Games, aggression, and attention, oh my—the evidence on digital media and minds

Uh... this is fine, right?

Uh… this is fine, right? (credit: Getty Images)

“Yesterday after I wrote to you, I had an attack of asthma,” Marcel Proust wrote to his mother in 1901. “[It] obliged me to walk all doubled up and light anti-asthma cigarettes at every tobacconist’s I passed.”

While that sounds a bit crazy by 2018 standards, Proust was far from alone: “Medicated cigarettes marketed for respiratory complaints continued to be endorsed, and smoked, by doctors until well after the Second World War,” writes medical historian Mark Jackson.

Of course, tobacco eventually joined the list of treacherous substances once thought to be healthy and subsequently discovered to be harmful, keeping excellent company alongside radium and mercury. It’s enough to make people constantly wonder what else might make it onto the list of friends turned foe. Could coffee be next? Processed meat?

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Pixel 3 XL review—Google software deserves better than this hardware

Ron Amadeo

The Pixel 3 has been one of the wildest product launches in recent memory. The leaks arrived early and continuously, starting with the screen protector leak all the way back in May. This not only gave us the basic outline of the phone, but it provided some extremely accurate renders, too, giving the Internet a look nearly five months before Google intended to ship. The initial response to the design was brutal, but it was too late—the Pixel 3 was already in the late stages of production. From there, leaks continued, and the launch lead-up felt like a slow-motion car crash. Dread it. Run from it. The Pixel 3 design arrives all the same.

It’s now year three of Google’s hardware initiative, and some product categories are clearly going better than others. The shining example of what Google Hardware should be is probably the Google Home brand.

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Luxury on a budget: The Lexus NX 300h hybrid reviewed

In 2005, Lexus became the first luxury carmaker to deliver a hybrid to market. The RX 400h was an all-wheel drive 3.3-liter V6 with a pair of electric motors, one for each set of wheels. Lexus had the luxury hybrid market to itself for several years, so if you wanted a luxury ride with a side of green, it was the only game in town. At the cusp of the 2019 model year, however, there are now plenty of options to choose from—including some promising EVs from the likes of Jaguar and Audi. But Lexus—the second-most-popular luxury badge in the US—is still in the game, with five models at different price points.

Starting at $38,535, the NX 300h sits at the low end of the luxury-SUV price spectrum. Marketed by Lexus as a compact SUV, the NX 300h measures 182.3″ (4,632cm), which is just a couple of inches

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Fitbit Charge 3 review: Peppering a fitness tracker with smartwatch powers

Fitbit Charge 3 review: Peppering a fitness tracker with smartwatch powers

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Fitbit contracted smartwatch fever last year. And since the debut of its Ionic smartwatch, the company’s signature fitness trackers haven’t made as many waves as they once did. That’s due in part to users embracing the smartwatch more as the technology improves over time.

But fitness trackers aren’t dead—or at least, Fitbit hopes they aren’t—and the company’s new Charge 3 tracker is designed for users who want some smartwatch features in a fitness tracker’s simple-band package.

Even today, fitness trackers have a few advantages over smartwatches: they’re easier to wear since they have slimmer, lighter profiles. They’re less complicated because they’re designed primarily to keep you fit (not necessarily for things like emailing on the go). And, perhaps the most important distinction of all, fitness trackers are generally less expensive than smartwatches.

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Turbulence, the oldest unsolved problem in physics

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Enlarge / “Please prepare the cabin for technical discussions of physics…”

Werner Heisenberg won the 1932 Nobel Prize for helping to found the field of quantum mechanics and developing foundational ideas like the Copenhagen interpretation and the uncertainty principle. The story goes that he once said that, if he were allowed to ask God two questions, they would be, “Why quantum mechanics? And why turbulence?” Supposedly, he was pretty sure God would be able to answer the first question.

The quote may be apocryphal, and there are different versions floating around. Nevertheless, it is true that Heisenberg banged his head against the turbulence problem for several years.

His thesis advisor, Arnold Sommerfeld, assigned the turbulence problem to Heisenberg simply because he thought none of his other students were up to the challenge—and this list of students included future luminaries like Wolfgang Pauli and Hans Bethe.

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Echo Show 2018 review: More to tap, more to see, more to do

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Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Lost among the slew of Amazon’s recent device announcements was an update to the Echo Show. While Amazon absolutely mentioned the second-generation smart display, you may have overlooked it completely amidst all the other devices that debuted: a new Echo Dot, the Chromecast-like Echo Input, that infamous smart microwave, etc. But while it  may not have grabbed as many headlines, Amazon gave the $229 Echo Show a fairly significant facelift with a bigger screen, more powerful speakers, and a redesigned outer shell.

The Echo Show remains the primary device that gives Alexa a “face” of sorts. But with that face comes the challenge of managing users’ interactions with Alexa. Amazon’s other Echo devices make Alexa interactions painfully simple—ask, and the virtual assistant answers. The Echo Show, and similar devices, both enrich and complicate interactions with virtual assistants with its touchscreen display.

Amazon admits it’s still

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How (and why) a London poet who never shot a gun came to lead Defense Distributed

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Enlarge / Paloma Heindorff (center) in Austin, announcing herself as the new head of Defense Distributed. (Attorneys Josh Blackman, left, and Chad Flores, right, joined her to field questions about the company’s legal efforts against various states’ attorneys general.) (credit: Nathan Mattise)

Prior to 2015, Paloma Heindorff had never even shot a gun. But last month, on September 25, the nearly three-year employee of Defense Distributed officially stepped into one of the most high profile firearms’ related positions in the US: director of that same 3D-printed guns activist organization.

Like most Defense Distributed employees, little is known about Heindorff even after her introductory press conference. That’s because throughout the organization’s nearly six-year-existence, only one public face has been available to onlookers—that of founder Cody Wilson. But in light of Wilson’s recent arrest and the related allegations of sexual assault against a minor, Defense Distributed felt the need

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TiVo Bolt OTA review: For would-be cord-cutters with great antenna reception

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Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Despite the plethora of services and devices dedicated to satisfying your binge-watching need, veteran company TiVo hasn’t been completely pushed out yet. The company has made an effort to modernize over the past few years, elevating its DVR boxes with features like voice commands and access to third-party streaming apps.

Now, TiVo is going after a specific group of cord-cutters—those who haven’t made the commitment yet but want to put their toes in the cable-free water. The company’s new $249 TiVo Bolt OTA box axes the cable card slot so it can only receive antenna-based channels. The company believes some users who haven’t gone full cord-cutter yet may be willing to take the plunge if some channels remain available to them at first.

The Bolt OTA lets users connect an antenna as well as stream content from services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. As

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War Stories: Serious Sam almost didn’t happen—until crates saved the day

Video shot by Nikola Mosettig and edited by Lee Manansala. Click here for transcript. Ars would also like to extend special thanks to Croteam members Davor Hunski and Damjan Mravunac, who were instrumental in helping this video project come together.

Welcome to another edition of “War Stories,” where we coerce developers into talking about problems that almost kept them from making the games that made them famous. We’ve previously chatted with the likes of Ultima‘s Lord British, Thief’s Paul Neurath, and Stardock‘s Brad Wardell. Today’s video takes us across the Atlantic to Eastern Europe, to the offices of Croatian developer Croteam—the folks who brought us the classic FPS Serious Sam.

Serious Sam is a fast-paced explosion-fest, filled with Duke Nukem-esque one-liners and gibs galore. Released way back in 2001, the first game spawned a bloody dynasty that continues to this day and even has a

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iPhone XS and XS Max review: Big screens, big performance, big lenses, big prices

The iPhone XS gold finish

Enlarge / The iPhone XS. (credit: Samuel Axon)

With last year’s iPhone X, Apple introduced the most significant redesign to the iPhone since the iPhone 4. All three of the phones Apple announced this fall—the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR—are modeled after that blueprint.

That means near-edge-to-edge displays. It also means they have the TrueDepth sensor array, which powers Face ID, the facial recognition feature that replaces the Touch ID fingerprint authentication method used on iPhones since the iPhone 5S in 2013. There’s no home button either, which had been part of the iPhone since the very first one back in 2007.

Today, we’re reviewing the iPhone XS and XS Max. This might be the smallest year-over-year iteration Apple has ever done for the iPhone. Yet somehow, there’s a whole lot to talk about, from wireless bands to performance to ambitious, under-the-hood camera tech.

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Review: Google’s Wear OS 2.0 can’t fix its obsolete smartwatch hardware

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Enlarge (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Google’s major Wear OS revamp is out today, and soon it will arrive on most devices released in the past year and a half (although Ars has already spent a week with a pre-release version of the OS). In the face of relentless competition from the Apple Watch Series 4 and Samsung Galaxy Watch, Google’s most obvious change in the new Wear OS is a new UI for most of the main screens. There’s not much in the way of new functionality or features, but everything is laid out better.

Google hasn’t done much to publicize the actual name of this release, but it identifies the update as “Wear OS 2.0” on the “About” page, so we’re calling it that. Don’t confuse “Wear OS 2.0” with “Android Wear 2.0,” though, because the latter launched in 2017. When the name change from

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Apple Watch Series 4 review: A bigger, better watchOS experience

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Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

The fourth iteration of the Apple Watch still looks like a tiny iPhone on your wrist, but for many, it was the most exciting device announced at Apple’s event earlier this month. A larger screen, faster performance with improved sensors, fall detection, and ECG readings are just a few of the features that inspired quick interest in the Apple Watch Series 4. The steps forward in health monitoring alone point to a new era for Apple’s wearable, and users who could benefit most from them have a compelling reason to shell out $399 or more for the Series 4.

Otherwise, the Series 4 is an amalgamation of small improvements that make a big difference in the Apple Watch experience. These improvements will attract new users to the Watch who have been waiting for a device that’s up to their personal standards, and they will make existing

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macOS 10.14 Mojave: The Ars Technica review

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I ended last year’s review of macOS High Sierra by lamenting its invisibility but praising the much-needed work it did on the macOS foundation. There weren’t a lot of ways to tell that a Mac was running High Sierra instead of Low Sierra, but Apple quietly replaced the file system and the system’s window server and added (and later finalized) official support for external graphics, among a bunch of other tweaks. The yearly release cycle just kept Apple from actually building a whole lot of new features on top of that foundation.

Mojave, macOS version 10.14, takes the opposite approach. It still does some foundation-laying, especially around iOS apps, and it finishes up a few things that didn’t quite get finished in High Sierra. But it also includes the biggest and most consequential changes to the Mac’s user interface, the desktop, and Finder

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Thrustmaster TPR: The best flight sim pedals you can buy in a store like a normal person

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Enlarge / This is probably the TPR pedals’ best angle—looks almost like a race car engine. (credit: Lee Hutchinson)

Specs at a glance: Thrustmaster Pendular Rudder pedals
Manufacturer Thrustmaster
Device type Flight simulator rudder pedals with toe brakes
Axes Three
Sensor type 3D Hall effect magnetic
Controller precision 16-bit (all axis)
Interface USB type-B
Price $499.99 at Amazon

As someone who’s gone so far as to put money in a Polish bank account for a Belarusian man named Slaw in exchange for high quality pedals, I was overjoyed when Thrustmaster’s PR people reached out recently and offered to send a review sample of their new TPR rudder pedals. As a long-time Thrustmaster Warthog owner, the key question I had about the company’s new rudder pedals was about build quality: would they be worth the $499 MSRP, or would they be like the Warthog stick and throttle—beautiful on the outside

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Inside the eight desperate weeks that saved SpaceX from ruin

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Enlarge / The Falcon 1 rocket ascends toward space on its fourth flight. (credit: SpaceX)

They bunked in a double-wide trailer, cramming inside on cots and sleeping bags, as many as a dozen at a time. In the mornings, they feasted on steaming plates of scrambled eggs. At night, beneath some of the darkest skies on Earth, they grilled steaks and wondered if the heavens above were beyond their reach. Kids, most of them, existed alone on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was the middle of nowhere, really.

And they worked. They worked desperately—tinkering, testing, and fixing—hoping that nothing would go wrong this time. Already, their small rocket had failed three times. One more launch anomaly likely meant the end of Space Exploration Technologies.

Three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, SpaceX tried to launch a Falcon 1 rocket from Omelek

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Nvidia RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti review: A tale of two very expensive graphics cards

Sam Machkovech

Specs at a glance: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition
CUDA CORES 4352
TEXTURE UNITS 272
ROPS 88
CORE CLOCK 1,350MHz
BOOST CLOCK 1,635MHz
MEMORY BUS WIDTH 352 bits
MEMORY BANDWIDTH 616GB/s
MEMORY SIZE 11GB GDDR6
Outputs 3x DisplayPort 1.4, 1x HDMI 2.0b, 1x USB Type-C (VirtualLink VR)
Release date September 20, 2018
PRICE Founders Edition (as reviewed): $1,199. Partner cards priced at: $1,169.

Like any piece of expensive technology, a top-of-the-line graphics card comes with all manner of lingo and abbreviation. You’ll need a glossary to wade through the stuff inside (processors, CUDA cores, ROPs), the speeds measured (memory bandwidth, boost clocks, TeraFLOPS), and the results you want from a good card (anti-aliasing, frame rates, higher resolutions).

Thanks to Nvidia’s newest products, the RTX 2080 and RTX 2080 Ti, that required glossary is only getting

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iOS 12, thoroughly reviewed

iOS 12 on an iPhone X.

Enlarge / iOS 12 on an iPhone X. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple’s iOS 12 software update is available today for supported iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices, and on the surface, it looks like one of the smallest new iOS releases Apple has pushed out.

This isn’t a surprise; Apple said earlier this year that iOS 12 would be more about performance and stability than adding new features. Some major additions that were originally planned—like an overhauled home screen—were reportedly delayed to a later release.

And it’s also not a bad thing. Frankly, iOS 11 had some problems. Apple released several small updates in late 2017 and throughout 2018 to fix those problems, all while battling some frustrated customers’ perceptions that the company was deliberately making older devices obsolete to encourage new sales as overall smartphone sales slowed their growth industry-wide.

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Android 9 Pie, thoroughly reviewed

It’s time for another big Android release—and another big review to go along with it. The latest update for the world’s most popular operating system is Android 9 (not 9.0) Pie. While last year’s Android 8.0 Oreo release focused on under-the-hood changes, Android 9 Pie ships a ton of user-facing features and UI changes, making it feel like the “tock” to Oreo’s “tick.”

Android 9 Pie brings Google’s updated Material Design spec (don’t call it “Material Design 2”) to Android OS, and it begins a wave of UI updates that will spread across Google’s entire portfolio. In Android, that means revamped interfaces for the notification panel, Recent Apps, settings, and various bits of system UI. For future smartphone designs (like, say, the Pixel 3), Android 9 includes an experimental gesture navigation system and built-in notch support. There’s also a new screenshot editor, lots of improvements for text

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How a day driving high-downforce cars at VIR taught me I’m OK being slow

(credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

When the invitation to try out the new formula and sports prototype cars at Virginia International Raceway arrived in my inbox, I was pretty sure I’d have to politely decline. I could hear the boss’ response immediately: “So, you just want to spend a day at the track doing laps?”

But this invite stayed on my mind longer than I anticipated. The cars I’d be driving—a Radical SR1 and Ligier Formula 4—both offered something I’d yet to really experience: genuine aerodynamic grip. Maybe there actually was something to be gained by saying yes. The powers that be seemed to agree, and so it was I found myself making the five-and-a-bit-hour drive south from DC in the height of summer, all to find out more about the invisible hand that the racing world calls downforce.

A brief history of aerodynamics

Little attention was paid to the concept

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The 16 surprising new games that made PAX West an absolute blast

SEATTLE—We’ve already had a lot to say about the games we saw at last week’s PAX West. Our coverage kicked off with an exclusive Valve studio visit and demo of its new card game Artifact, and we continued with looks at surprise ’90s rebirths and Nintendo Switch offerings.

But as Ars’ sole PAX West attendee, I needed downtime to genuinely process the remainder of what I saw. And after a week to think on it, I’m ready to identify this year’s stand-out games. A fan-first expo may not necessarily be the best place to judge certain game types, particularly deeper, systems- and story-loaded fare, and PAX was missing megaton titles like Cyberpunk 2077 and Fallout 76 (although Bethesda was giving out Vault Boy masks). But we think our choice of notable PAX demos says plenty about the surprises and fun the show had in store.

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