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Sleight’s writer-director on how his superhero origin story was ‘like making movies in high school’ – The Verge

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Sleight’s writer-director on how his superhero origin story was ‘like making movies in high school’ – The Verge

As superhero films get bigger, louder, and more dominant on international screens, there’s been an increasing wave of excitement over smaller hero films — movies that tap into similar themes of valor, sacrifice, and power, without prioritizing explosions and the same old world-ending threats. That explains some of the early response to J.D. Dillard’s Sleight, a shoestring-budgeted indie film about Bo Wolfe, a black street magician (rapper and Collateral Beauty actor Jacob Latimore) navigating the L.A. drug-dealing scene and drawing on his magic and engineering skills to take care of his little sister after their mother’s death. Sleight has been widely billed as a small-scale superhero origin story, but it’s also a family story about someone who’s so determined to survive that he makes choices other people wouldn’t — physical choices at first, then moral ones.

Director J.D. Dillard was a receptionist at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company when he started planning Sleight with co-writer Alex Theurer. His position there led him to a tech credit on Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which inspired him find the funding to shoot his own film through friends at Diablo Entertainment, then get Sleight picked up by Blumhouse Productions, the company backing Get Out, M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, and other recent small-scale horror hits. As Sleight’s release approaches, I talked to Dillard, who’s currently shooting his next movie, Sweetheart, in New Zealand. “If you were to tell me a year and a half ago that I’d miss the entire theatrical run of my first film because I was shooting another one, I would not believe you at all,” he says. “That’s certainly not a problem any of my friends are empathetic to.” Dillard had a lot to say about whether Sleight should be approached as a hero movie, what Force Awakens taught him, and where crime and street magic meet.

The advance PR calls Sleight a superhero origin story, but is that how you think of it? Does that description give viewers the right expectations?

It’s funny, it’s certainly a genre-stamp that hit the movie after we made it. When Alex and I sat down to put this thing together, it was very much born of wanting to hint at elements within these genres that we are really obsessed with. But more than identifying as an origin story, for us it was a fun exercise in plate-spinning, to have a little space to tell a crime story, a street-magic story stemming from my own obsession and practice of that art form. And there’s family, and a little bit of a love story, and a natural affinity toward science fiction. As Sleight is being called a superhero origin story, we completely see and understand that. But its intent was a little less specific.

An origin story implies an ongoing story. Do you see this as a potentially ongoing series?

For sure. Especially looking at how the movie ends, there is certainly some trajectory to transition to a larger story. But our intent in ending the movie the way it is was more for implied scale. We knew going into this film how little money we had, so we hint at things off-camera, hint at things in the future. It seemed like a really good way to remind our audience that the world that we’re in has some capacity for scale.

If someone said, “This character should be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, let’s do a $300 million sequel,” would you? Or can Bo’s story only can be told at this small scale?

It would be an interesting and strange conversation to add that kind of financial scale to Sleight. We want the budgets of the things we work on to match the needs of the movie. I don’t think the next step would have to be that gigantic. Sleight is bringing some of these superhero pieces down to the most elemental, face-value, practical level. We wouldn’t want it to be so big that we betray what the DNA of Sleight is to begin with.

What were the most important elements for you in building Bo?

There’s so much of myself in Bo, in that he’s obsessed with technology, and can take apart computers and rebuild electronics, coupled with this specific obsession with card magic. I dove into my own interests as Alex and I put this story together. And then on the other side, very early on, Alex and I found this cool, natural relationship between the skill sets of street magic and crime. There’s quite a bit of crossover in that Venn diagram of what would potentially make you good at either.

Sleight
Jacob Latimore in Sleight
Blumhouse Productions

What kinds of skills are you thinking of?

Both require a certain level of deception, and the constant maintenance of various personality traits. The thing that is so weird about magic is, it’s really not a reach to call it professional lying. That’s also true for crime, and I find a lot of that in filmmaking as well. [Laughs] It’s deception, the ability to be a chameleon, to be different things to different people when you need to. It is creating allure for something. There’s a salesmanship to Bo. And then there is the up-close-and-personal faux-empathetic aspect. I think it all is under the umbrella of deceit. In looking for a story we could tell about a magician, we quickly realized that there could be a few places where these stories intersect, if we also were planning a story about a crime.

What was your role on Star Wars: The Force Awakens? What did you learn that you put into play here?

“Production and technical services” is a great catch-all term for a lot of us who work on movies in ways that are hard to categorize. I ended up working for J.J. Abrams and his family on that movie. One incredible side effect was, I got to be a fly on the wall, watching my favorite film franchise come to life at the hands of one of my favorite filmmakers. It wasn’t really about specific things I was learning day-to-day. On the one side, I don’t think there is anything bigger that could be demystified for me. Coming from someone with a Star Wars tattoo, and given that Star Wars is the sole reason I’m in the business to begin with, I think to be up close to a film like that, both in its actual scale, and then the scale that it occupies in my own headspace and my own influence, it was really incredible to see that all movies are kind of the same.

No matter how many zeroes are at the end of the budget, you’re still asking the same questions, you’re still worried about the same things. You still want people to care about this moment. You still want this shot to come through cleanly. And it doesn’t matter if there are eight people on set, or 800. Ultimately, you’re still trying to fit a specific thing into a specifically crafted widescreen box, and you want people to feel something. So I think just realizing that even a movie like that isn’t born of some immaculate conception. It is compromise and evolution. It really is enough to give you agency to go make something, because you just realize that even in your dream version of making a film like that, you’re still going to just be figuring it out.

It was never writing a Buzzfeed article, “10 great things J.J. does that I would like to do!” It was a much more abstract experience. He really showed me the leadership component of filmmaking. For a year, you’re running a business, where you have employees with lives and personalities and passions that you’re navigating. Just to see how he valued other people creatively and personally, that is something I could practically learn from. It’s a healthy mindset to be in. It’s the best ideology.


J.D. Dillard
Blumhouse Productions

Making Bo a role model and a drug-dealer seems potentially controversial, but it also speaks to his lack of options as a teenager trying to support his sister, and living without a safety net. But you don’t foreground the social issues of his choices. You don’t make it political. Was it important to you to not spell anything out too much?

Obviously, it’s a trope that’s unfortunately very recognizable for black characters in movies, in having something to do with street-level drugs and committing crimes. Part of the goal in centering ourselves in that world was to find a different, empathetic way into a trope that’s maybe a little too familiar. By centering it on this kid who is brilliant and artistic and has a scholarship going for him, we’re showing that a fall into this world really could happen to anyone. If everything you hold dear slowly started unraveling and you had massive responsibility, and part of that responsibility is shielding someone you care about from even knowing that this is going on… There are certain sacrifices we make to take care of the people around us. We don’t just want to paint that familiar iconography. We wanted to find a different way into it, then [go] past it.

And if you read between the lines in Sleight, there’s enough evidence that we’re not fully falling into the trope, I would hope. Bo’s neighborhood is actually not bad. He’s not in a crime-infested, impoverished area. He’s trying to keep his sister in the environment she’s comfortable in. But also, what he does is a very different brand of drug-dealing, one less associated with the urban crime story. When you look at a show like High Maintenance — if we had another act to talk about Bo’s clientele, these are the kinds of stories we would see. Which hints why Bo would consider selling drugs in the first place. He’s savvy enough to not end up on the corner selling dope. And his boss, Angelo, at first glance, isn’t a gun-toting gang-banger. Bo is making an educated compromise, something he thinks he can keep at arm’s distance.

Your portrayal of the L.A. drug-dealing scene falls far outside the usual film and TV clichés. It’s unusually specific, especially in the way you portray Angelo. What are you drawing from here?

Being a young person in L.A. who has certainly tried to maintain some semblance of a social life the past few years… When somebody wants molly, this is the personality you see. It’s certainly a criminal thing, but the culture surrounding it is very not criminal. It’s kind of personable and relatable, like, “Oh yeah, blah-blah is coming around if you want anything.” That is just the nature of this specific brand of so-called “service.” This is the party-drug culture in Los Angeles. While still illegal, the culture surrounding it seems tame and relatable and down-to-earth. It seems easy. Placing Bo within that, and also wanting to remind the audience that he is smart and he is only trying to put one toe into this, this seemed like the easiest venue and the easiest route for him to participate.

You’ve cited Unbreakable and Chronicle as proof that you can do this kind of low-key superhero movie, but did any comic books figure in your inspirations?

My comic-book obsession is specifically not in the superhero universe, which is kind of peculiar. I’m a huge fan of Brian Wood. The comic book DMZ is my favorite, favorite, favorite comic series. And all the other things I read are sort of adjacent to the superhero world. So Chew is something I love, and 100 Bullets, and Y: The Last Man. I think if you look at Sleight and these comics I’m obsessed with, there is a kind of cool relationship in the not-superheroes side of it, in that these are sort of genre-adjacent stories, while not overtly superhero. While Sleight could just as easily be a superhero story, I think it could, on the complete opposite side of things, be “genre-adjacent.” Instead of being boldly a superhero story, it’s in that in-between place.

Because the goal was not to overtly create a superhero movie, but more so a coming-of-age story about balancing your passion with the pragmatic needs of life. The inspirations weren’t necessarily starting with superhero material.

Superhero comics are going through such a diversity struggle right now. Did you feel a push to bring more stories about black lives into the canon?

A thousand percent. It was definitely by design that we were telling a genre story that centered on characters of color. Science fiction rarely centers on black characters, so this is me carving out my hopeful contribution to that conversation. We really do want to tell stories with different faces. It doesn’t always need to be about “the black experience.” Part of the route for creating empathy is to not necessarily alienate the audience by putting the story solely in someone’s very specific experience.

My approach for a lot of the things Alex and I are writing is finding the truth in what people do. The case could be made that Bo could be swapped out with someone of any race, and the story would completely still make sense. That’s why the specific drug dealing he’s doing, and the specific neighborhood he’s living in [are important]. This isn’t the story of the black experience, it’s a story about making sacrifices to take care of the people you care about. For me, there are plenty of stories surrounding the black experience. The movie I’m making now, Sweetheart, is meant as a really cool survival-horror thriller that has a different face, a different lead. It doesn’t need to be completely about the experience of being black. It’s about what it means to be a young woman who’s discovering who she is. And for me, that does so much work in so many different directions. It’s not better or worse than a story about civil rights, or slavery, or Chi-Raq. It’s just a different route toward building empathy.

Sleight
Jacob Latimore in Sleight
Blumhouse Productions

When you talk about sacrifices — Bo’s making a huge physical sacrifice for his magic. That kept bringing me back to The Prestige, and its philosophy about what you have to give up to be a convincing magician. Was that a touchstone?

Not exactly. It’s so weird to admit how little reference we pulled from other movies about magic. Part of that was just because we wanted to carve new territory. Most of the conversation, and the magic tricks we used, came from my own experience and love of performing. The sacrifice Bo makes — we wanted it to manifest physically. We wanted something an outsider could look at and say, “I don’t get it.” It’s one thing to spend all your time performing, and have other people say, “Well, maybe you should also spend time on X, Y, and Z.” It’s another thing for there to be a degree of self-harm involved. That was just the alienation we needed for Bo, for other people around him to not understand his love and passion specifically. We gave him the tools to freak people out a little.

What was it like tackling the special effects you wanted on such a shoestring budget?

It’d be one thing if we wrote the script and then were told, “Okay, now you have to shoot this for $10.” “Okay, how do we do that? How do we take this trick we planned and make it work?” Instead, we knew we had $10 at the outset, so we could plan how we were showing things. There’s only one true CG shot, because that’s all we could afford. Everything else is a combination of plates and digital removal. If you saw the behind-the-scenes images of Sleight, it’d really remind you of making movies in high school. It’s a small group of us huddled around with props floating from green sticks, hanging from nearly invisible strings. It looks incredibly lo-fi, but we knew that was what we had to do.

So it just took a lot of testing to see how these things would play on camera. We used shoestrings and bubblegum to hold most of these things together, and it was just a question of how to make that fit best on camera. The budget concessions are like, “It might have been cooler to shoot in this club, not that club. To get this location, not that location.” But those are all minor. Even up to where the movie ends, we told ourselves, “We can hint toward how big this story can get, but that’ll be plenty for us. That’ll be satisfying and satiating, just to let you know ‘This story could get big.’”


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Twitch kicks off Science Week by streaming Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’

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Twitch kicks off Science Week by streaming Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’

After the second broadcast, the official Twitch channel will air a live Q&A with Ann Druyan, Cosmos co-creator and Sagan’s wife. Druyan said she’s "truly excited to share Cosmos… with the vast Twitch community." Her husband "wanted to tear down the walls that exclude most of us from the scientific experience," after all, "so that we could take the awesome revelations of science to heart." She added that "the power of the original Cosmos series, with its enduring appeal to every generation since, is evidence of how much we hunger to feel our connection to the universe."

The marathon and Druyan’s interview aren’t the only things you can look forward to. As part of Science Week, Twitch is also interviewing quite a lengthy list of prominent personalities in the field, including:

  • Matthew Buffington – Director of Public Affairs at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and host of NASA in Silicon Valley podcast
  • Ariane Cornell — Head of Astronaut Strategy and Sales and Head of North American Sales for the New Glenn Rocket at Blue Origin
  • Scott Manley — Astronomer and online gaming personality under the handle, "Szyzyg," best known for video content about science and video games like Kerbal Space Program
  • Pamela Gay — Astronomer and Principal Investigator of CosmoQuest, a citizen science facility, and the Director of Technology and Citizen Science at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
  • Kishore Hari — Science educator and director of Bay Area Science Festival, based out of the University of California, San Francisco, best known as one of the lead organizers of the global March for Science
  • Fraser Cain — Publisher of Universe Today, one of the most visited space and astronomy news websites on the internet, which he founded in 1999. He’s also the co- host of the long running Astronomy Cast podcast with Dr. Pamela Gay. Fraser is an advocate for citizen science in astronomy, and on the board of directors for Cosmoquest, which allows anyone to contribute to discoveries in space and astronomy.
  • EJ_SA — Streaming on Twitch since December 2012, EJ_SA has been focused on showing viewers the seemingly magical accomplishments of past, present, and future space programs in KSP. This is where Space Shuttles fly, Rockets land, and Space Stations are built! Interactive chat, questions answered and weird facts about space all come together here!
  • Phil Plait — Astronomer and science communicator. He writes the Bad Astronomy blog for Syfy Wire, was the head science writer for the new Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World!, and is the science consultant on the science fiction mini-series Salvation coming out in the summer of 2017. He is a tireless promoter of science and lives to share his joy for the natural world.


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Accents are easier on the brain if you can identify them – The Verge

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Accents are easier on the brain if you can identify them – The Verge

I was born and raised in Rome, so Italian is my native language. Now I live in the US, and I’m basically bilingual. Yet, when I hear other people speak English with an accent, sometimes I have a hard time understanding what they’re saying. In movies with a character who’s a non-native English speaker — or even has an accent I’m unused to, like an Irish one — I sometimes struggle; if I don’t turn on the subtitles, I’ll miss half of what they’re saying. But when I hear a fellow Italian speak English, even with a thick accent, I have no problems at all. I understand everything.

I’ve always found this frustrating. Am I stupid, or is this normal? Now, I might have finally found a scientific answer to my question: I’m probably normal. Our brains respond differently to different accents, and we can better process foreign-accented speech if we can identify the accent we hear, according to a study coming out next month in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.

Am I stupid, or is this normal?

The genesis of the study, actually, is pretty similar to my experience. One of the study authors, Janet van Hell, is originally from the Netherlands. When she moved to the US, where she spoke English as a second language, she noticed that her interactions with people changed. “My speaker identity changed,” van Hell, a professor of psychology and linguistics at Penn State, said in a statement. “I suddenly had a foreign accent, and I noticed that people were hearing me differently, that my interactions with people had changed because of my foreign accent. And I wanted to know why that is, scientifically.”

So she and Sarah Grey, an assistant professor of modern languages and literature at Fordham University, decided to look at what happens in the brain of monolingual native English speakers when they listen to foreign accents. They had a group of 29 college students living in central Pennsylvania listen to sentences spoken both in plain American-English and in a Chinese-English accent.

Some sentences had grammar or vocabulary errors. For example, in a sentence like “Thomas was planning to attend the meeting but she missed the bus to school,” the pronoun “she” is obviously wrong. And in the sentence, “Kaitlyn traveled across the ocean in a cactus to attend the conference,” the word “cactus” should have been “airplane.”

One of the study subjects taking the language test
Janet van Hell

As the subjects listened to the sentences, their brain activity was monitored through an electroencephalogram — a way to observe electrical activity in the brain. The EEG showed that the brains responded differently to the different accents. (The study didn’t check to see if the 29 subjects actually recognized the mistakes in the sentences — it just looked at brain activity.) The researchers then asked the subjects whether they recognized the accents they had just heard. They found that those who correctly identified the Chinese-English accent had a more active brain response, Grey tells The Verge. Their brains basically responded to both grammar and vocabulary errors, no matter what the accent was. But those subjects who didn’t identify the Chinese-English accent did not respond to grammar errors. “When the error was present in the sentence, the brain didn’t respond to it,” Grey says. That didn’t happen with the plain American-English accent.

This study only looked at native English speakers and how they process accents, so it doesn’t totally apply to me. English is my second language, so something else might be happening in my brain when I listen to, say, an Australian. But Grey and van Hell are looking at exactly my situation next: how bilingual people process accents differently, and whether hearing their own accent helps with comprehension.

I can’t wait to see those results, and finally get a better understanding of what the heck is going on in my brain. I sometimes find myself wondering if I should have stayed in Italy, rather than complicating my life by going to another country and speaking a language that’s not my own — an existential question I think a lot of immigrants face. I love that science is beginning to address questions like this, ones that are meaningful to my experience.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: The Prettiest Phone Wins

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: The Prettiest Phone Wins

All product photos: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

With the exploding Note 7 battery fiasco, Samsung inadvertently did something that’s increasingly difficult these days: It made smartphones interesting for a flickering moment. Super interesting in fact. Besides the intrigue of the mournful saga of Note 7, whose embarrassing recall cost the company billions, Samsung also set up a dramatic release narrative for the Galaxy S8. This wasn’t just another smartphone—this was a make-or-break device charged with saving a company in the throes of an existential crisis. A smartphone that screams at the void—yikes!

With the stakes high, Samsung has delivered a device that legitimately stands out from the rest. The Galaxy S8 is a good enough phone that Samsung can likely leave that Note 7 drama behind. (Though, you know, we’re still waiting to see what unfortunate cataclysm will befall the S8 now.) Ultimately, what makes the S8 a winner isn’t any of the assistant smart features that manufacturers have been pushing hard over the last few years—in fact Samsung’s entrant here, Bixby, falls short. The S8 wins with an industry-leading hardware design that challenges the iPhone’s aesthetic supremacy.

The Pixel (right) always looked dorky with it’s home button free bezel, but it looks even worse next to the micro-bezel on the S8+ (left).

If you buy the Galaxy S8, you’re buying it because its the most beautiful phone available. While it falls short of being completely bezel-less, it might as well be. Though LG released a similarly bezel-less device earlier this year, it suffered from an excess of simplicity. Samsung is way ahead of most competitors you would realistically consider, like the Google Pixel, and the iPhone 7, which are both encased in unsightly prisons of bezel.

The S8+ (left) versus last year’s S7 Edge (right).

The design is a huge leap forward for Samsung, which has been inching in this direction for years with its edge display devices. This thing is practically all display on the front—Samsung even got rid of its physical home button. The phone’s gently rounded edges and curves create the effect of a display that’s simply floating in the air or hovering just above your hand. There are no jarring interruptions to the minimal design. It feels like you’re looking at a phone from the future, rather than a tired rehash of a winning design from the past—unsurprisingly, Apple is reportedly considering a similar look on its forthcoming iPhone.

The S8 comes in two display sizes—a 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 ($750), and the 6.2-inch S8+ ($850). I tested the S8+, but the only difference between the two devices is size and price. Those display sizes make it difficult to compare them to other devices. Both S8s have an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, as opposed the more traditional 16:9 shape. Consequently the S8+ is a little thicker and taller than the iPhone 7 Plus, as well as very slightly narrower. Nitpicking aside, they’re basically the same size:

The S8+ and iPhone 7 Plus (bottom).

There’s been some debate about the merits of the new 18.5:9 aspect ratio (LG, again, did something similar this year, too). Most of the content you will view on websites, Netflix, Hulu, and so on, is 16:9 so it fills up the entirety of devices like the iPhone. Meanwhile, watch the same content on the S8, and the picture will be surrounded by black bars. It feels wasteful, but, as you see in the image above, it isn’t the end of the world.

Galaxy S8+’s display is bright and vibrant.

Compared to the other phones you might consider buying these days, the S8’s OLED is noticeably brighter and more vivid. Your photos will pop on this display.

Bixby’s dashboard looks a lot like the old Google Now interface.

Besides the hardware design, the other fresh addition in the S8 is Bixby, Samsung’s newly acquired digital assistant tech that’s meant to compete with Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa.

At launch, Bixby will not support voice commands, though Samsung promises that feature will land this spring. I promised myself I wasn’t going to nail Samsung for shipping unfinished product (despite what happened the last time Samsung did). In the end I don’t need to. Most voice assistants are dumb as hell, including Google Assistant, which is also built into the S8, but Bixby’s bad enough that adding voice support wouldn’t even make a difference.

Many of Bixby’s features seem amazing at first glance. Like the hardware button Samsung has built onto the side of the phone. It wakes Bixby up with a touch instead of a shout. There is nothing I hate more than invoking assistants by name. OK Google—tell me I sound like an asshole! Push the button, and Bixby’s Google Now-like dashboard display pops up, showing your appointments, the weather, and information from supported apps like Samsung Health and CNN.

The Galaxy S8 is the prettiest phone you can buy right now.

In practice, the additional hardware button just causes confusion. I frequently hit it instead of the volume down button, pulling up the assistant instead of taking a photo or reducing the loudness of my music. Worse, one morning when the S8’s alarm clock woke me up at the ungodly hour I go to the gym, I dumbly fumbled around for my phone and instead of waking it up to turn off my alarms, I was presented with all the meetings I had planned for the day, as if Bixby’s sole purpose was to remind my that my every waking hour will be toil and suffering.

The assistant’s potentially most impressive feature is Bixby Vision, which allows you to use the phone’s camera to search by image. This kind of technology has existed from years—Amazon introduced an impressive feature called Flow three years ago. So it’s incredible how bad this feature is.

When you tap the little Bixby Vision button in the S8’s camera app, the tool takes a moment to process what you’re looking at, and then presents you with the option to use the image to do a general search, a shopping search, or in the event that it identifies wine or text, to treat the visual information accordingly.

The only Bixby Vision tool that works with any level of consistency is the shopping tool, which identified a Monster energy drink (SUGAR FREE!) and a Neil deGrasse Tyson book correctly. When I pointed it at very expensive over-ear headphones headphones, it tried to sell me moderately priced earbuds, which fair enough, I don’t need to spend $900 on headphones.

Bixby’s shopping search works reliably.

The more general image search capability is a joke, and feels like a failure. The only image it was able to identify correctly is an old photograph by German documentary photographer August Sander. Sure, this is just a Pinterest search, but I’m having trouble figuring out what the hell the point of this is.

Bixby’s Pinterest-powered search is not very useful for anything.

As for the wine and text tools—they need serious work. The only time Bixby identified a wine bottle, I wasn’t pointing it at wine. The text tool has a hard job, and tends to interpret everything but the cleanest Helvetica typography as a garbled mess.

Hello Bixby, you suck.

Beyond the frustrating assistant, Samsung’s software is actually really nicely refined. TouchWiz, the company’s proprietary spin on Android, is no longer the unattractive horrorshow it was for years—mostly because Samsung has increasingly stayed out of Google’s way. Some of Samsung’s software additions are legitimately useful, like the Apps Edge drawer, which slides out a customizable collection of your favorite apps with a swipe from the right edge of the display.

Samsung’s camera is good enough for your snaps and ‘grams. There’s no dual camera like you’re finding on some other devices, but at least it comes with some built-in Snapchat Lens-like filters—Cool?

The S8’s most annoying quirk is the oddly-placed fingerprint sensor.

Less cool is Samsung moving the fingerprint scanner to the back of the phone to the side of the camera was a mistake. It’s not placement on the back so much, which was likely necessary to make that beautiful bezel-less front. It’s that the sensor is off center so it lacks the intuitive feel of fingerprint sensors that are smack in the middle, as in the case of the Google Pixel and LG G6. What’s more, Samsung has gone and put the freaking camera exactly where your brain wants the sensor to be. Instagram your fried chicken dinner at your own risk.

In the end, the Galaxy S8 handily smokes the Android competition as the top phone you can buy. It’s prettier and slicker than the Pixel, and though Bixby feels a little unfinished for the moment, you can still use Google Assistant. The S8 also measures up favorably with the iPhone 7, and whether you choose one or the other probably comes down to something as simple as whether you want Samsung’s forward-thinking ideas or Apple’s refined simplicity. Or maybe you want a headphone jack—the S8 has one!

As for whether you should upgrade, well, that’s another question entirely. How busted is your current phone? Is it broken and you need a new one? The S8 is a great option. Is your phone less than two years old and humming along fine? Wait until next year.

What’s truly interesting about the S8 is just how compelling a phone can be on the merits of its great design alone. Bixby is basically rubbish, and yet the phone is a winner. Perhaps it shouldn’t be all that surprising: Top flagship phones with beefy specs are going to perform very well without fail these days. They all have good cameras and day-long battery life and processors that can chop through huge mobile games. It’s so challenging to make a device stand out that manufacturers are employing all manner of gimmicks, like voice assistants and modular accessories, to see if they can’t make their devices standout. None of those technologies improve your life quite as much as a design that plays into our crudest superficiality; I stare at my phone all goddamn day—I want to look at something pretty.

README

The prettiest phone you can buy right now.

The new 18.5:9 aspect ratio doesn’t really make a huge difference, but you will notice black bars around your YouTube videos now.

Bixby Vision is really only good as a shopping tool.

Bixby, like all AI assistants, is too half-baked to be really useful in a life-changing way.

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Google Play Music comes with special features on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ – GSMArena.com news

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Google Play Music comes with special features on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ – GSMArena.com news

Today the Galaxy S8 and S8+ are launching in the first few markets, and Google has outed an interesting announcement to coincide with that moment. The search giant is letting us know that it’s partnered with Samsung to make its Play Music app the default music player and service on the Korean company’s Android devices.

The first two to benefit from this arrangement are the Galaxy S8 and S8+, of course. This isn’t just a matter of being the default app, however, as Play Music has a special feature on Samsung’s new flagship smartphones.

While usually you can upload 50,000 songs from your collection to the service for easy streaming afterwards, if you have an S8 or S8+ you are able to upload twice that amount – so 100,000 tracks. This will come in especially handy if your musical tastes are of the niche variety and Play Music doesn’t have your favorites in its database.

But wait, there’s more! If you bought a new Samsung phone or tablet, you’ll get a free three month trial of the Play Music subscription streaming service. This gives you ad-free and on-demand access to more than 40 million songs and thousands of playlists. You also get access to YouTube Red where that’s available.

Finally, Google says Play Music will work well with Bixby, Samsung’s nascent virtual assistant. If you’re a Play Music subscriber you’ll be able to ask Bixby to play stuff for you – that is, when Bixby’s voice interface will launch for English, because at this point it’s still “coming soon”.

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Hulu eyes Joe Hill’s ‘Locke & Key’ horror comic for new series

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Hulu eyes Joe Hill’s ‘Locke & Key’ horror comic for new series

The comic follows three siblings of the Locke family returning to their ancestral home in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, after their father is brutally murdered. There they explore a house with doors unlocked by magical keys that bestow powers…and a malevolent demon determined to steal them all for itself.

Cuse developed the pilot while Hill wrote its script. The son of horror icon Stephen King, Hill wrote several best-selling novels (Heart-Shaped Box, NOS4ATU, The Fireman) before embarking on Locke & Key with artist Rodriguez, which took home a couple British Fantasy Awards and an Eisner, comics’ Oscar-equivalent.

The first pass at a Locke & Key adaptation was six years ago, when Fox ultimately passed on a pilot backed by producer pair Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and starring Mirando Otto and Nick Stahl. Amazon’s audiobook service Audible adapted the series into a 13-hour radio drama in 2015 with its own impressive cast, but here’s hoping Hulu’s take is the small screen version the comic’s fans have been waiting for.


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This $70 Harmony Remote Includes the All-Powerful Harmony Hub

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This $70 Harmony Remote Includes the All-Powerful Harmony Hub

$70 for a Logitech Harmony remote is a great deal on its face, but the real reason to buy this model is the included Harmony Home Hub.

The Hub allows you to use your iPhone, Android device, or even an Amazon Echo to control everything a Harmony remote can (which is basically any piece of home theater gear you can think of). So even when you inevitably lose the included remote behind the couch cushions, you’ll still have multiple ways to take control of all of your home theater gear.

Considering the hub alone sells for over $80 right now, getting the hub plus a remote for an all-time low $70 is a fantastic opportunity.

$70

From amazon

8537 purchased by readers Gizmodo Media Group may get a commission

h/t Eric

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Gmail users will soon get Windows 10’s best new mail and calendar features – The Verge

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Gmail users will soon get Windows 10’s best new mail and calendar features – The Verge

Back in February, Microsoft updated Windows 10’s mail and calendar apps with a few useful features. Focused Inbox shows you only the important emails and puts everything else into an “other” tab. And the calendar app gained the ability to display travel reservations and package delivery details. But at the time, neither of these options worked for Google / Gmail accounts — only for Outlook.com and Office 365 accounts. Thankfully, that won’t be the case much longer.

Today Microsoft announced that it going to be rolling out Gmail support to Windows Insiders over the next few weeks before a wider release to all consumers. Users chosen for early access will receive a prompt to update their account settings to get started.

For all of this to work, Microsoft says it has to sync a copy of your email, calendar, and contacts to its servers. Any changes you make — composing / deleting emails, scheduling new appointments, or adding contacts — are synced back to Google so everything remains up to date.

Microsoft will be “fine tuning” the experience for Gmail users over the next few weeks before Focused Inbox and the helpful summary cards for reservations and package deliveries make their way to all Windows 10 users at a later date. If you’re a Gmail-using Windows Insider and somehow miss the prompt to test out the new features, you’ll receive another reminder “in a few weeks.”

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The rumors are true: ‘Call of Duty’ is going back to World War II

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The rumors are true: ‘Call of Duty’ is going back to World War II

Call of Duty has a long history with the second world war. The franchise debuted in 2003 and its first three installments took place during World War II. In total, four Call of Duty titles have shared the same setting; the most recent was 2008’s World at War.

Three main studios work on the Call of Duty franchise — Treyarch, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer — each one tackling a different entry and staggering release dates accordingly. The latest Call of Duty game, Infinite Warfare, was developed by Infinity Ward and looked to the future, featuring space battles and advanced technology. WWII is set to bring players crashing back to Earth.

Sledgehammer, the studio building WWII, was founded in 2009 by Dead Space veterans Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey. It’s the studio responsible for 2014’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and parts of 2011’s Modern Warfare 3, neither of which take place in a historical timeframe. At least the World War II setting is new to someone.


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Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Essence distilled – GSMArena.com

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Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Essence distilled – GSMArena.com

Introduction

When 5 inches is the de-facto standard for a compact Android handset, yet you want to prove that more is always better, what do you do? Well, it depends on the definition of more. You can do something crazy, stupid or impossible. Samsung? They decided to be sensible. Design a phone, build a screen, put the screen where it always goes. Business as usual.

It’s pretty much the same phone as the Galaxy S7. Size-wise, that is. Only with a 5.8″ display where there used to be a 5.1″ screen.

5.8=5.1. How is this possible? Well, maybe the new Galaxy S is from the same book as this.

Now, back to present time. The LG G6 has been around for some time, and we also asked you to look beyond the diagonal in our Galaxy S8+ review earlier this week. Displays are getting taller and breaking out of the 16:9 box they were trapped in for a few years now. But while LG opted for a square times-two 18:9 ratio, Samsung went with 18.5:9, because why not.

Both of this season’s premium Galaxies are in this bizarre 2.06:1 aspect, but the regular S8 is petite. It’s a millimeter wider than an iPhone 7 with a screen surface of some 40% more than the small-sized Apple (that’s real estate, not diagonal, so it isn’t apples to oranges). Put the S8 next to an S7 and the new one is actually narrower, and visibly so. So from the get go we’d say that the S8 has the most screen you can get in a phone this size, and even a few sizes up.

The flat S-series design is no more. This year’s phones both feature the signature Samsung curved screens. Ever so subtle and nothing like the Note Edge that started it all. Evolution.

This very much finite Infinity display is what makes the headlines, but it’s not without a consequence. The Home button is history – in its place an onscreen navigation bar, the fingerprint sensor relocated, the pressing sensation emulated (sort of) by haptic flutter.

The screen aside, there’s the habitual bump in processing power, courtesy of a brand new 10nm chip – be it Samsung’s own Exynos, or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon (still manufactured by Samsung). RAM has stood still at 4GB (though certain regions may get a 6GB version), and an 8MP autofocus front-facing camera replaces the 5MP fixed-focus shooters that were around for far too long on the company’s flagships.

Samsung Galaxy S8 key features

Body: Polished aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass 5 front and rear; IP68 certified for water and dust resistance. Arctic Silver, Orchid Grey, Black Sky, Maple Gold, and Coral Blue color schemes.

Display: 5.8″ Super AMOLED, 2,960x1440px resolution, 18.5:9 (2.06:1) aspect ratio, 570ppi; HDR 10 compliant (no Dolby Vision).

Rear camera:12MP, f/1.7 aperture, dual pixel phase detection autofocus, OIS; multi-shot image stacking; 2160p/30fps video recording.

Front camera: 8MP, f/1.7 aperture, autofocus; 1440p/30fps video recording.

OS/Software: Android 7.0 Nougat; Bixby virtual assistant.

Chipsets: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835: octa-core CPU (4xKryo 280 + 4xCortex-A53), Adreno 540 GPU. Exynos 8895: octa-core CPU (4x2nd-gen Mongoose + 4xCortex-A53), Mali-G71 GPU.

Memory: 4GB of RAM (a 6GB option likely in some markets, later down the line); 64GB of storage; microSD slot up to 256GB, UFS cards support.

Battery: 3,000mAh Li-Po (sealed); Adaptive Fast Charging (same as S7); QuickCharge 2.0 support; WPC&PMA wireless charging.

Connectivity: Single-SIM, Dual-SIM available in certain markets; LTE-A, 4-Band carrier aggregation, Cat.16/13 (1Gbps/150Mbps); USB Type-C (v3.1); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; GPS, Beidou, Galileo; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0.

Misc: Fingerprint reader; iris recognition/face recognition; single speaker on the bottom; 3.5mm jack; bundled AKG headphones.

Main shortcomings

No stereo speakers

Fingerprint scanner in an inconvenient location (though admittedly easier to reach than on the S8+)

The bulk of the photo and video content doesn’t make the most of the available screen area due to the unusual screen aspect ratio

The S8’s blessing is also its curse – there isn’t exactly an abundance of 18.5:9 content for you to gobble. But with Google backing up the push for wide/tall displays, and Apple rumored to ride the same train come fall, it’s really a matter of time – and not a long time either.

Seriously though, with all its multimedia aspirations, the S8 really has no excuses for not packing a pair of stereo speakers. Even if it’s the makeshift solution of an earpiece doubling as an amp.

If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re not impressed with where the fingerprint reader is, and – senior editor note – that’s the politically correct revision of what the reviewer actually said. In all fairness though, on the tiny S8 it’s not such an exercise to reach, though the camera lens will inevitably get familiar with the ridges in your skin. Cue in those under-display readers already.

That’s the future (near as it may be), but we’re living in the now and around here the Galaxy S8 is what it is – a beautiful phone. Join us on the next page for the unboxing and hardware checkup.

P.S. Check back this page next week for our video review or subscribe to our YouTube channel and turn on the notifications for new content so you don’t miss it.

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