Tested: Smartphone controlled toys

Yet to find find the perfect gift for someone this holiday season? Two quick questions: Do they like fun? Do they own a smartphone?

If the answer to both is yes then relax. We’ve cut our way through packaging, downloaded all necessary companion apps, and spent some serious time toy testing, when we really should have been preparing for CES.

So pour another glass of something mulled and scroll through our guide to the best smartphone app controlled toys fresh from Santa’s tech workshop.

Anki Overdrive

First up is Anki Overdrive. This high-speed car game comes from San Fran-based Anki who boast some serious AI credentials and are on a mission to bring consumer robotics into everyday life.

The starter kit comes complete with two cars, various bits of track that you can piece together (in any configuration, the cars learn the layout) and an app, which is free for download on the Google Play store.

The game can be played single player or against a friend with a smartphone, and involves simply speeding around the track as fast as you can, reaching the finish line before your competitor. Simple? In fact yes, perhaps a little too simple as after a few races, our attention soon turned to…

Rover 2.0 App-controlled Wireless Spy Tank

‘Wireless Spy Tank’. Let that phrase sink in for a second.

The size of a remote-controlled car the Rover 2.0 has tracks at either side (for movement) and a camera mounted at the front (for ‘spying’). Connect it to your smartphone (it generates its own WiFi network – cool) and you can view the camera feed on your device.

Rover 2.0 offers two-way conversation capabilities so you can hear and talk to the people you are spying on, and can record and playback video if you catch anyone something particularly juicy. The tank even has a stealth mode with infrared camera so you can capture things at night.

It takes a little time to get to grips with the controls but eventually we got the hang of it and decided to take it on its first mission around Sony Mobile HQ. We attempted to sneak the Rover into an Xperia product planning meeting but quickly discovered it’s Achilles Heal: noise. Anyone you wanted to genuinely spy on would hear it coming a mile away.

Certainly worth the hefty price tag (€170) but does run on AA batteries and isn’t rechargeable, so factor that into your festive budgeting.

AR Gun

This plastic gun comes complete with companion app boasting 19 fast-paced games. Easy to use, all you do to get started is scan the QR code printed on the ‘barrel’ to download the app, clip your phone to the gun, and you’re ready to play. Games vary from defending against a zombie apocalypse, fighting off an alien invasion, tank blasting and includes some neat use of AR.

Although it can sometimes get a little jumpy, we thought it was pretty good bang per buck as the sub-€23 price point is great value for potentially hours of fun.

Sphero Mini

One of the most popular toys of 2017, the Sphero Mini is a nifty app-controlled robot.

About the same size as a ping-pong ball and looking a bit like BB8’s long-lost cousin, this little gizmo rolls around the floor controlled by a virtual joystick built into the free Sphero app.

The toy comes with a set of mini skittles and cones, which make an enjoyable obstacle course to navigate around using the various modes including: tilt control, slingshot and the trickiest of the lot, face driving.

This mode is a little odd as it uses the front facing camera on your device to detect head tilts and facial expressions to help navigate Sphero. A nice idea, but after a while our faces hurt from being overly expressive while trying to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

Alongside the Sphero app, there is also Spehro Edu – a great feature, which will help you take your first steps in coding and programming. All you need to do is drop little blocks of code in order, and the little Mini will follow your direction.

You can either start your own programmes from scratch, or build on the pre-made options. Once you’ve got the hang of tinkering with it, you have far greater control over your little LED pal, and can create some really impressive manoeuvres using JavaScript.

All in all, we thought this little guy was a lot of fun. Despite his small casing, Sphero Mini has a lot to offer for all ages.

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#BaubleMe – What happens when 3D Creator meets Christmas

Had the chance to try out our new 3D Creator feature yet? Available on our XZ1, XZ1 Compact and XZ Premium, 3D Creator lets you scan and create 3D objects.

In the run up to the festive break, the Sony UK team headed to shopping centres in London and Manchester to give festive shoppers the chance to have their heads turned into baubles for their Christmas trees.

Naturally, we jumped at the chance when we received our invite and thought we’d share the final outcome.

As we arrived at Westfield shopping centre we were greeted by the Sony 3D Creator team who sat us down in the chair to be 3D scanned. Scans were taken of our faces from the shoulders up as we were talked through the app’s scanning process – the whole thing took less than five minutes.

Seven days later and here’s what arrived… We don’t know about you but we think it’ll make for a great Christmas tree decoration…or even a gift for Mum or Dad!

Check out our tips and tricks post to learn more about 3D Creator how to create your own 3D head.

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Meet The Makers: Lars Novak, the man behind 3D Creator

Picked up an XZ1 or XZ1 Compact? Upgraded XZ Premium to Oreo? Chances are you’ve spent time playing with 3D Creator, the ultra-innovative new feature which lets you scan and create 3D objects.

This sort of tech used to cost thousands and take hours. Now it’s accessed via an app in an Xperia smartphone and executed in seconds.

To find out how it all works, we headed to Sweden and caught up with Lars Novak, who managed the development of 3D Creator.

 

What is 3D Creator?

It’s a completely new way to get creative using your smartphone. You can scan heads, faces, objects using the Xperia device to create 3D models you can share with friends or turn into physical objects.

Where did the idea for 3D Creator come from?

The initial concept came from the simple idea of wanting to help people to make better memories of the things and people they love. From this starting point, we have now through 3D Creator been able to give the power to our customers to create, and communicate in the most exciting way possible.

How long were you working on it?

Four years in different forms.

Wow. What can Xperia owners do with the 3D scans right now?

The beauty of 3D Creator is that it’s so simple – you can create beautiful 3D models in realtime in under a minute. Then what? Well these models can then be edited and shared on social media, or transformed into avatars and used in Augmented Reality.

Plus, your 3D scans can be created into physical objects using 3D printing. This is available to order directly from the device in the 3D Creator application using our online printing partners such as Shapeways, Sculpteo and DMM.com

…and how about in the future?

Gaming is probably the one I’m most excited about right now. Not only could you make a character look just like you really easily, there could even be games where you are required to scan real-world objects in to play. For example, need to open a door? Scan in a key. Or perhaps a game like The Sims where you could scan your own possessions and use them in the virtual world. This sort of thing. The possibilities are endless. Think about all the innovations that came from being able to capture a 2D image on a smartphone, the 3D revolution is going to be like this over the coming years.

Lars Novak: Creator of 3D Creator (and expert selfie taker)

What tips would you give us to create a great 3D scan?

To get the best possible scan my number one tip is to make sure you have the right environment before you start. Make sure you’ve got a good, even distribution of light, while avoiding anything too strong like direct spotlight or sunshine

Second tip is that the object you’re scanning has to  have texture and remain still, so if you want to scan your pet it’s definitely possible but try it when they’re asleep! Finally – practice makes perfect as they say!

What is it about Xperia devices that means this is possible now, is it the Motion Eye™ camera?

Xperia has three major advantages. Firstly, yes, the Motion Eye™ camera sensor plays a big part as it has no ‘rolling shutter effect’. This means that the images we receive from the sensor are close to perfect. Second, the TOF (Time of Flight) sensor allows us to accurately measure distances and get a scale of the object. Finally, the powerful CPU/GPU platform, lets our algorithm run at 30FPS.

We’re seeing a resurgence of buzz around AR in the smartphone industry right now, where do you think AR is heading?

We think AR today is only the beginning of something much bigger and more useful in the future.

As the power of the devices increase, more and more advanced algorithms can be run on the devices, which means we can offer better services to Xperia owners.

Only our imagination can set limits to this. We can truly merge the real world and virtual worlds, with all the types of services we have today!

 

Thanks Lars. Before we head off we wanted to let you know that 3D Creator has just received a festive update adding Christmas costumes so you can now see what you’d look like in a Santa or reindeer outfit. Superb. Find out more about 3D Creator over at sonymobile.com.

 

The 3D Creator festive update. Two thumbs up from us.

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Meet The Makers: The Colour, Material and Finish Team

In our Meet The Makers series, we’ve met a whole host of the Sony Mobile tech team who work on what’s going on inside our devices. Now, we thought it was about time we focused our attention on the wonderful creative team in charge of making the outside each handset look oh so good. This week, we chat to Art Director and colour guru, Kaoru Murai to find out the exact process that goes into deciding the perfect hue for you.

 

Tell us a little about your role at Sony Mobile?

I am in charge of the overall direction of CMF (colour, material, and finish) design for Sony Mobile products.

How do you and the team choose the colours for each handset? Can you run us through the process? 

We start by creating a CMF concept based on the target user and then those in charge of product design examine what the colour possibilities might be. After that, members of the team discuss and debate before selecting the best option, but more often than not we give priority to the designer’s recommendation and go with the colours he or she has proposed.

Do you test them with consumers before they are released? If so, how? 

Yes, we test them. We research preferences among the colour options we are considering in each market, and we use these findings as reference material when choosing colours.

Which colour is the most popular? 

For recent models, blue has been popular (e.g., Forest Blue for Xperia XZ, Ice Blue for Xperia XZs, and Moonlit Blue for Xperia XZ1).

Pick a colour, any colour.

How have colour trends changed in smartphones over the last 15 years?

The smartphone market was initially dominated by achromatic tones like black and silver, but then we were one of the first to introduce pink and other chromatic colours that hadn’t been used before, changing colour trends for smartphones. From there, we developed the purple for which Xperia is now known. More recently, as the smartphone has become an increasingly integral part of people’s lives all over the world, we are trending toward calm, soothing tones that blend naturally with people’s lifestyles.

Xperia smartphones. Pretty in Pink.

How does colour vary globally – do certain shades do better in certain countries?

With regard to neutral tones, silver is preferred in Europe, while consumers in Japan tend to like white.

What is the wildest colour you have tried to release a phone in?

That would be the chrome finish for the XZ Premium. That sort of mirror-like quality is now common in smartphone design, but at the time we developed that model, it was very unusual to give a smartphone a reflective quality. When we first created the chrome finish it felt really striking and bold as it had never been done before, but actually it fits in really well with everyday life as it blends into the space around us.

 

For more information on our smartphones, including all colours available, head to sonymobile.com 

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Holiday season comes early with Xperia Store deals

Worried that Black Friday came and went too quickly and you missed out on the perfect gift for your loved one?

Fear not, here at Sony Mobile we’ve got you covered. From today and throughout December we’ll be bringing you deals of up to 50% off across a range of Xperia accessories just in time for the festive season.

So whether you’re looking for a treat for yourself or a gift, check out our Xperia Store to see what we’ve got on offer.

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Tested: PlayLink, the smartphone-controlled PlayStation® range

Like PlayStation? Like smartphones? Playlink might be just the thing you’re looking for.

Announced back at E3 PlayLink is a range of PS4 exclusives that does away with the DualShock controller and replaces it with a smart device e.g. your Xperia smartphone or tablet.

We headed down to PlayStation’s exclusive Christmas event, grabbed an Xperia XZ1, and got our hands on a few of the games.

Knowledge is Power

This family-friendly quiz game would be good for keeping families entertained over Christmas. Players each select a character, take a selfie, and begin. Each round consists of choosing a category and then answering questions. Straightforward enough, butyou can scupper your opponents by using various power ups to freeze their answers or cover them in goo. The whole game takes place in a super-shiny gameshow world which you are guided through by a host with potentially the most extraordinary quiff in video games.

Hidden Agenda

PlayLink isn’t all about party games. Hidden Agenda is a gritty crime thriller from the makers of Until Dawn. Playing like an interactive movie, players vote on choices as they search for a serial killer known as The Trapper. Playing on a phone throws up an interesting twist; players are periodically sent a secret ‘hidden agenda’ which only they can see and leads to some seriously sneaky behavior. The whole game is around 2-3 hours long so makes a good alternative to a Saturday night movie session.

Frantics

Frantics is a compilation of increasingly daft minigames making it a great one to play with kids. Within ten minutes of playing we were firing our characters out of canons and trying not to slide off a disappearing block of ice. Did we mention the whole thing is hosted by a brandy-swilling, suit-wearing fox with dodgy stubble? Superb.

That’s You!

Another quiz game but with a difference – the questions are all about you and your mates. Once everyone has taken a ridiculous selfie, the game asks various questions like ‘who would fall in love on a first date?’ or ‘in art class…who would eat the glue’. You answer by swiping on the photo of the player you think it is with plenty of banter as the answers are revealed. “That’s You” is the kind of game that you could never really play using a typical gaming controller, with dedicated rounds that require players to draw each other as lumberjacks, elves, fairies and more, always with hilarious/terrible results.

Erica

Only recently announced at Paris Games Week, Erica blew us away and felt like the next step in the interactive drama genre. The whole thing plays out with live action cinematics so really feels like you’re playing a movie. Here, the smartphone controls deliver a real level of immersion. In one scene Erica, the character you control, begins to cry and you can swipe the screen to wipe away a tear. The whole demo was shrouded in mystery but for fans of interactive drama this is certainly one to watch.

We played these titles on the Xperia XZ1 which boasts a 5.2” HDR-enabled display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, and 13MP front camera for taking those all-important selfies.

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Black Friday 2017: The best Sony Mobile deals

The sale is on as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the calendar year, returns.

Here at Sony we’re bringing you the best mobile deals with up to 50% off from today until 27th November.

With great offers on the Xperia XZ1 and a range of headsets there’s something for everyone, whether treating yourself or just stocking up on Christmas presents.

Visit the Xperia Store for the deals now.

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The Journey of an Android Software Rollout

Besides new smartphone announcements, the most-read articles here on our blog are those that include info on all things Android. We’re Xperia users ourselves (obviously) and know how exciting it is to have a shiny new version of Android breathe new life into your device.

Whilst we’ve made positive strides over the past couple of years in developing and bringing upgrades and firmware to market in a timely fashion, we also read the comments and Tweets and understand that the wait between Google announcing a new version and actually getting the notification can sometimes take a while – particularly given the number of devices, partners and countries often in play. To help explain the process, we’ve rustled up the below infographic showing how Android software moves from Google, to Sony Mobile, to Xperia users out in the real world.

And in case you missed it, we recently announced that Android 8.0 Oreo is now rolling out to XZ Premium and Android 7.1.1 is hitting Xperia Touch. Hurrah!

 

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The best HDR content to watch on Netflix

Stranger Things season two has finally launched on Netflix, and here at Sony we couldn’t be more pumped to find out what happens next to Eleven and the gang. However, our excitement goes a little deeper, as not only do we know it’s a top programme, but it’s also available in jaw-dropping HDR quality. Here’s a roundup of other amazing shows Netflix offers in HDR, happy watching! (N.B. No spoilers, we promise)

Stranger Things

Following the disappearance of neighbourhood boy, Will, and the appearance of a psychokinetic girl called Eleven, the town of Hawkins begins to notice strange goings on, which all seem to link back to the nearby United States Energy Department. The science fiction-horror series produced by the Duffer Brothers, has won an avalanche of awards since launch, so if you haven’t watched it yet you’re probably living under a rock. The long-anticipated second series was released on 27th October of this year, and consists of 9 nail-biting episodes. 

Chef’s Table

Chef’s Table follows the lives of world-renowned international chefs giving unique insight into their culinary inspiration. Diving deep into the kitchen, the series features legends such as Francis Melman, Massimo Bottura and Dan Barber among others across three series. One word of advice, don’t watch it when you’re hungry.

Girl Boss

Loosely based on the success story of fashion brand, Nasty Girl, Girl Boss is the story of Sophia Amoruso going from rags to riches as she starts her own fashion house. Sophia is a misfit who can barely hold down a job, so decides to create an online e-Bay shop, buying and selling beautiful vintage clothing. The series combines friendship, love and the quirks and catastrophes of young Sophia’s life. It’s an addictive watch with a kick-ass soundtrack.

The OA

The OA is about a young woman who resurfaces after going missing for many years. Previously blind, she reappears with her sight back, and refuses to tell the FBI and her parents where she has been, instead confiding in a small group of high school students to whom she reveals her story. She asks for their help in her quest to help the other children who suffered the same fate, claiming a portal into an alternate world is the only way to rescue them…

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