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Hands-On: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Plays Fortnite, Other Things

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Although I’m not one of them, a bunch of people sure do love them some big freaking smartphones. And for years one of the best biggest smartphones out there, for Android users at least, has been the Samsung Galaxy Note. At its Samsung Unpacked event here at New York’s Barclays Center, the company unveiled the next generation Samsung Galaxy Note 9. And while overall it does initially seem very familiar, we checked out enough exciting new features to get hyped for this big boy.

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After taking some shots at the media for initially scoffing at the Note line, Samsung started the presentation stressing the “limitless” nature of the device. At the risk of parroting too much spin, they were talking about how the beefy specs of the phone in various categories allow for comfortable, long, intense use. The whopping 4,000mAh battery should easily last all day without exploding thanks to the water/carbon fiber cooling system. The edge-to-edge display is 6.4 inches. Base models include either 128GB or 512GB of storage expandable up to a terabyte with a microSD card. And you can stream up to 1.2 gigabits per second.

Actually using the Galaxy Note 9 puts the power of those specs and others (like the 10nm processor) in more practical examples. The phone maintains Samsung DeX functionality, allowing you to plug it into a monitor for a modestly productive PC experience. You don’t need a dock this time, you can just use an HDMI adapter. And while plugged into a monitor you can also still use the phone itself for dual display and art apps.

The standout camera feature is Scene Optimizer which intelligently adjust the image settings depending on what you’re pointing at. A little icon shows the phone knows it’s looking at a handsome face, beautiful outdoor view, or delicious piece of food and prepare the picture accordingly. You’ll even get notifications if someone is blinking or if there’s a smudge before it’s too late.

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But really the hottest announcement was that starting today Galaxy owners would be the first to experience the beta for the weird sideloaded Android version of Fortnite. Samsung says Note 9 runs the battle royale smoother and cooler compared to other Android counterparts and our play session supported that claim. The Dolby Atmos stereo sound should help make it easier to hear who is creeping up behind you. And this Galaxy version of the game even has an exclusive cosmic Galaxy Man skin with major vaporwave.

Beyond its size and power, the Note series is known for its embedded S-Pen stylus. That’s still true on the Note 9 where you can navigate menus and draws messages with the stick. But with a new button and Bluetooth connectivity, the S-Pen can now act as a basic remote, too. Take pictures and scroll through slides with your hands free. We used the pen to start and stop the new Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer on YouTube. It’s a really nifty addition and while the S-Pen battery doesn’t last long recharging it inside the phone itself takes seconds.

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Surprisingly, Samsung doubled-down on its Bixby AI assistant initiative not just with the Galaxy Note 9 but also the upcoming Galaxy Home smart speaker. The demo had an impressive, if almost Google Duplex creepy, level of natural conversation. You can quickly hail cabs and makes restaurant reservations with Bixby remembering context from earlier in the discussion. Other news from the larger Samsung ecosystem includes an expanded cross-device partnership with Spotify for music.

If you want a portable Samsung device smaller than the Galaxy Note 9 you can also consider the new Galaxy Watch. Looking reassuringly similar to a real watch, the Galaxy Watch works all by itself to power apps like Flipboard and health-tracking features like deep-breathing exercises. Payments are limited to NFC instead of the super cool magnet power of Samsung Pay, but battery life has been stretched out to several days as a result of the trade-off.

Samsung makes everything from televisions to refrigerators. They, like everyone else, want a piece of every part of your life even remotely technological. Fortunately, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 seems like a pillar worth resting against. The phone goes on sale August 24 starting at $999.

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‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Taps Performance Capture Tech to Elevate Effects

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Alita: Battle Angel is a thrilling mix of powerful cyborgs, post-apocalyptic cities, and gory fights. The sci-fi movie’s action sequences are courtesy of an advanced innovation: performance capture technology.

The futuristic flick, which hits theaters on Feb. 14, follows Alita (Rosa Salazar), an abandoned cyborg who becomes a fierce warrior to fight corrupt forces. This plot would be hard to accomplish with basic animation, however, performance capture technology enabled the movie’s team to generate lifelike special effects, PCMag reported.

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“This is the tech we’ve been developing. In an earlier test shoot, for [a movie that never got made, based on the novel] Brother Termite, when aliens were arriving, we had an actor perform with an umbrella rig around his head—12 cameras—everywhere,” Jon Landau, the producer of the film, told PCMag. “We saw a future where we would use that facial performance capture to drive performance rather than animating it.”

To make this digital vision possible, Alita: Battle Angel’s team partnered with Weta Digital, a visual effects company based in New Zealand. Unlike other animation systems, this performance capture technology doesn’t interfere with actors’ performances.

Rosa Salazar as Alita in ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (Photo Credit: PCMag)

“The giant system [we have today], when it loses a data point, it’s still able to solve for the skeleton and what the muscles do,” Landau added. “[In our partnership with] Weta Digital … we’re now [able] to create Salazar’s performance from the inside, driving the performance from a muscle base—not putting a mask on the actor through animation—to make sure we are living up to the performance that Salazar is giving us.”

According to Weta Digital, performance capture technology notes details of an actor’s face performance, analyzes how their muscles move, and then maps these motions onto a virtual character. (For example, see Salazar above with dots on her face during the filming process.) What makes this technology cool is that it provides animated figures with human-like reactions, so directors can keep a good shooting flow without stopping to map every facial movement.

“I’m pretty technically proficient and I usually do my own visual effects supervisor role, but now I get to geek out with [Weta Digital],” Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel’s director, told PCMag. “We can take it to another level having them and their knowledge.”

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General Motors Starts Taking Orders for Its First Electric Bike

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General Motors is reimagining future transportation with its first ARĪV electric bike brand.

In November 2018, General Motors held a global crowdfunding campaign for its new eBike brand. After fans submitted potential names, General Motors decided to call the brand ARĪV, which is pronounced like “arrive.”

The brand includes two connected eBikes: the Meld compact eBike and the Merge folding eBike, which will each retail between $3,106 and $3,782 in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. General Motors, which is taking preorders for the eBikes now via BikeExchange.com, said it will start shipping orders in a few months.

General Motors didn’t provide too many details on the eBikes, however, it said that the eBikes’ motors can reach speeds up to 15.5 mph and contain four levels of pedal-assisted power. There are also key safety features, including a rechargeable front, rear LED lights, and oversized break rotors. Plus, the eBikes’ batteries can be charged in approximately 3.5 hours and receive up to 40 miles of ride time on a single charge.

ARĪV Merge Electric Bike (Photo Credit: General Motors)

Connectivity is another key feature for both eBikes: They can connect to an app that provides users with key riding metrics, including distance, motor assist level, remaining battery level, and speed. Each eBike comes with a Quad Lock mount as well, so users can safely secure a smartphone to the handlebars during rides. General Motors also said it’s working on additional app features, including, “a mode that will use a proprietary algorithm to help riders arrive at their destination sweat-free.”

General Motors did not disclose if its new eBikes will be available in the U.S. and other countries, however, more details on specs and pricing are available on Bike Exchange’s website.

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NYC Author Ditches Smartphone for a Year to Enter $100,000 Vitaminwater Contest

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A New York-based millennial is giving up her smartphone for a year to try to win $100,000 from Vitaminwater.

In December, Vitaminwater introduced its phone-free challenge on Instagram and Twitter, which asked the social media community if they would ditch their smartphones for 12 months in exchange for the ultimate reward: $100,000 in cash.

On Friday, Vitaminwater, which sorted through more than 100,000 entries submitted on Instagram and Twitter, named its chosen candidate: Elana Mugdan, a 30-year-old filmmaker and young adult fantasy writer who lives in the New York City area, CNBC reported. Mugdan, who submitted an informercial-style video on Twitter, impressed judges with her humorous perspective on smartphone addiction.

Mugdan will trade her iPhone 5S for a throwback cellular device from Vitaminwater: A Kyocera flip phone without modern smartphone amenities like social media apps, direct messaging, and photo editing. For the next year, she won’t be allowed to use any smartphones or tablets, however, she can use desktop computers and laptops.

If she wins the challenge, Mugdan plans to donate some of her funds to charities and financially support her writing career. With the challenge, she aims to show other millennials that it’s possible to enjoy living in the moment without having a smartphone.

“I have this fantastic once a lifetime opportunity. You know you only get one chance, right?” Mugdan told CNBC. “So I want to use it for something good — I want to make a difference, make an impact, and get people talking about important things.”

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