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Sony Introduces Xperia Tablet Z

Sony has introduced a new 10.1-inch Android tablet to compete with the iPad and Nexus 10, Engadget reports. Dubbed the Xperia Tablet Z, it falls alongside the company’s new flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z, which was announced earlier this month at CES. Like its smartphone sibling, the Xperia Tablet Z features a thin and sleek design, measuring at just 6.9mm thick, besting the iPad mini and making it the thinnest tablet available. It sports Qualcomm’s 1.5GHz quad-core APQ8064 processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of local storage, NFC capability, and a 1920×1200 display. While the display doesn’t quite match the pixel density of the iPad (264ppi) or Nexus 10 (300ppi), it offers a respectable 224ppi.

While the Xperia Tablet Z won’t feature the 13-megapixel, HDR video-enabled camera found in the Xperia Z, it will have an 8.1-megapixel Exmor R camera. It will also share the Xperia Z’s waterproof casing, though the company hasn’t explained to what degree. In terms of connectivity, Sony has announced that it will support Wi-Fi and LTE, though carrier partners have yet to be revealed. It will ship with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and come in either white or black.

Sony has yet to discuss pricing or release information, but stay tuned for updates.

Scott Lowe is IGN’s resident tech expert and Executive Editor of IGN Tech. You can follow him on Twitter at @ScottLowe and on MyIGN at Scott-IGN.

By Scott Lowe

Digital Storm Bolt – Is This the World’s Thinnest Gaming PC?

The new Bolt PC from Digital Storm is just 3.6 inches wide and 14 inches tall. So while its claim to be the “world’s thinnest gaming PC” may be a bit specious, it’s still impressively small for a PC that can run an Intel i7-3770K CPU clocked up to 4.6GHz and an NVIDIA GTX 690 GPU.

With space for as many as 3 hard drives, Digital Storm is claiming the Bolt offers “bottomless storage.” And it’s configurable up to 16GB of RAM.

Of course, while those specs are impressive, they quickly run the Bolt’s price up to about $2000 from its $999 base. And while the cheaper configuration’s 3.1GHz Core i3-2100 CPU, and GeForce GT 650 graphics unit are nothing to scoff at, the Alienware X51 offers a slightly better value on a comparable PC.

But for space-challenged power users, The Bolt’s 700W (or 500W) power supply could be a killer feature, as Alienware’s 330W is insufficient for configurations above its $1200 model.

Do you like the idea of console-sized gaming PCs, or will you be sticking with big rigs? Let us know in the comments.

Jon Fox is a Seattle hipster who loves polar bears and climbing trees. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN.

By Jon Fox

Samsung Introduces the Galaxy S3 Mini

Samsung’s Galaxy S3 is among the best Android phones available now. But while it’s not quite as gargantuan as Samsung’s Galaxy Note, it’s still pretty big.

If you want a more compact phone with comparable performance, you’re pretty much stuck with the iPhone 5. And as Samsung said itself in a press release, a “compact smartphone with a 4.0-inch screen … can be an optimal choice for consumers who are looking for more practical smartphones.”

So we were stoked to hear the rumors that Samsung might unveil a Galaxy S3 mini – the same killer phone in a 4-inch package. And then they did! Except not.

The S3 mini has the same name and general design profile (which we didn’t exactly love the first time around) as its big brother. And it gets the perks of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI overlay for Android Jelly Bean.

But the similarities (and virtues) pretty much end there. That 4-inch screen has a disappointing resolution of 800 x 400, giving it a pixel density of 233 ppi (down from 306). The mini’s dual-core processor is clocked at decidedly average 1GHz (down from 1.5). It’s got 1GB of RAM (down from 2) a 5MP camera (down from 8) and a 1500mAh battery (down from 2100).

You might be thinking Samsung is just strategically branding a mediocre phone to ride their immensely successful flagship’s wave of success. Well, you might be right.

No word yet on pricing or the chance of US availability. But is that even disappointing? Let us know in the comments.

Jon Fox is a Seattle hipster who loves polar bears and climbing trees. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN

By Jon Fox

Google Play Store Reaches 675,000 Apps

At last week’s iPad mini event, Apple announced that software developers have collectively made over $6.5 billion through its App Store, with more than 35 billion downloads of 700,000+ available apps.

Less than a week later, Google has revealed that it’s nipping at its rival’s heels with 675,000 apps and games in the Google Play Store and 25 billion downloads to date (a number Apple hit just six months ago). Well over half of those downloads occurred in the last year alone.

So has Google finally closed the 3rd-party app gap (a bafflingly persistent gap, given Android’s install-base advantage over iOS)? Sort of: the legions of apps available to both ecosystems are impressively numerous, but there are other criteria than sheer quantity, and according to most of them Apple still leads.

For one thing, Apple’s still ahead by 10 billion app downloads. And while monetization figures for Android apps are still steadily improving, iOS apps still tend to monetize 40 to 50 percent better. A survey conducted just seven months ago found that two thirds of Android users had never paid for an app. This may not have curtailed the development of free Android apps substantially, but it helps explain why so many game- and premium app-developers have historically developed for iOS first.

And that 700,000 count says even less about about tablets. While Apple boasts that 250,000 apps have been developed specifically for the iPad, Google has chosen not to release such a figure (much like it’s declined to say how much it’s paid out to app developers). Of course, given the iPad’s huge share of the tablet market that disparity makes sense. And you can bet increased adoption of the Nexus 7 and forthcoming Nexus 10 will give developers the incentive to help Android catch up.

Seeing as the smartphone and tablet markets are both still growing, we expect both companies’ figures will continue to grow exponentially. So will iOS or Android be the first to a million apps (and will that make a difference to you)? Place your bets the comments.

Jon Fox is a Seattle hipster who loves polar bears and climbing trees. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN.

By Jon Fox

Jack of all trades or master of trade-offs?

The Surface RT redefines what a tablet is capable of. It’s a productivity workhorse with a sparkly new OS. But it might not be the tablet you’ve been waiting for.

In fact, it’s barely a tablet in the first place: Microsoft went to great lengths to ensure Surface RT is a perfect hybrid – part PC, part tablet; all form and function. When it works, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, it’s absolutely confounding.

I’ve already written about my horrific first day with the device – a day mired in confusing menu options and inconsistent restrictions. As it turned out, the options I was looking for were there; but they’re hidden in menus that could only be accessed with unintuitive gestures or through other impenetrable menus. If you want access to serious settings, like control pane, you have to access settings from a specific place on your device (the little-used Desktop). Why? Who knows.

Good luck navigating these menus with your fingers.

Desktop mode has its own problems. Pressing a home-page tile transports you back to Windows’ familiar desktop interface. The recycling bin, task bar, and even a little IE icon are all there. But Windows RT was built for touch input, and unless you’re using a mouse you’ll have more than a little trouble navigating with those tiny icons on the Touch Cover’s tiny touchpad.

It’s important to know Surface RT can’t run x86 apps, which means only apps downloaded from the Windows Marketplace are compatible. In other words, your desktop will be pretty bare. Does a tablet with touch-optimized apps still need a desktop for file hierarchies? If you ask us, Surface RT could entirely do without it.

Now, if you want a file hierarchy Surface is definitely the tablet for you. iOS forces you to store files on iCloud (or use iTunes) and Android’s system is even less user-friendly than RT’s. And as Surface lets you plug an external hard drive to transfer files, you might find yourself thankful for a traditional desktop interface.

This is where Surface RT truly shines: even though it doesn’t run the full version of Windows 8, it can do a lot that other tablets can’t. I had a hard time finding a device that wouldn’t interface with its USB port – whether it was a keyboard, mouse, or external hard drive. Throw in the Touch Cover (which you want – trust me) and at times it just feels like a PC.

The Touch Cover is a stroke of genius. It’s incredibly light and thin, snaps to the Surface with strong magnets, and has a trackpad with buttons and a full-size keyboard. Typing on the flat keys is difficult initially, but quickly becomes second nature – I could type faster on the Touch Cover than any virtual keyboard in no time.

The Surface’s excellent kickstand, made of the same high-quality VaporMG as the Surface Casing, comes in especially handy when you’re typing. The only problem with the Touch Cover is that it’s not included with the device and it costs a whopping $120.

Price is a tough pill to swallow all around: for $499 you can buy a 32GB model, half of that is occupied by the OS, so it’s more like 16GB. That’s about as expensive as an iPad. You’ll want to bundle a Touch Cover though, so make that $599 (it’s only $100 for a bundled black version). It could be worse, but Surface RT isn’t really the budget tablet many were hoping for.

The Surface’s app store is essentially a ghost town.

The Surface’s app store is essentially a ghost town. Many games for Windows Phone 8 aren’t in the Surface marketplace. At least for now, iOS and Android tablets have a more established ecosystem, and are better for gaming. You could buy a 16GB iPad with a better display and LTE for just $30 bucks more than the Surface, or a 32GB WiFi-only Nexus 10 for $100 less. All Surface RT models are WiFi-only, which was a big complaint I had with the Nexus 7 – though even that recently received cellular service.

Despite its impressive specs (Nvidia T30, 2GB of RAM) frame rates on our Surface RT consistently dropped even playing lightweight games like Jetpack Joyride or Pinball FX. The slowdown always occurred when touch input was being used and made me hesitant to download more games.

That could be a deal breaker for some, but the Surface RT is really more for productivity than gaming, and the included Office Home suite proves it. Microsoft Office and the USB port make this is the only tablet I could recommend as a laptop replacement.

The only tablet I could recommend as a laptop replacement.

Using Surface RT as a media device – many tablet’s main function – is a mixed bag. Its 10.6-inch 16:9 display packs a 1366 x 768 resolution. That’s not mindblowing by any means, but Microsoft made a display sacrifice to give the device impressive battery life. And Microsoft has worked hard to prevent glare, add higher contrast and utilizing ClearType technology to make the display higher quality. The display consistently impressed with videos and games – not so much with words or internet browsing.

That elongated size also allows for multiple windows – rare among tablets – and it’s a killer feature. Simply dragging a window to the side of the screen locks it to about a third of the display. Many apps support this shrunken mode, so for instance you can change songs from Xbox Music while surfing the web.

Some tablet functions made us wish it wasn’t so big though. Holding it for long periods made it seem heavy, and it feels ridiculous when oriented vertically. That means it’s not a great reading device. But then it’s a computer-tablet hybrid, so it’s not meant to be held for long periods anyway.

The Verdict

Surface RT is both an exhilarating new take on tablets, but in many ways it’s a let-down. It’s a functional laptop-replacement, but if you’re looking for a media device it’s arguably the worst option. More than once, I just wished it was the upcoming full-PC version, Surface Pro.
Wait for the inevitable Surface RT 2.0 or Pro.

By Nic Vargus

Wii U’s Baffling Voice Chat Solution Revealed

Will Wii U support online voice chat? Until today, that was one of the many questions still outstanding as Nintendo’s new console approached its launch. Many have wondered how the publisher plans to approach online play, and a big element of that is how gamers will be able to communicate with each other. The answer to voice chat, it turns out, is ‘yes’ – but with some very strange choices being made along the way.

Wii U will support voice chat, but not as a universal, system-based feature. Nintendo has instead opted to allow developers to include the feature on a game-by-game basis. In a strange move, however, the GamePad’s built-in mic will apparently not be the default source for voice chat.The publisher revealed that gamers will likely have to turn to third-party options to find headsets with built-in mics, and then plug those accessories into the Pad itself. Here is the company’s statement:

“Wii U will have in-game chat functionality for select games, including, but not limited to, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Assassin’s Creed III and Mass Effect 3. This feature will be supported by licensed stereo headsets that plug directly into the headphone port of the Game Pad.  Licensed headsets are available from Turtle Beach and TRITTON.”

Things get more confusing from here. Though the GamePad has a plug to support headsets, the Pro controller does not. That immediately cuts off the option of plugging in a headset for voice chat. It appears gamers wishing to use voice chat with the Pro controller will need to plug their third party hardware into the GamePad while playing a game supporting the voice feature.

There are still some outstanding questions about Wii U’s communication capabilities, however. In its various E3 2012 briefings, Nintendo did reveal video chat functionality, which uses the GamePad’s mic to communicate. Though this seemed to be implemented through Miiverse in a fashion that paused a game, it doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility to allow the GamePad to directly support voice chat, or video chat, during play, though how that might impact the system’s performance is anyone’s guess. Likewise, while Wii U currently has no announced wireless headsets, future hardware support from third parties might greatly alleviate this convoluted situation. Nintendo had not announced any official headset accessories.

We’ll keep you posted of any developments in this strange scenario. Long story short – it seems as though core gamers are going to have a couple extra steps to get their voice chat working if they opt to use the more familiar Pro controller.

Rich is an Executive Editor of IGN.com and the leader of IGN’s Nintendo team. He also watches over all things WWE, Resident Evil, Assassin’s Creed and much more. Follow him on Twitter, if you dare!

By Richard George

T-Shirt of the Day – Jurassic Portal

“Oh hey. Don’t mind me; just fallin’ through some portals.”

They said it couldn’t be done, but on the heels of the Portal Project, time travel was a logical next step for Aperture Science, Inc. And if you were the company that invented the Heimlich Counter-Maneuver, wouldn’t teleporting dinosaurs to the present be your first stop?

T-Rex T-Shirt

CrazyDog – $17 + shipping

Last week’s shirt:

Pokemon Anatomy from BustedTees

Jon Fox is a Seattle hipster who loves polar bears and climbing trees. You can follow him on Twitter and IGN.

By Jon Fox

Paramount Reveals Star Trek Into Darkness App

Paramount Pictures and Qualcomm Incorporated announced Monday a new Star Trek Into Darkness application that will utilize Gimbal context awareness technologies to deliver advanced real-world game experiences and exclusive content from the film.

From the app, users will be able to interact with their real-life surroundings to complete integrated missions and access exclusive movie materials such as videos, images and wallpapers; this is employed through the use of the app’s audio scan functionality (during TV spots, etc.), geo-location recognition for scouting, and Trek-related image recognition.

“We are excited about collaborating with Paramount on this app as it further brings to life Qualcomm’s vision of the digital sixth sense, where devices intelligently interact with the world around you,” said Qualcomm Chairman and CEO Dr. Paul E. Jacobs. “By leveraging the Gimbal platform, this app harnesses the power of the smartphone to bridge the digital and physical world, allowing the studio to market the film in the real world and simultaneously bring users into the film’s story and world.”

As an added bonus, users who register for the app will be automatically entered into a sweepstakes for the chance to win a VIP trip to the U.S. premiere.

The Star Trek Into Darkness app will launch at the end of January.

Max Nicholson is a writer for IGN, and he desperately seeks your approval. Show him some love by following @Max_Nicholson on Twitter, or MaxNicholson on IGN.

By Max Nicholson

Facebook to Offer Free Calls to US iPhone Users

After testing the feature in Canada, Facebook has introduced a free VoIP calling system through their iPhone Messages app. Users can open a message with a friend, tap on a phone symbol and chat away, for no extra charge, over Wi-Fi and cell data.

This is the first time phone access will be available to millions of Facebook users — and another incentive to snap up the company’ Messenger app. It’s important to note that you don’t have to know someone’s number to call them, and that you can make a call to anyone with the system in place. The service incurs some charge for data usage when enacted over a 3G or 4G connection, but it is completely gratis when a Wi-Fi connection is in place.

Although at first blush this seems to be the first (and only) productive output from the year-long partnership between Skype and Facebook, this is actually an independent project. Skype and other competitors such as GoogleVoice, Vonage and Viber still offer their services. Still, if Facebook is successful, this product could produce one of the biggest VoIP networks on the planet.

Lauren Hockenson is a tech reporter and 8-bit enthusiast who dreams of being a wizard. She can be found on MyIGN at lhockenson or on Twitter at @lhockenson.

By Lauren Hockenson

Nintendo TVii Launches Tomorrow

Nintendo will launch TVii in North America on December 20th. TVii will launch for free, offering “a free, integrated service for the recently launched Wii U console that combines what you watch and how you watch into one seamless, second-screen experience,” according to Nintendo.

TVii will launch with support for cable and satellite providers in both the U.S. and Canada as well as support for Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus. Nintendo notes that “further integration with Netflix subscriptions and TiVo are expected in early 2013 in the United States,” though Netflix can currently be accessed separately from the Netflix app outside of TVii.

Users can confirm which services they’re subscribed to upon the initial set-up of TVii. When using the service, players can also “discover more information about what they’re watching by easily accessing information on the GamePad via an Internet connection, including cast details, movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes and sports data such as live stats and scores.”

TVii was originally announced back in September. The service was originally intended for Wii U’s launch, but was later delayed.

A specific date release date for other territories has not been announced.

Andrew Goldfarb is IGN’s associate news editor. Keep up with pictures of the latest food he’s been eating by following @garfep on Twitter or garfep on IGN.

By Andrew Goldfarb