ peak last year. PAX West 2021 is currently set to begin on September 3.

Editors’ Choice




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Security

WhatsApp starts a private beta test of multi-device support

Until now, using WhatsApp web on your desktop or any other device has required having a phone that’s powered on and connected, but a new beta test is trying out support for multiple devices without needing a phone in the mix. In a June interview, WhatsApp head Will Cathcart and his boss, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, commented on the technical challenge of maintaining end-to-end encryption. With a blog post today, Cathcart explains more about what has been done behind the scenes to maintain security.

WhatsApp’s message architecture.
Image: Facebook

As the image comparing the legacy and new systems (above) tries to explain, previously, a user’s phone managed the key determining their identity and ability to encrypt/decrypt messages. The encrypted synchronization also applies to message history, contact names, and other data, with keys maintained on the individual devices.

To start, the beta is going out to a limited group of testers who are already in WhatsApp’s beta program, while the team says it’s working on improving performance and adding more features.



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Tech News

This Android app can test your phone’s water resistance without water

A user on Reddit, going by rayw_reddit, recently posted in the r/Samsung subreddit that they had built a new app to test water resistance for smartphones. The app claims to test the IP67/IP68 water-resistance seals without having to dunk the device in water. The creator says the app was designed to give people confidence that their expensive smartphone is water-resistant.

The app can also be used to hold repair shops accountable to ensure that water resistance has been restored after repairs. For those wondering how an app could test water resistance, it works by using the barometer built into the phone. The builder says that two community members at Reddit tested the app and confirmed its methodology is the same that Samsung service technicians use.

There are a few scenarios where the app builder says the creation can be particularly useful. One useful situation could be when a battery replacement is needed. In that situation, the user could run the app before taking it in for repairs to ensure the seals for water resistance are intact. When the device returns from the repair shop, the user can run the app again to see if the water-resistance seals still intact.

If the water resistance is no longer intact, the user can go back to the shop for repairs or a refund. Another potential use scenario is testing a used phone that is supposed to be water-resistant or a new phone with claimed water resistance. Water resistance is a big deal as phones are often exposed to liquids in day-to-day use ranging from spills to getting caught in the rain or splashing water on your device while washing hands. The app can be downloaded on Google Play.

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