Xbox 720 Rumour Roundup [link]

Xbox Announcement NoticeFollowing on from the news that Microsoft are gearing up to announce the new Xbox, our friends at IT Turning Point have rounded up some of the rumours as to what we can expect.

We won’t re-list them here (apart from anything else, Google hates that sort of thing!), so head on over to IT Tech Point, the IT Turning Point blog, and have a look for yourself. Don’t forget to leave a comment :)

Xbox 720 Rumours at IT Tech Point.

Microsoft and Apple gear up for new announcements

Xbox Announcement NoticeHonestly, news is like waiting for a bus sometimes. There’s nothing for ages, and then two come along at once. Two emails dropped into my inbox this morning about some upcoming announcements… both of which have me quite excited.

Firstly, Microsoft are preparing to unveil “a new generation” on the 21st of May. Since the email is branded Xbox, I assume this must be the revealing of the fabled Xbox 720 (name not confirmed!). There have been so many rumours and stories about this platform, it’ll be interesting to see what the real story is. My concern is whether it must always be online to play games, as there are times when I play without an Internet connection (on holiday, for instance), and I think the second-hand and rental games markets are an important part of the gaming ecosystem.

We’ll let you know what happens with the new Xbox, just as soon as we know it!

Secondly, Apple have announced the date of their World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) as 10th to 14th June. The WWDC is traditionally the time when Apple unveil new hardware and software, having seen events like the launch of the iPhone, iPad, and Macbook Air in the past. It’s an obvious time to do it – you want your developers to see the stuff they’re going to be developing for. It’s not just developers who will be interested though; the Internet will most likely be buzzing with speculation about a new iPhone, and anything else the rumour mill can dream up.

Are you looking forward to the announcements? What do you think we’ll see from Microsoft and Apple? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Is Apple working on an iOS watch?

This is a guest post by Will Judd.

While most of the internet has light up over additional details over Apple’s purported smart watch, there was also some fairly compelling news this week about one of the future’s best-selling phones: the successor to the iPhone 5.

According to rumours published by PocketNow and 9to5Mac, the iPhone 5S will indeed follow the iPhone 5. Like the iPhone 4S to the 4, the 5S will be an iterative upgrade that keeps the same external design and appearance as the iPhone 5, but will include upgraded internal components to keep the phone feeling up to date. Hopefully Apple will avoid the situation with the iPhone 4S and 4, where some models have minutely different button layouts that necessitated whole new iPhone 4S cases to be made.

The iPhone 5S will include a number of hardware improvements, but one of the most important will be the processor. The iPhone 5S will include the same A6X processor as in the iPad 4, offering a much stronger performing smartphone that should destroy most benchmarks.

The iPhone 5S is also expected to come with an improved camera. After many years at 8 megapixels, might it finally be time for Apple to make the leap to 13 megapixels? We are seeing 13 megapixel models from pretty much all Android manufacturers (except for HTC, who have daringly gone with a four megapixel sensor utilising massive pixels on the HTC One), but then again Apple has never been one to follow trends. Apple has also been rumoured to shift from an f/2.4 camera to an f/2.0 one, but that’s also unconfirmed.

One rather left-field observation that’s making a comeback is the idea that the iPhone 5S will include a fingerprint scanner under the home button. This will reportedly improve security and usability, although specific use-cases (beyond the obvious touch to unlock) aren’t specified in the rumours (published, fittingly, by MacRumors).

I guess we won’t know anything for sure about the iPhone 5S until it is announced (or not) at Apple’s next big event. With a release date of August seeming likely, we’ve definitely got many more months of rumours and leaks ahead of us.

Samsung Galaxy S4 on the way?

This is a guest post by William Judd.

Samsung Galaxy S4 announcementWe last heard about it last week, and now we know it’s the truth: Samsung have confirmed that they will be unveiling the next version of their highly vaunted flagship smartphone series in just over two weeks, on March 14th.

Samsung mobile chief JK Shin spoke about the event to reporters at the Mobile World Congress, where Samsung is launching the Galaxy Note 8.0 phablet and other small products and charging Galaxy S3 covers. The timing is no accident either – Samsung will be wanting to take up as much of the coverage as possible during MWC, taking time away from competing products and companies.

Samsung also released a teaser on their official @SamsungMobile Twitter feed, posting an image that read “READY 4 THE SHOW” as well as the relevant details. That suggests that we will be seeing the Galaxy S IV, rather than a more different name.

The event will be taking place in New York, making for the first American launch of a Galaxy S smartphone since the original Galaxy S in 2010. The event is slated to begin at 19:00 Eastern Standard Time. As well as the numerous live blogs from our favourite tech blogs, you’ll be able to watch a live video feed of the event on Samsung’s own YouTube channel – a big improvement over Apple events, which tend to not be broadcasted conveniently (or at all).

So what do we know about the Samsung Galaxy S IV? Well, not much seems certain but we can make a good guess that we’ll see a 5-inch 1080p smartphone powered by one of Samsung’s Exynos mobile chipsets. The CPU will probably be quad-core, and could even conceivably be an eight-core design using ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture that pairs a quad-core A15 for heavy tasks with a quad-core A7 for lighter tasks. We’ll probably see a Samsung Galaxy S IV case with a built-in wireless charger, or we’ll see similar functionality inside the phone itself.

Beyond that, not much is certain – I guess we’ll just have to find out!

Are you excited for the launch? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and have a good one!

In space, can anyone hear you scream?

When I was a teenager, I remember seeing a television-edit version of Aliens. When I think of it now, all that meant was that they’d edited out some of the “worst” swear words and replaced them with ones from further down the sliding scale of rudeness. I was fascinated, though… probably by the combination of these dangerous alien organisms and the marines running round with big guns. I’ve kind of been reliving this at the moment, as I’ve been playing the new Aliens: Colonial Marines game on my Xbox.

Anyway, it was a while after seeing Aliens that I got to see the original Alien movie… the one that started it all off… the one with the tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream”.

STRaND-1 smartphone satelliteFunnily enough, a team from the University of Surrey are testing that with the launch of their new smartphone satellite, STRaND-1.

What’s a smartphone satellite? Well, if you imagine a “normal” satellite – it’s got all manner of complex systems including, most likely, a custom-built computer. The thing is, smartphones are also little computers, and are actually powerful enough to be used in place of the custom-built components. The benefit is that they’re cheaper and more readily available than getting someone to build a satellite from scratch. Additionally, smartphones are designed to allow developers to write apps for them, so it’s not a mammoth task to create the required software for the task at hand. Finally, smartphones are brimming with sensors… cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, microphones… all of which can be put to use in the name of science.

So this particular smartphone will be running an app that plays screams through the phone’s speaker, and then checks whether those screams can be heard by the phone’s microphone. In reality, any sound could have been used, but the satellite’s builders have obviously been influenced by Alien… and that’s no bad thing!

There’s more to this satellite than just testing a movie myth though – it will also test how durable consumer electronics are in space (if this goes well, we could see more smartphone satellites), and will test two new propulsion methods; the WARP drive, which uses a jet of water and alcohol to provide thrust, and a pulsed plasma drive which uses electricity to heat and evaporate a material to produce a jet of ionised gas.

It’s all very clever, and there’s some great science being done here. What I want to know, though, is whether those screams can be heard or not!

You can keep up with the latest about the satellite, STRaND-1, on the official Twitter account at http://twitter.com/SurreyNanosats.

[Source: BBC News]

Valve unveils their Steam Box

Valve Steam BoxThis is a guest post by William Judd.

This Consumer Electronics Show has been an unusually good one for PC gamers. Not only has Nvidia announced Project Shield, a hand-held Android games console that uses their new Tegra 4 processor to stream videogames from your PC, but Valve has finally officially announced their Steam Box.

The idea of the Steam Box is that it is a Valve-endorsed gaming computer designed to be hooked up to an HDTV in the living room. The Box hooks up to Valve’s Steam online store and gaming community, allowing you to play PC games with the ease of a console. Steam recently released their “Big Picture Mode” update, which added a console-style UI suitable for using with a controller on an HDTV. The Steam Box should have a small physical footprint and should offer a fairly good price to performance ratio, allowing it to play the majority of games at HD settings.

Speaking to The Verge in an extensive interview, Valve Software CEO Gabe Newell described three levels of hardware: “Good”, which would cost around $100 and would come down in price from there, “Better” which would cost approximately $300 and “Best” which could cost as much as any top-of-the-line gaming PC.

Valve would look to build its own Steam Box running Linux, but would also work with other hardware partners to create an entire new class of computers running along similar goals. While the Valve-built Steam Box would have tightly controlled hardware standards like a traditional games console, other Steam Boxes could have a range of specifications and features decided on by their manufacturer.

The Steam Box created by Valve won’t just be useful in the living room, however. The Box would also work as a server, with next-generation versions of the box running post-Kepler Nvidia architecture being capable of running as many as 8 disparate displays and controllers.

Valve are also investigating innovative new game controller. Newell stated that Wii Sports, the launch title for the Wii, remains the pinnacle of motion-based input, so Valve have moved onto other options. Biometrics look like they’ll provide a potentially new avenue for exploration, as instead of replacing mouse and keyboard or controller based input, they would instead add new inputs that would allow the game to respond to your heart rate and other subconscious clues. Gaze tracking was also mentioned by Newell as an area of interest.

Overall, the Steam Box definitely seems to be an interesting new development for PC gaming. For too long, the attention has been on fairly inconsequential mobile gaming developments like tablets and iPhone accessories – with the Steam Box, we may see something much more exciting. Valve revolutionised the industry with their Steam gaming service and marketplace, and it looks like they could have a similar evolutionary leap on their hands with the Steam Box.

Microsoft rumoured to be working on Xbox Surface Tablet

According to a report posted on The Verge, Microsoft is building its own 7 inch tablet for gaming. Called the Xbox Surface, the tablet will run a stripped down version of Windows with a custom kernel. While basic tasks like messaging will be included, the focus will be on providing an ultimately portable Xbox gaming experience that can still be connected to TVs and sound systems for a more traditional console experience.

The hardware, which was originally leaked in June, is quite impressive. The spec calls for a 7″ display running at 1280 x 720p, two IBM Power7 SCMs (for a total of 12 CPU cores) running at 3.1 GHz, 5 GB of DDR3 memory, and a custom 28 nanometer GPU from AMD. There’s also slated to be a 250 GB 10,000 RPM mechanical hard drive, and support for a number of peripherals including USB storage via 4 USB 3.0 ports, wireless game controllers, headsets, component video / HDMI, and Optical Audio. The system should support up to 1440p output – something that makes me incredibly happy, considering I’ve just picked up a 27″ 2560 x 1440 display.

The Verge are reporting that the hardware for the device hasn’t yet been nailed down, but could include a custom ARM processor or an unannounced Intel system-on-chip. The hardware production process is said to be ‘secret’ and not with the partners that traditionally have made the Xbox console. The Xbox Surface should debut ahead of the company’s suspected future Xbox console.

I’ve got to admit – I’m massively excited about this. We’ve seen attempts at a gaming tablet before – with Razer’s Project Fiona and the Wikipad – but if there is anyone in the world who can do it well, it will be Microsoft.

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, who recently opened a US store that is stocking a wide range of Samsung Galaxy Note 2 cases.

This Saturday: Free photography guide in The Guardian

This is a sponsored post. Click here to find out what that means.

Fish in negativeDo you fancy yourself as something of a photographer? Are you an aspiring professional, or perhaps a keen amateur? I love photography, and am always on the lookout for hints and tips to make me better at it.

If this sounds familiar, you might be interested to learn that, on Saturday 17th November, The Guardian will be issuing an 84 page guide to photography, drawing on the experience of the photographers from both The Guardian and Observer. Included in the guide will be seven masterclasses, where the photographers reveal their techniques and inspirations.

I sometimes find that pure guides are  little difficult to get into – the most progress I made with my photography was when I was being set assignments on an evening course that forced me to get out there and push myself. Each masterclass in the upcoming Guardian guide also includes reader assignments which will help you put what you’ve read into practice.

Here’s the really good bit, though: if you send your photos in to The Guardian, you could win a place on a photography masterclass of your choice. There’s nothing better than actually being taught by a photographer, able to ask questions and experiment while there’s someone with experience in the room… so I reckon this is going to be well worth going for.

So, why not pick up a copy of The Guardian on the 17th, enjoy the photography guide and, if you’re up for it, send in your photos? You’ve nothing to lose and, the way I see it, a whole load to gain. If you do get the guide, why not drop back in here after you’ve had a look and let us know what you think of it?

Sponsored Post: I will receive financial payment for posting this article. Please be aware that I will never accept offers of paid posts where I am required only to give a positive opinion – objectivity is important to me and you can be sure that what I write, even in paid posts, is what I really think.

Chrono Trigger comes to Android

This is a guest post by Will Judd. If you’re waiting for the interview with Robert Llewellyn, don’t worry – it’ll be online later in the day.

chronotrigger The Super Nintendo was an brilliant gaming console, producing some of the best RPGs that have ever been made. While Final Fantasy VI, 7th Saga and Breath of Fire are excellent titles, the one that sticks out in most people’s minds is Chrono Trigger.

If you haven’t played the game before, suffice it to say it is a unique RPG with a wide and memorable cast of characters, a good progression and battle system, and an awesome setting. If you have, you’ll understand my excitement.

Chrono Trigger has been released for Android. While you could quasi-legally play the game on an emulator before now, without a controller connected it wasn’t an ideal experience, and with a controller it was a bit of a bulky conveyance.

The new release works much better on touch screens and still supports controllers, allowing the best of both worlds. Better yet, the Android version is a port of the 2010 Nintendo DS re-release, which includes extra areas, items and cutscenes.

If you’re looking for a long and epic RPG to devour your time on the go, then this is an excellent choice. While the price is relatively high for an Android app, it’s much cheaper than finding an original SNES cartridge or even the Nintendo DS re-release.

While the app works on both phones and tablets, I reckon that probably the 10″ tablet will be the best way to play this title. This game could be an essential Google Nexus 10 accessory – I know I’ll be playing it once mine arrives!

Chrono Trigger is truly worth it – if you haven’t played it before, you’re in for a treat. If you have, prepare for a trip down memory lane. Now all we need is an Android version of Chrono Cross, and we’ll be set.

Windows 8 – fast & fun… and slidey, apparently

Windows 8 is well and truly upon us. If you tried out the Consumer Preview, you got a sneak peak of what was going to be available from the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s flagship software title. Well, Microsoft want to keep themselves firmly in the front of your mind, so they have set up an installation at Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent, UK, that’s a little bit different.

See, the message Microsoft want you to get about Windows 8 is that it’s “fast and fun”, so they started thinking about what else would fit that bill and came up with the idea of replacing the stairs at a shopping centre with a big playground-style slide. Surely that would be faster and more fun than walking down some boring old steps?

Windows branded playground slide at Bluewater Shopping Centre

OK, so you can see that they haven’t actually removed the other means of getting between floors because, to be honest, old auntie Ethel isn’t likely to want to go down the slide, but they have created something memorable that will, hopefully, make you think positively about Microsoft, and Windows 8 in particular. Shoppers who take the slide will have their photo shown on electronic billboards around the centre, will be given a printed photo, and will be able to receive an electronic copy send to their mobile phone.

If you’re in the area, the slide will be there until Sunday evening (4th November). I happen to be “down South” this weekend, so will be heading along on Saturday evening for a shot…