Best photo printer 2019: the best printers for your digital photos

Whether you’re a keen photographer – or just like taking snaps while on holiday on your phone – buying the best photo printer will make sure that your photos look their very best when you go to make physical copies of them.

Whether you’re a keen photographer – or just like taking snaps while on holiday on your phone – buying the best photo printer will make sure that your photos look their very best when you go to make physical copies of them.

There’s a huge range of photo printers out there, and in our best photo printers 2019 guide, we look at the top offerings that will appeal to various people. So, if you’re a professional or hobbyist photographer with an expensive DSLR camera, then you’ll want a printer that’s capable of producing professional-grade printouts, and in this list of best photo printers, we list our top picks for doing the job.

However, if you take photos on your smartphone, and just want a printer that will do a good job of producing standard-size photos for albums, then you’ll want the best photo printer that’s suited to your needs and budget. One that can print wirelessly is particularly useful if you use your smartphone to take your photos.

The best photo printers come in every shape and size, from budget photo printers that are easy to use, portable devices and even professional-level photo printers. Fortunately, this means that no matter what you’re looking for, you should be able to find the best photo printer for your needs.

However, we know that all this choice can make finding the best photo printer for your needs a daunting task. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best photo printers you can buy in 2019. Our very own price comparison tool will also scour the internet for you and deliver the best prices.

Check out what printers made it into our top best printer roundup

Image Credit: Epson

This smooth and compact 3-in-1 device has the welcome ability to print on A3 paper and uses not four, but six inkjet cartridges to achieve superior colour accuracy. It means your ink costs are rather high, but it’s worth it for the resulting photo prints. The scanner is A4-size, there’s no fax and print speeds are slow, but for the scanner is high resolution and for sheer print quality, the Epson Expression Photo XP-960 is hard to beat.

Read the full review:Epson Expression Photo XP-960

Image Credit: Canon

This low profile printer looks as though it should have a scanner, but it is a print only device and what it does, it does well. It can take up to A3 size paper and turn out crisp colour documents and vivid photos all for a very reasonable initial cost. It uses six inkjet cartridges for more natural colour shading, so this adds a little to the ongoing per-page cost, but if you’re looking for a print-only device, this is money well spent.

Image Credit: Epson

This A2-size print-only device will suit any business that needs to turn out professional quality large format colour documents. It uses Epson’s nine-colour UltraChrome HD inkset for lifelike colour shading, which come in high capacity 80ml cartridges. Add the paper roll option and this machine can handle high print runs, or turn out impressive panoramic posters. Unsurprisingly, it takes up quite a bit of room and the cost is high, although considerably lower that outsourcing your prints.

Read the full review:Epson SureColor SC-P800

Image Credit: Canon

Canon’s entry-level A3 photo printer is aimed at anyone who needs to print A3+ size posters and brochures to a professional standard. To achieve this the Pixma Pro-100S uses eight individual dye-based inkjet cartridges and has the ability to recognise a wide range of paper stock in sizes up to A3. Unlike its predecessor, the almost identical Canon Pixma Pro-100, this model now has Wi-Fi built in.

Image Credit: TechRadar

It looks a little ungainly with the refillable ink tanks ruining the symmetry of this otherwise compact all-in-one, but it’s the refined EcoTank system that sets this model apart from the competition. If you can swallow the high price tag, your ongoing ink costs will be very low and Epson’s five-colour printing guarantees excellent image quality, especially with photos on photo paper.

Read the full review:Epson EcoTank ET-7750

Image Credit: HP

This humble all-in-one can scan and copy, but its real strength is in printing photos. Frustratingly, there’s no Ethernet port, or USB port for printing from a flash drive and it churns very slowly, but the results are surprisingly good for such an affordable inkjet. The supplied starter cartridges are rather light on ink, but if you replace them with high-capacity carts, then the running cost is competitive too.

Image Credit: Canon

Sitting at the top of Canon’s Pixma range, the TS9150 looks like a premium product thanks to its crisp white surfaces and giant touchscreen display. It also boasts a high-resolution printing and scanning and Canon’s excellent six-ink system. By using black pigment ink alongside dye-based colours, photographic prints look especially realistic.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Canon’s most affordable printer to include ink tanks instead of cartridges is a modest 4-in-1 that could work well in a small office that needs to run out lots of colour documents. It prints very slowly and cannot print on both sides of the page, but in all other respects, it holds up well. The cartridge-less system is very economical and the box includes enough ink for 6,000 mono and 7,000 colour pages.

Read the full review:Canon Pixma G4510

Image Credit: Canon

Canon has done well to bundle so much functionality into this discrete, desk-friendly design. It looks smart and the price point only makes it more tempting. It’s a little slower and the print resolution is a little lower than its more expensive sibling, the Canon Pixma TS8050, but the print quality is strong for the money and it’s a pleasure to use thanks to the touchscreen control panel.

Image Credit: HP

HP’s oddly shaped all-in-one includes every feature from a fax facility, to an SD card slot, while giving you easy access to them via a colourful touchscreen interface. The coloured inks are combined in one cartridge and if you subscribe to HP’s Instant Ink service, it will be automatically replaced just before you run out. It feels a little flimsy, but photos prints in particular, look vibrant.

We’ve also highlighted the best small business printers

Opera for Android adds free unlimited VPN services – CNET

Opera has added a free, built-in VPN service to its mobile browser for Android users in version 51, which launched Wednesday. This means you won’t need to sign in, download additional apps or pay extra for protection while browsing public Wi-Fi.

Opera has added a free, built-in VPN service to its mobile browser for Android users in version 51, which launched Wednesday. This means you won’t need to sign in, download additional apps or pay extra for protection while browsing public Wi-Fi. Opera says this gives you even more control over your online privacy.

The built-in VPN creates a private, encrypted connection between your phone and the server with a 256-bit encryption algorithm. The encryption hides your physical location and because you don’t have to log in, the VPN server doesn’t retain any activity data.

Using Opera’s built-in VPN can also protect you from third parties stealing your data.

“The fact is that users are exposed when they connect to public Wi-Fi without a VPN,” Opera’s Peter Wallman said in a statement. “By enabling Opera’s browser VPN service, users make it very difficult for third parties to steal pieces of their information and can avoid being tracked. Users no longer need to question if or how they can protect their personal information in these situations.”

The new version of Opera for Android 51 is rolling out gradually. Once it’s live in your area, you can enable Opera’s VPN by tapping the browser settings, tapping VPN and turning on the feature according to your preference. You can also customize the region you’re in.

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Is the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 around the corner?

Is the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 about to update the company’s entry-level DSLR portfolio? If the rumors are true, that’s the next new camera we’ll be seeing from the Japanese camera giant.

Is the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 about to update the company’s entry-level DSLR portfolio? If the rumors are true, that’s the next new camera we’ll be seeing from the Japanese camera giant.

Camera-leaking website Nokishita has claimed that a camera that was previously registered with the radio wave authority with the code ‘DS126761’ will be the EOS Rebel SL3.

The camera is said to have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and uses the LP E17 battery, which is currently employed by the EOS 200D / Rebel SL2, in addition to the EOS 77D, the EOS RP full-frame mirrorless camera, and M-series cameras.

There’s no official word from Canon itself, and there doesn’t appear to be any further evidence to back this up, but Nokishita has a good track record of breaking details of upcoming cameras.

A long time coming

The model would likely replace the EOS 200D / Rebel SL2, which Canon introduced in June 2017 at the same time as the full-frame EOS 6D Mark II. Two years is a long time for an entry-level camera to be on the market, and pressure on Canon increased last year, as Nikon found time to release a more up-to-date D3500 challenger.

Canon has only released two DSLRs since then, the EOS Rebel T100 / EOS 4000D and EOS 2000D / EOS Rebel T7, although it also recently launched its EOS R system, and continues to develop its EOS M line. It has, however, pledged to continue developing its DSLR line, and there’s no reason to doubt that claim as its junior DSLRs are still big sellers.

One issue is what the camera would be called in the UK. Having already launched the the EOS 100D / Rebel SL1 and the EOS 200D / Rebel SL2, convention dictates that the next model would be christened the EOS 300D – although this DSLR already exists.

The Canon EOS 300D, which was also known as the Kiss Digital and Digital Rebel, was launched in 2003, and is best known for being the first DSLR to be priced at under $1,000. So, we could potentially see this newcomer being called the EOS 250D or similar – if, indeed, it does arrive.

Canon’s last big reveal was the EOS RP, a budget full-frame mirrorless camera and the second model in its new EOS R system. The company is currently developing six new lenses for the system.

Best DSLR for beginners 2019: 10 cheap DSLRs perfect for new users

Apple AirPods 2 release date, news and features

The long-awaited AirPods 2 are finally here, and according to Apple, they will deliver “faster connect times, more talk time, and the convenience of hands-free Siri.”

The second generation AirPods 2 come with a standard charging case or a wireless charging case and are available to order on the Apple website or Apple Store app from today, or from physical Apple Stores from next week.

The long-awaited AirPods 2 are finally here, and according to Apple, they will deliver “faster connect times, more talk time, and the convenience of hands-free Siri.”

The second generation AirPods 2 come with a standard charging case or a wireless charging case and are available to order on the Apple website or Apple Store app from today, or from physical Apple Stores from next week.

Apple has just rolled out the new iPad Air (2019), iPad mini (2019), and a brand new iMac (2019), so the AirPods 2 represent the latest in a stream of new hardware launches ahead of the March 25 video streaming launch event, which is expected to see the launch of a new Apple streaming service.

We originally expected the AirPods 2 to be radically different form their predecessors thanks to trademark and Bluetooth SIG filings, but judging from the official press release, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

The trademark filings said that the second generation AirPods will be a health and fitness device, in addition to being a pair of true wireless earbuds – again, Apple hasn’t made any mention of any biometric features in the new AirPods 2.

We also heard separately that the AirPods 2 would come in black and white, be both waterproof and offer active noise-cancellation, rumors which don’t appear to have manifested in the final product.

Apple also hasn’t made any mention of improved sound quality, but we will let you know how they sound as soon as we get our hands on them

One rumor that did prove to be accurate, was wireless charging and Bluetooth 5.0 – but instead of being an improved thanks to an updated W2 chip, Apple has designed a H1 chip, which is made for headphones specifically.

Curious what else the second generation of Apple’s true wireless earbuds have in store for us? Read on below.

Are there AirPod alternatives? Yep, here are the best true wireless earbudsApple AirPods 2 release date and priceWhen are they out? The AirPods 2 are available to buy now from the Apple website, and the Apple Store app from today (March 20), and will be available to buy in physical Apple Stores early next week. How much will they cost? The AirPods 2 cost $159 (£159/AU$249/AED 679) with a standard charging case, or $199 (/£199/AU$319/AED 829) with a wireless charging case. Customers can also buy the wireless charging case separately for $79 (£79/AU$129/AED 329), and get either of the cases engraved for free during checkout on the website or Apple Store app.

Image credit: Apple

Apple AirPods 2: design and features

Despite their divisive design, the Apple AirPods sold very well – you just have to jump on public transport and see just how many of them are poking out of music fans’ ears on the way to work to note they’ve overcome any early online ridicule.

At first glance, the new AirPods 2 look very similar to the original Apple AirPods. Again, they’re completely cable free, drawing battery from a pillbox-like charging case, with stem-like protrusions from the buds, meaning most of the next-gen improvements can be found under the hood.

Here’s what we know so far:

Better wireless connectivity and more efficient battery life

First up is a newly-designed H1 chip which Apple has built specifically for the headphones. It improved connectivity pairing times, as well as the efficiency of the battery life, which Apple claims will give you 50 percent more hands-free talk time. The original AirPods offered 5 hours of use, with a total 24 hours of battery life when taking into consideration their charging case, for comparison

“Hey Siri” functionality

Another significant addition is that of hands-free “Hey Siri” functionality. Pop the AirPods 2 into your ears, and you’ll be able to use the voice assistant command to place calls, change songs and more – basically anything Siri can do, direct from the AirPods 2, without needing to pull your iPhone out.

Wireless charging

The AirPods 2 ship with a charging case, though Apple is also introducing a new Wireless Charging Case for the earbuds, using Qi-compatible charging mats to power the case without having to stick a cable in. This is, presumably, in anticipation of the launch of Apple’s long-awaited Air Power charging mat. The new Wireless Charging Case will also be compatible with the first-generation AirPods 2.

Image credit: Apple

What’s missing?

It looks as though the new AirPods are missing quite a few of the features they were rumored to have, including waterproofing and fitness tracking capabilites.

Back in July Apple filed a patent for biometric sensors which would allow the AirPods 2 to take on fitness tracking capabilities like those seen in the Jabra Elite Wireless. This followed another patent filed in March, which further fueled the rumors.

Another patent from July suggested that Apple was working on some pretty nifty tech for how the earbuds handle outside noise as well as dissipating pressure from inside the ear canal.

The patent outlined a valve system that would allow sound to escape your ear canal to avoid that weird reverberating effect that occurs when you speak with earbuds in your ears.

The patent then goes on to describe how the earbuds would handle ambient noise, using a microphone to filter in noise from the outside world so that you can remain aware of your surroundings while still hearing your music.

As for any difference in sound quality, Apple has yet to reveal any differences between the generations. We’ll update you on how the AirPods 2 sound once we’ve given them a play.

Need something now? Here are the best truly wireless AirPod alternatives around

Now that the AirPods 2 have been officially launched, we can see that there are a few rumored features that haven’t made the cut.

Here’s what we felt was lacking in the original AirPods, and were originally hoping to see in the new generation:

Noise-cancellation

Only a couple of years ago, companies were struggling just to get true wireless earbuds working, but now the goalposts have already shifted to packing more and more functionality into their shells.

The Sony WF-1000X manage to include noise-cancellation technology inside their diminutive shells, and we were hoping see similar functionality make it to the second generation of AirPods.

Apple’s fancy ambient noise technology outlined above suggested the company is thinking along these lines, but it looks like it never made the final cut.0

The Sony WF-1000X feature noise-cancellation technology

Physical controls

Apple isn’t much of a fan of buttons, but there are some cases where they save you a lot of time and effort, and headphones are one of these instances.

On-board controls have become an almost essential feature in headphones in recent years, allowing us to control music playback and volume without having to struggle to get our phones out of our pockets.

Now the AirPods did allow you to control music in a sense, but they relied entirely on Siri, Apple’s voice assistant.

The B&O Beoplay E8 feature touch-sensitive controls to allow you to control your music

On the one hand Siri is much more powerful than the usual button controls by allowing you to request specific songs, for example.

But on the other hand, Siri comes with some pretty big limitations. It doesn’t work without a Wi-Fi connection, it can only play music from Apple Music (so not Spotify), and probably most problematic of all is the fact that it forces you to speak out loud to control anything – hardly ideal if you want to listen to music on the bus.

The original AirPods already had a touch-sensitive control for activating Siri, so we’d like to see this extended to controlling music directly. The BeoPlay E8’s have shown how this can be done with simple tap controls, and we felt it was time for Apple to follow suit – unfortunately the tech giant has declined to add touch controls for music.

That being said, having “Hey Siri” functionality should make controlling music with the AirPods 2 easier than the originals.

Changeable ear tips

Apple likes to rely wholly on sleek white plastic, but we weren’t a fan of the lack of rubber tips on the original AirPods, especially when there’s no cable to catch them if they fall.

We want any true wireless earbuds to feel nice and secure in the ears, and including a number of changeable ear tips so we can select those that perfectly fit our ears would be the ideal way of achieving this.

One individual in the TechRadar office even went to the length of fixing some rubber tips from an alternative pair of headphones onto their AirPods to make them feel more secure.

We weren’t expecting Apple to change it’s rather rigid design aesthetic, and it hasn’t with the AirPods 2.

Changeable rubber ear-tips are common on lots of in-ear headphones

Better Android pairing

Given that Apple likes to ensure all its products are designed to work as a family this has little chance of happening, but we’d love to see the AirPods play slightly nicer with Android phones.

On iPhones, pairing is a dream. You simply hold the AirPods near your phone and they connect more or less automatically.

However with Android the process is a lot more complicated and involving jumping into settings menus to select the AirPods manually. We’d love to see Apple simplify this process for the AirPods 2, though we’re not holding our breath.

Different designs and colors

We get it, Apple likes white things. But in an era where iPhones and iPads are available in a range of different colors we’d love to see this same courtesy extended to the AirPods.

We just want our headphones to match our phone and our Apple Watch; is that so much to ask?

Although Apple has experimented with different colors for its various devices, its earbuds have always stayed the same iconic white, and the AirPods 2 have followed suit, despite rumors of a black version.

New AirPods 2 launch with better battery and hands-free Hey Siri feature

Amazon’s entry-level $90 Kindle e-reader adds an illuminated screen – CNET

There’s good news and bad news about the “all-new” Kindle, the next iteration of Amazon’s entry-level e-reader. First, the good: It now has a self-illuminated screen.

There’s good news and bad news about the “all-new” Kindle, the next iteration of Amazon’s entry-level e-reader. First, the good: It now has a self-illuminated screen. The bad? It costs $90 (£70, $AU139), or $10 more than the previous model, the Kindle 2016.

Set to ship on April 10 and available for preorder today, the new Kindle comes in black or white and has an updated design. At 174 grams, it weighs slightly more than the previous model (161 grams). Amazon says it’s equipped with the “latest electronic ink technology for better contrast” and has been upgraded with capacitive touch “to prevent accidental swipes” on its 6-inch 167 ppi display. Like the previous model, this Kindle has Bluetooth connectivity for listening to audiobooks, too.

See the new Kindle at Amazon

Amazon’s step-up Paperwhite and Oasise-readers still outshine this entry-level model, with sharper 300 ppi displays and waterproof bodies. And the base models of those e-readers include 8GB of storage while the new entry-level Kindle has 4GB. That’s plenty of space to store thousands of e-books, but audiobooks eat up your storage a lot faster due to their much larger file sizes.

To help encourage people to upgrade their Kindles, Amazon is offering an Amazon.com gift card for trade-ins of old e-readers, plus a 25 percent discount on a new device, including this new Kindle. No cover is included, but Amazon sells covers for $30 and third-party covers can be had for less.

At the end of the day, this seems like a nice upgrade — except for the existence of the Kindle Paperwhite. That model — a CNET Editors’ Choice — is now frequently on sale for $100. That’s $30 off its list price, and only $10 more than the starting price of this new Kindle. Ideally, Amazon will address that by periodically selling this model at a discount, too.

Here’s a look at the new Kindle’s key specs, according to Amazon. We’ll have a full review in the coming weeks.

6-inch, 167 ppi electronic-ink displayImproved contrastIntegrated front light with four LEDs (the Paperwhite’s light has five LEDs)Weight: 174 gramsDimensions: 160mm x 113mm x 8.7mmBluetooth for streaming Audible audiobooks (Bluetooth headphones or speaker required for listening)4GB of storage Three months of Kindle Unlimited included, a $30 valueWi-Fi connectivityWeeks of battery lifePrice: $90 with special offers (add $20 to remove special offers), £70 (add £10 to remove special offers), $AU139 with no special offersAvailable for preorder nowShips April 10

Read more: Kindle Paperwhite vs. Kindle Oasis: Comparison and buying advice for Amazon’s best e-readers

Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of products featured on this page.


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Trump wants a border wall. Texas may want a smarter alternative – CNET

Marcos Rios spent 10 hours on a cold Monday in February waiting for the start of Donald J. Trump‘s rally in El Paso, Texas. Holding a fluorescent green handwritten sign with the words “Trump Por Vida” — or “Trump for Life” — Rios was there to see the man in person and hear his plans for a border wall.

Marcos Rios spent 10 hours on a cold Monday in February waiting for the start of Donald J. Trump‘s rally in El Paso, Texas. Holding a fluorescent green handwritten sign with the words “Trump Por Vida” — or “Trump for Life” — Rios was there to see the man in person and hear his plans for a border wall. He voted for the 45th president in 2016 and will again in 2020.

Even so, he doesn’t get Trump’s wall.

“It might deter some people, but it’s not going to work,” says Rios, a 59-year-old school bus driver from El Paso. “They already have tunnels. If you wanna come here, you’re gonna come here.”

Texas has become ground zero in the border wall war. Rios wants a solution to drug trafficking and illegal immigration but questions whether a physical barrier along the US-Mexico border is needed. He’s not the only Texan who thinks so. While the state overwhelmingly voted for Trump in 2016 and thousands of people cheered the president on at the El Paso rally, interviews with Texans who’ll have to live and deal with a concrete wall or steel barrier — plus a mix of drones, high-tech cameras, sensors, license plate scanners and other digital surveillance systems — say the wall may be a hard sell.

“We all want to have security in various ways and the border included,” says John Ferguson, the mayor of Presidio, a border town east of El Paso. “But Trump’s wall would make the United States a big, gated community.”

The president’s El Paso rally was his first in 2019 — and the first after a 35-day government shutdown over his request for $5.7 billion from US taxpayers to fund a border wall. Trump didn’t pick El Paso for his latest wall pitch by accident. A high desert city of 685,000 people located on the western-most edge of Texas, El Paso is separated from Mexico by the narrow Rio Grande River. It’s a major port of entry where immigrants have crossed into the US for decades. It’s also where nearly four miles of a new 18-foot steel bollard wall was installed over the last six months.

“You have thousands and thousands of people coming from Guatemala, from Honduras and El Salvador, and they march up through Mexico,” Trump boomed into the microphone at the rally. “If we didn’t have walls in those areas … in many cases where our great military helped us with barbed wire, you would have people pouring in.”

Trump’s wall would make the United States a big, gated community.
John Ferguson, mayor of Presidio, Texas

Fast-forward a month and Trump’s wall proposal keeps feeding a political firestorm, even while data shows illegal immigration is at a historical low. Not only was the wall the cause of the government shutdown, but it also prompted lawsuits, protests and a constitutional dispute over what constitutes a national emergency. Last week, Trump, 72, asked for another $8.6 billion in wall funding in a federal budget proposal that was almost immediately dismissed by his critics. Yet, the president is determined to expand border walls. For the first time in his two-year tenure, Trump used his veto power to reject a congressional resolution that says there’s no national emergency at the southern border.

If all goes according to Trump’s current plans, roughly 550 miles of wall will be built along the nearly 2,000-mile-long US-Mexico border as soon as possible. The majority of this construction is expected to happen in Texas. Unlike California, Arizona and New Mexico, which already have about 60 percent of fencing or walls at their borders, Texas only has around 20 percent because of its natural barrier with Mexico: the Rio Grande River.

The slow-moving, silty-green river serves as the official southern border for the entire state. Starting in El Paso, it bends and winds through the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert into Big Bend National Park’s 1,500-foot-deep canyons, then through the grapefruit orchards and cotton crops of the Rio Grande Valley. Eventually, the river empties out through a sandy beach into the Gulf of Mexico.

I set out to travel the length of the Texas-Mexico border, more than 1,200 miles, to find out how the wall — and surveillance technology — will affect those living along the river. Such a barrier is expected to drastically change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Local sheriffs and US Customs and Border Patrol agents say they’ve already been using technology to police the region for decades. And now, they’re finding themselves in the middle of a major Silicon Valley-style shakeup.

Despite Trump’s insistence on a physical barrier, politicians throughout Texas are touting new technology as an alternative to physical walls. They’re calling out everything from seismic sensors to lidar and fiber-optic cables as a partial solution for stopping drug cartels and stemming unwanted immigration. A “smart wall,” they say, will be cheaper, more effective and do a better job of helping Border Patrol agents than a concrete or steel barrier.

“We can’t double down on a third-century approach to solve 21st century problems,” Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican whose district covers more than 800 miles of the Texas-Mexico border, said in a statement. “It’s time to harness American innovation.”

Presidio County is southeast of El Paso and smack in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, a nearly 140,000-square-mile expanse that stretches across the southwestern US and northern Mexico. Here, the high plains give way to hazy, yellowish mountains devoid of trees and full of cactus, rattlesnakes and rocky cliffs.

Despite the empty, wind-swept feeling of Presidio County, it’s a hotbed of high-tech border security initiatives.

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The federal government is pouring money into smart wall technology. The Department of Homeland Security earmarked $975.8 million for border tech in its 2018 budget proposal and $223 million in its 2019 budget proposal.

The government already employs many of the same tools at the border the US military uses in war zones — from tethered surveillance blimps called aerostats, that cost about $8.9 million each, to $16 million Predator B drones equipped with radar strong enough to detect footprints in the sand.

The Department of Homeland Security is now in talks to fly smaller unmanned drones on nighttime border missions out of the Marfa Airport in Presidio County, according to Airports Director Chase Snodgrass. Called the RQ-7 Shadow, made by AAI Corporation, this drone uses an array of cameras, lasers and radars to “locate, recognize and identify targets” up to 75 miles away. It then beams that information back to a ground control station. The devices have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But to deploy the drones, the airport will have to close for hour-long blocks of time amid daily takeoffs and landings. That’s rankled residents.

“Let’s just say I haven’t had anybody local call me and say it was a great idea,” Snodgrass says. “But I’ve had quite a few calling to say they don’t like it.”

Drones are just the beginning when it comes to high-tech border surveillance. The government is working with more than 30 tech companies to develop tools for national security. That’s everything from lidar systems, which is the same laser light technology used in self-driving cars that measures the distance to a target, to machine-learning AI software to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi sensors that can measure a crowd’s behavior and movement.

Related storiesTrump’s border wall could be a virtual barrier patrolled by drones tooHow Trump’s border wall could embrace drones, cameras and AIFacial recognition overkill: How deputies cracked a $12 shoplifting case

Anduril may be the best-known of these companies. Its creator, Palmer Luckey, founded the virtual reality company Oculus that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought for nearly $3 billion in 2014. Luckey left Facebook in 2017 after it was revealed he funded a pro-Trump group working to influence the 2016 election.

Named after a magical sword in Lord of the Rings, Anduril says its goal is to be the future of defense. Using a system it calls Lattice, the company can process inputs from hundreds of thousands of sensors strategically placed along the border — including 20-megapixel visual cameras, thermal cameras and radar — and then use artificial intelligence to instantaneously interpret that data.

For example, Lattice can continuously monitor one stretch of desert and the moment it detects anything out of the ordinary, like a vehicle pulling over or a group of people walking, Border Patrol will be alerted.

We can’t look at defending our border in a static way, because the threat is dynamic.
Congressman Will Hurd

Anduril has a contract with US Customs and Border Patrol in California and is testing its tech on a private ranch in West Texas.

The rancher had cartel traffic crossing his land, the company says, so he let Anduril give Lattice a whirl. In the first few months, the system led to the capture of 39 migrants crossing the border, along with 16 drug smugglers carrying 982 pounds of marijuana, according to a report by Wired.

Anduril says this rancher no longer has problems with cartel traffic because the system now works as a deterrent. The company confirmed these details but declined to comment further.

When Hurd talks about a smart wall, it’s tech like Anduril’s he envisions. He sees the digital barrier beaming real-time info to Border Patrol agents’ smartphones about every drug trafficker and human smuggler who crosses the international boundary.

“We always have to remember the enemy adapts,” says Hurd, a former CIA officer who now sits on the House Intelligence Committee. “That’s why we can’t look at defending our border in a static way, because the threat is dynamic.”

It’s hard to escape the impression the border is being militarized, which is why groups like the American Civil Liberties Union warn that smart wall tech could have serious privacy implications. The ACLU says allowing the Department of Homeland Security “to track, surveil and monitor individuals indiscriminately and with precise detail” could lead to intrusions on the most intimate aspects of Americans’ lives.

But Hurd and the Silicon Valley companies working on border security say a smart wall is fundamental to protecting the border. Even so, it’s unlikely that will sway the president.

“They can have all the drones they want flying up in the air and spinning around, and all the technology in the world. It’s all — I call it ‘bells and whistles,'” Trump said during a Christmas video teleconference. “But if you don’t have the wall, it doesn’t work.”

Curious what locals think about Trump’s wall, I head to the dusty little border town of Presidio — the only place to legally cross between the US and Mexico for hundreds of miles. About 4,000 people live here, mostly in single-story homes where dogs bark from behind chain-link fences. This is the land of pickup trucks and red enchiladas.

Mayor Ferguson, a friendly, soft-spoken 55-year-old with thick brown hair full of cowlicks, offers to be my tour guide. He’s been the mayor on and off for about nine years and has worked in local public schools most of his adult life.

We start by walking over the international bridge. A few elderly women with shopping bags and young men on bicycles make their way back and forth between the US and Mexico, but it’s mostly empty. Down below, the Rio Grande cuts between Presidio and its sister city, Ojinaga. The river is narrow enough here that you can throw a rock and hit the other side.

“What you’ll find along the Texas border is people who’ve lived here forever,” Ferguson explains. “Most of the water you see is coming out of Mexico. A lot of people use that water.”

I ask him where the wall would go if Trump’s plans fall into place. He sighs deeply and just says, “Yeah…”

After a few moments, he points to the banks of the river on the US side and says, “You could run it along the levy. But then you look here and the levy curves and so you say, ‘OK, now what?’

“It’s not so simple that you’re going to build this big wall,” he adds. “If we were to build a wall, we’d lose our own river.”

The idea of a border wall long predates President Trump. The US has been putting up barriers along its southern border for the last century. After President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, 18 miles of wall were added. After 9/11, President George W. Bush spearheaded plans for an additional 523 miles, much of which was built during President Barack Obama‘s tenure.

Today, 654 miles of the 1,954-mile US-Mexico border — about a third of the distance — has some sort of wall or fencing. The areas without any wall tend to have natural barriers, like mountains or the Rio Grande. So far, no new miles of Trump’s proposed 18-to-30 foot wall have been constructed. But at least 40 miles of replacement wall — like the new steel barrier in El Paso — have been added.

Keeping up with the daily back-and-forth of whether a wall will be built is dizzying.

To recap what’s been going on the past several weeks: Congress passed a spending measure in mid-February to avoid another government shutdown. Trump signed the measure, which would pay $1.375 billion for 55 miles of steel fencing, but he was unhappy with the deal. So the following day he announced an unprecedented national emergency that would allow him to tap into more than $6 billion additional funds to build the wall. The money would be diverted from other government reserves, like a military construction fund and a military antidrug account.

Within days of Trump’s declaration, lawsuits were filed challenging his use of emergency powers. One of those suits was brought by a coalition of 16 US states. In the suits, lawyers cited Trump’s own announcement on the national emergency.

“I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” Trump said. “I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”

On March 14, Congress passed a resolution to terminate the president’s national emergency. One day later, Trump vetoed that resolution. The legislation now heads back to Congress where the resolution’s supporters need to get enough votes to override the president’s veto.

If we were to build a wall, we’d lose our own river.
John Ferguson, Presidio mayor

While it’s unclear how Washington’s battle will shake out, a lot of people in Texas are left scratching their heads.

“Here we stand at the international border, and there’s no wall and there’s no people crossing the river,” Ferguson says, looking down at the water below. “You’d think if there was an emergency going on there’d be all sorts of people here to apprehend. But there’s not.”

In Brewster County, just south of Presidio, I meet with the local sheriff. Brewster County is cowboy country. Known for vast cattle ranches and tabletop mesas, it’s the biggest county in Texas — almost equal in size to Connecticut. It’s also the most rural with just 9,000 residents.

Frigid winds blow across its inhospitable landscape throughout the winter, and scorching desert sun cracks its earth in the summer. Surviving out here is no easy feat. Locals say an unspoken policy is to leave your home unlocked so traveling migrants can go in, get water and not break the windows.

Sheriff Ronny Dodson’s office is in a quaint red-brick building that used to be the county jail. He looks the part of a Texan sheriff: tall, with broad shoulders, a cowboy hat and a woven leather gun holster. Dodson’s family has been in Brewster Country for six generations stretching back before the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa’s rebel group once famously raided his great grandfather’s ranch, forcing his family into hiding.

While the Border Patrol’s job is to catch people entering the US illegally, a lot of that work also falls under Dodson’s jurisdiction. That’s because Brewster County, with its 192 border miles, has more border territory than any other county in the US.

“The president is going to El Paso and he went to McAllen, those are big places,” Dodson says, taking off his cowboy hat to smooth down his hair. “It’s different out here.”

He regularly catches small groups of people walking through the desert with more than 100-pound backpacks of drugs — marijuana being the main drug he finds. He also apprehends immigrants coming to the US. But, he says, they’re not pouring in.

“This country has a hunger for cheap labor and a hunger for narcotics,” Dodson says. “As long as we have that hunger, they’re coming.”

“This country has a hunger for cheap labor and a hunger for narcotics. As long as we have that hunger, they’re coming.
Ronny Dodson, Brewster County sheriff

He takes out his smartphone to show me photos from hidden cameras that he set up along the border. One photo shows six or seven people in dark blue hoodies huddled behind a mound of dirt. He tells me they are migrants planning to cross the border.

“They didn’t know the camera was there taking pictures of them,” Dodson says. “The tech we have now lets us see everything.”

To prove his point, he shows me other photos he caught of wild animals, including mountain lions, gray foxes and even Mexican black bears. Along with cameras, Dodson uses handheld drones and buried seismic ground sensors to augment his work. But, unlike federal security agencies, he says state and local law enforcement is limited with how much tech it can use because of lack of funding.

“We see guys come to our conferences and they set up these magnificent cameras,” Dodson says, but these cameras cost $500,000. “There’s no way we could afford half a million dollars, not in this county.”

Brewster County’s border is full of natural barriers, including Santa Elena Canyon and its towering cliff walls and the deadly Chihuahuan Desert. A border wall can be practical in places like El Paso and McAllen, Dodson says, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense out here.

Before the sheriff shows me one last photo on his phone, he asks, “Do you have a strong stomach?”

He pulls up a picture of a dead migrant that he and his deputies were called to handle last summer. The man is lying in the dirt among the cactus. He isn’t wearing a shirt and his bloated body is burned completely black. His face and hands have been eaten away, presumably by insects and animals. Dodson told me it was 120 degrees on the day he found the man.

“They tear off their clothes when they’re dying of thirst, because they think it’ll help,” Dodson says. “It’s pretty terrible what happens to some of these guys.”

Driving through the desolate desert landscape, I see in the distance a roadblock constructed of orange cones leading to a small green-and-white building. Border Patrol agents wearing army-green uniforms signal me to slow down and stop.

“Where are you coming from,” an agent asks, shining his flashlight into the back seat and trunk of my rental car. “Are you an American citizen?”

These checkpoints are all along border highways, and every car coming through is required to stop. A bevy of cameras and sensors usually takes images of people’s vehicles, including their license plates. The agents are accompanied by dogs trained to detect drugs.

They wave me on after I answer their questions. I’m headed to the central region of the Texas-Mexico border to catch a nighttime ride with Border Patrol agents and see firsthand how Central American asylum seekers are faring after caravanning across Mexico.

With the barren yellow-hued mountains receding in my rearview mirror, I think back to the Trump rally in El Paso.

As the president’s speech continued into the night, the crowd seemed to lose energy and people began to trickle out of the coliseum. When Trump finally finished after an hour and 20 minutes, he slowly made his way offstage waving, clapping and mouthing “thank you.”

Music rose over the loudspeakers and, as if on cue, the song was the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

In West Texas, that sentiment might come true.

Stay tuned for the second article in the border trilogy, “Cat and Mouse.”

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is not perfect for the Nintendo Switch – CNET

It’s been just over three months since Nintendo unleashed Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fastest-selling Nintendo Switch game yet.

For the uninitiated, Smash Bros. pits Nintendo icons — Mario, Link, Kirby — against an all-star cast of video game characters in explosive free-for-all battles.

It’s been just over three months since Nintendo unleashed Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fastest-selling Nintendo Switch game yet.

For the uninitiated, Smash Bros. pits Nintendo icons — Mario, Link, Kirby — against an all-star cast of video game characters in explosive free-for-all battles. It’s something of a revelation in Nintendo’s typically kid-friendly lineup of games, where instead of seeing characters politely race each other, or compete in friendly games of tennis, they punch each other in the face. A lot.

Smash Bros. is a game built for short bursts. It’s a chaotic storm of quick-fire reactions and on-the-fly adjustments. Matches are often so short you can sneak one in the time it takes to make a coffee.

And Ultimate is the quintessential version of Smash, cramming almost everything from the franchise’s 20-year history into one tidy package.

That makes it perfect for the Nintendo Switch, right?

It should be — but it isn’t. It can’t be.

Because Smash Bros. is an anachronism so firmly rooted in the past it will never be able to take full advantage of the Switch’s best asset: Its portability.

And so Ultimate is like a two-patty, three-cheese, double-bacon burger dripping with secret sauce but the bun has been replaced by two cookies. I love burgers. I love cookies. This should be everything I want, but Smash Bros. is just not meant to be consumed in this way.

God-tier

First, a little context: In 2002, I was a chubby kid that bailed on after-school socializing for Super Smash Bros. Melee, on the Nintendo GameCube.

Basically, if it was legal for a 12-year-old to get a forehead tattoo, I would have plastered the game’s logo smack in the middle of my brow.

I have thrown money at every Super Smash Bros. game. There was the Wii version, Brawl, which I had to buy three times. It didn’t receive a simultaneous worldwide release, so I employed the internet dark arts just to get it three months early. Next came Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS — the same game but on two different consoles — both of which I had to own.

But for all the copies bought, Melee’s successors never quite captured the same emotion that Melee did, even though they tapped into those memories where I’d waste entire days in uncomfortable chairs, drinking warm, discount cola from 2-litre bottles and rubbing Doritos dust on grubby sweatpants.

I’m not the only one with a nostalgic link to Melee, either. The game is revered as the pinnacle of Super Smash Bros. It’s a Godlike figure that lords over the Church of Smash. It has endured, over the last 18 years, as one of the world’s most popular competitive fighting games and is played at the biggest tournaments every year.

Melee is deeply ingrained in the Super Smash Bros. psyche as The Very Best — and the reason for that can be partly attributed to the Nintendo GameCube controller.

Burden of control

Some rate the GameCube controller as the best ever. Others would prefer to see it relegated to the dustbin of video game history.

Wherever you sit, there’s no doubt that Super Smash Bros. Melee and that awkward, gaudy, curved controller were made for each other — and it has become the controller of choice for every Smash since.

The quick-flick C-stick under the right thumb, the friction of a full-trigger press with your index finger and the bounciness of the X and Y buttons all delicately mix with the exploding light on screen. No Smash has quite been able to affix the “stickiness” of its controls to the high intensity action unfolding on the screen like Melee does.

When Super Smash Bros. was announced for the Wii U in 2013, it seemed like the era of the GameCube controller was over. But in 2014, to the delight of many fans, Nintendo announced that the Wii U would be getting an adapter. Think about that.

Rather than develop a Super Smash Bros. that took advantage of the Wii U’s unique second-screen setup or utilized its touch controls, Nintendo released an adapter for an (at the time) 13-year-old controller.

Which brings us to the Switch. The Switch doesn’t have GameCube controller ports, but you can plug in a dual-USB adapter, just like you can on the Wii U, to play with GameCube controllers. But the Switch is meant to be portable. It’s a lift-and-go home console you can play literally anywhere — and plugging in a ‘Cube controller goes against that.

Ultimate doesn’t get to take advantage of the Switch’s best feature. It’s not Breath of the Wild, which is crafted so perfectly it suits both short bursts and long, intensive stints. It’s not Super Mario Odyssey, which is conveniently carved into neat segments so that it fits into your schedule whenever you turn it on.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a game you have to make time for.

I want to be a kid again

In CNET’s review of Ultimate, Alfred Ng said Ultimate makes him “feel like a kid again.” He’s not wrong. Its full roster of characters, stages, items and collectibles, spanning the series’ 20 years, delivers an overwhelming dose of nostalgia. When I first jumped in, it had me smiling like a buffoon, remembering the good ol’ days.

But making me feel like a kid again is a double-edged sword.

When I was a kid, all I had to do was make it through a six-hour school day without the Phys Ed. teacher berating me for being unfit.

Now I’m 30 — an adult with real adult things to do like mop the floor and take the garbage out and try to eat healthy and make sure I exercise daily so I won’t berate myself for being unfit — Super Smash Bros. exists in a different world.

You want to play with the best controller? OK, but you have to get home and drop the Switch into the dock, the only place where the GameCube controller adapters work.

And you’ve got to stack the dishwasher when you’re home!

You want to play with friends? Better organize a meetup after work at somewhere mutually convenient for the four of you to get to at a time that takes into consideration late working hours and early starts the next day and wait — doesn’t John’s kid have ballet class on Wednesdays?

And remember to vacuum the living room where you spilled your granola this morning, idiot!

Want to play online? You have to go home and connect the Switch to the Wi-Fi and sit through an outdated online matchmaking system that desperately requires further tweaking before you can get into a game you might not even want to play.

Oh — and don’t forget the dishes!!!

‘Perfect for the Switch’

Everyone is buying the Nintendo Switch. In 2019, some analysts predict it will outsell both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One.

Based on its current sales data, it seems Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will become the system’s best-selling game by year’s end. It currently sits in third, trailing only Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Deservedly so.

Ultimate is a wonderfully crafted game — it’s almost perfectly balanced and one of the most fluid, well-performing games on the Switch, given how ridiculous a round of Smash can get. Masahiro Sakurai, Smash Bros. creator, has routinely sacrificed his health to get this made, and the love and care for all its systems and characters are readily apparent as soon as you press start.

Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m just trying to justify my unwillingness to change. Maybe I’m just more prone to yelling at clouds than I was 18 years ago.

Because you certainly don’t have to look far to find kids sneaking games in during gym class, or during a tornado warning, content with their Pro Controllers and Joy-Con. My muscle memory is likely fine-tuned to the curves of an awkward 18-year-old controller and I just can’t get out of that cycle.

But Edmond Tran perhaps put it best in a glowing review at GameSpot: “There is one significant struggle that Ultimate comes up against, however, which lies in the nature of the console itself. Playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in the Switch’s handheld mode is simply not a great experience.”

For all the video games that are “perfect for the Switch,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a game that feels — sacrilegiously — burdened by it.


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Opera adds a free, unlimited VPN to its Android browser

Opera has released a new version of its mobile browser – and it comes with something special. Opera for Android 51 includes a built-in, unlimited VPN to protect your privacy and improve security – and it’s free.

Opera has released a new version of its mobile browser – and it comes with something special. Opera for Android 51 includes a built-in, unlimited VPN to protect your privacy and improve security – and it’s free.

The built-in VPN should prove particularly handy if you’re connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots in places like cafes and hotels.

Check out our guide to the best web browsersThese are the best browsers for AndroidProtect your privacy online with the best VPN

It uses 256-bit encryption to secure your data, and re-routes it via remote servers to disguise your physical location from trackers. The servers won’t log any of your activity, either.

No plugins necessary

You don’t need to download any extra apps for extensions to use the VPN, and there’s no registration – just toggle it on in the browser’s settings.

“The fact is that users are exposed when they connect to public Wi-Fi without a VPN,” said Peter Wallman, senior vice president of Opera Browser for Android.

“By enabling Opera’s browser VPN service, users make it very difficult for third parties to steal pieces of their information and can avoid being tracked. Users no longer need to question if or how they can protect their personal information in these situations.”

Opera Touch for iPhone now lets you block annoying cookie prompts

Viking Expands European River Fleet With Launch Of Seven New Ships

“We began hosting guests on the rivers of Russia 22 years ago, and we have always done things differently. We focus on the destination, and we provide travel experiences that allow our guests to learn, to enrich their lives and to explore the world in comfort.

“We began hosting guests on the rivers of Russia 22 years ago, and we have always done things differently. We focus on the destination, and we provide travel experiences that allow our guests to learn, to enrich their lives and to explore the world in comfort. It is ‘The Viking Difference’ that has made us the leading river cruise line in the world – and has helped river cruising become one of the fastest-growing segments of travel,” said Torstein Hagen, Chairman of Viking. “As the leader, it is also important that we recognize those who have helped us achieve success. This year I am especially proud to honor members of the Viking family as godmothers of our newest river ships.”

Viking Naming Ceremony

In keeping with a maritime tradition that dates back thousands of years, Viking invited seven long-serving employees and important members of the company’s family to serve as honorary godmothers of the new ships.

Leah Talactac, Godmother of Viking EinarNatalia Hofmann, Godmother of Viking HelgrimWendy Atkin-Smith, Godmother of Viking SigrunRikke Semb Pertile, Godmother of Viking SigynGisela Rückert, Godmother of Viking TirLinh Banh, Godmother of Viking UllurMinxuan Zhao, Godmother of Viking Vali

The naming event was executed by connecting the new ships via satellite across four European cities. Viking Einar and Viking Sigrun were docked in Basel and named by in-person by their godmothers. The other five ships were “virtually” named by their godmothers: Viking Sigyn and Viking Ullur in Rostock, Germany; Viking Tir and Viking Vali in Brunsbüttel, Germany; and Viking Helgrim in Porto, Portugal. In keeping with another maritime tradition, a bottle of Gammel Opland aquavit was broken on the bow of each new ship. Gammel Opland hails from the same county in Norway where Chairman Hagen’s mother, Ragnhild – also lovingly known as “Mamsen” – was born and was her favorite brand of aquavit. Following the naming event, guests enjoyed dinner at Basel’s Fondation Beyeler museum, set amidst the museum’s newest and most ambitious exhibition: The Young Picasso. Blue and Rose Periods. Guests were also treated to a performance by Alma Deutscher, the 14-year-old English composer, pianist, violinist, and child prodigy – who is a favorite of Chairman Hagen’s.

The Viking Difference

Designed for discerning travelers with interests in history, art, music and cuisine, Chairman Torstein Hagen often says Viking offers guests “the thinking person’s cruise” as an alternative to mainstream cruises. Ships are small to get guests closer to their destination, with more time in port and more overnights. On board, guests find serene Scandinavian spaces, where every room is both beautiful and functional, quiet and filled with light. With the most al fresco dining opportunities whether on the rivers or at sea, featuring regional cuisine and always-available American classics, Viking’s guests can truly dine in their destination. A focus on cultural enrichment brings immersive experiences on shore and on board. And only The Viking Way® of exploration provides guests with itineraries that feature Local Life, Working World and Privileged Access experiences. Local Life excursions shine a light on everyday activities and include experiences such as Viking Chef-hosted trips to local farmers markets, tea at home with local residents and visits with local schoolchildren. Working World excursions feature behind-the-scenes “making of” experiences, illuminating destinations through their most famous exports, such as factory and farm visits. Privileged Access excursions include experiences like The Oxford & Highclere Castle program, Viking’s highest-rated Pre/Post Extension that visits “The Real Downton Abbey;” a private tour of Göttweig Abbey, where Viking guests have a rare opportunity to dine with the Abbey’s monks at Stift Göttweig and receive a special Traveler’s blessing; and an exclusive dinner in the Churchill War Rooms in London as part Viking’s new Churchill’s London Pre/Post Extension.

In addition, Viking offers a compelling value compared to other cruise lines. Every cruise fare includes an outside stateroom, a complimentary shore excursion in each port of call, all onboard meals, and all port charges and government taxes. Guests also enjoy many complimentary amenities as part of their fare, including: beer and wine with lunch and dinner service; Wi-Fi; and cultural performances as part of the Viking’s Cultural Curriculum® onboard programming.

Booking Details

From now through March 31, 2019, Viking is offering U.S. residents special cruise fares on select 2019, 2020 and 2021 ocean itineraries, as well as on select 2019 and 2020 river cruises, with additional discounts on air.

About Viking Cruises

Viking was founded in 1997 with the purchase of four ships in Russia. Designed for discerning travelers with interests in science, history, culture and cuisine, Chairman Torstein Hagen often says Viking offers guests “the thinking person’s cruise” as an alternative to mainstream cruises. In its first three years of operation, Viking has been rated the #1 ocean cruise line in Travel + Leisure’s 2016, 2017 and 2018 “World’s Best” Awards. Viking currently operates a fleet of 78 vessels, offering scenic cruising on rivers and oceans around the world. In addition to the Travel + Leisure honors, Viking has also been honored multiple times on Condé Nast Traveler’s “Gold List” as well as recognized by Cruise Critic as “Best Overall” Small-Mid size ship in the 2018 Cruisers’ Choice Awards, “Best River Cruise Line” and “Best River Itineraries,” with the entire Viking Longships® fleet being named “Best New River Ships” in the website’s Editors’ Picks Awards. For additional information, contact Viking at 1-855-8-VIKING (1-855-884-5464) or visit www.vikingcruises.com.

SOURCE Viking Cruises

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Google Stadia instantly becomes a Netflix-like game streaming powerhouse – CNET

For years, we played video games in arcades. Then we huddled in front of specialized consoles hooked up to our living room televisions. The most dedicated of us built our own expensive PCs for the best experience.

For years, we played video games in arcades. Then we huddled in front of specialized consoles hooked up to our living room televisions. The most dedicated of us built our own expensive PCs for the best experience.

Google is hoping to push another big change in gaming.

On Tuesday, Google announced Stadia, a service that lets you play games by way of a wide variety of devices and an internet connection, similar to how you watch shows and movies on Netflix.

Now playing:Watch this: Google rolls out Stadia gaming service and controller
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The selling point for Stadia is convenience: You don’t need a hunky game console or expensive PC. Just a TV, browser, phone or low-end PC that can surf the web using Google’s Chrome browser. And a specialized controller from Google that connects to its service over Wi-Fi.

“Our ambition is far beyond a single game,” said Google’s Phil Harrison. Instead, the company sees the opportunity to give players “instant access” to a game by clicking a link. “The power of instant access is magical, and it’s already transformed the music and movie industries.”

The project will launch in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe in 2019. Google didn’t say how much games will cost to play, though the company said it plans to say more in the summer.

Google sees gaming as a new way to seep into your life — as if email, search, YouTube and its Android software aren’t enough — through the promise of massive convenience. Who needs to spend hundreds of dollars on Microsoft’s Xbox One, Sony’s PlayStation 4, Nintendo’s Switch or a PC when you can just play a game over the internet on a scrawny laptop?

Though Google isn’t the first company to offer game streaming, its entry into the space could make waves within the video game world. Google has lots of money, and it’s made its name by offering reliable services like Gmail, Google Maps and Google Photos for free or on the cheap.

With Google’s streaming service you’ll no longer have to go to a retailer like Amazon, Best Buy or GameStop to get the latest title. Nor will you have to potentially wait hours to download it from online stores like Valve’s Steam. Instead, Google says, all you’ll need is a fast internet connection and a controller, and you’re set.

“Google has a lot going for it,” wrote IHS analyst Piers Harding-Rolls. He noted that between all of Google’s various services, it has a strong brand with consumers. The question, he said, is whether that can translate to the game world.

“Cloud is the new platform dynamic for the games sector and will be where the future competitive landscape resides,” he added. Google just needs to offer the right games to make it work.


Google, your next gaming destination?
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A decade coming

I played my first streamed game about a decade ago, through a service run by a now-defunct startup called OnLive. Back then, the company offered to sell me access to hit games like the sci-fi shooting title Borderlands, playable through a PC, Mac or a little set-top box and a controller.

Just like with Netflix, all I had to do was log in, choose what I wanted to play and start. Sometimes the visuals would garble, just like they did back then with movie streaming too. But it worked. It felt like the future.

I’ve been waiting for that future ever since.

OnLive shut down in 2015, but other contenders have popped up. Sony launched its PlayStation Now streaming game service in 2014, as a compliment to its popular PlayStation 4 game console. Microsoft and Electronic Arts, meanwhile, have said they’re developing competing services as well, though they haven’t offered firm launch dates. Even Comcast, the TV and internet provider, has dabbled in game streaming, most recently considering a purchase of the Korean game company Nexon, rumors say.

All these companies are betting that the streaming approach will eventually upend the way we play video games, much in the same way Netflix did our movie watching a decade ago. The question is when.

“What’s good is in this industry you can play on mobile or PC, and now it’s starting to be the same game,” said Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft, who’s been working with Google on streaming game technology for six years. “It’s one more possibility to experience the worlds we create and it gives opportunities to creators to take full advantage of mobile.”

A new promise

Google pitched its service as a way to bring together different people in the game industry, including players, streamers and coders. The company said it’s developed ways for people to start playing a game after clicking a link in YouTube, for example.

Google has also partnered with game developers like Epic Games and Unity. As a result, Google’s high-performance servers will stream games at up to 4K ultrahigh-definition video at 60 frames per second, meaning animations should move smoothly.

Already, Google said, Stadia is able to deliver games with more performance than Microsoft’s Xbox One X and Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro combined. And Google said it eventually expects to double that performance as game developers create even more complex games.

Google won’t rely just on other game makers though. The company said it’ll follow Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo in building its own specialized games for its service, through a studio called Stadia Games and Entertainment.

“We are on the brink of a huge revolution in gaming,” said Jade Raymond, head of Google’s game making group and an industry veteran.

For its part, Microsoft said in a statement that it’s “a great time to be a gamer,” and noted that it’s devoted to offering choice as well through its upcoming Project xCloud service. Sony and Nintendo didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In the meantime, Google said it plans to closely knit its game service with YouTube, offering new ways for people to compete and play with one another. That’s particularly exciting to Matthew Patrick, a popular YouTube gaming personality known as MatPat.

“It unites technology and entertainment in ways we’ve never seen before,” he said.

Originally published March 19, 11:05 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:20 p.m.: Adds analyst comment. Update, 2:20 p.m.: Adds additional industry comments.

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