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Here’s everything Google announced at its Pixel 5 event

Google Launch Night family
Between pre-release leaks and information Google shared ahead of today, there weren’t many surprises at the company’s Launch Night event. We knew the Pixel 5, Pixel 4a 5G, 2020 Chromecast and Nest Audio were coming, but that didn’t make seeing Google detail those devices any less interesting. Here’s everything you need to know about Google’s 2020 hardware lineup. 
Pixel 5
Pixel 5Google
After chasing the iPhone since 2016, Google is trying something different with its latest lineup of Pixel phones. Compared to its predecessor, the Pixel 5 is a more value-oriented flagship. It forgoes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor for the more modest but still 5G-capable Snapdragon 765G. Google has also removed the Pixel 4’s Soli radar module — so no face unlock or touch-less Motion Sense controls of questionable utility. 
The removal of Soli also means the Pixel 5 has a fingerprint sensor and a notch-less design, with a clean pinhole punchout adorning the phone’s 6-inch, 2,340 x 1,080 display. Thankfully, the screen still includes the 90Hz refresh rate of last year’s model. Anyone who has had to put with woeful battery life on the Pixel 3 and Pixel 4 will also be happy to learn the Pixel 5 comes with a larger 4,000mAh capacity battery.  
Some other notable tweaks include a rejigged primary camera system made up of 12-megapixel and 16-megapixel sensors capturing photos from wide and ultra-wide lenses. It wouldn’t be a Pixel launch without new software features for those cameras and Google didn’t disappoint. One new feature is a panning tool that there’s to help you capture smooth video. Rounding out the Pixel 5’s spec list is support for Qi wireless charging, a water-resistant design, 128GB of storage and a price tag that starts at $699.
Pixel 4a 5G
Pixel 4a 5GGoogle
Pixel fans will notice we didn’t mention an XL model above. That’s because there’s isn’t one this year. Instead, Google plans to release a more premium version of the Pixel 4a — or a more affordable take on the Pixel 5, if that’s how you want to look at things. The $499 Pixel 4a 5G surprisingly has many of the same marquee features as its more expensive sibling. Both phones feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor. They also have the same front and rear camera arrays. What you won’t get with the Pixel 4a 5G is support for Qi wireless charging, waterproofing and a 90Hz display. But it does come with a headphone jack. 
Google ChromecastGoogle
Google’s new Chromecast comes with a remote. Yes, Google has finally listened to its customers, but there’s a lot more to its latest streaming puck than merely a new way to control things. Google has gone with an updated design that borrows from both the Chromecast Ultra and its colorful Nest Mini speakers. Inside, the puck features a new processor that allows it to play 4K HDR content at up to 60 frames per second. Additionally, there’s support for Dolby Vision and surround sound.  
As for that remote, it has a built-in microphone for quick and easy Assistant access. In terms of buttons, there are Back, Home, Mute, Power and Input keys, as well as a dedicated volume rocker. It also comes with shortcuts for YouTube and Netflix. Handy that. 
Where things get somewhat confusing is that the new Chromecast runs Google TV. The platform runs on top of Android TV and adds a new interface to the mix that borrows features from Google’s Play Movies and TV app. 
You can grab the Chromecast starting today for $50. 
Nest Audio
Nest AudioGoogle
Lastly, Google announced a new smart speaker called Nest Audio. Like the Nest Mini, the Nest Audio is covered in fabric. Google outfitted it with a 19mm tweeter and 75mm mid-woofer. The company says those components allow the Nest Audio to get 75 percent louder than the Google Home. It also produces 50 percent more bass than that speaker. 
On the device, you’ll find LED lights that turn on when you speak to Assistant. But there’s also a mute switch on the back of the speaker if you don’t want the digital helper turning on by accident. It also comes with a Media EQ feature that Google says will automatically tune your Nest Audio depending on what you’re listening to, and there’s support for multi-room audio.
You can also pair two Nest Audios to get stereo imaging, which will be tempting since a single speaker only costs $100.
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Xbox Series X first look: Fast, powerful and quiet

Xbox Series X

The Xbox Series X is zippy. That’s the word that stands out in my mind as I bounce among several active games via quick resume, die and respawn in under 10 seconds or load up an HDR version of an old favorite. Zip, zip, zip.

The Xbox Series X is Microsoft’s top-of-the-line next-gen console, and this is our first good look at it, in a home and actually plugged in. As with each new generation, Microsoft promises this console is faster, more powerful and prettier than the Xboxes that came before, and so far, that’s entirely accurate. Because, well, of course it is. 

That said, the Series X has a few features that deserve extra attention before launch day on November 10th. The Series X is priced at $499, while its all-digital counterpart, the Xbox Series S, will cost $299.

Before diving in too deep, let’s lay the ground rules. There are limitations on the scope of the initial preview, with specific features we’re allowed to discuss. Fortunately, this round covers the console’s most obvious improvements: the performance of the backward compatible library, the quick resume feature and the look and feel of the hardware itself, including the new Xbox Wireless Controller.

First up, backward compatible games on Xbox Series X.

A screenshot of a game running on Xbox Series X.

Back compat 

On day one, both of Microsoft’s next-gen consoles will support more than 1,000 games from the original Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. On Series X, all backward compatible games receive automatic HDR support, and some will even play at double their original framerates, bumping 30FPS titles to 60FPS, and 60FPS to 120FPS. This library will run natively on the console, meaning each game can take advantage of the Series X’s faster CPU, GPU and SSD, and even hit 4K. 

Series S games will receive similar treatment, though they’re upgraded from their Xbox One S versions, meaning they won’t be playable in 4K.

Resolution aside, players on both consoles will have immediate access to a library 19 years deep. Alongside selling Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions, this is a huge part of Microsoft’s pitch for the next generation: the fact that the Series X will have plenty of content at launch, and these titles will perform better than ever. 

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s main console competitor, Sony, hasn’t outlined how backward compatibility will work on the PlayStation 5. Many PS4 games will be playable on PS5, but it’s still unclear which ones, how they’ll take advantage of the new hardware, or if they’ll be accessible outside of a PlayStation Plus subscription. There’s no word on games from before the PS4 era, either.

On Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s commitment to spit-shining its old and classic games has resulted in one massive improvement: Faster load times.

A screenshot of a game running on Xbox Series X.

In my experience, backward compatible games on Xbox Series X load three to four times faster than their Xbox One counterparts. Take Remedy’s Control, for example — booting up a scene on Xbox One takes 30 to 38 seconds, while the same scene on Series X consistently takes just 9 seconds, 10 at the most. This ratio rings true for most games I’ve tested, and it’s significantly changed the way I interact with the new console overall.

Whenever I die or fast travel in most console-bound AAA games, I automatically drop the controller while waiting for the new scene to load, knowing it’ll take enough time to give my fingers a break. Or I’ll grab a fresh drink, or reach for my phone and scroll through Reddit while the loading bar creeps across the bottom of the screen.

With Series X, there’s no time for this nonsense. When a fail state pops up, my hands will instinctually fall to my lap, but almost immediately, the game is ready for another round. I’ve had to become more proactive with my drink breaks.

Not only are Series X backward compatible games faster to load, but many of them take advantage of another speedy new console function — quick resume.

Quick resume

This might be the coolest software feature of the Xbox Series X. Quick resume allows players to toggle between several active games at once, rather than having to close out one title before loading another. In my experience, games load between five and ten seconds, and my character is always exactly where I left them.

There’s no hard cap on the number of games that can be suspended in quick resume, but there is a hardware-based limit. The console’s SSD contains a cache that stores system RAM for each game that’s suspended, and this can fill up, preventing additional titles from using the feature. So, the number of games will mainly depend on the memory usage of the titles you’re pausing. Microsoft hasn’t said how large the quick resume SSD cache is, but I’ve been able to cycle through five games at a time just fine.

Not every title supports quick resume, though a majority of the ones I’ve tested do. Firewatch, for instance, does not have the feature, but Control, Don’t StarveFelix the ReaperResident Evil 7Blair WitchUntitled Goose Game, Fallout: New Vegas and Sunset Overdrive do.

Xbox Series X

Hardware and controller design

And finally for two features that every Series X game definitely supports — the Xbox Wireless Controller and the console itself. Microsoft has a solid track record in gamepad design and the new Wireless Controller is no exception, mainly because it doesn’t deviate much from its predecessors. It’s essentially an Xbox One controller, with a nod to the Elite in the D-pad, an extra share button and a flat face. For seasoned Xbox players, this one will feel like home.

Meanwhile, the Series X looks nothing like Microsoft’s previous consoles. It’s a rectangular, black prism that stands at just under a foot tall, and about half as wide and deep. It has a trypophobic top highlighted in green, and a friendly, glowing Xbox logo in the upper left corner. Most importantly though, it actually looks great in a living room. It can be laid on its side for horizontal shelving, but I happen to like the tall-and-proud look. 

And so far, it’s quiet as hell.

Take this short story for example: One day last week, after playtesting the Series X the entire morning and afternoon, I booted up my PS4 to play Overwatch, which is the standard evening routine in my house. As the game began to load, the PS4 fan kicked on and it was legitimately shocking. I hadn’t realized just how silent the Series X was until the current gen blasted hot air at me. Turns out, the future sounds nice.

A screenshot of a game running on Xbox Series X.

More to come

That’s everything we can share for now. I’ve only had a few days with the Series X so far , but I’ll keep on playing and testing, and we’ll be back in the coming weeks with more preview details and impressions. And eventually, we’ll share full reviews of all the new consoles coming out this holiday season.

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We now know a lot more about ‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit was actually announced last month, but today Nintendo revealed new details about the “mixed reality” game ahead of its launch on October 16th. The software is free to download but it won’t work without one of the camera-equipped toy karts, which cost $99 apiece for Mario or Luigi. So, while there is a single-player mode, you’ll have to shell out double to race against a friend or sibling — and more if they don’t have their own Switch, since each player must have their own device. Up to four karts can race at a time, so if you want to do Mario vs. Mario vs. Mario vs. Mario, knock yourself out. If that’s confusing, then you can customize your outfit and kart by unlocking more options in the game. 

The first additional costume and vehicle you unlock are the builder outfit and yellow digger from Super Mario Maker. After that the selection becomes completely random, so you’ll have to keep playing if you have your heart set on dressing up Mario or Luigi like a knight and driving him around in an airship. The in-game kart designs have some cool animations like smoke coming out the tail pipe but, unlike the different vehicles in the main Mario Kart series, there are no effects on speed or handling. Nor will your friends see your cool outfits on their own screens; it’s entirely for your personal enjoyment.

Mario Kart Live Home Circuit
You’ll design your own courses using the four gates provided in each kit — and exactly four gates, as the game won’t accept more or less. Each gate is cardboard with plastic ring joints, which are similar to various Labo accessories except these come pre-assembled. Once you’ve decided on where those go, you fire up the course creator in the game and Lakitu will slather your virtual car in purple paint. Then you simply drive your real kart around the room in the track pattern you desire, passing under each gate to register it. When you return to your starting location, the game draws the course shape based on where you left the purple paint, and you’re ready to race against your friends or the Koopalings.
Since the track won’t change unless you choose to redo it, variety is added to the various cup challenges in-game by changing the environment itself. You might end up underwater, or in an 8-bit world. On screen things will look different, while various items and obstacles will have an effect on your physical kart as well. A sandstorm will cause it to slow down, while a banana peel will make you lose control.
Mario Kart Live Home CircuitNintendo
Since the game uses the gates to draw the course, players really are on the honor system when it comes to following the track — unless you choose to build walls out of cups or boxes in the real world. In fact, Nintendo is encouraging users to take a DIY approach to their tracks, just as it did with the various Labo projects. You can decorate your track and place obstacles to avoid, like plastic balls to block the way or table legs right down the middle. The game won’t recognize them so your virtual opponents won’t be affected, but when you’re racing against friends it can add an extra wrinkle into your racing strategy.
One thing you will definitely need is space. The minimum area needed is a 10 x 12 foot space, which means my dreams of setting this up in my living room have been shattered. However, Nintendo recommends 15 x 15 feet, especially when you’re racing karts at higher velocities. One thing carried over from previous titles are the various racing speeds, even the extra-crazy 200cc. You’ll need more space to turn when you’re going that fast. But the game won’t throw you into the danger zone right away, starting you out at 50cc and letting you unlock the faster settings as you get better at driving. 
Mario Kart Live Home CircuitNintendo
Players with carpeting need not worry, as the karts handle just fine on most rugs, though a Nintendo spokesman advises staying away from shag carpeting and tassels. Obviously the kart will move a little slower than it would on a hardwood floor, which puts you at a disadvantage when facing off against the Koopalings, since the game itself won’t acknowledge the difference in texture. It also won’t recognize differences in elevation, so you can’t build a multi-level track. You might be able to get away with a small ramp, but nothing more elaborate. Another thing to keep in mind when building a track is that the cars’ Bluetooth range is limited, so you can’t go bigger than 30 feet and again, Nintendo recommends staying within 15 feet for the best results.
Despite the caveats, Home Circuit looks very promising, as well as a huge step beyond similar products like Hot Wheels’ AI and Augmoto racers. That $99 price tag is a bit of a concern, but the DIY aspect of building the physical track building means it’ll certainly keep your kids busy this fall.