After launching its ridiculous Predator Thronos “gaming chair” last year, a common refrain Acer heard from hopeful buyers was they regretted they couldn’t plop down the $30,000 for the damn thing as it wouldn’t fit in their homes. This year, Acer says its successor, the Predator Thronos Air, is way more “accessible” thanks to a 25 percent reduction in weight, smaller footprint, and added massage feature.
I got to check out the Predator Thronos Air in person, and having done so, it’s apparent Acer and I do not agree on the definition of accessible.
The original Thronos felt like your typical trade show stunt. A perfect example of something Acer built because they could and it would generate buzz that could trickle down to its other products. The existence of the Thronos Air makes me question whether Acer is aware that’s what it was. It very earnestly feels like the company thinks this is something more than a handful of weird millionaires want to buy.
On the floor, I chatted with an Acer representative about why the company felt the need to even come out with a successor to an obvious niche product. That representative told me it really was about listening to user feedback and making a chair that wasn’t just a concept. “The Thronos Air,” the rep told me with a straight face, “this is the chair that people can actually buy and put in their homes.” He went on to tell me that Acer had actually had several potential buyers willing to fork over $30,000, if not for the fact their homes couldn’t physically support the chair.
If you scroll to the bottom of the original Thronos’ product page, you’ll find some fine print. The chair requires an area that measures 8 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet, a floor that can support at least 715 pounds, and it must be installed on the ground floor of a household or “similar environment.” So no apartment dwellers, no penthouse suites, and I guess your mansion needs its own RGB gaming cave on the ground or basement floor. Honestly, the mental image of the Thronos crashing through multiple floors of a house is equal parts funny and horrifying.
The Thronos Air was meant to alleviate some of that while keeping the decadent indulgence of the original. The Acer rep told me it’s made of lighter materials, hence why it weighs 25-percent less. (Though, if math serves, that means you need a floor that can support 536 pounds. That’s hardly Air-like.) And as an added bonus, they added a massage cushion, because if you’re going to spend a year’s worth of my rent on a chair, why the fuck not.
As you might imagine, as soon as the press conference ended, the new Thronos Air was swarmed by sweaty tech journalists elbowing each other for the novelty of gaming for a few minutes while having their backs massaged by this monstrous contraption. I, thinking myself clever, snapped some shots, asked my questions, and scheduled a private booth tour to check out the Thronos Air later. Better photos, no crowds, a chance to shoot video, and really formulate my thoughts and impressions.
Here’s the funny thing. When I showed up for the booth tour at Messe Berlin, I got some sad news. The Predator Thronos Air would not be available on the showroom floor. After the press conference, it was dismantled and shipped elsewhere. The process had apparently taken 3-4 hours, and given the weight, it just wasn’t worth the effort to transport it from a few halls down and up some stairs. It’s not that it couldn’t be done. There’s an original Thronos in the booth (though to be fair, Acer probably has more than one of those). Someone somewhere decided the more “accessible” version just wasn’t worth it, and you know what, I don’t really blame them.
A few months ago, Gizmodo bought a DIY custom 8-monitor rig off Craigslist for $640. It’s admittedly lacking in RGB lighting and cupholders, and there’s definitely no massage component. The original owner only spent $2,300 and a couple hundred hours to build something that functionally, is similar to the Acer’s Thronos chairs. Mayhaps the lesson here is if you can’t resist the thrall of multiple monitors, at least check Craigslist before shelling out $14,000.
We’re live from Berlin at IFA 2019! Click here to read our complete coverage.
I mean, consider the fact that she is using a tuning fork as a blade and that it has a clear weak point (the hinge), which will likely be the first point of failure when the weapon is exposed to extreme Forces. Or that there is no way she doesn’t chop off a limb with one errant swing of the hinge.
And how much give is in the hinge anyways? Is it mean to be more like giant nunchucks or a three-section staff, and if it’s the latter, will her fighting with it hopefully look cooler than every Youtube video I’ve found? (Editor’s note: Cranz insists only three-section staff users look stupid and that nunchucks are always cool).
Overly complex gadgets are neat. No one you know actually wants to own a Galaxy Fold, but if you’re a regular reader of Gizmodo’s gadget coverage you probably, on some level, covet one (or at least want to check it out). There’s a pleasure in a goofy gadget like the foldy phone. A quaintness to its complexity that leaves you with a smile. For me, the Fold and Rey’s dumb sword seem akin to devices tugged out of Skymall catalogs and Sharper Images stores that gave me a love for gadgets in the first place. I’ll honestly be disappointed if that lightsaber doesn’t at least have a calculator built in.
After releasing a simple dongle that finally let the Nintendo Switch connect to wireless headphones, Human Things is back with another product that vastly improves the console’s portability. The Genki Covert Dock replaces the Switch’s charger and TV dock with a streamlined wall adapter that does everything.
Soon after the Switch was released it was discovered that its bulky dock, which allowed the console to be connected to a TV, couldn’t be replaced with one of the existing USB-C to HDMI cable adapters already available for phones and tablets. It didn’t take long for third-party accessory makers to figure out how to replicate what the Switch’s TV dock was doing, and releasing much smaller solutions, but none of them promise as much functionality as Human Things new Genki Covert Dock in such a compact package.
The adapter looks no bigger than the USB-C wall wart Nintendo includes for charging the Switch, but it adds an extra USB 3.1 port for charging other devices like a smartphone, and an HDMI port for connecting the Switch to a TV while its battery is being replenished. You’ll need to remember to bring the requisite cables, but the Genki Covert Dock, which uses Gallium Nitride instead of silicon so there’s more room inside for additional electronics, should take up considerably less room in your daypack or carry-on.
It’s not only compatible with the Nintendo Switch, though. The Genki Covert Dock can also be used with smartphones and tablets (both Android and iOS devices) that support connectivity to an external monitor or display, including laptops. When connecting the Switch to a TV the Covert Dock does need to be plugged in, but for other mobile devices it doesn’t require access to an outlet—it should grab all the power it needs from the device itself.
It seems like it could be a must-have accessory for Switch fans who travel, making it easier to connect the console to a friend’s or a hotel room’s TV. But even if your Switch never leaves the house, swapping out the portable’s included wall wart with the Genki Covert Dock will give you an extra USB port for charging another device, and you can never have too many of those.
So what’s the catch? Like the Genki Bluetooth dongle, Human Things has chosen to bring this product to consumers through a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that’s looking to raise a modest $50,000 in funding. There’s always a risk that a product launched this way may never see the light of day, or be subjected to lengthy delays, but the company’s previous Kickstarter campaign was a success, it fulfilled all the orders to those who had backed it, and presumably it learned something about the process along the way. Early-bird backers can pre-order the Genki Covert Dock for $49, with delivery expected to come as early as December of this year. You can always hold off on pre-ordering until reviews of the hardware are published, but you can expect the price to be considerably more after the Kickstarter campaign closes.
There are casual gamers who like to occasionally pick up a game to relax for a few minutes, and there are more dedicated players who will devote hours to completing games and unlocking achievements. And then there’s those gamers who refer to themselves as “pros” or “hardcore” who must have the highest score, beat a game in the fastest time, and dominate everyone else online. 8BitDo’s new SN30 Pro+ controller, which can be thoroughly customized and reprogrammed through a new app, is designed for that latter crowd.
The company’s controller lineup has primarily focused on retro gaming so far, but when the Switch arrived it started adding more modern features to its controllers like extra shoulder buttons and analog joysticks. The new 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ features a design reminiscent of Nintendo’s own Switch Pro Controller (not a bad thing) but with the analog sticks arranged side by side like Sony does with the PlayStation’s gamepads.
The 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ was first revealed back in 2018 around E3 as a prototype, with features like rumbling haptic feedback, wireless Bluetooth support, built-in motion controls, better ergonomics than the company’s SN30 Pro, and USB-C charging. It was expected to arrive sometime in late 2018, but 8BitDo ended up delaying its release while the company did some fine-tuning, as it explained on Twitter earlier this year.
It turns out that fine-tuning included the addition of one other major feature: the SN30 Pro+’s Ultimate Software which allows the controller to be excruciatingly customized and reprogrammed. Available for Windows and Mac OS at launch (a mobile version might eventually arrive) the software not only allows all of the controller’s buttons to be remapped to a gamer’s preferences, but it also allows multiple inputs to be programmed to a single button. So, yes, inputting the Konami code just got significantly easier.
In addition to programmability, the feel and responsiveness of the SN30 Pro+’s analog buttons and joysticks can also be customized and tweaked so they’re more or less responsive, and those customizations can be saved and reloaded so the controller can be adjusted on a game by game basis. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a controller that boasts such robust customizability, the ALL Controller promised similar functionality a couple of years ago, but it has yet to be released to backers of its Kickstarter campaign. 8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+, on the other hand, is available for pre-order now for $50, and will ship on August 7.
There is one feature the SN30 Pro+ is lacking, however, that could limit its adoption among pro gamers. Out of the box it supports Windows and Mac OS computers, the Nintendo Switch, mobile devices running Android, and even homebrew consoles that are compatible with Bluetooth controllers. What it doesn’t support is the Xbox One or the PS4 by default. Getting any of the 8BitDo controllers to work with those consoles requires additional adapters, and the added cost and hassle might not be worth it. 8BitDo has created simple adapters that allow Microsoft and Sony’s controllers to be used on other systems, but hopefully, it’s got an adapter in the works that allows its own controllers, including the SN30 Pro+, to play nice with the Xbox One and PS4.
There hasn’t been an Apple product as universally maligned and hated as the company’s low profile butterfly keyboards since the Newton PDA. Introduced in 2015 to help MacBooks achieve thinner designs, even Gizmodo staffers have had keys on their laptops that broke, or inexplicably just stopped working. As a result, the company expanded its Keyboard Service Program to fix any problems, and even upgraded the keyboard’s materials; but 2019 could actually see Apple finally switch to a better scissor switch design.
According to a recent report by Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the company will introduce a new scissor switch style keyboard design later this year, reinforced with glass fibers that will not only improve durability, but will also extend key travel which has been another major complaint with the butterfly style switches. In layman’s terms: pounding away on the new keyboard design should offer a much better tactile experience. Kuo also points out that while the scissor switch design will still be more expensive than what most laptop makers are using, it will be actually cheaper than the butterfly design, so seemingly a win-win solution for Apple.
The bad news is that Ming-Chi Kuo also claims the new keyboard design will only be introduced on a new MacBook Air later this year, and not the 16-inch MacBook Pro that many suspect Apple will announce in the Fall. The MacBook Pro line supposedly won’t see the new scissor switch keyboards included until 2020, eventually replacing the butterfly keyboards altogether.
So if you’ve been holding off on upgrading your MacBook, you might want to hold out even longer now—if you can.
You can get a very capable smartwatch for a few hundred bucks now, as long as you’re not overly concerned with aesthetics. Following luxury watchmakers like TAG Heuer, Garmin’s new MARQ line strives to finally bridge the gap between stylish analog timepieces and less stylish smartwatches. But with a price tag ranging from $1,500 to $2,500, a disappointing display lets down the nicest smartwatch I’ve ever strapped to my wrist.
Garmin designed the MARQ line to emulate analog tool watches, made by companies like Breitling and TAG Heuer, which include additional functionality and complications tailored to specific sports or activities. For the MARQ line that includes five different pieces: the Aviator, Driver, Captain, Expedition, and Athlete. At $1,500, the Athlete, which we got to spend time with, is the most affordable option in Garmin’s lineup, but it in no way feels like the company cheaped out on the base model.
The Apple Watch has a beautiful aesthetic and is a great example of Apple’s attention to detail when it comes to product design and materials. But while I wouldn’t describe it as frail, I also tend to avoid wearing it during more physical activities like cycling, kayaking, or swimming as I’ve seen friends’ Apple Watches bite the dust during an accident. By comparison, I feel I could run head first into a hurricane with the MARQ Athlete strapped to my wrist, and it would be the only thing that didn’t come out the other side without a scratch.
Made from actual titanium, the same stuff the Air Force builds fighter jets from, the MARQ Athlete genuinely feels like you’re strapping a tank to your wrist. It’s also got a sapphire glass screen, so you’ll need to do more than just fall off a bike to shatter or even scratch the watch’s face, and an equally Tonka-tough ceramic bezel. The five buttons used to navigate the watch’s user interface feel even more solid than those on the Apple Watch. There’s no wiggle whatsoever, and they respond with a firm but satisfying click when pressed. However, aside from giving you something to fidget with, I can’t figure out why the MARQ Athlete’s crown dial actually turns.
Since it falls at the most affordable end of the MARQ line, the Athlete comes with a strap made from firm silicone rubber instead of a more exotic material like leather. But I prefer rubber straps, and I’m almost certain the silicone used here is strong enough to tow a truck.
Functionally, the MARQ line includes almost every last navigation, fitness, and activity tracking feature Garmin has developed for its other wearables to date. The Athlete has an optical heart rate/pulse oximeter sensor built in which should be more than enough for even die-hard gym rats, but the watch can be connected to other hardware as well, such as chest strap heart rate monitors, or bicycle cadence trackers. It can also track rides and runs using Sony’s GPS hardware which Garmin adopted to help improve the MARQ Athlete’s battery life. All of your metrics also sync to the Garmin Connect mobile app, giving you a more robust look and breakdown of your recent performances. And when connected to a smartphone, the MARQ Athlete will mirror your notifications so you can keep your phone buried during a workout—you just can’t respond to any of them like the Apple Watch or WearOS smartwatches allow.
The watch runs its own custom operating system and UI, and unless you’re familiar with Garmin’s other wearables, it will take some time to find your way around the various apps and menus used to customize the watch’s appearance and functionality. As with the Apple Watch, I wish the MARQ Athlete could be customized using the mobile app instead, as I often found myself getting frustrated when an incorrect button press suddenly sent me back to the home screen and away from a menu that took a while to find.
But overall, the MARQ Athlete seems to check every box for fitness buffs wanting a smartwatch they can wear to both the office and the gym. Garmin has opted for premium materials almost everywhere on the timepiece. Yet I think its decision to go with a reflective LCD screen was a mistake and a disappointment.
I partially understand why Garmin made this decision; screens are one of the biggest power draws on wearable devices, and even with it being turned off most of the day, the vibrant OLED display can still kill the Apple Watch’s battery in just a day. In comparison, even with features like scrolling maps and standalone GPS tracking, the MARQ Athlete can run for well over a week on a single charge with its LCD display on all the time. The extra fitness-focused complications on the MARQ Athlete’s face allow an athlete to quickly check their metrics as often as they need, but unfortunately the watch’s display is almost always difficult to see.
The reflective LCD screen works great in direct sunlight with the watch held up to your face. The display is bright, crisp, and has excellent contrast. But find yourself in the shade, or indoors, or out at night, or next to a bright window, or not able to look directly at the watch when riding a bike, and the screen becomes washed out and all but impossible to read at a glance. That not only goes for trying to discern tiny numbers like your heart rate, but even the moving hands on the face that show the time can be very hard to see, and are often obscured by something as common as a bright reflection.
After taking several rides with both Apple and Garmin’s smartwatches strapped to each wrist, the Apple Watch’s OLED display far outperformed the MARQ Athlete’s reflective LCD no matter what the conditions were. My cycling metrics on the OLED were visible even with bright reflections washing out the Apple Watch’s face, but quickly checking the MARQ Athlete required me to take my hand off the handlebar, which wasn’t exactly safe on a bumpy trail.
Despite the $1,500 price tag, which is also what TAG Heuer wants for its smartwatch, I really liked the MARQ Athlete and would have actually recommended it to someone who likes the functionality of a smartwatch but prefers something more traditional looking, and more durable, on their wrist. Only that screen is as much a heart breaker as it is a deal breaker. I would wait for the next generation of the MARQ line, and cross your fingers that Garmin switches to OLED to round out an otherwise excellent modern timepiece.
An expensive smartwatch that, for the most part, manages to justify its price tag with premium materials and excellent build quality.
Features just about every kind of fitness and activity tracking an athlete could need, including sleep tracking, and robust stat analysis through the Garmin Connect app.
Garmin’s OS and UI could use a bit more polish. Customizing the watch, and digging through deep menus, can be a bit confusing using the watch’s five unlabeled buttons.
That reflective LCD screen is a heart breaker, and probably a deal breaker for most. The always-on functionality is nice (in theory) but it comes at the cost of legibility. It works great in direct sunlight, but becomes almost impossible to read at a glance in almost any other lighting condition. An included backlight makes it visible at night, but it’s too dim to help anywhere else.
We finally have the major details on Stadia, Google’s big push into gaming and at a glance it looks great: Crossplay with Xbox and Windows 10, a wide variety of recent and upcoming games, and the ability to play those games on any device with a solid internet connection. I’m writing this on an 200 Mbps internet connection so Stadia’s requirement for just 35 Mbps for the highest quality stream seems wonderful.
But it might be a rough start for Stadia.
Just to be clear I haven’t tested Stadia out apart from a very controlled demo at GDC back in March, so there is the possibility Stadia could and will be everything Google has promised. A truly new era in gaming that finally untethers us from consoles and powerful PCs.
But the internet requirements for Stadia are a major red flag. Back at GDC Google Stadia chief Phil Harrison told our sister site Kotaku that you’d need just 25 Mbps download speeds be able to play games in the highest available quality (4K, 60fps, HDR, and 5.1 surround sound). This week Andrey Doronichev, Director of Product Management on Stadia, told me that the requirement for the highest quality had increased.
“We have an updated guidance here,” he said. “You actually need 10 Mbps to stream at least 720p, but actually, it could be higher depending on specific details of the kind of network situation or your game. And then to comfortably stream 4K—the best experience—we recommend 35Mbps.”
That means you need 10 Mbps more than originally anticipated for that top tier experience. That’s not good! Google didn’t improve performance since the announcement. It just got more realistic about what delivering high quality would require.
That, at least, is the experience I’ve had with the streaming services already available from Nvidia and French company Shadow. In ideal settings, they’re pretty good. But when I try to play when my roommate is home and watching Netflix, the experience rapidly deteriorates, and so far the only thing we’ve heard from Google on how it’s different is that it has a big infrastructure in place and algorithims that will make its game streaming platform better than competitors.
Maybe there’s something to those claims. Google having datacenters all over the U.S. will absolutely make the experience better, and as we’ve seen from Google Search (and sometimes YouTube) the company can perform wizardry with a well-designed algorithim. It could, theoretically, pull this off.
But I just don’t think it can completely get around the bandwidth requirements. There are a lot of Americans who just don’t have good internet access. Particularly those in rural areas where ISPs may only provide crummy 3 Mbps DSL for the majority of residents, or they may offer faster speeds, but the connection is much more inconsistent. So you might get 25Mbps down at 1 p.m. when everyone in a 5-mile radius is at work or school, but things slow to a crawl from 6 p.m. to midnight when all those folks saunter home and hit the Netflix button on their Rokus.
When I asked Doronichev how Stadia was supposed to work for that wide group of Americans who just don’t have the good stuff his response was wonderfully optimiostic, but also struck me as deeply naive.
The good news is that ISP have a long history of adjusting to the growing demands from users. And you know this has been happening over the history of the internet. As we move from text to web from web to video and now we’re moving to real-time gameplay we’re relying on incredible technical infrastructure by Google that’s been delivering billions of search queries and videos on YouTubeand have been evolving over many years. So you know I’m pretty sure we’re going to get there.
Toys and CollectiblesAction figures, statues, exclusives, and other merchandise. Beware: if you look here, you’re probably going to spend some money afterwards.
Twenty-two years after its initial release, and several years after countless revivals and re-releases, Tamagotchis have returned yet again with some interesting features like smartphone connectivity and the ability for your virtual pets to marry someone else’s and have kids. Tamagotchi? More like Tamagotchu for 18 years.
If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the toy, the Tamagotchi is like the modern version of the pet rock, but with most of the responsibilities and care that a real-life animal would require. That includes feeding your virtual pet, caring for it, playing with it, cleaning it, and generally interacting with it on a regular basis to keep it alive, happy, and growing. The latest iteration, Tamagotchi On, expands what you can do with the digital creature, but as an adult with a lot on his plate already, am I the only one who’s starting to feel these are more overwhelming than fun?
The most obvious update to Tamagotchi On is that it’s almost gigantic compared to previous versions of the toy that could hang off a keychain without being noticed. The new version is considerably larger, and as a result, it might have a hard time competing for pocket space against a smartphone.
One thing that hasn’t changed with Tamagotchi On are the three simple buttons used to interact with the virtual pet and to navigate the toy’s menus. It works, once you get used to how the navigation works (the buttons are unlabelled) but as the menus, settings, and options have expanded quite a bit in this version, it might finally be time for Bandai America to consider introducing an alternative—like a tiny touchscreen now that smartwatches have demonstrated they’re not impossibly small to use.
One small gripe: why didn’t Bandai America include a keychain with the new version? It has the holes to attach one, but it’s BYOK.
The Tamagotchi On’s full-color screen isn’t new, that feature was introduced as far back as 2008 with the Tamagotchi Plus Color in Japan, but it’s finally making an appearance here in the US. The colors are vibrant, even in bright light, and given the screen’s small size the lack of pixel density isn’t an issue. Besides, the crude pixelated graphics and stuttered animations are part of a Tamagotchi’s charm and appeal at this point. I’m not sure if I’d want a virtual pet that looked and acted more lifelike—I’d be devastated when it eventually died.
That being said, all the features that have been added to the Tamagotchi line over the years are starting to make the toy’s menus feel a little bloated. You’ll find yourself randomly digging through endless sub-menus to find an option you’re looking for, and a display with more resolution would allow more options to be squeezed onto each screen.
The ability for two Tamagotchi Ons to wirelessly communicate over IR isn’t new either, that feature was first introduced with the Tamagotchi Connection back in 2004. But it now facilitates more interactions between Tamagotchis on different devices. You can have playdates, send your virtual pet off to visit a friend or a hotel, and even propose marriage to another Tamagotchi. If they say yes, your virtual pets will consummate their relationship (presumably off-screen) resulting in each one receiving an egg that will hatch and grow into a child that looks like both its parents. Up to 16 generations of a family can exist on a device at a given time, which sounds exhausting. To make things a little easier, there’s even the option for your younger Tamagotchi to spend the day being babysat by its parents.
Tamagotchi On will be available starting in July for $60—which is the least appealing feature of the latest version—they’re no longer a cheap $15 impulse purchase. But when it launches, Bandai America will also be releasing an accompanying mobile app (it wasn’t available for testing yet) that the Tamagotchi can wirelessly connect to to further expand what your virtual pet can do, where it can go, and who it can meet—including Tamagotchis all around the world. Instead of trying to compete with smartphones, Tamagotchis may have finally embraced them so kids have more incentive to keep their pets alive.
Note: at the time of publication both of the writer’s Tamagotchi were still alive and well.
In the long history of recorded media, Sony’s MiniDisc format barely registers as a blip on the timeline. In hindsight, it was doomed from the start—forced to compete with immensely popular CDs and an emerging threat called MP3s. But despite now having instant access to millions of songs on my phone, there’s a part of me that deeply misses MiniDisc: a dead format that somehow still feels futuristic.
The first MiniDisc players were released by Sony in Japan in November of 1992, with an international debut coming the following month in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Unlike audio CDs, which stored music in an uncompressed 16-bit stereo file format, MiniDiscs compressed music using a proprietary audio format developed by Sony called Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding—or ATRAC, for short. It meant that MiniDiscs could store almost the same amount of music as CDs could, but on a much smaller disc.
During my high school years, I went through several portable CD players because their size made them almost impossible to safely stash in a pocket. They always had to be held, which meant they repeatedly got dropped. MiniDisc players were considerably smaller by comparison, and some were almost as compact as the first Apple iPods. The players were also easy to pocket, as were the discs, which came protected in a plastic housing so, unlike CDs, they were almost impossible to scratch and damage.
The ability to record your own mixes was a big part of Sony’s MiniDisc marketing.
MiniDiscs were also recordable, reviving a feature that made analog cassette tapes so popular in the ‘80s. You could create your own mix albums by directly connecting a MiniDisc player to a stereo, or record tracks right from a CD player. Eventually, every desktop computer would come with a built-in CD writer, but MiniDiscs streamlined the process. The university where I studied broadcast even switched to MiniDisc players for field recordings and remote interviews as the hardware was both cheaper and easier than the professional solutions in use at the time.
But what I love most about MiniDiscs was that using the format made me feel like I was a character in a movie depicting a gritty sci-fi future. CDs always felt so lifeless to me: blank discs etched with millions of invisible microscopic dots. But a MiniDiscs had character. Its iridescent sheen was only occasionally visible through its protective plastic housing, and it could be tossed around casually.
Even Neo used MiniDisc.
The satisfying clunk of sliding a MiniDisc into a player and closing the door made the hardware seem like a piece of technology born from a Hollywood prop studio. A little part of me felt like a hacker uploading a virus every time I swapped in a new disc (no doubt inspired by their appearances in films like The Matrix and Strange Days) even when I was probably just loading tracks from the Jurassic Park soundtrack.
There are many reasons why MiniDiscs failed. Giant electronics companies love propriety formats because if it catches on and becomes a standard, other giant electronics companies who want to play along have to pay to license the technology. But consumers prefer choice, and while companies other than Sony produced players and discs, it was hard to find cheaper non-Sony hardware in the gigantic North American market. As for buying pre-recorded albums on MiniDisc? It was next to impossible outside Japan.
If Reef couldn’t sell MiniDiscs to the masses, no one could.
On a technical level, MiniDisc was an inferior format to its competitors. Sony’s ATRAC format also played a hand. It did a decent job at squeezing music down so that an hour’s worth of tunes could fit on a MiniDisc, but its sound quality wasn’t as good as what you could get from CDs and Digital Audio Tape. The average consumer couldn’t tell the difference, but audiophiles with deep pockets could, which meant that MiniDiscs were never really treated as a “Serious” audio format.
But MiniDisc’s final death blow came at the hands of another audio compression codec known as MP3. Sound files could be compressed to one-tenth their original size while still maintaining CD quality, and when the Fraunhofer Society released the first MP3 encoder to the public in 1994, it arrived at a time when computer hard drives were large enough, and cheap enough, to store a vast music collection, and at a time when the internet became fast enough to easily share those tiny music files. A few years later, MP3-compatible portable media players arrived, and it didn’t take long for them to be able to store thousands of songs and hundreds of hours of music on a single tiny device—no disc swapping required. Enter the iPod. Game over.
By some metrics, the MiniDisc would be considered a failure, sure. but thanks to its popularity in Japan, Sony didn’t officially stop shipping MiniDisc devices until 2013; six years after the first iPhone went on sale, and 21 years after MiniDisc’s debut. That’s a decent lifespan for a modern device, and it shows that like me, quite a few people found something to love in the format despite its flaws.
Despite how you might feel about its ties to the Chinese government, Huawei has undeniably made some of the most technologically advanced phones of the last three years. Huawei released the first handset with triple rear cameras and reverse wireless charging, while also beating its biggest rivals Apple and Samsung to the market with phones featuring in-screen fingerprint sensors and dedicated neural processing units. But for Huawei’s latest flagship phone—the P30 Pro—Huawei was faced with a difficult challenge.
Traditionally, Huawei P-series phones have pushed camera innovation. But after leveraging AI to help tune camera settings and putting three cameras on the back of its phones, what else was there left to improve? Sure, Huawei could have kept increasing the number of cameras on its phone like we’ve seen on the Nokia 9, but in some ways, that feels a bit too obvious. So instead, Huawei chose to completely re-engineer the way camera sensors work to achieve better low-light performance. Then Huawei tacked on an unprecedented 5x optical zoom lens just for kicks.
You see, inside almost every modern digital camera, there’s an image sensor with a Bayer filter, featuring a repeating four pixel grid that uses two green pixels, one red pixel, and one blue pixel to capture light and color. It’s a fundamental system employed by practically every camera company not named FujiFilm, but it’s not perfect. For the P30 Pro, Huawei changed up the formula by replacing the green color filters in a Bayer filter with yellow ones, with the reasoning being that yellow is a lighter color than green, which allows more light to pass through the filter and hit the sensor behind it. More light means brighter images, which when you’re out and about snapping pics in low light is precisely what you want.
However, while that might sound like a simple switch, it’s really an enormous amount of work. Once you change the way a camera’s color filter functions, you need to redesign its image processor (the thing that interprets the data the camera’s sensor captures), how those images are shown on a display, all of the camera’s various photo modes, and a bunch of other stuff. So has all of Huawei’s effort paid off?
Actually, yeah. With its new sensor, the P30 Pro on auto mode can more or less match the excellent low light capabilities of Google’s Night Sight processing, without any extra tuning or special settings. That also means less hassle too, because now you don’t have to pause and hold the camera steady for four or five seconds as you do for with most dedicated Night Modes. Just tap the shutter, try not to shake your hands for a beat, and that’s it.
When you compare shots from the P30 Pro to phones like the Galaxy S10 or Pixel 3, the difference is obvious. For example, in a nighttime shot at a nearby park, while a photo captured by the Galaxy S10+ looks alright because the S10 needed to set the shutter speed at 1/9th of a second, even with the phone’s optical image stabilization, objects in the S10’s pic appear significantly blurrier.
Meanwhile, a face-off between the P30 Pro on auto and the Pixel 3 without Night Sight turned on shows how much of a head start Huawei’s new sensor really provides. If I didn’t know better, someone could have easily fooled me by saying the P30 Pro’s shot of this scooter on auto mode was taken on a sunny afternoon, and not almost midnight, which is when I snapped the pic.
And even after I enabled Night Sight on the Pixel 3, the P30 Pro’s picture still featured sharper details and captured an image that looked more accurate to what I saw with my eyes. While the Pixel 3’s Night Sight mode did a good job of removing the heavy color cast that came from nearby streetlights, the P30 Pro’s photo is superior in almost every other way. Of course, Huawei has its own dedicated Night Mode as well, which adds an extra level of detail to challenging low light shots. Though I found that because the P30 Pro’s auto mode was so good, I didn’t feel the need to use it nearly as much, compared to the Pixel 3, which basically necessitates the use of Night Sight when the lights go down.
That said, Huawei’s new sensor isn’t perfect, because while it has dramatically improved the P30’s Pro’s low-light performance, it seems to have slightly negatively impacted the P30’s Pro’s bright light shooting. When compared to both the Galaxy S10 and Pixel 3, a daytime shot of some flowers from the P30 Pro had way more blown out highlights and more muted colors in the surrounding greenery.
I suspect this is something Huawei can improve over time, as this could be an effect of Huawei having to re-design its camera stack to accommodate that new sensor, but at least right now, there is a trade-off. Also, I should mention that Huawei only uses its custom RYYB sensor on the main camera, not the P30 Pro’s 20-MP ultra-wide camera or its 8-MP telephoto cam. It’s an understandable move, though it can be a bit jarring when switching between lenses, especially if you’re shooting video.
Now, if the only thing Huawei had done was upgrade the P30 Pro’s main camera sensor, that would have been enough. But it didn’t, because for the P30 Pro’s telephoto camera, Huawei added a new system with a 5x optical zoom, what Huawei claims is a 10x lossless zoom, and a bonkers digital zoom that goes all the way up to a 50x magnification.
This level of magnification blows past competing phones, which for the past few years, have been stuck with 2x or 3x zooms. The problem for phones is that unlike a normal camera lenses, there’s almost no room to fit all the glass and optics needed to deliver a really long zoom. So to solve the problem, Huawei installed a mirror similar to a periscope to lets the phone bend light down into the phone’s body, which lets Huawei use the length of the P30 Pro to squeeze in optics, instead of its thickness.
Frankly, this is a development I love, because until now, big camera zooms were something you only found on proper standalone cameras. But with the 5x/10x zoom on the P30 Pro, you get so much flexibility to get closer to the action. To test this out, I took the P30 Pro and some of its rivals to Madison Square Park and then tried to snap pics of the Empire State Building from almost 10 blocks away. And the results? Well, they speak for themselves.
At 5x and 10x zoom, the P30 Pro delivered fantastically sharp images, though as you get closer to 50x, it starts suffering from the issues inherent with digital enhancement. But the real eye-opener is how much more reach the P30 Pro’s telephoto cam offers compared to the 2x zoom you get on a Galaxy S10+. It’s quite a shock.
OK, enough about cameras, what’s the rest of the P30 Pro like to use? At this point, it shouldn’t be a surprise, but the P30 Pro is a premium device from top to bottom. The P30 Pro is stuffed with all sort of techy solutions such as both wireless and reverse wireless Qi charging, IP68 dust and water-resistance, 15-watt fast-charging (and reverse wired charging as well), and the best color options you can get from any smartphone maker today. The P30 Pro even has an IR blaster, which is a feature almost every other phone maker has dropped from their flagship devices.
And with a seriously big 4,200 mAh battery, the P30 Pro offers ridiculous longevity. On our video rundown test, the P30 Pro lasted 15 hours and 24 minutes, the second longest runtime we’ve seen yet, behind only the Samsung Galaxy Fold’s time of 17:06.
However, if I can nitpick a bit, I’m still frustrated that Huawei didn’t make room for a 3.5mm jack on the P30 Pro, as that’s a feature you do get on the vanilla P30. Aside from the unnecessary bloatware, Huawei’s EMUI 9.1 skin continues to be a relatively inoffensive take on Android, but at the same time, its somewhat cartoony look and occasionally overly simplistic UI is hard to love.
And while the P30 Pro’s 6.5-inch OLED screen is impressively bright and colorful, it does suffer slightly from having less overall resolution than you get on a Galaxy S10. It’s not a dealbreaker, but with a screen that big on a phone that costs close to $1,000, if you have good eyesight, you can sometimes notice when text and images don’t look quite as sharp as they could.
But the P30’s real downside is that it’s not really officially supported in the U.S. While you can get an unlocked P30 Pro from third-party retailers like B&H for just $900 ($100 less than the most similarly equipped Galaxy S10+), the P30 Pro isn’t compatible with CDMA networks like Verizon and Sprint. And if you ever run into a situation where you need customer support, you can’t expect the same kind of care you might get from an Apple or Samsung device.
But the impact of what Huawei has done on the P30 Pro is undeniable. If you frequently shoot photos in bars, restaurants, or similarly challenging environments, the P30 Pro’s low light capabilities are quite convincing. Meanwhile, that 5x optical zoom periscope breaks through to new levels of magnification for smartphone cameras.
Also because some of the tech used in the P30 Pro’s zoom system comes from Corephotnics, a company recently acquired by Samsung for $155 million, you better believe that 5x zoom is something we’ll be seeing on a lot more phones in the future. For the P30 Pro, Huawei set out to push the boundaries of smartphone photography, and on not one but two counts, it did.
At 15 hours and 24 minutes, the P30 Pro has the second longest battery life we’ve ever tested.
While you can buy an unlocked version of the P30 Pro from third-party U.S. retailers, the phone doesn’t support CDMA networks like Verizon or Sprint, and there’s not much in the way of local customer support.
Huawei starts a new era of smartphone photography by putting a 5x optical zoom on a phone.
Almost any feature found on any other high-end premium phone—the P30 Pro has too.