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Can you get excited about the iPhone 13? We’ve tried • The Register

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Review Smartphones aren’t very exciting anymore, but Apple insists its mutually optimised operating system, online services, and proprietary silicon combine to deliver an uncommonly fine experience.

I decided to put that assertion to the test with both an unusual and extreme workload, and with general smartphone tasks.

For the extreme workload I chose to use the iPhone to run Zwift, a cycling simulation game that ingests real-time information about a cyclist’s power and cadence, broadcast over Bluetooth, and matches those exertions to simulated speeds in a virtual world.

I also connected to a Bluetooth heart rate monitor, Bluetooth earbuds so I could listen to a podcast while training, and plugged the iPhone into a Lightning-to-HDMI cable so that I’d see Zwift on a 28-inch monitor instead of the iPhone’s 6.1-inch screen.

This is a workload that my main laptop – a Core-i5-powered 6th-gen Lenovo X1 Carbon – handles comfortably after requiring a minute or two to warm up. I generally spare the PC the streaming audio, preferring my smartphone for that chore.

Zwift started more quickly on the iPhone 13 than it does on the PC and didn’t miss a beat through a 90-minute test with all those devices connected. Not a pixel of Zwift’s video output was buffered or smeared, and not a word of the podcast I listened to was mangled. Data flowed from my bicycle trainer to Zwift without error. My heart rate monitor, prone to dropouts on the PC, remained connected throughout.

The phone also found and paired with my accessories more quickly than my PC and reconnected more reliably on subsequent rides.

Seeing a smartphone so comfortably handle a workload that pushes a PC was a pleasant surprise. It also showed off the device’s limitations because 90 minutes with all those Bluetooth connections running took a third out of the iPhone’s battery capacity. That didn’t make the phone run hot but left the battery a little more prone to drain than it was before the torture test.

The iPhone 13 was not alone in suffering after prolonged use of a punishing workload. I’ve often observed such sessions leave a handset’s battery a little bruised. Before the torture test, the iPhone 13 always had plenty of juice left at the end of a working day. Afterwards it sometimes went onto the nightstand at just under 20 per cent.

The battery depleted at about 8 per cent per hour when Zooming or streaming video over Wi-Fi. Constant GPS use with the screen off chewed about 5 per cent of battery an hour.

I ran the GPS with the iPhone in the back of a cycling jersey on a four-hour ride and it survived bright sun, drizzle, and more of my sweaty self than is reasonable to ask readers to imagine.

Overall, the phone feels resilient. I used it to play morning radio news in my bathroom without ever worrying it would fall victim to steam, a stray splash, or a wet-handed fumble onto screen-crushing tiles.

Getting to the starting line with the iPhone proved unexpectedly complicated. My last few phone upgrades have been Android-to-Android and Samsung-to-Samsung. In that world, a new phone quickly clones itself and even manages to move some passwords on the new handset.

Apple’s Android-to-iPhone migration app was less successful. So was a tool that lets you migrate an account from an iPad to a new iPhone.

The effect of the poor migration experience was a solid three-week overlap between phones as I found time to retrieve passwords and jump through necessary security hoops to ensure financial services apps allowed me to transact with the Apple handset. This was a little disappointing.

So is Apple’s preference for the Face ID biometric system.

Facial biometrics are the wrong choice for this mask-wearing moment. During my tests, local rules mandated QR code check-in and masks in almost any setting outside the home. A weekly shopping trip therefore meant a lot of QR scanning.

The iPhone 13’s reliance on Face ID means a lot of repeated mask removal (with occasional scowls from passers-by) to activate a check-in app.

Face ID does work well, including in very low light, or when wearing sunglasses, or a hat. It integrates well with third-party apps.

But it won’t allow creation of a masked biometric.

That’s a pain because Apple Pay uses Face ID. During deep lockdown I found myself reverting to using a payment card just to save the fumbling of repeated unmasking.

I’m convinced that a fingerprint reader would be more convenient in 2021, and for many users deep into 2022 and beyond.

The Face ID experience rather set the tone for the whole phone. When it wasn’t asking if I’d like to use a password instead of my face, the iPhone was reminding me that iCloud was full, which meant I couldn’t back up.

That the machine did not swiftly pair with my Samsung Bluetooth earbuds – an app was required to get them talking – felt like another signpost aimed at having me always consider a journey deeper into Apple Country.

So did the curious inclusion of a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box (but no charger). That’s an odd choice as the installed base of USB-C chargers is vastly smaller than USB-A devices.

The camera is excellent, but I found it tends to over-dramatize. The shot below of a storm displays sunbeams I did not observe with the naked eye but does very well on the silhouettes of the plants and picking out lights in nearby homes.

iPhone 13 weather shot

Click to enlarge, or here for the full unedited photo

I like what the camera found in the shot below: it spotted cobwebs on the uprights of the fence, the textures of its many coats of paint, and in the background clearly shows the tiles on my veranda and even the sheen of a dark green garden hose. Those nuances are rather better than the output of mid-range phones I’ve used. iOS has lovely editing tools that exceed the Android alternatives I’ve experienced.

iPhone 13 front fence shot

Click to enlarge, or here for the full unedited photograph.

The device’s 2,532 x 1,170 screen offers lovely distinct and crisp colours that make reading easy, video eminently viewable, and arcade gaming achievable.

I found some games feel like they have levelled up compared to other versions I’ve played – might they be taking advantage of Apple’s AI-infused silicon to make life harder?

For most of the day, the iPhone 13 doesn’t stand out. Browsers render pages well and speedily; email clients behave as expected. Messages is a strong SMS client.

Overall, the phone is excellent – but I was never excited by the phone in the way I’ve been when a mid-range handset does brilliantly at an impressive price, a super-premium folding handset creates new possibilities, or a more marked upgrade improves the smartphone experience.

Running Zwift was impressive but didn’t take the handset into a new category in the way that Samsung’s Dex desktop environment opened up new possibilities.

The iPhone 13 gets closest to that kind of emotional payoff of increased satisfaction with its battery life, which is so strong it has banished battery anxiety from my daily routine – even on the now-rare days I bounce between meetings.

For iPhone admirers, this new machine will doubtless represent pleasingly crisp continuity. But if you’re looking for something to make you appreciate the smartphone again, you may not get what you want from the iPhone 13. ®

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VMware fixes buggy vSphere release – and Log4J, too • The Register

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VMware has restored availability of vSphere 7 Update, a release that it withdrew in late 2021 after driver dramas derailed deployments.

Paul Turner, Virtzilla’s veep for vSphere product management, told The Register that the source of the problem was Intel driver updates that arrived out of sync with VMware’s pre-release testing program. When users adopted the new drivers – one of which had been renamed – vSphere produced errors that meant virtual server fleet managers could not sustain high availability operations.

Turner said around 30,000 customers had adopted the release, of which around eight per cent encountered the issue. That collection of around 2,400 impacted users was enough for VMware to pull the release before the other 270,000 vSphere users hit trouble. That level of potential problems, Turner admitted, was considered a sufficient threshold to justify a do-over and the embarrassment of a pulled release.

VMware has since reviewed its testing program and procedures in the hope it will avoid a repeat of this error. Doing so, and repairing the release, meant a busier-than-usual holiday period for VMware developers. Turner said those who put in the extra hours will be compensated with extra time off in the future.

VMware also used the time needed to get the release ready to ensure that vSphere 7 U3 thoroughly addresses the Log4j bug. It took the opportunity to update to the latest version of the tool – which is free of the critical bug that allowed almost any code to execute without authorisation.

But VMware decided not to add anything new to vSphere while it addressed Log4j and sorted out the driver drama. Users will have to wait a few more months for another dose of VMware’s usual concoction of security updates and feature tweaks.

There’s more interesting stuff on the way, too. VMware has promised a full vSphere-as-a-Service offering is in the works, and the Project Capitola software-defined memory tech that will pool RAM across hosts. The company has also dropped hints that its plan to run its ESX hypervisor on SmartNICs is nearing release.

VMware has detailed the new/old release here and made downloads available here

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Facebook given EU go-ahead to pursue controversial Kustomer acquisition

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The EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said she was satisfied for the company now known as Meta to pursue its Kustomer acquisition after it struck a deal for rivals.

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has secured antitrust approval from the EU to pursue its acquisition of US customer services software start-up Kustomer.

The social media giant’s decision to acquire the start-up attracted EU scrutiny last April, months before its rebrand. Then known as Facebook, the company planned to integrate Kustomer’s products, including a chatbot, into its service.

Now, Meta has assured the European Commission that it will provide rivals free access to its messaging channels for 10 years.

The EU was satisfied that this addressed competition concerns which previously arose from the company’s decision to acquire Kustomer.

“Our decision today will ensure that innovative rivals and new entrants in the customer relationship management software market can effectively compete,” EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

Last December, Vestager’s Digital Markets Act was passed by EU lawmakers as part of the body’s plans to tighten the monopoly large multinationals hold in Europe’s digital space.

Facebook had initially announced its acquisition plan in November 2020. In February 2021, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties wrote to the European Commission outlining its concerns over data that Kustomer had gathered and what might happen to that data under Facebook’s watch. The Commission also received a referral request from Austria flagging concerns over the Kustomer deal.

Other Meta acquisitions have also attracted the scrutiny of competition regulators. Last November, the UK ordered Meta to sell Giphy after its acquisition of the GIF making company was found to have breached competition rules. In the US, it is facing an antitrust suit that could force the company to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.

The EU’s decision to allow Meta to pursue the acquisition of Kustomer comes following a recent vote in the European Parliament in favour of the Digital Services Act, a companion of the Digital Markets Act. The act represents the EU’s attempt to shift the balance of power away from Big Tech in favour of ordinary people.

The long-debated act was hailed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as a “gold standard”.

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Now that I’ve finally played The Last of Us, who wants to talk about that ending? | Games

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‘OK, Dad, this is an incredible essay on the effects of grief and grey morality in a postapocalyptic society,” says the eldest child, AKA the millennial. “It’s got proper female characters, progressive takes on sexuality and tonnes of rain.”

“They’ve made a video game of The Handmaid’s Tale?”

“No, Dad. It’s The Last of Us. Don’t worry. It’s still a zombie shooter. And both games have the best ending ever.”

Now she has my interest. Video game endings fascinate me, because my generation started out with arcade games that didn’t have them. Pac-Man kept eating dots and chasing ghosts and the Space Invaders kept coming, wave after incessant wave. The first arcade game that had an actual ending was Dragon’s Lair and nobody actually saw that because it was so hard to complete.

I have a tough start with The Last of Us because I hate games where you search for stuff in every room of a house. I spend my normal life doing that with car keys and headphones. I want games where you walk into a room and all the objects get sucked into a magic pocket. But that isn’t realistic, I hear you cry. Well, neither is only being able to carry three shivs in a world where, despite the zombie apocalypse, cargo pants clearly still exist.

The Last of Us.
Jaw-dropping … The Last of Us. Photograph: Sony

I also hate any form of crafting, because that was what my generation had to do for “fun” as kids before we had video games. Whether it’s smoke bombs from sugar and explosives or a set of Action Man drawers from matchboxes, it’s all boring to me.

“Keep going,” I tell myself. “The millennial says it’s got the best ending ever.”

Throughout the first chapter of Joel and Ellie’s jaunt across a post-infected US I keep trying to guess what this great ending will be. Maybe Ellie isn’t immune to infection after all? Maybe Joel is her real father? Maybe they’re both unwitting participants in some reality TV show, I’m Infected Get Me Out of Here?

As you will all know by now – and if you’ve yet to play The Last of Us then please stop reading – the ending has Joel murder a perfectly innocent and well-intentioned doctor who wants to cut Ellie open to find a cure that will save humanity. But Joel has no truck with utilitarian philosophy, because Ellie has now become a replacement for the daughter he lost. So, he disregards mankind’s future and, by stopping the operation, effectively murders the entire human race (alongside a whole hospital’s worth of doctors).

“Why does he do that?” I asked the millennial, in one of many fantastic discussions we had about the game.

“Because he’s a white male,” came the answer, because it’s 2022 and she’s in her 20s. And maybe she’s right. Either way it is a jaw-dropping, supremely brave ending and the terrific Left Behind side-story also brought the feels.

The Last of Us Part 2
Grey morality … Ellie in The Last of Us Part 2. Photograph: Naughty Dog

So, when it came to The Last of Us Part 2, I was beyond excited. Fifty million hours later I was beyond disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, the millennial nailed it when she said it was a great exploration of the effects of grief and grey morality. But after spending the whole game switching between two strong female characters (literally, have you seen Abby’s arms?) and contrasting factional creeds, you have the final confrontation. They fight. And … they both live. And go their separate ways. The only real damage is Ellie losing a couple of fingers, and the game portrays the worst consequence of this as not being able to play guitar any more. Seriously? That’s the biggest drawback to being fingerless in a zombie apocalypse? The first game ended with Joel murdering an entire civilisation, the second ends with Ellie murdering one song on a guitar. It’s a scene you might have found in The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s hilarious.

The Last of Us Part 2 leaves us with exactly the same non-ending as those original arcade games. Ellie and Abby will go on killing to keep their respective postapocalyptic factions going, both driven by the grief of murdered loved ones. They are both trapped, endlessly chasing ghosts. Sounds familiar…

The millennial says this shows there are no winners when it comes to revenge. I say they want both protagonists alive for The Last of Us 3. It’s a cynical cop out. But then, The Last of Us Part 2 is a game that features the most cynical scene ever, where apropos of nothing, after genuinely bravura portrayals of women, transgender and gay characters, alpha female Abby suddenly gets rogered from behind by some guy. It happens out of nowhere. The game spends umpteen hours portraying progressive sexuality, and then it’s like some marketing man decided they needed to toss the incels a piece of red meat to stop them hate-bombing all over 4chan (which didn’t work). It is easily the most gratuitous bit of nudity I have ever seen in games, and I have played The Witcher 3. The rogerer in question even has a girlfriend. Who is pregnant. Way to shit on a sister, Abby.

“It’s basically Pac-Man with gratuitous boobs,” I say to my eldest, who sighs and pours herself a large cup of coffee. This will be another long discussion.

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