At the end of last year, as we made our predictions about what 2019 would bring for social networks, I raised the prospect that it could be a hard year for Instagram. “I won’t guess the specifics,” I wrote, “but I do think 2019 will see some sort of reckoning over Instagram. Its charismatic founders are gone, the press is waking up to some long-simmering issues there, and there’s an increasing sense among a certain elite that looking at the app all the time is bad for you.”

As of today, that reckoning appears to be here. Instagram has faced plenty of criticism before now, particularly around bullying issues on the platform. But lately, the more that journalists explore its dark corners, the more cause they find for concern.

In The Atlantic, Taylor Lorenz explores how conspiracy theories and extremism have taken root on the platform:

The platform is likely where the next great battle against misinformation will be fought, and yet it has largely escaped scrutiny. Part of this is due to its reputation among older users, who generally use it to post personal photos, follow aspirational accounts, and keep in touch with friends. Many teenagers, however, use the platform differently—not only to connect with friends, but to explore their identity, and often to consume information about current events.

Jack, a 16-year-old who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym to protect his identity, has learned a lot about politics through Instagram. In 2020, he’ll be able to vote for the first time, and so he recently started following some new Instagram pages to bone up on issues facing the country. “I try to follow both sides just to see what everyone’s thinking,” he said. While he’s struggled to find many compelling pages on the left, he said he’s learned a lot from following large conservative Instagram meme pages such as @dc_draino and @the_typical_liberal, which has nearly 1 million followers and claims to be “saving GenZ one meme at a time.” Recent posts include a joke about running over protesters in the street, an Infowars video posted to IGTV, and a meme about feminists being ugly. “It’s important to have The Typical Liberal and DC Draino to expose the [media’s] lies, so we can formulate our own opinions,” Jack told me.

And it isn’t just political memes. In a simple test this week of Instagram’s recommendation algorithms, Motherboard’s Joseph Cox set up a fresh account and followed a single anti-vaccination user. You can probably guess what happened next:

On Wednesday, I created a fresh Instagram account, and followed ‘Beware the Needle’, a user with 34,000 followers which posts a steady stream of anti-vaccination content. I also followed the user’s “backup” account mentioned in its bio, the creator clearly aware that Instagram may soon ban them. Instagram’s “Suggested for You” feature then recommended I follow other accounts, including “Vaccines are Genocide” and “Vaccine Truth.” I followed the latter, and checked which accounts Instagram now thought would be a good fit for me: another 24 accounts that were either explicitly against vaccinations in their profile description, or that posted anti-vaccine content.

They included pseudo-scientists claiming that vaccines cause autism; accounts with tens of thousands of followers promising the “truth” around vaccinations through memes and images of misleading statistics, as well as individual mothers spouting the perceived, but false, dangers of vaccinating children against measles, polio, and other diseases.

Two weeks ago, in response to pressure from Congress, Facebook said it would stop recommending anti-vaccination content across its suite of apps, including on Instagram Explore and hashtag pages. Cox’s report indicates that work either hasn’t yet begun, or simply has not been effective. And Lorenz’s report illustrates how much broader Instagram’s problem is than that one public health issue.

Neither of these issues came up in an interview today with Vishal Shah, Instagram’s new head of product, on Cheddar. That isn’t a criticism of the reporters, Alex Heath and Michelle Castillo, who covered a lot of ground. But I was struck, reading Shah’s answers, by his business-as-usual tone. Even as Mark Zuckerberg has signaled he will shift the company toward private messaging — something the reporters do ask him about — Shah focuses on a cheery vision of Instagram as a place to browse and buy products.

I was also struck by his description of Instagram’s product organization:

The product teams are a singular product team. There’s not like a separate business team that doesn’t integrate with the rest of the consumer product team. It’s actually one product organization. And some companies run it pretty differently, where you’ve got like an ads team and then you’ve got the consumer team. And we don’t think about it that way.

The reason is, because at the end of the day, the consumer has a singular experience with Instagram. And so while my primary focus was on ads and business products, I’ve been here for four years and have seen a lot of the decisions that we’ve made around the new formats like Stories. My team was the one that worked on removing the square requirement in Feed because 20% of people were uploading content that wasn’t square. So they were basically telling us that the limitation was not something that they were excited about. Looking at consumer signal and using that as a determination of what we might want to build and where people are hacking the platform is something we’ve been doing across the spectrum for a while. So I’ve had the context on the consumer product for a while.

The second is, as we’ve been growing and scaling, it’s been really important for us to think of what the values of Instagram—the product—are and how decisions that we make really need to continue to reflect those values, even as we grow. So the three that we talked about are being people first, which is every decision that we make should be rooted in a real people problem that we can describe.

A “singular product team” like the one Shah describes, laser-focused on “a singular experience,” can be useful in rallying around a cause. And yet by all accounts, what Instagram is focused on at the moment is shopping. Grandiose talk about “the values of Instagram,” starting with the principle of “being people first,” looks silly given its context — the introduction of in-app checkout. It’s easy to say you’re “people first” — but if your road map prioritizes e-commerce over all else, including misinformation that could lead to a public health crisis, it becomes all too apparent which people you value.

On Twitter, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri told me the company has more people working on well-being efforts than it does on shopping. Last year, after taking over, Mosseri introduced a range of anti-bullying tools that signaled a broader commitment to making Instagram feel safe for its user base. More recently, he said, the company has “wound down a number of projects and teams to staff up our well-being efforts and a few other areas where I felt we need to do more.”

Ultimately, though, Instagram is best judged by what we see when we search through those hashtags and Explore pages.

What I find most disconcerting about this story is how familiar it is. A single-minded focus on initiatives to boost engagement and revenue, at the expense of focusing on systemic rot within the platform, is precisely what landed Facebook in its state of perma-crisis to begin with. And for all the times after 2016 that the company told us it learned its lesson, Instagram’s simmering problems offer fresh reason for doubt.


Jared Kushner Uses Non-Official Messaging for Official Business, Lawyer Says

Jared Kushner, for one, is embracing Facebook’s pivot to private messaging:

The chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed information on Thursday that he said showed Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner used private messaging services for official White House business in a way that may have violated federal records laws.

The chairman, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, said that a lawyer for Ms. Trump, President Trump’s daughter, and Mr. Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told the committee late last year that in addition to a private email account, Mr. Kushner uses an unofficial encrypted messaging service, WhatsApp, for official White House business, including with foreign contacts.

Christchurch shooting prompts Facebook to reexamine live stream reporting

Facebook will reexamine its approach to live stream moderation in the wake of the New Zealand attack, Hamza Shaban reports, based on a new company blog post:

Last year, Facebook said it applied this expedited review process to recently ended live broadcasts. That meant users who saw a potentially violent or abusive live stream after it aired could alert Facebook moderators with haste. But Facebook said this process covered only videos flagged for suicide. Other dangerous events — including the Friday attack on two mosques that left 50 people dead — were not covered under the expedited review process.

Facebook said this may change.

European Wikipedias have been turned off for the day to protest dangerous copyright laws

A number of websites are taking action to draw attention to proposed changes in European copyright law that they warn could cripple their services, James Vincent reports:

Ahead of a final vote on the legislation next Tuesday, March 26th, a number of European Wikipedia sites are going dark for the day, blocking all access and directing users to contact their local EU representative to protest the laws. Other major sites, such as Twitch and PornHub, are showing protest banners on their homepages and social media.

In Andrew Yang, the Internet Finds a Meme-Worthy Candidate

Kevin Roose reports that a little-known political neophyte has attracted early enthusiasm online as he pursues the Democratic presidential nomination:

He has catapulted out of obscurity thanks in part to a devoted internet following known as the “Yang Gang.” His fans have plastered Mr. Yang into memes and produced songs and music videos about his candidacy. They have also created a hashtaggable slogan — #securethebag — out of his signature campaign proposal to give $12,000 a year in no-strings-attached cash to every American adult, as a cushion against the mass unemployment he believes is coming thanks to artificial intelligence and automation.

By conventional standards, Mr. Yang remains a fringe candidate. In national polls, his support among Democrats has registered between 0 and 1 percent. But his viral popularity on social media feels reminiscent of the “meme army” that helped lift President Trump to victory in 2016. WikiLeaks, itself a part of the internet’s political underbelly, recently took note of Mr. Yang’s online momentum, and asked, “Did Trump just lose the 2020 meme war?”

Inside the Surveillance Program IBM Built for Rodrigo Duterte

George Joseph explores how IBM collaborated with the Duterte regime in the Philippines:

On June 27, 2012, three years after the devastating Human Rights Watch report, IBM issued a short news release announcing an agreement with Davao to upgrade its police command center in order to “further enhance public safety operations in the city.” IBM’s installation, known as the Intelligent Operations Center, promised to enhance authorities’ ability to monitor residents in real time with cutting-edge video analytics, multichannel communications technology, and GPS-enabled patrol vehicles. Less than two months later, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights published a resolution condemning Davao authorities for fostering a “climate of impunity” with regard to the killings, recommending that the National Bureau of Investigation undertake an impartial investigation into potential obstruction of justice by local police officials.

One year in, Facebook’s big algorithm change has spurred an angry, Fox News-dominated — and very engaged!

I’m almost a week late to this good piece from Laura Hazard Owen, but it’s worth noting amid constant whining among some conservatives that platforms are systematically biased against them. According to NewsWhip, Fox News was the most-engaged-with publisher for the first quarter of the year. As usual.


Facebook Stored Hundreds of Millions of User Passwords in Plain Text for Years

Today’s big Facebook whoopsie is the revelation that the company stored millions of passwords in plain text in various databases throughout the company. Facebook says there is no evidence that employees used the passwords to make mischief, says Brian Krebs, who broke the news. But still:

The Facebook source said the investigation so far indicates between 200 million and 600 million Facebook users may have had their account passwords stored in plain text and searchable by more than 20,000 Facebook employees. The source said Facebook is still trying to determine how many passwords were exposed and for how long, but so far the inquiry has uncovered archives with plain text user passwords in them dating back to 2012.

My Facebook insider said access logs showed some 2,000 engineers or developers made approximately nine million internal queries for data elements that contained plain text user passwords.

Being An Instagram Influencer Is Hard Work, So This Guy Made A Bot To Do It For Him

Katie Notopoulos has the tale of a man who runs an Instagram bot account featuring other people’s photos of New York and uses it to score free meals. And the advertisers don’t seem to mind:

In the end, Buetti argues, a post from an automated account is worth as much to an advertiser as an endorsement from an account run by, you know, a human. He said several restaurants have followed up, saying customers came in after seeing their food posted on @beautiful.newyorkcity (the sponsored posts are labeled as ads). “I spent a lot of time and effort writing this script and I’m offering them a service and they’re offering me a free meal,” Buetti said.

BuzzFeed News contacted one restaurant owner who gave @beautiful.newyorkcity a $25 dining credit in exchange for a post, and described how Buetti’s automated account works. “I guess in the end we were satisfied because it’s still an ad posted and showing us to their followers,” said the owner, who nonetheless asked to remain anonymous to prevent other would-be influencers from trying to dine for free.

New Zealand ISPs are blocking sites that do not remove Christchurch shooting video

Interesting to see New Zealand’s internet service providers taking strong action to prevent video of the Christchurch shooting from being shared. (The ban spared Facebook and YouTube, Makena Kelly reports.)

According to Bleeping Computer, sites like 4chan, 8chan, LiveLeak, and the file-sharing site Mega have all been pulled by ISPs like Vodafone, Spark, and Vocus. The ISPs appear to be blocking access at the DNS level to sites that do not respond to the takedown requests, but it’s unclear how effective the blocks will be. Like most web-level blocks, the restrictions are easy to circumvent through the use of a VPN or alternative DNS settings.

The Punishing Ecstasy of Being a Reddit Moderator

Robert Peck writes about life as a volunteer moderator for Reddit:

At Reddit, all of the volunteers, certainly in the thousands, are trusted with freedom to do as we like with our sections of the site. We appreciate this. I appreciate this. But that isn’t why I spend 20 hours a week arguing with people on the internet and banning trolls. I do that because it’s satisfying to chase and destroy the zombies, and to do it alongside people I trust. It’s fulfilling to be needed and to be skilled. We don’t own the site, but we consider its spaces ours.


Houseparty elevates its chief operating officer to CEO

I wrote about Houseparty CEO Ben Rubin handing the reins over to his cofounder Sima Sistani. As part of the news, the company announced that it will soon launch a trivia game and screen sharing features:

On April 1st, Houseparty plans to introduce a new trivia game as part of its investment in entertainment. It will also begin to let users share their screens with one another, so they can chat about whatever they’re doing on their phones. (An app called Squad launched earlier this year with similar social screen-sharing features; but Houseparty says screen sharing has been on its road map from the beginning.)

“When people are hanging out on Houseparty, they’re already engaging in these companion experiences,” Sistani said. “They’re watching Netflix, they’re shopping, they’re doing homework.” Screen sharing will make all of those activities easier, she said.


I Deleted Facebook Last Year. Here’s What Changed (and What Didn’t).

Brian X. Chen reflects on life five months after quitting Facebook:

There were some differences, though — including some strange experiences with online ads. Facebook has long used information that it collects on its users to target people with the most relevant ads. So after a few months of deleting the social network, I began seeing random ads pop up on sites like Instagram (which Facebook owns). Among them: promotions for women’s shaving products, purses and bathing suits.

Instagram might have started thinking I was female, but my wallet thanked me. I realized I was spending considerably less money on my usual guilty pleasure of buying clothing and cooking gadgets online because I was no longer seeing the relevant Facebook ads that egged me on to splurge. Over the past five months, my online shopping purchases dropped about 43 percent.

And finally …

Fuckjerry sued for allegedly stealing meme

Stealing a meme is morally wrong. But should it also cost you many thousands of dollars? Probably, in this case! Colin Lecher reports:

The suit, filed this week in federal court, alleges that the company violated copyright law by taking an image and using it to promote its tequila brand, JAJA Tequila. The suit names FJERRY, LLC, the parent company of Jerry Media, as well as founder Elliot Tebele. Law360 reported on the suit yesterday.

According to the suit, a Nigeria-based social media personality owned the image, which included a text message conversation about drinking. One person in the conversation messages the other, “don’t worry i called an uber,” as the other person responds, “we drank at your place.” @fuckjerry’s post appended the caption, “Me after my 6th glass of @JAJA.”

Jaja, indeed.

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Huawei just can’t catch a break with the P30, its upcoming flagship that’s due to be revealed next week. Yesterday, Evan Blass spotted that an event page for the phone on the Huawei website was posted live early (as noted by 9to5Google), confirming the rumors that the phone would feature a quad-camera array, and detailing features including improved nighttime recording, and a new “dual-view” video mode.

This video mode, which the page says will be available post-launch in an update, is the most interesting new detail from the page. It suggests that you’ll be able to use two of the phones four cameras — namely the primary lens and the zoom lens — simultaneously, allowing you to see a close-up view and wide-angle view at the same time. This will potentially make it much easier to film fast-moving objects in the distance, where it’s all too easy to lose track of where they are.

Huawei’s site doesn’t detail how recording in this mode will actually work however, so it’s unclear whether you’ll record both feeds simultaneously, or whether you choose between them. There’s no mention if the dual-view mode will allow you to mix and match the phone’s other cameras, such as its wide-angle lens.

Elsewhere, the page confirms much of the information we’ve already heard about the device’s quad camera array. We most recently saw this detailed, along with the phone’s other specs, in a leak last week, and it consists of a main 40-megapixel sensor, flanked by a 10x zoom lens, an ultra-wide angle lens and a time-of-flight camera.

 Image: Huawei
The page details an event on April 6th which appears to be taking place in VivoCity, a shopping mall in Singapore.

Finally, the page also confirms the existence of the rumored Huawei Watch GT Active edition. It doesn’t give too many details outside of its name, but we’d be willing to bet this is a more rugged version of the Huawei Watch GT we reviewed last October.

All is set to be officially revealed next week on March 26th, when Huawei is expected to announced both the P30 and P30 Pro at an event in Paris.

 Image: Huawei
The phone’s marketing heavily focuses on its camera.

Remember when we learned it was theoretically possible for a webpageor app — to steal your processor cycles to mine cryptocurrency, potentially draining your battery and cellular data in the process? BuzzFeed reports that ad networks have figured out a similar scam — one that lets lucrative, power-hungry video advertisements hide behind traditional banner ads in Android apps, so users don’t even know they’re there.

According to BuzzFeed, it’s not app developers to blame — they were surprised to find an influx of complaints about why their apps are draining users’ batteries and eating up more than their fair share of data. Instead, the report suggests that the ad networks they’d signed up with had been hijacked by fraudsters within the larger ad business. (BuzzFeed traced the ads to a company called OutStream Media, a subsidiary of Aniview; Aniview says it runs a self-service platform and is not to blame, but BuzzFeed paints a picture of Aniview as a seemingly sketchy organization.)

The scam isn’t just at the expense of consumers, but also ad networks too, as the scammers buy up cheap banner spots and fill them with expensive video ads, profiting in the process.

Apparently, the technique already has a name: they’re known by the term “in-banner video ads,” and ad fraud companies who spoke to BuzzFeed say they see “tens of millions of dollars’ worth” of these bad ads every month.

You can read BuzzFeed’s full investigation here.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, the cult role-playing game from 2004, is getting a sequel. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 sounds a lot like Bloodlines: you’ll take the role of a fledgling vampire in the “World of Darkness” role-playing universe, then survive a war between vampire clans with a combination of special powers and old-fashioned combat. The action is set in Seattle instead of Los Angeles this time, and the game itself is slated for a 2020 release on PC and consoles.

Bloodlines’ original writer Brian Mitsoda will lead narrative design on Bloodlines 2, which is being developed by independent studio Hardsuit Labs and published by World of Darkness license-holder Paradox Interactive. In a press release, Mitsoda promised to deliver “a true successor guided by the people who knew what made the original so special.” Its full plot description, however, doesn’t offer a lot of specifics yet:

Created in an act of vampire insurrection, your existence ignites a blood war among the vampire factions who run Seattle. To survive, you’ll choose a clan and enter into uneasy alliances with the competing factions in a world which will react to every choice you make. Unleash your supernatural powers against your prey, but be mindful of your surroundings at all times or run the risk of breaking the Masquerade — the absolute law of secrecy that keeps Vampire society hidden from humanity.

The mechanics are similarly vague, although we do know that the game is supposed to feature “a forward-driving, fast-moving, melee-focused combat system” in addition to your vampiric powers. The trailer above offers a look at some of both, as well as a little more detail about the world.

Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines 2 Screenshot

Bloodlines is beloved among fans for its dark humor, unique role-playing options, and vividly drawn world. But its development by now-defunct studio Troika Games was notoriously cut short, and it was released practically unfinished on the same day as Half-Life 2. As one retrospective puts it, the game was “sent out to die.” Since then, a community of modders has patched and maintained Bloodlines for over a decade, even going so far as to re-create levels that were cut from the game.

The entire World of Darkness franchise — which includes tabletop and live-action role-playing games, novels, and the very different 2000 video game Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption — has had a turbulent past. A massively multiplayer game was started and then scrapped by EVE Online studio CCP, and when tabletop studio White Wolf refreshed its core Vampire: The Masquerade ruleset last year, the launch was botched so badly that the studio lost its publishing rights. These difficulties stem partly from the subject matter: the World of Darkness blends sex, violence, and power in a way that can be either intense and compelling or simply cruel and ugly.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 screenshot

Bloodlines threaded that difficult narrative needle relatively well, and if we’re lucky, Bloodlines 2 will have as much personality and complexity as the first game — but as the kind of polished, fully realized project that Troika simply didn’t have the time and resources to make.

Nearly one year after the launch of Labo, Nintendo’s DIY cardboard accessory line for the Switch, the company is releasing its fourth kit: an introduction to VR for kids. While we tend to think of virtual reality as isolating, Nintendo’s Labo VR Kit reimagines the VR experience with “simple and shareable” minigames designed to get multiple people playing and interacting.

All of the games have to be played with the headset held up to your face, which has its pros and cons. On one hand, little arms could get tired holding the Switch screen after a while; but on the other, some of minigames are designed to be played in turns, and it’s quicker to pass around the screen than it is to deal with all the fuss taking a headset on and off. Passing the headset around is meant to encourage “both virtual and real-world interactions,” says Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser.

Six Toy-Con creations can be made, including a blaster, camera, elephant, bird, and a pedal, in addition to a pair of VR goggles. The VR goggles work in conjunction with the rest of the Toy-Con, slipping into each one (except for the pedal) to offer experiences like photographing underwater creatures, and my personal favorite, “being a bird.” Here are my impressions of each Toy-Con accessory and the accompanying games.

The VR Goggles

 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The goggles, made of plastic and glass lenses, are the only non-cardboard piece in the kit besides the IR stickers and rubber bands. Sticking the Switch’s 720p resolution screen right up to your face has about the expected result: it’s pretty blurry, but not to a level that it impedes your enjoyment of the games. Images are displayed in stereoscopic 3D, and menu items float in the screen like a 3DS display.

Though the games are designed for VR, you don’t actually have to use it. VR can be switched off, and games can be played in 2D using the included Screen Holder, another Labo element for you to assemble.

The Blaster

 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
The alien invasion blaster game.

A Nintendo rep told me the blaster took him about 3 hours to build, longer than any of the other Toy-Con creations released so far. It’s got a lot of moving parts, and works with rubber bands that hook and release when you load and pull the trigger. There’s a game where you fend off an alien invasion, and another multiplayer minigame that was sort of like a less frantic Hungry Hungry Hippos; it lets players take turns using the Blaster to shoot food at hippos to lure them over to their side, and whoever has the most hippos wins.

The Elephant

 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Imagine a room-scale 3D painting app like Google’s Tilt Brush, only your paintbrush is an elephant’s trunk. That’s Doodle, one of the games based around Labo’s VR elephant mask and trunk.

There aren’t actually any elephant-related games to play. But while that makes the elephant mask seem like a strange choice, the mask and trunk make for a unique control scheme. There are IR stickers on the mask, which track the two controllers placed in the trunk. It’s hard to think of any other animal that has the kind of features that would allow for this configuration. Maybe an aardvark?

There’s also a physics-based Marble Run game, where you set up puzzles and pass the headset to a friend for them to solve.


 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

You can use the camera for an underwater fish photography game, or snap photos of the Tamagotchi-like character from the House game in the first Labo variety kit. I loudly lamented the missed opportunity of not making a Pokémon Snap game to anyone within earshot, so don’t say I didn’t do my job.

 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The Bird

Here, the controller becomes a bird’s face, you put your face up to the “wrong end of a bird” (as GamesRadar nicely put it), and flap your wings as you soar across an island. “Welcome to the world of birds”, the minigame intro reads. I found it almost impossible to flap the bird’s wings without repeatedly bonking the plastic headset against my face, but it’s also impossible not to laugh as this is happening.

 Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The Wind Pedal

Stepping on the pedal delivers an extra burst of speed when you’re playing timed challenges in Bird Dash mode — it also sends a gust of wind at your face, which certainly adds to the immersion factor. You can use it to play a simple game called Hop Dodge, in which you bounce on a trampoline and try to hit the highest height while avoiding obstacles. If this sounds pretty simple, that’s because it is.

This might just be from my boring adult perspective, but I can see most of the minigames in all four of the Labo kits losing their fun after a few plays. Maybe a kid would feel differently, though!

It’s a good thing then that Labo’s real strength comes from the actual building process and its Toy-Con Garage platform. The if-this-then-that programming platform lets users mix and match their Toy-Con creations and remix the ways they can be used. I thought coding the guitar chords to “Rainbow Connection” on Toy-Con Garage was stressful, but entering the Toy-Con Garage VR mode and looking at the backend of the games made my jaw drop.

Toy-Con Garage VR

There are 64 additional VR minigames built within Toy-Con Garage. The games are meant to be a launching point for users to make their own VR games, like editable, customizable blueprints. For example, you can swap out the ball in a soccer game to an apple, which changes the physics of a kick along with it.

Looking at all of the different options available in the input, middle, and output nodes was overwhelming, but in a good way. Despite being shown a dozen or so games, I’d barely scratched the surface of what else the VR Kit has to offer.

You can purchase the entire VR Kit for $79.99, or if you’re not sure you want to commit to having another room in your house with more cardboard, you can pick up the $39.99 Nintendo Labo VR Starter Set + Blaster, and add the $19.99 expansion sets later if you want. The Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04: VR Kit will be available online and in stores April 12th.

I love behavioral science. Together with related disciplines such as perceptual science, cognitive linguistics and cognitive psychology, I’ve found it to be incredibly useful in helping us both to innovate, and to communicate our innovations more effectively. However while it is wonderful for guiding our designs, it’s critical to remember that its theories are approximations …
President Trump’s re-election campaign recently spun the wireless industry into turmoil again. Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for President Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, told Politico that “A 5G wholesale market would drive drown costs and provide access to millions of Americans who are currently underserved. This is in line with President Trump’s agenda to benefit all Americans, regardless of geography.”

Huawei will launch its foldable Mate X in India this year, the company announced recently. It could be one of the first few 5G phones to be made available, even though the 5G network is yet to be rolled out in the country. This would definitely make it future-proof but we still don’t have an official timeline for the launch other than a rumored mid-2019 availability.

The Mate X was unveiled at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 in Barcelona, earlier this year. Unlike Samsung, Huawei is letting people hold their foldable phone but there’s a catch. At a closed-door hands-on session held in New Delhi recently, journalists were not allowed to fold the Mate X as it was a preliminary build.

Huawei Mate X features a 6.6-inch AMOLED panel which extends to an 8-inch display when unfolded. It measures 5.4mm when unfolded and 11mm when folded. The phone is powered by Kirin 980 chipset which is manufactured on a 7nm architecture process. It has an octa-core CPU and is backed by 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. The Mate X runs Android 9.0 Pie under the company’s EMUI 9.1 skin. 

Image Credit: TechRadar

There are three rear cameras on the back which consist of a primary 40MP wide-angle camera with an aperture of f/1.8, 16MP, 17mm ultra-wide camera and an 8MP telephoto lens. In addition, there’s a Time of Flight sensor on the back as well which will assist in depth-sensing. Like the phones in Mate series, this one also has its cameras optimized by Leica. 

A fingerprint sensor is embedded into the power button on the side and the Mate X is powered by a 4,500mAh battery. It supports 55W fast charging and Huawei’s proprietary SuperCharge which enables 85% charge in 30 minutes.

The phone will launch at a price of 2,299 Euros, which roughly translates to around 1,79,900 INR. Due to the steep pricing of the Mate X, we’re not sure if it will attract many buyers in a price-volatile market like India. Samsung has also confirmed that it will be bringing its Galaxy Fold to the Indian market in 2019 but without 5G support.

UPDATE: Samsung’s astonishing Galaxy S10 Plus has taken the top spot in our list of the best phones of 2019 – read on below to find out why we love it!

2018 was a stellar year for smartphones, and while 2019 is set to be even better, there’s no denying that last year’s phones are still top notch (literally, in some cases). 

Last year’s launches of the iPhone XS and the  Samsung Galaxy Note 9 have made the humble smartphone faster, more powerful and even more versatile than ever before.

Here at TechRadar, we check out almost every phone under the sun, putting the ones that matter through our vigorous testing process to create our in-depth mobile phone reviews.

However, with so many to choose from, we’ve spent hours whittling them down to a top ten, taking into account power, specs, design and value for money. And we’ll always point you in the direction of the latest handsets – after all, nobody wants to be carting around a phone that doesn’t get any updates in a year’s time, right?

So whether it’s one of the many slick Android handsets, the latest iPhone or one from a range of other cool manufacturers, we’ve extensively tested them all so you don’t have to!

Here are our rankings for the best smartphones that are currently available in Australia in 2019.

Now in its tenth generation, Samsung’s Galaxy S range has just about reached the pinnacle of traditional smartphone design with the Galaxy S10 Plus. Boasting the world’s best display, advanced ultrasonic security, reverse wireless charging, exceptional performance and its most impressive camera setup to date, it’s difficult to see where non-folding smartphones can go from here. Combined with Samsung’s new Android 9 Pie-based One UI, the S10 Plus really feels like the ultimate Galaxy phone – it’s no wonder the South Korean electronics giant is ready to embrace a foldable future.

Screen: Regardless of where you stand on the notch vs pinhole debate, you’re likely to be floored by the S10 Plus’ almost completely bezel-free display when you see it in person for the first time. 

With its 93.1% screen-to-body ratio, the S10 Plus’ pill-shaped pinhole camera is far less obtrusive than you might assume from simply seeing renders of the device – with One UI’s dark mode switched on, the pinhole practically disappears during a large portion of the phone’s daily usage. 

As we’ve come to expect from each new Galaxy phone, the S10 Plus’ QHD+ Super AMOLED screen is brighter and more vibrant than ever before (it’s the first Samsung phone to support HDR10+), though its biggest update comes in the form of an in-display ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, which uses sound waves to create a 3D scan of your prints for more accurate and secure unlocks.

Design: In terms of build quality, the Galaxy S10 Plus is still sandwiched between two gorgeous pieces of Gorilla Glass, although the device’s frame has seen an upgrade from aluminium to stainless steel, making this year’s model altogether more sturdy. 

The 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card slot each make a very welcome return this year, though the S10 Plus’s design isn’t without its flaws – Samsung’s still sticking with its dedicated Bixby button this year, and for some reason, the power button’s placement is now awkwardly high on the device’s right edge, making it difficult to reach unless held a specific way.

Performance: A significant step up from the 3,500mAh battery featured in last year’s S9 Plus, the S10 Plus’ whopping 4,100mAh battery takes the crown previously held by the Note 9, making it the largest Samsung has ever placed in a phone. Even at 80% brightness and with the display’s resolution set to QHD+, we’ve always managed to get a full day’s use out of the device with some battery to spare.

The Exynos 9820 chipset and 8GB of RAM featured in the base model S10 Plus offers snappy app-switching, effortless multi-tasking and excellent gaming performance, producing buttery smooth gameplay in Fortnite at 60FPS while on the ‘epic’ graphics setting. Of course, Galaxy S10 Plus models with up to 12GB of RAM are also available.

Camera: Samsung pulled out all the stops for its latest flagship’s cameras this year, sporting a triple lens setup on the device’s rear – that’s a 12MP regular lens, a 12MP optically-zoomed telephoto lens, and an eye-opening 16MP ultra-wide lens which is said to have a field of view that’s similar to the human eye.

On the front of the device, the S10 Plus features a dual lens camera setup, with a 10MP primary camera and an 8MP depth sensor, allowing users to take bokeh self-portraits and photos with other effects. All of this is once again backed by Samsung’s AI-based scene optimiser, which is able to recognise objects and automatically adjust the camera’s settings, as well as show shot suggestions to improve your photos.

Mini verdict: Without a doubt, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 Plus is the best phone of 2019 so far, impressing with its breathtaking display, refreshed user interface, excellent battery life, terrific performance and carefully considered design choices. Simply put, the Galaxy S10 Plus is the phone to beat this year.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus
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On paper, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 doesn’t seem all that different to its predecessor, the Note 8. Look beneath the surface, however, and you’ll find a smartphone that has addressed almost every issue that last year’s model had (although the Bixby button is unfortunately still here, just waiting to be pressed accidentally) to become one of the best handsets that money can buy right now. 

Screen & Design: Premium in every sense of the word, the Galaxy Note 9’s design screams sophistication, even when it’s being cheeky (the Ocean Blue colour variant’s striking yellow S Pen can attest to that). 

While there was little room for improvement over the Note 8 and Galaxy S9 Plus in the screen department, Samsung has managed to top itself once again by producing a record breaking display for the Note 9 that’s already been named the best of its kind. Its Super AMOLED QHD+ display is exceptionally bright and vibrant, with inky blacks and beautiful curved edges.

Most of all, we love that Samsung’s listened to its customers and has continued to resist current (and arguably misguided) smartphone trends, such as notch cutouts and the abandoning of headphone jacks and microSD slots – we’d much rather it keeps striving to perfect the things that made it the top smartphone brand in the world in the first place. 

Performance: Thanks to its large 4,000mAh battery – the largest Samsung has ever placed in a phone – the Note 9 has addressed one of its predecessor’s biggest drawbacks, as despite being one of the biggest phones on the market, the Note 8’s battery was only 3,300mAh. Given the brightness of its display and the power of its internals, the Galaxy Note 9’s longer battery life is more than welcome.

Speaking of its internals, the Note 9 is an absolute powerhouse, with its Exynos 9810 chipset and 6GB of RAM offering snappy performance at all times. The 512GB model is backed by an additional 2GB of RAM (8GB in total), which should allow for even better performance in DeX mode (which no longer requires an additional dock) and  for Fortnite to run especially smoothly on the device. 

Camera: While the Note 9’s camera is almost identical to that of the Galaxy S9 Plus, that’s no bad thing — users can record super slow motion video (up to 960fps at 720p resolution) and the same variable aperture functionality is available, allowing for the phone’s iris to automatically adjust itself depending on how much light you have access to.

One thing has changed though: thanks to the S Pen’s Bluetooth functionality, you can now use the stylus as a long-range self-timer, allowing you to take selfies while standing several metres away from the phone. 

Mini verdict: Though one could argue that most of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9’s improvements are relatively minor, each one has been made in an effort to provide the best possible experience for users. 

Add them all up and what you get is a smartphone with an amazing screen, which also offers immense storage and the excellent performance. The fact it also doubles as a super portable PC when connected to a monitor or television is also a huge potential bonus. In short, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the kind of smartphone that all others should be striving to match.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy Note 9
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So how do you follow-up one of the best flagship phones ever made? By making an even better one, that’s how! With its new Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, Samsung has addressed pretty much every issue levelled at the S8 range, from the awkward fingerprint sensor placement to the underwhelming built-in speakers. 

Screen & Design: Until the Galaxy Note 9, the Galaxy S9 Plus boasted the greatest phone display ever produced — quite a feat when you consider the strength of the competition. Its QHD+ 18:9.5 AMOLED display is sublime to look at, with its incredible brightness and rich colours offset by deep, inky blacks that never cease to amaze.

In terms of its design, you’d be forgiven for thinking the S9 Plus looks almost identical to its predecessor from the front, with the only real change coming in the form of a 1.4mm difference in height (that’s thanks to the S9 Plus’ smaller bottom bezel). The back is where the biggest changes have occurred, with a new vertical camera and fingerprint sensor layout that instantly feels more natural than last year’s model. 

At the base of the phone, you’ll find that Samsung has kept the 3.5mm headphone jack around for at least another year, and it’s now accompanied by stereo speakers for more immersive sound — much better than last year’s mono offering. 

Performance: Boasting Samsung’s most advanced in-house chipset to date, the Exynos 9810, as well as 6GB of RAM, the Galaxy S9 Plus is a beast when it comes to grunt. Snappy and responsive, the S9 Plus never caves under pressure, boasting some of the strongest benchmark scores of any handset released in 2018. Admittedly, this can cause its commendable but not incredible 3,500mAh battery to drain a little quicker than normal, though you’ll still get a full days usage out of it. 

Audio performance is another area where the S9 Plus has taken a big leap over its predecessor. Having listened to music through the S9 Plus’ new speaker mouth (so long, speaker grill) we can confirm that a drastic improvement in sound quality has taken place. Audio is much fuller than before, exhibiting some added depth and bass. Sure, it won’t inspire you to throw away your Bluetooth speaker, but the difference in audio quality is significant — especially when you take into account the inclusion of Dolby Atmos support.

Camera: But the Galaxy S9 Plus’ biggest selling point is undoubtedly its revamped dual camera setup (something not found on the standard S9), which is now capable of taking super slow motion video (up to 960fps at 720p resolution) and has variable aperture capabilities, which allows the phone to automatically switch between f/1.5 (for very low-light photography) and f/2.4 (super bright and vibrant photography). You can even seen the camera’s tiny shutter opening and closing depending on available light. 

While Apple may have beaten it to the punch with its AR-enabled Animoji, Samsung has come up with its own equivalent AR Emoji mode, which lets you create a digital avatar (and a set of shareable GIFs) of yourself. It’s a good bit of fun, but if you’re not the selfie type, your mileage on this feature may vary. 

Mini verdict: There are a number of other factors that put the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus ahead of the competition, from its incredible QHD+ 18:9.5 AMOLED display, to its powerful new Exynos 9810 chipset. However, it’s the way that Samsung has truly listened to its customers and created a phone specifically for them that makes the Galaxy S9 Plus our current pick for best smartphone.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
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The iPhone XS Max is Apple’s new big iPhone with an expansive 6.5-inch display that can’t be missed if you’re looking for the best phone running iOS 12. It’s fast, has a brilliant all-screen display, and gives you great photos out of its noticeably upgraded 12MP dual-lens rear camera.

Screen & Design: The 6.5-inch OLED screen is the reason to choose the iPhone XS Max over its smaller 5.8-inch iPhone XS counterpart. Admittedly, the phone is still roughly the size of an iPhone Plus, but thanks to the all-screen display (minus the notch cut out at the top), you get a lot more real-estate. Compared to the LCD displays on older iPhones, there’s a noticeable step up in black levels and colour richness.

Elsewhere, the iPhone XS Max is practically identical to last year’s iPhone X, only bigger. While we would’ve loved to see the notch cutout’s size reduced on this year’s models, it’s hard to argue with what Apple has achieved here. 

Camera: This is the best iPhone camera ever made, even if the 12MP dual-lens rear camera number hasn’t changed in several years. It’s all about the software inside and how the A12 chipset interprets scenes with Smart HDR. 

It’s up there with the Google Pixel 2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 9, even if Apple’s photos tend to be less vivid in our tests and more true-to-life.

Performance: You’ll get the best battery life out of the iPhone XS Max simply because it has room for a bigger battery. The 3,174mAh capacity is by no means the biggest (Samsung’s Note 9 is 4,000mAh), but Apple’s ownership of both software and hardware means it’s smartly optimized. You’ll get all-day battery life even with heavy use. 

The aforementioned A12 chipset also makes a huge difference when it comes to performance, as the iPhone XS Max is easily the fastest handset that Apple has released to date.

Mini verdict: This is the iPhone for anyone who wants what’s new and doesn’t care what it costs. The iPhone XS Max is expensive, but it’s the best upgrade if you’re into big screens and Apple’s ecosystem, like the App Store and iMessages. The iPhone XS is a good choice if you have smaller hands, and the iPhone XR may be better if you have a smaller wallet.

Read the full review: iPhone XS Max
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The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the supercharged version of the ‘standard’ Huawei Mate 20, and while its specs are similar to its less expensive counterpart, with both handsets boasting Huawei’s latest Kirin 980 7nm processor, 128GB of onboard storage and 6GB of RAM, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is able to justify its higher cost with several impressive additional high-end inclusions.

Sporting a number of futuristic features (including one world-first) and a more premium price point than we’re used to seeing from the Chinese manufacturer, the Mate 20 Pro is clearly Huawei’s play for the ‘best smartphone in the world’ crown – and for once, the company is very much within reach, offering a handset we think belongs in the same league as the iPhone XS Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

Screen & Design: With its curved glass display and coloured aluminium frame, it’s very easy to mistake the Huawei Mate 20 Pro for a Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus at first glance. Look closer, and you’ll start to notice Huawei’s signature styling and other, more subtle differences. 

Yes, it’s got a notch, but it’s for the inclusion of a second sensor to allow for 3D facial recognition functionality, which is said to provide more security than the standard Mate 20’s image-based facial unlock.

Although our tests have shown the Mate 20 Pro’s 3D face unlock to be exceptionally fast (way speedier than Apple and Samsung’s equivalent implementations), the Pro also offers an in-display fingerprint scanner that you can use instead. 

Camera: Of course, being a Huawei phone, it’s photographic capability is also off the charts. Once again sporting Leica branding, the Mate 20 Pro has ditched the monochrome sensor this year, instead opting for a primary 40MP sensor that handles both RGB and monochrome modes.

With this ultra-wide sensor and Huawei’s 3X fixed and 5X hybrid zoom, you can not only close in on any subject (macro photography allows for photos from just 2.5cm away), but also pull out to get a much wider view, making the Mate 20 Pro the most versatile camera we’ve yet seen on a flagship smartphone.

Performance: While Google’s Pixel 3 handsets have only just received wireless charging functionality, Huawei has taken things a step further with the inclusion of reverse wireless charging – and yes, you read that correctly. Compatible with any phone that boasts Qi functionality, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is actually able to wirelessly charge another device when you place the two back-to-back. 

Easily the most advanced phone that Huawei has produced to date, the Mate 20 Pro is premium in every sense of the word. Throw in a massive 4,200mAh battery, and what you have is a handset that’s very hard to resist.

Read the full review: Huawei Mate 20 Pro
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The Samsung Galaxy S9 isn’t quite the phone that the S9 Plus is – it’s only got a single camera sensor, for one – but it’s a more palm-friendly model that still packs the power and top screen quality of its sibling.

Screen: A QHD 5.8-inch screen takes up most of the front of the phone – and it’s still a stunning design. Brighter, more colourful and capable of showing the best of movies, the Super AMOLED tech is once again showing itself to be best thing to look at on a smartphone.

Battery life: Battery life is a little disappointing for a top-end smartphone, meaning you’ll need to think about a top-up during the day if you’re a harder user. Wireless and fast charging capabilities help with this though.

Camera: It’s only a single sensor on the rear of the Galaxy S9, unlike the Galaxy S9 Plus – meaning it’s not as good at photography. But don’t think the S9 takes poor photos, as they’re still stunning, and in low light it’s a sterling performer, with very little noise.

Mini verdict: The Galaxy S9 is a smartphone with all the top-end features you’d want, and more on top. It’s not quite at the level of the S9 Plus, and the iPhone X outranks it in a few ways – but once again the price of this phone is starting to get a little more competitive, making it more of a lure than at launch.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S9
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The Google Pixel 3 is the smaller sibling to the Pixel 3 XL, with a smaller screen and battery, but the same power and excellent camera under the hood.

This is a great handset for those looking for a top-flight phone that can be used comfortably with one hand (although those with smaller palms may need both still).

Screen & Design: At 5.5 inches, the screen on the Google Pixel 3 isn’t exactly small, but it’s one of the smallest in this list of the best smartphones. The full HD resolution isn’t quite as sharp as its larger sibling’s QHD panel, but it still looks great.

Thankfully, Google has reduced the size of the Pixel’s bezel this year, as last year’s model looked pretty dated compared to the competition. While the 3 XL sports a notch cutout in its display, Google has wisely opted to keep its full bezels on the regular Pixel 3, making it look classier in the process. 

Camera: You get the same camera here as you do on the Pixel 3 XL, and that’s great news as it’s one of the best smartphone snappers we’ve ever tested. It’s easy to use, extremely powerful and produces excellent shots – even compared to cameras with multiple lenses.

Performance: The Google Pixel 3 battery life isn’t as impressive as the larger Pixel 3 XL which has a bigger power pack. It should give you a day of use, but don’t expect much more than that.

Elsewhere, the Pixel 3’s stock Android OS offers smooth, snappy performance with nothing to bog it down.

Mini verdict: If you’re looking for a compact flagship smartphone with a class-leading camera experience the Google Pixel 3 is the best phone for the job.

Read the full review: Google Pixel 3
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iPhone XS is a minor, but important upgrade over last year’s completely redesigned iPhone. It’s noticeably faster and has an improved dual-lens camera to make it a better choice, if you’re willing to pay the same launch price. 

Screen & Design: The 5.8-inch OLED on this iPhone is big, but not a turn off for some people who literally can’t handle the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (which we like a bit more in our big mitts). This phone size isn’t too much bigger than your old 4.7-inch iPhone 7 or iPhone 6 thanks to its reduced bezel – though you’ll miss the Touch ID home button. You’ll forget about that when staring into the beautiful OLED that’s dreamier than the old iPhone LCD.

In terms of its design, the iPhone XS is practically identical to last year’s model, colour options aside. However, if you’re after a more one-hand-friendly size for a cutting-edge iPhone, this is the one to buy. Alternatively, you could opt for the cheaper iPhone XR, which has a slightly larger LCD display, an aluminium rim (instead of the stainless steel one on the XS) and a series of funky colours to choose from.

Camera: This is where you’ll see differences in the otherwise familiar-looking iPhone XS. Its dual-lens camera offers Smart HDR and optical image stabilisation (OIS). It’s not as vivid as the cameras on a Google Pixel 2 or Samsung Galaxy S9, but you’ll get true-to-life photos that make the 2018 iPhone’s a worthy upgrade.

Performance: The iPhone XS has about the same battery life as the iPhone X, so you’ll get all-day battery life with normal use. Power users may struggle a bit without one of the best power banks, and although Apple says it has 30 minutes more battery life than the iPhone X, the smaller capacity and our tests show it’s shy of that claim.

Mini verdict: Although still expensive, the iPhone XS is our best phone for someone who wants to use iOS 12 and doesn’t want to spend even more money on the bigger iPhone XS Max. 

Read the full review: iPhone XS
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While LG may have left behind any notion of being a game-changing phone maker in recent years, the company’s become quite reliable at producing exceptional all-rounder handsets that are good at pretty much everything. 

Screen & Design: With the new LG G7 ThinQ, the South Korean manufacturer has delivered a phone with sophisticated AI smarts, a fantastic dual lens camera, a stylish design, a super bright QHD+ 18.9:5 display (complete with iPhone X-style notch that can, thankfully, be hidden), terrific audio performance and top-end specs. 

That said, unlike most other notch-bearing handsets, the G7 ThinQ sports an LCD display, meaning it’s unable to reach the pure-blacks of an OLED, something that becomes apparent when you first try to hide the notch with a fake bezel and immediately notice the backlighting behind them. Still that does allow the G7 ThinQ to get extremely bright, which means you can always see the screen perfectly, no matter how sunny it happens to be. 

Performance: Admittedly, it’s not quite as strong as some of the other handsets on this list in terms of performance, and its battery life left us wanting — we got around 6 and a half hours of heavy usage, which is around an hour or two less than most flagship phones available right now.

LG wants its awkwardly-branded ‘ThinQ AI’ functionality to be the big drawcard here, but having spent some time with the phone, it’s clear that it’s perhaps better suited to music lovers and audiophiles. Thanks to its built-in hi-fi quad DAC and DTS:X 3D Surround functionality (both of which require headphones to be plugged into its 3.5mm socket), the LG G7 ThinQ delivers an unrivalled audio experience in the smartphone arena. 

Switching on the quad DAC instantly makes audio richer and deeper, providing additional bass in the process, while the latter DTS feature also impresses by offering virtual three-dimensional surround sound regardless of the headphones you’re wearing. It also packs an especially loud built-in speaker, for occasions when you want to listen to something without cans. 

Camera: LG is bound to win fans with its terrific AI-powered camera this year, offering similar functionality to the Huawei P20 Pro — simply point at a subject and the LG G7 ThinQ will automatically identify it, adjusting its settings to make sure your picture looks as good as can be. And, thanks to its dual camera setup, the G7 ThinQ can also take those blurry background portrait shots that have become all the rage.

Its Super Bright Camera mode also makes it especially adept at low light photography, and just like the G5 and G6 before it, the G7 ThinQ can take super wide angle photos that fit more into the frame. 

Mini verdict: Minor quibbles aside, there’s plenty to love about the LG G7 ThinQ. We think it’s the best phone the South Korean company has released in years.

Read the full review: LG G7 ThinQ
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The iPhone 8 Plus is a great phone — there’s no doubt about that. It’s a better phone than almost anything Apple has produced before, and it’s, well, just done in a very Apple way. If you aren’t willing to pay the extra premium Apple’s pricey iPhone X, then this might be the iPhone for you. 

Screen & Design: There are some strong upgrades: a glass back means you can now charge your iPhone wirelessly, its IPS LCD screen, while dated, still looks terrific, its camera has been enhanced, the internal workings are now among the most powerful in the industry, and little tweaks throughout smooth off rough edges in a way that makes us feel Sir Jony Ive climbed inside his computer and lathed them off himself. 

Whether that’s a subtle haptic double buzz when pressing the shutter on the camera, or being able to ‘feel’ the numbers clicking when selecting the time on the alarm, it’s those little delights that… delight. It’s just a shame that the rest of the phone’s design feels a little dated.

Performance: Just like the iPhone X, the iPhone 8 Plus means business when it comes to performance. Backed by long, impressive battery life, the A11 chip allows you to smoothly transition between open apps and play games with nary a hiccup, and AR performance is also boosted by its power.

Portrait Lighting effects may be one of the phone’s best photographic features, but they need some real power to function, and that’s where the A11 chip comes in. Any app that uses high levels of photo manipulation worked pretty flawlessly in our tests, with no lag when working with multiple image layers.

It’s hard to convey the usefulness of all this power for the average user, one who might not use such features regularly – but it’ll keep your iPhone singing more sweetly for the next two or three years compared to the previous generations.

Camera: The camera on this phone is very strong, with two 12MP lenses on the rear combining to deliver great images even in low light, and the double sensors creating some nice, refined blurred-background portrait shots.

Mini verdict: The iPhone 8 Plus is a phone for the Apple fan who wants the longest battery life possible, and the most screen to look at, without having to pay the premium the iPhone X costs.

Read the full review: Apple iPhone 8 Plus
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Though the Nokia 8 handset from HMD Global was well received and reviewed at release, it was perhaps lacking in the flair and personality we’ve come to expect from flagship phones in 2018. 

To remedy this, the Finnish phone manufacturer went back to the drawing board, eventually producing the Nokia 8 Sirocco — a stylish handset that retained its predecessor’s powerhouse internals (with a few improvements) and applied a drastically updated design that’s sure to turn a few heads. 

Screen & Design: The first thing you’ll notice about the Nokia 8 Sirocco is that it’s one of the few Android handsets on the market to emulate the curved metal and glass form factor of Samsung’s Galaxy and Note ranges. In fact, it feels quite sharp and thin in the hand, somewhat reminding us of the Galaxy S7 Edge

However, the comparisons basically end there, as the Sirocco employs many of the design choices we’ve come to expect from more modern phones, including slim bezels, a beautiful QHD OLED display, a rear fingerprint sensor, USB Type-C charging and data transfer and the complete lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack (okay, that one we could’ve held onto). 

Performance: The inclusion of a whopping 128GB of internal storage is also welcome, though you won’t find a microSD card slot here. What you will find, however, is a Snapdragon 835 chipset, a 3,260mAh battery and 6GB of RAM.

Fans of the ‘Pure Android’ experience will also be pleased to know that the Nokia 8 Sirocco belongs to the Android One series of smartphones, all of which run an unmodified version of whichever Android version it shipped with (in the Sirocco’s case, that’s Android 8.0, though it’s now been updated to Android 9.0). 

Camera: The Nokia brand has always been synonymous with its camera functionality, and in that regard, the Sirocco does not disappoint. It’s got a Zeiss Optics dual camera setup (12MP + 13MP) that’s capable of some impressive snaps. 

Mini verdict: For now, the Nokia 8 Sirocco is the best handset that HMD Global has released yet. If you’re keen on owning a phone with the Nokia branding on it, this is the one to get.

Read the hands on review: Nokia 8 Sirocco
Get the Nokia 8 Sirocco outright from JB Hi-Fi

The Galaxy S8 Plus might be a year old, but it’s still impressive and the cost is lowering nicely these days.

You can get incredible photos in many conditions, the screen is pin-sharp and it’s just boosted a couple of places in this list thanks to a nifty price drop this week.

Screen & Design: The 6.2-inch screen, actually called an Infinity Display by Samsung, spills to the edge of the phone, and is a well-made fusion of glass and metal. It feels great in the hand, thanks to a rolling design – and like the other Galaxies in this list, is water-resistant too, to an IP67 level.

Performance: The battery life is superior on the Galaxy S8 Plus compared to the Galaxy S8 (obviously) and also the Galaxy S9 (more surprising), thanks to having a larger power pack in there without much more work to do – it’ll easily last most people a day or so.

Camera: The camera is a top fusion of auto mode and pro settings for those that like to dig a little deeper – the quality of the snaps is more often than not pin-sharp, and the screen quality really highlights your photos. It lacks the dual sensor and low-light capabilities of the S9 Plus, but it’s a terribly good performer for those that don’t need the highest-of-high-end smarts.

Mini verdict: Don’t let the age put you off – this is still an immensely powerful phone with a strong spec list. The screen, camera and design are still premium, and while not as good as the S9 Plus, it’s a lot a cheaper thanks to being on sale for longer.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review

The Samsung Galaxy S8 looked space age when it was launched last year, and the Galaxy S9 apes it in many ways. It’s not the top phone in Samsung’s range any more, but it’s jolly close and it seems that retailers are starting to discount it both SIM free and on contract, which is why it’s jumped up our list.

Screen & Design: The screen was the very, very best on the market and is still now a top performer, coming with the elongated, 18.5:9 ratio that stretches impressively up and down the phone – very similar to that on the current Galaxy S9. With powerful colour reproduction and contrast ratio that make everything look clear and crisp, it’s also got the QHD resolution that we expect from all the top phones.

Performance: The battery life, despite being smaller than in previous devices from Samsung, is still pretty decent. It’s not amazing, but it’s not very far from the performance of the Galaxy S9 and will last around a day… although you might want a little top up, which can be achieved quickly through a wireless charger or the speedy adapter in the box.

Camera: The camera is still very strong, despite being usurped by the S9 – the auto mode offers clean, crisp and clear shots every time and combined with screen quality makes you want to show off your best snaps. There’s an easy-to-use pro mode as well to get the best out of your snapping.

Mini verdict: This is the phone to go for if you want a strong performer and don’t mind it’s a little older. As such, it’s much cheaper than it was at launch and thus offers fantastic value for money.

Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy S8 review

You’re at the end of the guide, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help you still – if you’re stuck on which model is for you, we’ve got a tool that can compare all the phones together and you can decide which one suits you best based on the cost.

If you want to get all the info, then use the tool below or check out our full mobile phone plans page.

Enter price comparison

If you have a number of devices in your house, universal remotes bring efficiency, simplicity, and peace to your setup – they can take control of all the gadgetry you’ve got installed without breaking sweat and can be upgraded via their firmware to be compatible with anything you buy down the road.

Of course, like so many other things in life, there’s more than one way up the mountain and you might not need a $300 hunk of plastic when a simple $35 remote would do the trick. 

To help you from overspending on the best universal remotes for you, we’ve put together a complete guide for the gadget – what you need to know, how much you should spend, and which models we really like. 

Even in this era of voice-activated speakers, the remote has a part to play, and the universal remote even more so: the only question is which one you should spend your hard-earned cash on? At the end of this you’ll understand how they can make your life that little bit easier. 

Best universal remotes FAQ: quick questions answered

Can universal remotes work on all TVs? Most of the time, yes. But it’ll depend on the make and model of your remote and your TV. On the whole, your universal remote should work with all TVs made in the past ten years or so. But it’s worth checking out the specific requirements of each before you buy one.

How do I set up a universal remote control? That depends on the make and model of your universal remote. But on the whole, you’ll need to ensure that your remote is fitted with the correct batteries and that you can point your remote at the TV, or other device, you’re trying to control. 

From there, there are a couple of different ways to search for and add new devices, there’s direct code entry, auto code search, brand code search and manual code search. It’ll all depend on which remote you have, so be sure to follow the set-up instructions that come with it. 

What are the best universal remotes? That depends on your budget. We think the One For All Essence (check it out below) is a good low cost option, but for the best of the best, take a look at Logitech’s Harmony devices. 

Are universal remotes worth it? There are two key scenarios where universal remotes are ideal: either you’ve lost your original remote and are looking at a pricey replacement, or you’re wanting to have fewer remote controls because your AV experience needs streamlining. If you fall into one of those two camps, then yes, they’re worth it.

Best universal remotes

Best universal remotes

What is a universal remote?

To put it simply, universal remotes are just remote controls – exactly like the ones that come with your TV – but these devices are able to imitate the signals sent by your TV’s original remote, AV receiver or other device.

If you’re wondering why you should buy one, there are two key scenarios where they’re ideal: either you’ve lost your original remote and are looking at a pricey replacement, or you’re wanting to have fewer remote controls because your AV experience needs streamlining.

The best universal remotes are the perfect answer in both cases, and almost every universal remote uses infrared (or IR): the same signal protocol used by remote manufacturers as well.

The best universal remotes: cheap vs expensive

If you’re wanting to save money when shopping for the best universal remote you’ll want something like the One For All Essence (which is only available in the UK by the way). These remotes work by utilizing a pattern of button presses to program the remote, selecting the right set of instructions for your hardware.

Manufacturers like Panasonic and Sony have only ever used a couple different patterns of instructions over the last decade or so for most of their TVs, and that means you can just cycle through them until you find the set of instructions that lets you operate the television you’re trying to use.

Best universal remotes

The low-cost One for All Essence can replace two remotes

Take a step up in price, and many mid-tier universal remotes boast companion apps and large databases that let you just select the TV or receiver you have on your mobile device: it’s quicker, easier and less of a hassle to add new devices, in case your AV setup ever changes.

Generally speaking, the more devices you’re looking for your universal remote to support, the more money you’ll be spending. Logitech’s Harmony Elite is compatible with up to 15 devices with just the one remote for example, while low-end models, like the One for All Simple, only support one.

Just like most things in the tech world, it just comes down to that classic use-case question – are you replacing a lost remote or do you just want to use just one remote instead of a half dozen unique ones?

Best universal remotes

The Logitech Harmony Elite is one of the top-end universal remotes

When you start getting up to the more premium rungs of the universal remote ladder, you’ll start seeing remotes that allow you to set up custom macros, or ‘activities’. These so-called activities let you make a single button or touchscreen press set off several commands at once.

One remote activity, which you might call Watch TV, could turn on your cable box, audio receiver and TV, change the receiver to the right channel and switch your TV to the right HDMI input, for example.

Another popular option is to turn all of your equipment off with a single press of a button, but it’s really up to you how you configure these macros (or whatever you want to call them).

The best universal remotes: who makes them?

There are two main players in the universal remote control game, and they’re the ones we’ve listed out thus far. Logitech makes all the best high-end universal remotes, in the shape of its Harmony models, while One for All is the best brand for more inexpensive alternatives.

Best universal remotes

The Doro HandleEasy is as basic as universal remotes get

In the US, you’ll also see a plethora of low-price remote controls from RCA. And if you’re buying for an elderly relative, or want a super-simple remote that only covers the TV basics, then the Doro HandleEasy lets you change volume and channels – it’s been around for years, but is a great lo-fi gadget.   

The best universal remotes: phone options

If all of that preamble sounds too overwhelming, consider this: you might be holding the answer to your home entertainment solution in your hand right now. 

That’s because some phones will also function as universal remotes, although perhaps not the models you may think. They need to have a feature called an IR blaster, which enables them to transmit the same signals as a normal remote control.

These used to be somewhat common, but are now much rarer: current phones with an IR blaster include the Honor 9 and Huawei P20 Plus, and some Xiaomi phones have one too. The common thread is of course that these are Chinese companies.

Best universal remotes

The Honor 9 is one of the few new phones to have an IR blaster

The most recent mainstream phones to feature IR blasters were the LG G5 and LG V20, while the last flagship Samsungs with IR were the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and those came out several years ago. These phones have apps that let you configure your own setup, with on-screen buttons for (almost) all your remotes’ functions. 

We know people who owned phones with IR blasters a few years ago, but who ended up spending a significant amount of cash on a universal remote, oblivious to their phone’s abilities.

Have a phone with an IR blaster? You might want to check out a third-party remote control app like Peel or Sure, as these have a smarter interface than most of the built-in apps you’ll come across.

The best universal remotes: consoles and smart homes

A weakness that the vast majority of universal remotes share is that they can’t control most smart home devices, or indeed the Sony PlayStation 4. This is because they use either Bluetooth, RF or Wi-Fi instead of our old friend infrared. 

With that in mind you might not need a universal remote at all: instead, the answer might be to invest in a hub that supports these other standards, and right now you have two major options. 

Logitech offers the best, and the most popular one – the Logitech Home Hub is compatible with Microsoft and Sony game consoles, and a wide range of smart home gadgets including Philips Hue lights. It connects to your home Wi-Fi network, and can be controlled either by a mobile app or one of Logitech’s higher-end remotes if you prefer.

Best universal remotes

Logitech’s Harmony Hub levels-up the abilities of universal remotes

Using one of the Harmony series’ tasty macro activities, you could therefore set the lighting level for movie night, as well as turning on your AV setup, with a single press on a button… welcome to the future.

Elsewhere, the Broadlink RM and RM Pro are hubs that can control IR and RF (Pro model) devices through a mobile phone app. They’re significantly cheaper than the Logitech Home Hub, although as they don’t use Bluetooth you can’t use them to control a Sony PS4 console.

That gives you another low-cost way to make up for the lack of an IR blaster.

Best universal remotes: voice control

One additional benefit of the Logitech Home Hub system is that you can already control it through Amazon’s digital voice assistant Alexa.

If you have an Amazon Echo, or an Echo Dot, or any other product with Alexa built-in, you can add a Harmony skill to it: using this you can say something like “Alexa, tell Harmony to turn on the TV”, and it’ll do exactly that (we’ve tried it out as part of our research for this guide, and it works rather well). 

Best universal remotes

You can now use your voice as a universal remote, with the right hardware

One day we’ll be able to control everything over Wi-Fi, but until that day arrives, it’s reassuring to see that universal remotes aren’t content to become ‘retro’ gadgets – they’re actually keeping up with the times.

Logitech Harmony at a glance

As the Logitech Harmony series is easily the most important range of universal remotes for people looking for an experience to suit a high-end setup, let’s take a quick look at what’s on offer. 

The Harmony family has two main lines – there are newer remotes that work with the Harmony Hub, and older pure IR remotes that don’t.

Best universal remotes

The Harmony Ultimate is one of Logitech’s full-fat universal remotes

The newer kind includes the Elite, Ultimate, Touch, Ultimate One and 950 models, all of which have screens. Logitech’s Companion remote supports the hub but doesn’t have a display, making it a little more affordable. 

Those after something even less pocket-draining for their universal remote should check out the Harmony 650, which has a display but no Hub support, and the Harmony 350, a basic £35/$38 remote that’s a classic universal remote but can still combine the functions of eight remotes. 

So, what is the best universal remote?

Best universal remotes

The best universal remotes

At $250 (£99, AU$449), the Logitech Harmony Elite obviously no small investment – and if you’re not absolutely serious about the form and function of your home entertainment setup, then you needn’t bother. But for anyone who wants one remote to control just about everything, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that is both this functional and relatively easy to use out of the box.   

If your setup is complex and you’re seeking some automation in your routine, or you just can’t stand the sight of a handful of differently-shaped remotes laying on your couch, then the Logitech Harmony Elite might be a luxury worth splashing out for. Despite the occasional hitch, it’s a powerful universal remote that can wrangle your audio/visual madness, plus it looks and feels pretty good doing so. 

It began with an intensive shortlisting process, creating finalists for the best-of-the-best gear that was released through 2018. Then, we opened up the voting for the Awards to the Australian public – the real experts with the most valued opinions. You had your say, and at the end of the voting period the winners across all the important PC categories rose to the top, and now it’s finally time to reveal the champions.

Last night in Sydney, the big moment came and throughout the night the winners were announced and trophies claimed. And, there was much joy as the hard work and innovation of the winners was rewarded with an Australian PC Award, as voted by you. Every company that was a finalist has every right to feel proud, too. It’s a tough industry with fierce competition that endlessly creates better and better products, so to every company that was represented we say congratulations – whether you took a trophy home or not.

Award highlights included Corsair taking home the highly-coveted Gold Award for Best Company, winning out over many other big-name PC brands and demonstrating just how well-respected the memory, case, PC and peripherals maker is in the Australian PC scene.

And speaking of the local scene, enthusiast-friendly Aussie retailer PC Case Gear managed to take home not one by two awards last night, coming away with the trophies for both the Best Desktop PC Builder and Best Reseller (Online) categories.

 And the winners are… 

Corsair and PC Case Gear weren’t the only winners, of course, with the likes of Asus, Razer, Samsung, Synology and Logitech also racking up awards of their own. 

So, without further ado, it’s time to reveal all of last night’s winners – simply click on a category from the list below to find out which products and companies shone brightest in 2018. 

And remember: you made this happen. But if your favourite thing that you voted for didn’t get a gong this year that’s OK – because the Australian PC Awards is an annual staple of the PC scene, so this time next year we shall call upon you, the Australian public, to once again vote – because ultimately it’s your opinion that matters most. 

All the winners:

While Sony fanboys will say that Microsoft doesn’t have any good Xbox One exclusives, they’re dead wrong – ask anyone with an Xbox, and they’ll be rattle off half a dozen games well worth your time.

But to further dispel the myth that there’s nothing to play on the Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X, we’ve put together a guide to the best games on the platform. From solid third-person shooters like Gears 4, to radical racing games like Forza Horizon 3 and Forza Horizon 4, the system is jam-packed with both first-party and third-party games that you need to check out.

Read on to see which games make the Xbox One shine, and keep checking back periodically: we update this list with new titles we feel have become part of the exclusive club of must-play games for the Xbox One console.

 Check out the video below to see more on the Xbox One X 

Wild wild west

Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 has taken 2018 by storm, giving us the gun-toting, western open-world we were hoping for. You play as Arthur Morgan, a gunslinger in the notorious Van Der Linde gang as he navigates the trials and tribulations of the changing west. 

Red Dead Redemption 2 is certainly game which will keep you busy. Between story missions, mini-games, activities and side quests, you will find yourself sinking plenty of hours into this title without even noticing it. And with Red Dead Online in beta testing it won’t be long until players can properly team up with a posse of friends to play.

A Grecian epic

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the latest edition to the action RPG franchise. Odyssey is set during the Peloponnesian War and sees you stepping into the sandals of either Alexios or Kassandra as they try to uncover the truth about their history while navigating the turbulent world of Ancient Greece as a mercenary. 

Odyssey is a graphically stunning title which will take you to the heart of Ancient Greece – just make sure you have the time to place it because there’s over 100 hours of content in this Xbox One game.

A refreshing jump back in time

In the latest Battlefield game, DICE takes players back in time to World War One and by doing so completely rejuvenates the once stagnating franchise. It’s a title well worth a place on our best Xbox One games list.

The game offers a poignant and entertaining single-player campaign that sets a new standard for first-person shooter. Broken into six sections, each following a different character and front line location, the campaign never feels dull or repetitive – and  even feeds neatly into Battlefield 1’s multiplayer mode which, while familiar, also benefits from the much-needed breath of life that the change in setting gives. 

Graphically impressive, entertaining, and sometimes touching, Battlefield 1 is a return to form for the series. 

It’s not long at all now until Battlefield V releases – November 20. So, here’s everything we know about Battlefield V so far.

Beautiful and frustrating in equal measure

After a long development and lots of anticipation, Xbox indie exclusive Cuphead has finally been released. Was it worth the wait? It certainly was. Cuphead is a run-and-gun platformer with stationary boss fight levels thrown in, and it’s certainly one of the best Xbox One games of the moment.

With visuals and a soundtrack inspired by 1930s animation, but gameplay inspired by the platformers of the 80s, this game has had us torn since we first tried it at Gamescom. It’s lovely to look at but its gameplay is challenging and you’re going to find yourself frustrated… and dying a lot.

We enjoyed Cuphead so much we named it Best Xbox Exclusive in our 2017 Game of the Year Awards. It’s an indie experience that shouldn’t be missed and you’ll only find it on Xbox and PC.

Master the remaster

Dark Souls is an iconic series in the gaming world and with this remaster you have the chance to go back to where it all started in 2011 – only this time with improved visual fidelity and performance, all the better to see those horrific and punishing enemies. 

This is the same original game with all of its DLC but that’s no bad thing. Dark Souls is a fantastic, must-play title and it’s great to see it on the latest generation of consoles. The frame rate bump to 60 fps makes it a much smoother and more exhilarating gameplay experience, and well worth a mention in our best games for Xbox One list.

A smart, stealthy, steampunk adventure

Following the surprise 2012 hit Dishonored wasn’t going to be an easy task, but Dishonored 2 has more than lived up to its expectations, earning a place on our best Xbox One games list.

Picking up 15 years after the events of the original, Dishonored 2 takes players back to the Victorian Steampunk city of Dunwall. This time, though, you have the choice of whether or not you want to play as the original title’s protagonist Corvo, or his equally-skilled protegee Emily. 

Dishonored 2 doesn’t differ wildly from the first game, but there was nothing wrong with Dishonored in the first place. What we get is a vastly improved and close to perfected take on it. 

Anyone who likes their games filled with atmosphere, character, and a bit of wit and intelligence will find Dishonored 2 worth picking up. 

A retro-slash-modern romp through the underworld

Take our word for it: DOOM is very, very good. Not in a “wow, that’s good for a remake” kind of way, either. It’s genuinely a great shooter – so much so that we gave it a Game of the Year award in 2016.

While Overwatch reinvented the wheel for first-person shooting games, DOOM impresses us by bringing us back to the time where dial-up internet was the only way to access AOL email: DOOM is, in so many ways, an excellent evolution of what the series was 20 years ago.

It’s brutal. It’s bloody. It has devilish, frightening creatures that bleed when you slice them in half with a chainsaw. It’s the experience we wanted two decades ago but couldn’t articulate it because of the limitations of technology, and it’s one of the best games for Xbox One.

“Our weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and gigantic sidequests.”

Inquisition is the proverbial RPG banquet – a 200-hour array of quests, magic-infused scraps, postcard landscapes and well-written character interactions that’s perhaps a bit too familiar, at times, but makes up for it with sheer generosity.

It puts you in charge not just of a four-man party of adventurers, but also a private army with its own castle and attendant strategic meta-game, tasked with defeating a mysterious demon menace.

The choice of Unreal Engine makes for vast open environments and sexily SFX-laden combat – fortunately, you can pause the latter to issue orders if the onslaught becomes overwhelming. It’s a genre giant and easily one of the top Xbox One X titles.

The homecoming we waited seven years for

All things considered, this is one of the best games Bethesda has ever made, and definitely one of the best games currently available on the Xbox One consoles.

It ticks all the boxes: a massive, detail-oriented open-world; still-fantastic tenets of looting and shooting; a story filled with intriguing side quests and subplots that feel like they matter; and of course a classic soundtrack that brings it all to life. 

In many ways it’s the game we’ve been waiting for since Fallout 3 steered the series away from its top-down role-playing roots. Not only is the world itself wider, but the plot is better, and more digestible, than any of the games before it. There’s still a sense of mystery about what’s happening, but you no longer have to dig forever and a day through terminals to piece it together.

Welcome home, stranger.

The best soccer sim on the planet keeps getting better

When it comes to annual game franchises as big and as long-running as FIFA, it’s easy to feel like there’s just not enough new to warrant buying the latest version of the game. But, in the case of FIFA 19, you’d be dead wrong. This is the best the football sim has ever been.  

The addition of the Europa and Champions League steals Pro Evolution Soccer’s last exclusive boon, and timed finishers weave in a little more finesse and tactical nuance to the age-old art of shooting at goal.

There’s even a new layer of customization with the addition of house rules to Kick-Off mode and a new Champions Channel to show off the best plays and goals in the community. If you’re picking up the series for the first time there’s a wealth of content to keep you invested, while those more subtle changes will have long-time fans enjoying a welcome new challenge.

Don’t miss our full FIFA 19 review

A free 1-vs-100 shooter set on an epic scale

Fortnite Battle Royale is a certified gaming phenomenon. Pitting 100 players against each other on a single map, it melds fun, cartoonish gameplay with a fierce competitive streak, and has attracted millions of players across the globe.

When starting up, you’re thrown onto an island with no weapons or armor and you must scavenge for supplies and fight for your life to be the last man (or squad) standing at the end of the game. The catch is that the map closes in as the match progresses, forcing players into tighter skirmishes and often whiteknuckle encounters. Best of all, however, the game is available for free on Xbox One, with in-game purchases limited to purely cosmetic options.

If you’re relatively restricted financially and need something to tide you over until the next big release, Fortnite is better than all the rest. It’s definitely worth a place on our best Xbox One games list.

Where the rubber meets the road

While the original Forza titles were about pristine driving skills around perfectly kept tracks, the Horizon series has a penchant for trading paint and isn’t afraid to have you get down and dirty with off-road races from time to time. 

Forza Horizon 4, the latest game in the series, carries that tradition forward by taking us to the rolling hills of the English countryside and spoiling us with some of the most exotic cars on the planet.

Like any good open-world game, it rewards exploration and offers both a structured campaign mode and plenty of distractions around the campaign. And the new setting feels like something of a love letter from Playground Games to rural Britain; charming, idyllic and made for cross-country road trips.  

It’s really good fun, and well-worth buying.

Don’t miss our full Forza Horizon 4 review

The Gears keep on turning for this excellent third-person shooter franchise

Despite a new platform, a new development team and a new-ish set of muscled heroes on its box art, Gears of War 4 isn’t some grand reimagining of the series that helped Xbox 360 go supernova back in 2006. But then again, such a revelation shouldn’t come as a shock – this is the cover shooter that made cover shooters a fad-filled genre all unto itself, so messing too drastically with that special sauce was never a viable option.

Instead, the Xbox One and Xbox One S get the Gears of War template we all know and love with a few extra features gently stirred into the pot. For a start, the jump to current-gen tech has made all the difference to The Coalition’s first full-fat Gears title. Spend a little time in the previously remastered Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and you’ll see how small and confined those original level designs were, even with a graphical upgrade to make it feel relevant again. 

It’s more than just graphics, though. It’s the return to form for the franchise; the focus on what makes a Gears game so great, that really won us over and got this title on our list of the best games for the Xbox One.

There’s no fear and loathing in Los Santos – just explosive entertainment

Yes, including one of last generation’s greatest games among this generation’s finest is rather boring, but GTA V on Xbox One is too good to ignore, with HD visuals, a longer draw distance and a faster frame rate.

Among other, more practical perks it includes a first-person mode, which genuinely makes this feel like a different game, though the missions, tools and characters are the same. The new perspective pushes Rockstar’s attention to detail to the fore, allowing you to better appreciate the landscape’s abundance of in-jokes and ambient details.

GTA V’s open world multiplayer remains a laidback thrill, whether you’re stuntdiving with friends or teaming up to complete a heist (a long overdue addition to MP, but worth the wait) – it’s probably the best place to hang out on Xbox Live right now.

Halo multiplayer at its best

A franchise that has defined Xbox as a platform for a long time is of course Halo, and Halo 5: Guardians is a worthy addition to the series and our list of the best Xbox One games. With both a single-player campaign and the usual thrilling multiplayer combat, this is the Halo game for Xbox One you don’t want to miss. 

Though its single-player campaign isn’t the best in the franchise in terms of story, this is Halo multiplayer combat at its most fun, and anyone that loves playing online with friends will enjoy what the various modes have to offer.

Say hello to the triple indie

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is developer Ninja Theory’s first attempt at publishing its own game and it’s quite an achievement. The game follows Senua, a Celtic warrior suffering from psychosis who travels to Hell to rescue her lost lover.

The game uses an interesting mix of binaural audio and innovative visual techniques to communicate Senua’s experience with her psychosis to the player, resulting in a game that’s likely to be quite different from anything else you’ve played recently. 

Disturbing, insightful and extremely enjoyable to play, this is a game worth taking a look at and we’re glad to see it makes its debut on Xbox One. Xbox One X owners will have the benefit of being able to choose between three visual modes which promote either resolution, frame rate or visual richness.

You can read all about our experience with the motion capture tech behind Hellblade right here

A strong narrative and emotionally compelling

Life is Strange is an episodic graphic adventure which tells the story of Max, who moves back to her hometown and reunites with her best friend Chloe – someone who is a bit more rebellious than she remembers. 

On top of trying to navigate the difficulties of teenage life, Max discovers that she has the ability to rewind time at any moment and only she can prevent a storm on its way to destroy her hometown.

Rather than focusing on combat, the crux of Life is Strange is the choices Max (AKA you) makes and the effect these choices have on the overall story. 

A game for those who appreciate an engaging story. The prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, is equally mesmerising. 

How many Snakes does it take to change a lightbulb?

Okay, so Hideo Kojima’s last game for Konami – and his last ever Metal Gear game – might be a little tough for the MGS n00b to get to grips with, but it’s still one of the best stealth-action games ever crafted. The open-world shenanigans will satisfy all your behind-enemy-lines / Rambo fantasies and probably confuse you with crazy plot twists and a million characters all with the same gravel-toned voices.

But hey, that’s all part of its charm, right? Definitely one of the best Xbox One games we’ve ever sat down in front of.

Bold, brilliant and brutal

Middle-earth: Shadow of War is the sequel to the accomplished Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and builds upon all of its strengths. 

Taking up the role of Talion once more, this game takes you back to a beautifully realized world that’s bursting with originality. If you were a fan of the original game, we highly recommend that you pick of Shadow of War as it’s an improvement in almost every way – and well worth a place on our best Xbox One games list.

Read our full review here and check out our handy tips and tricks guide.

Another brick in the wall

Minecraft released nearly ten years ago, but it’s still as popular as ever with adults and kids alike. The sandbox survival game allows players to build with blocks in a 3D-generated world, providing a perfect creative outlet for those artistically inclined.

If you’re less creative, there’s also the option to explore the world, harvest resources, craft items and square-up to enemies. 

Check out the history of Minecraft.

Friends who slay together, stay together

You’ve probably heard of the Monster Hunter franchise before now – it’s a classic that’s been going a long time – but we haven’t seen it on console for a while. Until now, that is.

Monster Hunter: World is the franchise’s debut on the latest generation of consoles and it’s a true breath of fresh air, easily sliding its way into our list of the best Xbox One games right now.

Giving players the option to play solo or team up with up to three other friends, this game invites you into a living, breathing game world to hunt down some monsters. For research. And fun. 

You’ll face a learning curve with Monster Hunter: World and the dark-souls style of combat has the potential to frustrate, but this is the most accessible Monster Hunter game we’ve seen in years. If you’ve been looking for a chance to break into the series, this is it. 

In our review we called the game “a bold and confident new chapter” and gave it a “play it now” recommendation. Thinking of becoming a Monster Hunter yourself? Make sure you check out our full survival guide

A Metroid-Vania platformer with light RPG elements and loads of heart

Although Ori was released early on in the Xbox One’s life cycle, it remains one of the best platformers on the console, bar none. Shockingly beautiful and ultra-deadly, the world of Ori and the Blind Forest inspires and impresses in equal measure. Add to that the game’s phenomenal, easy-to-learn-hard-to-master control scheme and light RPG elements, and you have the recipe for a timeless classic.

Sure, there are some sequences that aren’t as enjoyable as the rest of the game (we’re looking at you, timed post-boss fight sequences) but ultimately this is a series that continues to enthrall long after you put the controller down.

Not had enough Ori in your life? We’ve learned that the game will be getting a sequel in 2019 called Ori and the Will of the Wisps. It will pick up where are story left off (no spoilers, please!) and will see Ori platforming his way through the eponymous forest for a second run. 

The team-based shooter you need to buy on Xbox One

Overwatch has, without a doubt, been one of our favorite games to come out on Xbox One, ever – it was even good enough to nab our Game of the Year 2016 award.

It’s a classic team arena shooter from Blizzard that sets two six-person teams of wildly different characters against each other in a bright and cartoonish science fiction universe. And while it feels similar to the Call of Duty you’ve played before, Overwatch turns traditional shooters on their heads by adding unique character abilities and cool-downs to the mix, forcing you to strategize every once in a while instead of blindly running from room to room.

Great graphics, tight maps, and a good roster of characters to enjoy playing. Overwatch is good old fashioned fun, and we thoroughly recommend it. 

A chilling return to form

Your gaming collection isn’t really complete if it doesn’t have a quality horror title in it, and if we had to suggest one it’d be the newest installment in the Resident Evil franchise. 

Resident Evil is the franchise that put survival-horror games on the map and though it lost its way slightly in later titles, the newest game is a return to form for Capcom. 

By going back to the survival-horror basics and getting them dead on, Capcom has made Resident Evil 7 a genuinely frightening and exhilarating gaming experience. If you have the stomach for the gore, it’s absolutely worth playing.

Don’t miss our full review of the game.

The name of the game is freedom in Lara’s latest sprawling outing

Despite being the sequel to a prequel about the young life of the Lara Croft, this still feels like a Tomb Raider game that has grown up. The reboot which saw a brave new direction for the franchise seemed a lot of the time to be little more than a bit of light Uncharted cosplay, but Rise is a far more accomplished game.

There’s now a genuine open world which feels like there is always something to do, and something more than just harvesting up collectibles in exchange for a light dusting of XP.

There are also tombs: yes, that might seem a fatuous thing to say given the name, but the previous game gave them short shrift. In Rise though they are deeper and more plentiful. Rise also has one of the best narratives of any Tomb Raider game, penned again by Rhianna Pratchett, it’s sometimes rather poignant.

So come on, ditch Fallout 4’s wasteland for a while and give Lara some love. It’s undoubtedly one of the best Xbox One games you can get.


Rare’s swashbuckling adventure Sea of Thieves lets players to take on the role of a pirate sailing the seas of a fantastical world – either alone or as part of a crew of up to four members. It’s up to you whether you choose to focus on trading, treasure-hunting or plundering the loot of others.

This is a great title for those who enjoy playing with others in an open-world environment, plus it doesn’t look too shabby at all. One of the best Xbox One games of recent times.

Here’s all the latest Sea of Thieves news and updates.

They had the technology to rebuild him, better than before

The original Titanfall was a great game – so great that it long held a place on this very list. However, its sequel, Titanfall 2, improves on it every conceivable way: the motion is more fluid, there are more distinct titans to choose from, and (hold onto your hats here) there’s actually a single-player campaign that might take the cake for the best first-person shooter story of the year. 

This game’s pedigree is inherited from one of this generation’s smartest and most unusual shooters. The original Titanfall married ninja-fast on-foot combat to the gloriously thuggish thrill of piloting giant mechs, which are summoned from orbit a few minutes into each match.

The skill with which Respawn has balanced this mix of styles in the sequel is remarkable – Titans have firepower in excess but they’re easy to hit, and maps offer plenty of places for infantry to hide. These ideas coalesce into one of this year’s most remarkable entries in the genre and is well-deserving its own shot in the spotlight as well as a Game of the Year nomination.

Stories don’t come bigger than this

Geralt didn’t have the smoothest of entries to consoles, but after some heavy patching and a lot of angry words about visual downgrades, we’re left with an RPG boasting tremendous scope and storytelling.

Oh, and combat. And don’t forget Gwent, the in-game card game. And there’s the crafting to get stuck into. And the alchemy. This ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to the best games for Xbox One.

You’re rarely short of things to entertain yourself with in The Witcher 3’s quasi-open world, then, and all the better that you’re in a universe that involves the supernatural without leaning on the same old Tolkien fantasy tropes. Invigorating stuff.

Superb in every sense

Looking for an incredible single-player shooter? Look no further than the 2017 wonder that was Wolfenstein II. Picking up from where the original game left off, this game is a timely social commentary and a superbly silly adventure all rolled into one well-written package.

With tight mechanics and a story worth caring about, this is one of the most satisfying first-person shooters we’ve played in a long time. In our full review we called it “expertly crafted” and recommended that you play it at your earliest opportunity. 

Nottingham University researchers have received £902,524 funding from the Medical Research Council to develop the smart wound dressing that uses the sensors to assess whether affected tissue is healing well or is infected.

The dressing could have a significant impact on patient care and healthcare costs for wound management, which stand at £4.5-£5.1bn a year, which is over four per cent of the NHS budget.

Diabetic foot ulcers represent nearly £1bn of this cost and these wounds will be the initial focus of the project. Better wound monitoring has the potential to reduce the 7,000 lower limb amputations that affect people with diabetes in England each year.

The optical fibre sensors in the dressing remotely monitor multiple biomarkers associated with wound management such as temperature, humidity and pH, providing a more complete picture of the healing process.

“At present, regular wound redressing is the only way to visually assess healing rates, however this exposure can encourage infection, disrupt progress and creates a huge economic burden on NHS resources. Instead our technology will indicate the optimum time to change the dressing and send out an alert if intervention is required with infected or slow-healing wounds to improve patient care and cut the number of healthcare appointments needed,” said Professor Steve Morgan, director of the Centre for Healthcare Technologies and Royal Society Industry Fellow at the University.

Developed and validated by the Centre in laboratory tests, the proposed sensors will be fabricated in very thin (~100um diameter), lightweight, flexible, low-cost optical fibres. This versatile platform will then be incorporated into fabric that will look and feel the same as a conventional wound dressing.

The dressing will be connected to a standalone, reusable opto-electronic unit to constantly evaluate the wound’s status. The unit will transmit and receive light to and from the sensors; relaying information to the patient and clinicians. This will be achieved by wireless transfer linked to a mobile phone.

Although the dressing will cost marginally more than the average dressing, the higher initial cost will be offset by fewer dressing changes or clinical visits and reduced healing time.  A 10 per cent reduction in costs associated with visits and appointments would provide £300m annual savings to the NHS alone.

The project team includes researchers from University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, and industrial partners Footfalls and Heartbeats (UK).

Smart bandage embeds optical fibre sensors for improved wound care [Medgadget]

In the United States, the name Dr.Scholl’s makes one immediately think of shoe inserts to make walking a bit more comfortable. But, if you remember, the company has had foot scanners at Walgreens and other pharmacies for many years before the terms “personalized medicine” and “3D scanning” were common terms.

The company, a part of Bayer, now offers 3D printed shoe inserts that can be designed using a special Dr.Scholl’s smartphone app while you’re at home. The app takes a series of pictures of your foot, creates a 3D model of your foot, and then uses the data to manufacture a real insert custom built specifically for you.

Dr.Scholl’s Custom 3D Prints Shoe Inserts for Your Foot: CES 2019 [Medgadget]


Remember netbooks? Small-screened internet machines that, for the most part, were woefully underpowered but supremely portable. A Chromebook waiting to happen, kind of. The GPD Pocket 2 sees a return to the once popular format, but with a little more power under the hood. It marries the touchscreen of a 7-inch tablet and the traditional keyboard of a laptop, packs in a 7th gen Intel SoC and runs Windows 10.

As its name suggests, the GPD Pocket 2 is the second version of the company’s Pocket laptop, which raised more than 3.5 million bucks on Indiegogo last year. Naturally, given such phenomenal support from the crowdfunding community, GDP has returned to Indiegogo to raise production funds for its latest portable.

The Pocket 2 more than doubles the performance prowess of the first gen model, rocking a 7-inch Gorilla Glass 4 IPS touchscreen with a not too shabby 1,920 x 1,200 resolution and a bezel of just 4 mm. Inside, there’s a dual-core m3-7Y30 processor with integrated HD graphics that turbos to 2.6 GHz, which is supported by either 4 or 8 GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 128 GB of solid state storage with SD card expansion. The micro-laptop runs Windows 10 Home 64-bit operating system.

Elsewhere in the 181 x 112 x 8-14 mm (7.1 x 4.4 x 0.3-0.5 in), 465 g (16.4 oz) micro-laptop is Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11a/ac/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi, two full-size USB ports and one USB-C, a 6,800 mAh Li-Pol battery that’s reckoned good for 6-8 hours on the go and built-in speakers.

The Pocket 2 wears a stylish magnesium alloy chassis, and features a chiclet keyboard and an optical navigation sensor rather than a space-hogging trackpad. GPD has even managed to squeeze in an active cooling system, “rather than a passive cooling thin design that sacrifices performance.”

The Pocket 2 project has already reached its campaign target with a month remaining on the clock. Pledges for a 4 GB model start at US$529, while you’ll need to stump up at least $599 for the 8 GB flavor. If all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in October. The video below has more.

Micro-laptop puts portable productivity in your pocket [New Atlas]