Posts with «author_name|kris naudus» label

The best mobile gaming controllers you can buy

Mobile gaming is serious business now. The biggest titles out there are games like Fortnite and Genshin Impact, helped along by legions of kids getting their first smartphone. Lots of game publishers are putting out console-quality experiences on mobile, and it’s taken time for gaming accessories to catch up. But they have, and now players have a number of controller options to suit their play style. We’ve sorted through the leading options to highlight the pros and cons of each, so you can decide which one is the best for getting your game on (the go).

For players who prefer PlayStation-style controllers: 8BitDo Pro 2

Kris Naudus / Engadget

8BitDo has built itself a reputation for versatile gamepads that can work with multiple systems, from the Nintendo Switch to the Raspberry Pi. And while the Pro 2 is one of our top controllers for the Switch, it's also a pretty great option for Android and iOS as well. The advantage to using these with your phone is also the free 8BitDo software that gives you extensive customization options for the buttons; it even has more options than you’ll find on Nintendo’s system. Of course, being a Bluetooth gamepad means it’s easy enough to jump back and forth, making this a good investment for people who own multiple portable devices (like a Switch).

Pros: PlayStation-like design is comfortable; configuration software is robust; controller is available in multiple colors

Cons: Not small and would be best carried around in a case

Buy 8BitDo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

For players who like Xbox-style controllers: SteelSeries Nimbus+ and Stratus+

Kris Naudus / Engadget

While the PlayStation’s DualShock design has gained its share of devotees over the years, the Xbox gamepad is the stereotypical image of the gamepad in many people’s minds (as well as the Discord logo). So it makes sense that there are a lot more mobile gaming options with that shape, and the best ones come from SteelSeries: the Nimbus+ for Apple-made devices and the Stratus+ for Google-based devices (Android and Chromebook).

The two controllers are, for the most part, identical. They have shoulder buttons and triggers, the d-pad is the same, and they both include sturdy phone mounts for attaching your device at the top — the type that clamps in place automatically. Unlike a clamp from a more generic company, the one SteelSeries provides with both controllers won’t fight you during the process of mounting your phone.

Pros: More players are likely to be familiar with Xbox-style controllers; both models include sturdy clamps for clipping your phone to the controller.

Cons: You have to buy a different controller based on what OS you’re using; the controller with the clamp attached is unwieldy

Buy Nimbus+ at Amazon - $70Buy Stratus+ at SteelSeries - $60

For players who want to turn their Android phone into a Switch or Steam Deck-like device: Razer Kishi

Kris Naudus / Engadget

Let’s be honest, the form factor is a big reason that devices like the Switch are so popular. They’re comfortable to hold, well-balanced and really put the screen front and center. You don’t really get that with a phone clamp or table stand. Luckily, Razer’s Kishi is a super affordable option that’s easy to slide your phone into — though the setup admittedly wasn’t as quick for me as the SteelSeries options. But at least the direct connection it forms with the phone using USB-C is faster than Bluetooth.

The Kishi’s biggest advantages — besides Razer’s high-end build quality — are its passthrough charging, so you never need to detach it to charge your phone, and the size it folds down to when you do take it off your device. It’s smaller than the SteelSeries controllers, making it ideal for throwing into a small bag.

Pros: Provides a direct connection to a phone instead of relying on Bluetooth; folds up compactly when not in use

Cons: Phone with Kishi attached may feel bulky; doesn’t work with iPhones

Buy Razer Kishi at Amazon - $90

For players who want to turn their iPhone into a handheld console: Backbone One

Kris Naudus / Engadget

The USB-C port on the Kishi restricts it to Android devices, and Razer doesn’t make an iOS equivalent. However, the new Backbone One is made for Apple devices, though at a higher cost (due to being newer and from a smaller company). My colleague Mat Smith was a big fan of the One when he tried it, and in my own use it has a few advantages over the Razer device, namely a cleaner design and a more sweat-friendly matte texture. It also features Apple-specific buttons, ones that are much bigger and thus easier to hit than the ones on the Kishi.

Pros: Nice matte finish; specifically made for iPhone users

Cons: Expensive; only works with iPhones

Buy Backbone One at Amazon - $100

For players who want the most portable controller possible (or the cutest): 8BitDo Zero 2

Kris Naudus / Engadget

If you have big hands, the 8BitDo Zero 2 is definitely not for you, and your hands will likely cramp if you spend too long playing with this diminutive Bluetooth controller. But for everyone else, it’s definitely worth a look, if only because it’s so small there’s no reason to keep it on you at all times in case of an emergency. Not that we could tell you what constitutes a gaming emergency, but if one does come up you’ll be glad to have this on hand. It truly is keychain-sized, so you can clip it on your backpack or slide it into a Switch carrying case with ease. And we love the bright colors, which are based on the Switch Lite design and should blend in with your spring and summertime apparel.

Pros: Cute and tiny; comes with a strap for attaching to a bag

Cons: Too small for gamers with big hands

Buy 8BitDo Zero 2 at Amazon - $20

'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ says the quiet part out loud

The following contains spoilers for the premiere episode of ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Today Strange New Worlds makes its debut on Paramount+, the long-awaited third live action series in the new Kurtzman-era. But, while Discovery carried the burden of being the first Star Trek show in 12 years and Picard saw the return of a beloved character after 17 years, Strange New Worlds is dealing with a more recent problem: It’s been billed by cast and crew alike as an answer to fan complaints about this new era of Trek, specifically as a return to more episodic storytelling. But, with its series premiere the show also felt the need to fire another shot across the bow to fans: a return to “message” Trek.

Star Trek, from the beginning, has always been imbued with Gene Roddenbury’s humanist philosophy. The original series was meant to depict a universe where all the nations and races of Earth had worked out their differences and traveled to the stars to meet other sentient species and overcome their differences with those groups. Many of the Enterprise’s adventures with alien species were often unsubtle allegories for real-world issues. For example (and most memorably), “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” wherein two warring members of the same species hate each other due to the color configuration of their faces — black on the right side, or black on the left side (they looked a lot like a black and white cookie, if you’ve ever eaten one of these New York classics).

Marni Grossman/Paramount+

The followup shows would tackle other issues in their own ways, from The Next Generation handling issues of drug addiction (badly), gender identity (also kind of badly) and basic civil rights (those were actually pretty good). Deep Space Nine can claim one of the best episodes of the entire franchise with “Far Beyond the Stars,” in which Captain Sisko experiences visions that place him in the shoes of a Black science fiction writer trying to tackle the racial injustices of the early 20th century.

That particular episode of Deep Space Nine is not just meaningful in what it has to say about race, but in the role of science fiction as a way to explore social issues and address injustices. There’s a quote from Stargate SG-1 (yeah, the other-other “Star” franchise) that I often go back to: “Science fiction is an existential metaphor that allows us to tell stories about the human condition.” That is, we can take real-world issues and bury them under fanciful elements such that we can portray them without immediately sending up someone’s hackles, then comment on them with the caveat, “this is just a ‘what if,’ after all; it’s not real.” It’s not real, but it makes you think. Science fiction is the storytelling equivalent of hiding your dog’s pills inside a treat.

Marni Grossman/Paramount+

However, Discovery and Picard have largely stayed away from “message” storytelling, choosing largely to focus on long-term character exploration over a long serialized story. If the shows chose to make any broad statements, it was by the mere presence of marginalized groups and integrating them into the universe: Discovery is the first show led by a Black female captain, with many of its main and recurring characters existing on the queer spectrum. Seven and Raffi are a couple on Picard, and Lower Decks even has an asexual character. But the shows for the most part, have shied away from overt messaging, even if wrapped in a science fiction coating.

Strange New Worlds upends that trend in its first episode, where Pike is sent to right a first contact mission gone wrong. For those unfamiliar with the trope, the Federation always reaches out to races developing warp engine technology for the first time, to catch them before they blunder out into trouble in outer space. It’s a fairly standard Star Trek plot, one that makes for a good standalone adventure to kick off a program that’s been billed as an “episodic” show. First contact episodes are good because both the characters and audience are meeting an alien species for the first time at the same time, so there’s no backstory to explain, nor are they expected to follow up (other ships have the task of continuing diplomatic relations, as seen in Lower Decks).

CBS

But in this case, the development of warp on the planet was not natural; instead the planet is not far from the events of Discovery at the end of season two and was witness to sights and readings that led them to build a warp device… as a bomb. While Starfleet protocol would dictate that the planet should just be allowed to blow themselves up, Pike decides to take responsibility instead, stepping in and delivering a message along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still, though less “we’ll blow you up” and more “don’t do this to yourselves.” There’s an entire speech about how Earth went through the same kind of struggles, and this is where the message stops being allegorical as Pike specifically shows footage of January 6th, 2021.

It’s rare for Star Trek to directly acknowledge the present day in its storytelling, partly because that facet of continuity is a mess (the worldwide Eugenics Wars were originally supposed to take place in the ‘90s, for example) but mostly because it violates the whole “science fiction as metaphor” principle. When the show specifically points at something you personally know, something you’re almost sure to have an opinion on, it’s easy to feel like it’s turned against you when your opinions don’t align. Even if they do line up, people don’t particularly like being lectured. So for a show that’s trying to win back fans that seem to have turned away from this new era of Trek, it’s a weird path of Strange New Worlds to take.

CBS

But, between this and the season four finale of Discovery and its Stacey Abrams cameo, it seems that Star Trek has no interest in being metaphorical anymore; too many people are missing the point. There are those on the internet that love to complain about “woke” Trek even though the show has always addressed racism, sexism, gender identity, drug addiction, religious belief, terrorism, persecution of minorities, slavery, colonialism, environmentalism… the list goes on. Many of these situations weren’t even that subtle. And, despite insistences to the contrary, Starfleet is a military organization. The Federation is a government. Almost everything they do is political by definition. But that seems to have escaped many viewers, forcing the franchise to drag the real world in to make its point.

'Star Trek: Picard' could only exist on a streaming service

The following contains mild spoilers for the finale episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ season two.

Picard has always been an outlier in the Star Trek franchise. It’s not a show about a particular ship and its crew; the title indicates that at its heart, it’s about this one character and any unresolved issues he may have had with his life. It hasn’t been the most compelling premise, and its output so far has been divisive among fans. But as the series finishes up its second year and rolls into its third and final season, its ultimate purpose has become more clear, a purpose that wouldn’t have worked for a broadcast show but fits right in with the more intimate confines of a streaming service.

In its first two seasons, Picard has felt rather directionless. Season one was about artificial life, while season two decided to delve into time travel and emotional trauma. It may be a serialized program, but the plotlines and tone have gone all over the place (mostly notably in “Stardust City Rag,” which starts off with a gory torture scene but by the halfway mark the crew is all wearing silly disguises). But between the departures of cast members at the end of season two and the announcement that The Next Generation crew would be appearing in the series in its last season, however, a clear pathway for the program seems to have emerged from the fog.

CBS

The final TNG movie (Nemesis) is generally considered to be awful, with a weak nonsensical plot, some out-of-character moments and just a bad sendoff for fan favorite characters like Data. Picard has sought to heal some of those wounds by giving Data a proper death, Troi and Riker a proper family, and Jean-Luc himself some needed character growth. That last one was a particular sticking point since the finale of the show, “All Good Things,” ended with a message that Picard needs to grow as a person. And then in the films… he just didn’t.

It’s hard to imagine creating a network television show just to fix some problems with a series of films made twenty years ago, which is why Picard is most definitely a product of the streaming model. I’ve talked before how streaming affects the creative development of shows in both good and bad ways. A streaming program is given a full season order before it starts, meaning that creators know they have at least six or 10 or 13 episodes to play with. It’s a big part of why serialized storytelling is even possible, since showrunners no longer fear being cut off in the middle of an ongoing story (like the recently canceled Legends of Tomorrow on the CW, which ended on a big cliffhanger).

CBS

There are also some drawbacks, to be sure; without audience feedback, it means a creator can’t fine-tune a show as it goes along. They can’t make changes at all until the new season starts production. And if the show hasn’t been renewed for another season, they can’t seed plot points in the current season and be sure they’ll pay off. At least with broadcast shows, they may hear of their renewal while still in production, allowing them to add in some hook for the next season.

But as I said, Picard doesn’t have to worry about any of this. The show was intended to be three seasons and no more, and they’ve already shot the entire thing. Many lapsed fans have publicly stated they intend to jump on board merely for the presence of their TNG faves, meaning Paramount+’s streaming strategy does seem to be working in this case.

CBS

And it’s because the show has such a limited life span, because it’s ending up to be less a tentpole than it is a nice little coda for long-time fans, I find it easier to make peace with the show’s existence. Like many viewers I’ve had problems with Picard, some I’ve written about. The same goes for Discovery. But as the Star Trek universe expands and more options become available, each show has a lot less weight to carry.

They no longer have to try to meet every expectation; instead fans have a fuller menu to choose from. Discovery can be for those who like a quirkier Trek with a progressive cast, Picard is for TNG diehards, Lower Decks is for fans who like the sillier aspects of the franchise, Prodigy is for kids and Strange New Worlds is trying to be an old-fashioned-style Trek for fans who literally hated everything else on this list. And I don’t think any of this would have been possible without the streaming model. There may be too many shows to keep up with, but at least it’s easier to find something that fits your unique taste. Whether the growth of streaming is sustainable is yet to be seen (RIP CNN+) but for now, we can enjoy the plethora of options at the buffet.

The best gaming gear for graduates

Just because they’re out of college doesn’t mean that the grads in your life won’t have time for gaming – it’s a great way to blow off steam after a hard day at work, or after a particularly grueling job search. But now that they’re older they could definitely up their accessories game a bit, so we’ve rounded up some of our favorite gaming items that will upgrade their experience, and a few hot titles that will give them plenty to do this and talk about this summer.

8BitDo Pro 2

8BitDo

Your grad is fully out in the adult world now, so they really deserve a pro-level controller for their gaming activities — particularly one that’s flexible for all their needs, be it mobile or console gaming. 8BitDo makes a number of great solutions, but the one that we’d recommend above all else is the Pro 2. This PlayStation-styled controller is super comfortable to hold, pairs easily via Bluetooth and is compatible with a wide range of devices, from Windows and macOS machines to Android devices to the Nintendo Switch. If your grad is a tinkerer, the Pro 2 will even work with the Raspberry Pi. This is truly the Swiss Army knife of game controllers.

Buy 8BitDo Pro 2 at Amazon - $50

Logitech G435

Engadget

A headset is a must-have if you want the best game audio, but being tethered to a computer or console is not so much fun. Neither is the selection of colors available for most headsets, unless you’re a big fan of red and black all the time. Luckily, Logitech has this stylish wireless headset for around $80. The G435 connects to a computer via a Logitech Lightspeed dongle so your gamer won’t have to worry about Bluetooth lag or an unreliable connection. As for looks, it comes in cheery colors like blue or lilac, and the padded ear cups and headband will keep a head cool while not mussing up their hair.

Buy Logitech G435 at Amazon - $80

Elgato Stream Deck Mini

Elgato

If your grad is thinking about a career in streaming, they’re going to need the proper equipment to get started. It’s best to start out small, and the Stream Deck Mini is a nice, affordable way to dip their toe in the water. The Deck’s six buttons give budding streamers one-touch access to popular functions like lighting, audio and emotes. And it’s super easy to set up — just drop and drag in the software. Becoming a famous streamer can be a lot of work, and the Stream Deck just makes it a bit easier to handle.

Buy Stream Deck Mini at Amazon - $80

Logitech Litra Glow

Logitech

Another key item to a successful streaming career is the lighting. After all, someone can’t be an on-camera personality if you can’t see them on camera. But ring lights can be expensive, unwieldy or just hard to set up. Logitech makes all those problems go away with its Litra Glow streaming light. This compact light can clip on the top of a laptop for on-the-go streaming while also providing soft all-over illumination — no telltale rings in your grad’s eyes when they stream.

Buy Litra Glow at Amazon - $60

Timbuk2 CS03 Crossbody Sling

Timbuk2

No more classes means your grad can slim down in the backpack department. But if they’re a gamer they’re still going to need something with lots of pockets to store cables and cards. Gaming accessory maker SteelSeries and shoulder bag company Timbuk2 have collaborated on a pair of bags made for the gaming lifestyle, and the smaller CS03 is perfect for carrying around a Nintendo Switch, headphones and other mobile gaming accessories. This crossbody bag may remind you of a fanny pack, but it has way more pockets for cords and game cards, and a padded lining to keep delicate LCD screens safe from scratches.

Buy Timbuk2 CS03 crossbody at Amazon - $80

SteelSeries Rival 5 Gaming Mouse

SteelSeries

Gaming mice are great for a lot more than just gaming — they’re great for school and work, so if your grad doesn’t already have one, why not upgrade them to the versatile Rival 5? Its curved shape feels great in the hand and the customizable lighting isn’t too flashy so it works for both home and office. Players will appreciate the array of nine programmable buttons that fit all genres of gaming, including popular titles like Fortnite and Genshin Impact to deeper strategy experiences like the Civilization series.

Buy Rival 5 mouse at Amazon - $60

Razer Huntsman Mini

Razer

Your gamer shouldn’t have to settle for the keyboard that came with their laptop. They shouldn’t have to settle for anything less than a premium mechanical keyboard, and you don’t have to break the bank to get them one. The Huntsman Mini is a small 60 percent deck with optical switches. That’s not word salad – this just means it’s a smaller keyboard without a number pad or arrows, and it uses lasers under each key for a super fast response time. It’s a great keyboard to have in a gaming arsenal for travel purposes, but it’s good enough that gamers might make it a full-time accessory.

Buy Huntsman Mini at Amazon - $120

Video games

Pokémon Arceus Legends

Nintendo

With the school year over and done with, grads have a bit of time on their hands, so why not give them a game to kick back and relax with when they’re not searching for a job? Players who grew up with the Pokémon franchise will appreciate this fresh take on the world, with action-oriented gameplay and a storyline that takes place in the distant past of the Sinnoh region from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Even if they haven’t played a Pokémon game before, Legends can make a good entry point to the franchise that will get them ready for this fall’s new generation of creatures in Scarlet and Violet.

Buy Pokémon Arceus Legends at Amazon - $60

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Nintendo

Kirby titles have gotten a lot easier over the years, but Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a game for the old-school gamers who like more of a challenge. This epic title has Kirby exploring a post-apocalyptic world, battling enemies and gaining new abilities. If your grad has ever wondered if Kirby could eat a car, this is the Switch game to get them. Fans are even calling it the best Kirby game since the ‘90s, so it’s sure to keep your loved one busy over the summer.

Buy Kirby and the Forgotten Land at Amazon - $60

Elden Ring

FromSoftware

Your grad has probably been super busy this year so far, studying for finals and getting ready for graduation. So it’s likely they haven’t dipped their toe into the massive, immersive experience that is Elden Ring. This epic title can be brutally difficult with a big learning curve, which makes it less for casual gamers than for those players who have a lot of time on their hands… like someone just out of school. Soon enough they’ll be slammed with job offers, so give them this soon-to-be-classic while they can fully enjoy it.

Buy Elden Ring at Amazon - $60

  

Razer’s new soundbar makes your desk a home theater

Razer has increasingly gone from a specialized gaming accessory maker to more of a lifestyle brand. In addition to keyboards, mice, headsets and controllers, you can buy chairs, backpacks and even a wearable air purifier. But with this recent expansion into various aspects of the “gamer lifestyle,” there’s always been one obvious omission: home theater. Namely, speakers — an absence that’s especially annoying given that Razer released a soundbar way back in 2014. Now, the company’s back in that space with its new souped-up $250 Leviathan V2.

The original Leviathan was a small 5.1 Dolby Digital soundbar with 5.1 channels: two full-range drivers, two tweeters and a subwoofer. The somewhat diminutive V2 ups the ante with THX spatial audio and 7.1 channels. That’s two full-range drivers, two passive radiators, two tweeters and a downward subwoofer. The Bluetooth has been appropriately upgraded from v4.0 to 5.2, and it’s even easier to switch between multiple devices. In fact, in my hands-on time with the speaker it was basically seamless, only requiring the touch of a button.

Razer

The most noticeable change to the Leviathan is the addition of Chroma RGB lighting, so the soundbar’s look can be made to match the rest of a user’s Razer setup using the same software as its keyboards, headsets and mice. The nice thing about it is that the device itself isn’t adorned with a glowing logo or edges; the colors are restricted to underneath the speaker so it’s more like mood lighting.

The big thing about the Leviathan V2 is the spatial audio, which makes it possible for gamers to track movement by listening for it, something that headsets do well and soundbars usually can’t. But many players don’t like wearing headsets, and for a number of reasons — maybe they find headsets uncomfortable no matter how much padding the manufacturer adds, or maybe they prefer keeping their ears free so they can listen for real-world sounds like the doorbell or a baby crying.

Kris Naudus / Engadget

Razer also acknowledges that people are generally spending a lot more time in front of their computers, even watching their favorite TV shows and movies on a monitor but not having the sound system to back it up. And that’s where I noticed the most difference with the Leviathan V2. I got to watch some game footage and a few movie trailers with it, which was nice and loud with booming bass. It certainly made the idea of making my computer a home entertainment hub a lot more appealing, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it at home so I can give it a more comprehensive run-through with my preferred PC titles and find out if it really is a better way to game.

Star Trek: Picard's unraveling continuity is the result of operator error

The following contains moderate spoilers for the fourth episode of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ season two.

Continuity is something that comes up in geek media a lot, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Star Wars to DC’s TV Arrowverse. It used to be a thing only hardcore nerds really cared about, but now it’s gone mainstream, with fans of all stripes cheering at callbacks and pointing out inconsistencies. Star Trek was probably the first major example of an interconnected universe that most people were aware of, but as the franchise continues to grow, with at least five shows in active production and more on the way, is consistent continuity something it can keep up with?

Out of all the current shows, Star Trek: Picard probably has the strongest ties to continuity right now. It’s billed as a direct sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation and follows the adventures of Jean-Luc Picard 20 years after we saw him and the Enterprise-E crew in Nemesis. Season one found him a broken man, after a devastating attack on Mars and the banning of synthetic life. This storyline actually made a good follow-up to the events of The Next Generation, in which the rights of an artificial being like Data were constantly being called into question.

CBS

Season two so far has decided to focus on the relationship between Q and Picard, with the omnipotent being thrusting the old admiral into an alternate reality similar to, but not identical to, the twisted mirror universe where everyone is evil. In this reality Picard is an admired general in a genocidal empire. He makes the decision to travel back in time to the point of divergence with the reality he knows, a common Star Trek plot device.

It’s common enough that the episode makes two references to at least two other previous time travel adventures in the franchise: Seven and Raffi encounter a punk on a bus with a boombox blasting the song “I Hate You” at top volume, a recreation of a scene from The Voyage Home (even featuring the same punk), and later they find that their colleague Rios is being taken to a “Sanctuary District,” a concept first introduced in the Deep Space Nine two-parter “Past Tense.”

CBS

And yet, there’s an entire plot line that involves Picard heading to a set of coordinates only to arrive at 10 Forward Street, the location of Guinan’s bar in the season premiere. Picard even laughs when he sees the street sign, showing that even he’s aware of the amusing similarity to the name of Guinan’s bar on the Enterprise-D. Star Trek is no stranger to coincidences, though the next scene makes me wonder if the writers were aware that Guinan’s bar is called 10 Forward because it was at the very front of deck 10.

Even though it is 2024, Guinan does in fact happen to be there, though she’s closing up shop. But instead of a happy reunion between the two, this version of Guinan doesn’t recognize him at all. This doesn’t seem to perturb Picard in the slightest — he even withholds his name and where he really comes from so as to not disturb the timeline.

Long-time Trek viewers will immediately see the problem with this, namely in that another time travel adventure, the TNG two-parter “Time Arrow,” Picard met Guinan in the 19th century. He saved her life, even. And that adventure was actually an answer to a long-standing question on the show: How did the two become friends without ever meeting before she stepped foot on the Enterprise-D in season two of TNG? Guinan once said their relationship was “beyond friendship, beyond family” and while the whole adventure might not have been the ideal solution that fans wanted, it was good enough at the time.

So, when Picard walks into 10 Forward Street, it seems like the perfect opportunity to deepen the connection between the two characters further. Reunited after 131 years! It’s a level of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” that Doctor Who is known for and has managed to make work, in particular when establishing the relationship between the Doctor and River Song. If the connection between Guinan and Picard is “more than friendship, more than family” there’s room for another adventure between the two to establish why they care for each other so deeply.

CBS

Instead, it’s like they’re meeting again for the first time. This Guinan is jaded, almost angry at the state of Earth, which is why she’s leaving now. It seems uncharacteristically bitter for her, who is usually a caring, curious person. And, while Picard feels like he can’t reveal details about the future to her, he does feel like he has to convince her not to leave Earth.

But… why? Long-time fans know that at some point she returns to her homeworld, only to become a refugee when the planet is attacked by (presumably) the Borg. And when we saw her in “Time’s Arrow,” she was merely visiting, and was unlikely to stay long lest her mother show up to come collect her. It doesn’t really track that she would have hung out another 131 years, even going so far as to open a business or have a dog.

CBS

I previously argued that there’s a point where it becomes unrealistic to expect fans to keep up with every bit of continuity. There are almost 30 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and days worth of TV shows to match. And it’s impractical to expect a new Star Trek writer to watch 800-plus episodes of old Trek before they’re allowed to write a single word of script.

But to watch at least a few episodes of the show relevant to the current storyline? That’s not a huge ask, especially in a world where everything is available via streaming. We’re long past the days of the BBC erasing the tapes of Doctor Who or the original prints of films like Star Wars disappearing into the void. And no longer are TV show archives locked away in corporate storage facilities or stacked in basements of hardcore collectors. Just a few clicks on Paramount+, and any episode of any Star Trek series can be pulled up on demand. Which includes “Time’s Arrow.”

CBS

But it’s even understandable that under a time crunch, perhaps the writers couldn’t watch every episode with Guinan. But even then the excuses are thin, since the writers could do what I did before writing this post: Google it. Pull up Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha, punch in “Guinan” and skim through the entry to get a full list of her appearances. There’s even a section specifically about Picard and Guinan’s friendship, which would have alerted any reader to the existence of the “Time’s Arrow” two-parter, even if the writers for whatever reason had never heard of it.

With 56 years of history and most of the writers born after the original series — and newer shows even employing people born after The Next Generation — they can’t be expected to know everything. But even as everything becomes “available forever,” there are people who’ve made it their jobs to sort through all of it and keep track of every little detail. Some writers argue that continuity can be stifling, and the jury’s still out on how much it matters, but in the case of Guinan and Picard the appeal is the characters’ shared history. A shared history that isn’t hard to look up on today’s internet.

Astro’s new budget A10 headset is made for players who want to look cute on stream

In today’s world of Twitch and Zoom a good headset is becoming a must-have item for their comfort and audio quality. But there are two major stopping blocks toward them being an everyday item: their high cost and unfriendly designs. No one wants to look like an air traffic controller or call center employee, but at the other end it’s all severe black and neon green, more suited to Fortnite or Roblox than a meeting about your latest call about KPIs and OKRs. But Astro, one of the leading names in gaming headsets, might just have the solution with its new A10 headset.

The Logitech-owned company has an array of headsets with an “A” prefix followed by a number; the higher the number, the more advanced and expensive the headset. The current top of the line is the A50, a wireless set that comes with a base station for charging. It looks like a piece of equipment from a science fiction movie, and it costs $300.

Kris Naudus / Engadget

The new A10 sits at the opposite end of the lineup, a $60 wired headset that pretty much eschews all frills. There’s a flexible flip-to-mute mic and in-line volume control and that’s about it. The ear pads and headband are well-padded in a smooth cloth that is only lightly textured so it doesn’t catch on my hair when I slide it on and off. The mic has a rubbery feel to it, both to the touch but also in the way you can band it back and forth.

And it’s not just the mic you can bend back and forth; the band of the A10 can be twisted into a near spiral without showing any cracking or tearing. It’s designed to be dropped and thrown, which is good because I have knocked it off my desk several times today while working. (I have a messy workspace, okay?)

Kris Naudus / Engadget

Key to the new A10’s appeal is the color options; it comes in black, white, gray, mint and lilac. For my review unit I chose the latter color partly because of its novelty — most headsets come in grayscale tones — and because I already have Logitech’s G733 in lilac and wanted to do a direct comparison. The G733 is a more expensive ($150) wireless headset with lights on the front so it’s not really a competition in terms of features, but I was curious about the looks.

Though both Logitech G and Astro are sibling brands, the lilac shades of their headsets are distinctly different. The G733 is a bluish purple while the A10 is more on the pinkish side. I’m not sure which I actually prefer. The ear pads on the G733 are slightly better but when it comes to the headbands on the two sets the A10 is the clear winner, since the G733 uses a stretchy band which pulls at my hair and gives me a bit of a bird’s nest when I take it off.

Kris Naudus / Engadget

My biggest use case for headsets isn’t work calls but rather Dungeons & Dragons games with my friends over Twitch. In our last session I started off with the A10 since all I needed to do was plug it in; the headset comes with a detachable 3.5mm cable that is black and only black no matter which color headset you buy. It’s ugly. At first I actually plugged it in the wrong way; though both ends are the same width, they are slightly different lengths, the better for one end to fit in the jack on the headset itself. Once I got it sorted out the audio was serviceable, though there was some hollowness on the call that might have been shitty mic quality on my friends’ sides. However, I switched to the G733 midway through our evening and noticed some improvement.

Logitech G’s been making more fashion-forward headsets for a while; the closest analogue the company has to its sister brand’s A10 is the $70 G335. The G335 is largely identical to the G733 in terms of fit and feel; it just lacks the wireless capabilities and RGB lighting. It also doesn’t come in lilac, so if you’re looking for a cute, high-quality headset for under $100 in purple the A10 is your only option right now. Luckily it’s a good one.

SteelSeries made small but welcome improvements to its Android gamepad

Mobile gaming has been a huge thing for a decade now but it’s only recently that accessory makers like Razer and Logitech have taken it seriously, offering gaming headsets made especially for phones. On the controller front, however, SteelSeries has been ahead of the curve for some time, selling the Nimbus line of gamepads for Apple devices, and Stratus for Android and everything else. Today the latter gets a big upgrade with the addition of the $60 Nimbus+.

Kris Naudus / Engadget

At first glance it doesn’t seem like a big change for the gamepad; once again we’re looking at a matte black, Xbox-style controller. But this time around, the Nimbus comes with a phone grip in the box: no more buying a separate accessory. The clip is thin when folded, with two long metal prongs that you can push out to plug them into the top of the gamepad. It’s kind of satisfying to slide the clip and not difficult — which is good, because if you screw up you’re likely to scratch the finish on the gamepad, and the matte texture can only do so much to hide it.

In hand, the Nimbus+ is solid and doesn’t feel heavy, even with a phone attached to the top. The clip holds the phone securely, though placement is an issue since I have a Pixel 3, meaning the volume control sits midway on the right side, putting it right under where the clip would grip the phone. So yes, I ended up turning my volume down a lot if I wasn’t careful. That’s probably the hardest part of using the Nimbus+, since connecting via Bluetooth is super easy now.

Kris Naudus / Engadget

I fired up Brawlhalla on my device and started punching and kicking my way through levels. The buttons had satisfying bounce and were incredibly responsive; it’s always nice when the character does what they’re supposed to, especially in a fighting game where timing matters. Poor responsiveness is generally why I shy away from playing most action games on a touchscreen.

Which gets to the bigger question of whether I actually need something like the Nimbus+. I play games on my phone, sure, but it’s usually the kind of stuff I can play one-handed and that doesn’t require a lot of nimble finger work. (I had to download Brawlhalla for testing.) But at least for PC gaming it’s a solid option if you prefer Xbox-style wireless controllers.

'Discovery' fully clicks into the philosophy of Star Trek with its fourth season finale

The following contains minor spoilers for season four, episode 14 of 'Star Trek: Discovery.'

Season four has been an interesting one for Star Trek: Discovery. The show finally embraced a more episodic format, only to slide back into an ongoing storyline in the back half of the season. But today’s finale once again promises a return to the things that make Star Trek, well, Star Trek. And, while Discovery also made those promises at the end of last season, there’s more reason to believe that this time the changes will stick.

It starts with the fact that while the major threat this season began as a spatial anomaly (known as the Dark Matter Anomaly, or “DMA”), it was discovered to be merely a harvesting tool used by a previously unknown species, one the Federation calls the 10C. It may have seemed harmless to the 10C in its role as farmers, but the Federation found itself in the role of a rabbit in front of a plow. The DMA destroyed Kwejian; both Ni’Var (née Vulcan) and Earth were next.

CBS

In previous seasons this would have shifted Starfleet into action hero mode, and some characters did advocate for a more assertive and violent approach. But instead of merely jumping into the fray we got lots of… arguing. This may not sound exciting, but it’s always been one of the things Star Trek does best: people discussing conflicting ideas. Some advocated for a peaceful solution and that was ultimately the course decided upon, since it was closest to the Federation ethos of peace and exploration. In other series this might seem like a terrible idea, but Trek is supposed to be, in theory, a utopia. This kind of thinking is one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

There are those who disagree, spearheaded by Cleveland Booker and Ruon Tarka. But while their actions turn them into antagonists, they don’t become villains. We’ve seen this in previous shows like The Next Generation and Voyager, where terrorists like the Maquis were treated with empathy. In Discovery it’s even more at the forefront given Book’s status as a main character, but also the series’ ethos as the Star Trek show that’s all about feelings. While the show sometimes takes flak for all the crying, here the emotional elements feel well balanced, with everyone’s motives clearly articulated both to each other and to the audience. It’s easy to understand each character even if you disagree.

And understanding is the lynchpin of the plot here; the 10C are not carbon-based lifeforms and they don’t communicate like humanoids do. It’s a classic Star Trek problem, as seen in episodes like “Darmok” or “Amok Time.” So last week’s episode was dedicated to the crew and assorted ambassadors methodically working through mathematical and chemical solutions to build a working bridge language. They managed to establish to the 10C that there were problems with the DMA, opening up the door to further negotiation in this week’s episode.

“Coming Home” has a lot of meanings in the context of the actual episode. There’s the threat of the DMA heading toward Earth, there’s a number of scenes set in our solar system involving returning character Sylvia Tilly, and reconciliation between Michael Burnham and her lover Cleveland Booker, the person who grounds her in the 32nd century.

CBS

But there’s also meaning in that the episode is where Discovery finally reconciles itself as a Star Trek show, making its highest point of drama not the struggle to evacuate a doomed planet, or the attempts to stop Tarka’s plan, but the actual face-to-face (so to speak) discussion with the 10C. It’s nothing like the action-based approach of the Abrams films or even earlier seasons that dealt with war and time travel and evil sentient computers. It’s diplomacy. It’s a lot of talking, and sitting around and talking about feelings.

And some of those feelings are what you’d call… environmentally minded. It isn’t enough that the 10C merely stops destroying planets that house sentient life. The fact is, the DMA also creates pollution and that needs to be stopped as well. With Earth in immediate danger it seems like an unreasonable ask at the moment, but it’s also very much in the ethos of Star Trek to consider one’s general societal and galactic impact as well. The core of Star Trek is humanism and social justice, and so many classic episodes deal with issues of identity, civil rights, and environmental issues. Discovery has spent so much time dealing with one huge violent crisis after another that it hasn’t had time to do simpler humanist metaphors, and bringing that in at the end here seems to indicate a desire to deal with those issues more in upcoming seasons.

The entire denouement makes that promise: The Federation is growing in strength, the Discovery crew is taking some time off for themselves, and a very special guest toward the end seems to be the show making its politics clear to those segments of the audience who love to decry “woke Trek.” Star Trek has always been woke, but Discovery has only dipped its toe into the water in previous seasons. With its fifth season on the horizon, it’s ready to plunge fully in.

Toddlers can get their frag on with VTech’s baby gamer chair

Kids love to imitate the adults in their lives. That’s why you can find such odd items in the toy aisle as baby-sized irons, mops and vacuums. Now you can add more weirdo item to that list, one that has some members of the Engadget staff howling with laughter: A baby gamer chair. Yes, you read that right. Baby. Gamer. Chair.

VTech, long-time purveyor of kiddie tablets and educational toys is now selling a tiny gaming chair for budding streamers and future Fortnite players. The $50 Level Up Gaming Chair is a plastic simulacra of bigger leather seats made for adults, complete with slick black armrests and a molded back with two cut-out sections for air flow. However, instead of wheels, the chair rests on four boot-like blue feet, so your baby won’t be tipping over while they’re pretending to curse out other players on the included headset. The tiny non-functional headset even has a tiny non-functional mic to complete the look.

Because this is VTech after all, the Level Up Gaming Chair has some interactive electronic parts, namely a light-up keyboard that kids can play with to learn numbers and letters and even piano keys — which we admit, is actually a step up from traditional mechanical gaming keyboards. The keyboard console can be detached for on-the-go play, and the tray it normally rests on can be used for snack time as well so kids never have to leave their gaming throne when it goes on sale this fall. (We recommend pairing it with Fisher Price's Laugh and Learn Controller.)