11 December, 2011



LightSquared’s LTE network disrupts 75% of GPS devices in tests

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 09:54 AM PST

lightsquared, Master ShakeMobile broadband startup LightSquared’s GPS interference troubles aren’t over yet. The company’s LTE network has been found to disrupt 75 percent of GPS devices in a government test, Bloomberg reports.

The test, conducted by the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Systems Engineering Forum, found that 69 of 92 selected GPS devices “experienced harmful interference” within 100 meters of a LightSquared base station.

"LightSquared signals caused harmful interference to majority of GPS receivers tested," according to a draft of the test report. "No additional testing is required to confirm harmful interference exists."

For months, LightSquared has been facing criticism from the GPS industry and government agencies over the spectrum used by its LTE network, which is dangerously close to the wireless spectrum used by GPS devices. LightSquared has said that it’s working on reallocating the spectrum its network uses, but it also blamed the GPS industry for creating devices that don’t stay within their required spectrum ranges.

Most recently, LightSquared has said that a new antenna could help to alleviate GPS interference. It’s unclear if that new antenna was being used for this test. The company is also planning to run its base stations at lower power levels than the government test, which should interfere with fewer GPS devices, executive vice president Martin Harriman told Bloomberg.

Reston, Virginia-based LightSquared was founded by billionaire Philip Falcone with the goal of reselling its LTE mobile broadband network, which will cover up to 260 million people, to others. That’s not going to happen until the company can fix its GPS problems.

In an e-mail to Bloomberg, Harriman said LightSquared is "outraged by the illegal leak of incomplete government data… This breach attempts to draw an inaccurate conclusion to negatively influence the future of LightSquared and narrowly serve the business interests of the GPS industry."

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Sound matters: Michael Breidenbruecker on sonic mobile game Dimensions

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

Sound isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you’re playing a mobile game. But that could change if RJDJ co-founder, Michael Breidenbruecker, gets his way.

In an interview, Breidenbruecker described the company’s latest app, Dimensions and the potential of sonic augmented reality applications, a genre so bleeding edge that his company’s apps may be the first entries to it.

Breidenbruecker is a co-founder of last.fm, the web music service that tracks, or scrobbles, the music its users listen to across a variety of environments, devices, and software applications. He is also the founder of RJDJ, the mobile app company that created Inception – The App, which is based on the movie of the same name. Inception- The App takes gamers through a multi-level dream space, allowing them to move through and experience dream state to dream state, collecting ephemera and unlocking new dreams in the process.

Dimensions has a similar concept, moving between dimensions, but is based on sound – that of the environment the user is in. Breidenbruecker calls the back-end technology here King Kong Context Detection Technology, a title which he says was created “because it sounds more fun than the technical terms.” The app is a trippy sonic experience, creating an almost hallucinogenic trip through one’s own life activities.

Inspired by games like Shadow Cities and Epic Win, RJDJ wanted to create a game that connects to the things we do in our real life. Contextual cues form the kernel from which the game experience can create a sonic environment. In Dimensions, there’s also a GPS/Google Maps component, with players seeking out glowing “Quantum Cells,” a kind of currency that players use power a beam used to gather artifacts and repel enemies.

Ultimately, though, Breidenbruecker is interested in the bigger ideas, like Will Wright’s HiveMind ideas, which he read about right here on VentureBeat. The app developers at RJDJ wanted to create a game where players didn’t need to focus on the game at all times – to make a game that could be played in real life, rather than only on the touchscreen. He says, “When we started to talk about that, and we read what Will Wright is up to at the moment, we realized that the whole genre is starting to happen here, which was super interesting and new.”

He’s also aware that being the first to a new genre isn’t always a guarantee of success. Being a little too far ahead of the curve could alienate users who don’t quite grasp the concepts of a game like Dimensions. “This has never been done before,” said Breidenbruecker. “Usually it’s never the first one that makes it happen, but it’s too good of an idea not to do it!”

While the company continues to work on the technology behind an app like this, they aren’t willing to rest on their laurels. He spent a couple of minutes teasing the idea of a future project involving the contextual engine behind the Dimensions app. “Your phone is always with you – there’s lots of talk recently about carrier IQ – in the end, we can actually create so many more services out of the personal connection between phone and human,” says Breidenbruecker. Collecting data is a neutral activity – we all do it. However, he says, “it’s more about what you do with the data. Last.fm is, ultimately, spyware. Collect the data openly and honestly – neighbor radio, personal charts, etc. It’s about “context” data.”

Sounds like a man with a plan, doesn’t it? While we can’t speculate on what’s next for such a groundbreaking concept and talented team of individuals like RJDJ, we’re sincerely planning on keeping an eye on whatever comes out of the London-based studio in the coming months.

Filed under: games, mobile, VentureBeat

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The Last of Us could be one of the best new original games

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 09:00 AM PST

The Last of Us was the first new game to be revealed at the Spike TV Video Game Awards last night, and with good reason. The game looks like it could be another masterpiece series from Naughty Dog, the maker of the Uncharted series of Hollywood-style blockbuster action-adventure games.

The trailer that debuted last night contained enough of a tease in it to keep me engaged. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to stand out among the 12 original games that were revealed at the show in Los Angeles.

The first scene, pictured right, starts out with an image of sunlight beaming through greenery swaying in the wind. This kind of graphics quality is one of the signatures of Naughty Dog, and among the game consoles, only the PlayStation 3 is capable of this quality of animation. The camera view started with a scene of beauty, moved back through an open window with billowing drapes, only to pan across a blood-stained wall and then focus on a hand dripping blood onto the floor. It’s a juxtaposition of beauty and horror, in a very movie-like style.

Then it focuses on Ellie, the teenage girl. The close-up (pictured at top) shows the fear on her face, the sparkling and watery eyes and the furrowed brow. You can see the freckles on her face and other details that make her seem like a real person. Again, that’s a Naughty Dog specialty, particularly the eyes.

The girl hears a fight above and rushes to it. The tension is palpable as she nears the door where the struggle is happening. She pulls out a switch blade and enters just Joe, her companion, smashes the head of an enemy with a blunt weapon. “You OK,” Joe asks. Ellie replies, “Better than that guy.”

That’s funny. And humor is such a rarity in most shooting games. Naughty Dog figured this out, making its scripts much more like Hollywood movies, with humor, some romance, and characters that are appealing to a wider group of people than just young men. With just a look at both Joe and Ellie, you can see they are ordinary people caught in an extraordinary, horrifying struggle for survival. Then the real enemies arrive: the wolf-like humans with monstrous heads. They like zombies, but they’re fast. Thank god game developers have figured out that zombies don’t have to be slow. There is no explanation for these creatures, but their deadly menace is evident as Joe tangles with one and shoots it point-blank in the face while Ellie stabs it repeatedly in the back with a switchblade. They run off into the city, overgrown with nature, to escape.

As Ellie narrates, “This is our routine, day and night. All we do is survive.” The horrific scene that we’ve just witnessed is a way of life for them. That’s a compelling way to introduce a story about the last human survivors after a devastating plague has wiped out most of humanity.

“He tells me about how these streets used to be crowded with people, going about their lives,” Ellie deadpans in closing. “Must have been nice.”

How’s that for a strong female character, particularly where you would least expect it, based on the way that Hollywood and the video game industry have depicted young teenage girls? Ellie’s calmness as she talks about the horror shows a certain cynical, fatalistic bravery, beyond her years.

Now that’s a game that I want to play. Evan Wells, co-president of Naughty Dog, said the team has been working on the title for some time and hopes it will be a step forward in cinematic gaming and storytelling. Developers include game director Bruce Straley and creative director Neil Druckmann. The Uncharted series has sold more than 13 million copies to date.

Is it going to be an outstanding game? That is very hard to tell from a video that lasts only two minutes and 23 seconds. But if you look closely, you can see that it has all of the elements that Naughty Dog is known for in the cinematic style. We’ve been tricked before, which is why Sony noted in the video that the images were captured from a PS 3 console. The Dead Island trailer turned out to be a lot better than the game, and the Killzone 2 demo was great but the game arrived years later. If the 10 to 15 hours of the game that we haven’t seen are just as good, then Naughty Dog and Sony have another spectacular game coming.

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With 8 jets of their own, Google execs aim to save historic Hangar One

Posted: 11 Dec 2011 08:45 AM PST

Google’s top three executives have offered to pay $33 million through a jointly owned company to save Hangar One, a historic building used to house large airships at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif.

Google’s Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt made the proposal back in September via H211, a jointly owned company that manages their fleet of private jets. Ken Ambrose, director of operations at H211, says that NASA — which owns Moffett Field — is considering the offer, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The report also brings to light another interesting tidbit: Google’s execs own eight private jets. As part of H211′s offer, the company is also asking for use of up to two-thirds of Hangar One’s floor space for the private jets.

It seems that everyone wins if H211′s offer is approved. NASA gets to save a historic landmark, and Google’s execs get a home base for their private jets right near Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

Speaking at a meeting on Thursday of the Hangar One Subcommittee of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board, Ambrose expressed his frustration about NASA’s delayed response. “A decision should have been made by now,” he said, as the Mercury News reports. “It’s quarter to midnight as far as I can see.”

Ambrose says that to get the restoration up and running by the summer, H211 needs immediate approval to start gathering consultants, permits, and other necessities. There’s a heightened sense of urgency now, since NASA has begun removing Hangar One’s PCB-filled exterior paneling, leaving the interior of the building exposed to the elements.

H211 isn’t trying to buy out Hangar One from NASA. As part of H211′s deal, NASA will still retain ownership of the building and will be able to lease out space to others.

Photo by Jennifer Morrow/Flickr

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How tweets about courthouse coffee that “sucks” overturned a death row verdict

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 09:00 PM PST

An Arkansas man has had his death penalty conviction overturned because one juror during his case was tweeting and another juror fell asleep.

Twenty-six year old Erickson Dimas-Martinez was found guilty in 2010 of robbing and murdering a 17-year-old boy outside of a party in 2006. During his trial, one juror fell asleep, and another posted to his Twitter account regarding the case. While the tweets did not divulge specific details of the case, the juror went against specific instructions to not discuss the case in any manner, online or off.

One of the tweets, made during the sentencing itself, said: “Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken… We each define the great line.” The juror also took to Twitter to comment about his time serving as a juror and even about the quality (or lack thereof) of the coffee at the courthouse, tweeting “The coffee here sucks.” The defense team pointed out his behavior to the judge, who told the juror to stop tweeting about the case. Despite his behavior, the juror was not thrown off the case.

After Dimas-Martinez was found guilty and served with the death penalty, he filed for an appeal. The Arkansas Supreme Court ultimately decided to overturn his conviction because of the inappropriate behavior of the two jurors during his trial, so he will be tried again. In the opinion summary of the appeal, the Arkansas Supreme Court wrote: “Because we conclude that the one juror sleeping and a second juror tweeting constituted juror misconduct, we reverse and remand for a new trial.”

While this may be a problem in Arkansas, in California a law was passed this year to prevent this type of act from happening. CA Assembly Bill 141 prevents the use of electronic and wireless communication to divulge any information about a case.

Filed under: social

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VGA Trailer: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 07:54 PM PST

Metal Gear is back, but Solid Snake won’t be appearing in his usual main role. Instead, Raiden, who has helped Solid Snake on missions before will be appearing in the main role as seen in the newest trailer for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance revealed at Spike’s Video Game Awards.

Although Hideo Kojima did flub up his announcement, it is still clear that Raiden, who was first seen in Metal Gear Solid 2, and then again in Metal Gear Solid 4 in a bigger role, will be the main protagonist in the new Metal Gear title. The game is a spin-off of the well-received Metal Gear series, and is being developed by Platinum Games and produced by Kojima Productions.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance will be released on Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is being produced by Kojima’s Kojima Productions team, but it is being developed by Platinum Games, the studio behind Bayonetta. The trailer has lots of game play footage, and its combat even seems a little like Bayonetta.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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Blizzard Entertainment introduces Diablo III opening cinematics

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 07:30 PM PST

Announced back in 2008 at the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational, Diablo III has been in the works now for some time. Since Diablo’s original release, the franchise has received all kinds of praise and people are looking forward to the newest installment, especially now that Blizzard showed off opening cinematics at Spike’s Video Game Awards.

Diablo, released in 1996, was an instant hit and became a favorite among computer players. Diablo II was no different with positive reception and became the fastest selling computer game at the time. Diablo III is expected to do well, and it should as Blizzard will stop at nothing, even offering free digital downloads of the game to World of Warcraft players.

If the trailer is any justification, Diablo III looks to have one heck of an opening. Diablo III is set for an early 2012 release. Blizzard looks like it is adding more interesting characters and storylines to its games, which in the past have been brutal combat fests.

The Blizzard team has to be happy tonight. The gamer god title went to the founders of Blizzard Entertainment: Mike Morhaime, Allen Adham, and Frank Pearce.

The Diablo III game takes place on the dark fantasy world of Sanctuary, which was saved a couple of decades ago from the armies of the Burning Hells. Those who fought against the evil armies went mad from the experience of it. In the third game, players will return to Sanctuary to confront new evils. the characters in the video are Deckard Cain and his niece Leah, who are doing research in an old church. Deckard thinks that the forces of hell are about to attack, and that is indeed what happens.

Filed under: games, VentureBeat

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VGA awards: Bethesda’s Skyrim wins game of the year

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 07:04 PM PST

Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim won the Game of the Year award at the Spike TV Video Game Awards show tonight.

The title beat out rivals Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

The developers, including Todd Howard, pictured center, thanks their wives and employees for all of the long hours working on the title. Skyrim, a fantasy role-playing game, also won for best RPG and Bethesda won for Studio of the Year

Other big winners include Skyward Sword, the best Wii game and motion-sensing game; Uncharted 3, for best graphics; Batman Arkham City for character of the year (the Joker), best Xbox 360 game, and best action-adventure game; Portal 2, for best PC game, best multiplayer, best performance by a human female, best performance by a human female, and best DLC; Bastion, for best original game and best original score; Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, for best shooter; Minecraft, for best independent game; Mortal Kombat, for best fighting game; and the gamer god title went to the founders of Blizzard Entertainment: Mike Morhaime, Allen Adham, and Frank Pearce.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception won for best PS 3 game. Forza Motorsport 4 won best driving game; NBA 2K12 won best sports game; Build that Wall won for best song. mass Effect 3 won for most anticipated game and Assassin’s Creed Revelations won for best trailer.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario at NIntendo, accepted the Video Game Hall of Fame award. The ninth-annual show, executive produced by Emmy Award winner Mark Burnett, seemed better run this year. Part of the reason was that a soldier in military fatigues was authorized to run up on stage and take down any speakers who went to long with their acceptance speeches. Then he “teabagged” them, or pretended to sit on their faces, going up and down, up and down. Robert Bowling, who accepted the award for best shooter game for Modern Warfare 3, actually ran off the stage as the soldier guy ran up. Bowling’s companion was caught and teabagged.

The show was broadcast live from Sony Studios in Los Angeles.

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VGA premiere: Irrational Games peels a new layer of BioShock Infinite

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 06:54 PM PST

Irrational Games, which has established its reputation as one of the most creative game studios in the industry, showed off a new scene from its next major game, BioShock Infinite, at the Spike TV Video Game Awards today.

The company is revealing more details about the game in a trailer, accompanied by a pretty song. It shows the chaos as civil war erupts in the city of the clouds, Columbia. The trailer showed off the first-person shooter combat and the help that the player can receive from companion, Elizabeth, pictured below. The trailer is full of emotion, spectacular combat, and big evil characters.

The game features the ability to swing on a rollercoaster in the sky and fire at enemies below. This game is innovative both in its storytelling and technology, and it is one of the titles that will push the game industry toward high art.

BioShock took the game industry by storm in 2007 when it was released by the 2K Boston (now Irrational Games) division of Take-Two Interactive. The shooter game was set in an underwater utopia-gone-wrong city called Rapture, and it was praised as one of the most original games of its time. The game sold more than 4 million units, generating about $240 million in revenue at retail. Take-Two followed that with BioShock 2, a more derivative sequel that debuted in 2010. I've played both games all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed them.

While BioShock 2 was created by a new team called 2K Marin, Ken Levine (pictured), designer of BioShock, moved on to developing something that was more ambitious and creative, leaving behind Rapture and its 1930s style alternate universe for Columbia, another utopian city, which floats in the sky and is the setting for BioShock Infinite. This game (first announced last August) has no release date yet, but it is a big budget title being built by a team of 106 people, said Timothy Gerritsen, director of product development at Irrational Games.

In my opinion, the audience for BioShock Infinite could prove to be bigger than the audience for the original hit, giving Take-Two Interactive a steady revenue booster beyond its staple Grand Theft Auto games.

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VGA premiere: The Amazing Spider-Man stars in a new video game

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 06:48 PM PST

Spider-Man has been the subject of many video games over tons of different consoles over the past few decades. Most of the games have been met with harsh criticism and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has never been a super-hit in the video game world. However, maybe that will change now with the Amazing Spider-Man, developed by Beenox and published by Activision, being announced at Spike's Video Game Awards.

The trailer shows New York being attacked and destroyed by an onslaught of machines developed by Oscorps. Originally developed to protect the country against biological attacks, the machines malfunction, and Spidey has to come and save the day. There’s plenty of destruction of the city as Spider-Man tries to fend off the machine takeover.

The Amazing Spider-Man will be released in summer 2011 along with a Spiderman movie with the same title.

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VGA premiere: Epic Games shows off Fortnite

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 06:42 PM PST

Epic Games unveiled a new game called Fornite this evening at the Spike TV Video Game Awards.

Cliff “CliffyB” Blezsinski came on stage to show off the title, which he said was a lot more humorous than any of Epic’s previous titles like the just released Gears of War 3.

The trailer shows a videocam view of a cartoon-like 3D animated world with funny characters who sneak out in the night, blow something up, scavenge some good stuff, and then retreat into a kind of urban compound.

Only there’s a malfunction in closing the gate and the funny monsters coming after them show up at the gates. And one of the characters says, “Oh, no.” Just then the webcam goes dark.

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VGA premiere: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 06:36 PM PST

Activision Blizzard showed off a trailer for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, at the Spike TV Video Game Awards tonight.

This series of games is one of the few movie-based (and toy-based) games that are doing well, and that’s why the company keeps publishing the games one after another.

The trailer featured some bad-ass robots fighting it out and taking over a metropolis, set to the tune of a cool song, dubbed Together We’ll Cross the River. The game follows up on the previous title, Transformers: War for Cybertron, as the Autobots struggle to defeat their Decepticon foes — two different factions of robotic warriors. The battleground is the Autobots’ home planet of Cybertron.

The game is set for fall 2012 release on the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.

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BioLite — a camping stove that cooks meals with nothing but twigs as fuel

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 06:15 PM PST

BioLite HomeStoveBioLite, a company that has produced a safe, efficient cooking stove that uses wood or twigs as fuel, has gotten a boost from a $1.8 million infusion of cash from investors.

The company has so far produced a cooking stove for use in developing countries (see picture top left). But the funding will help it produce another nifty stove for campers just wanting to be efficient while off the grid, to be available next year for $129 (below right).

BioLite CampStoveIts existing product is useful in markets where people have no access to the electricity grid, because it needs only wood as a fuel source. Its patent-pending technology uses a fan to blow air into the wood fire, which improves combustion. It does this by converting a fraction of the fire's thermal energy into electricity, in order to power the fanning. Moreover, owners of the stove can use the excess electricity to charge small electronic devices such as mobile phones, LED lights and other devices.

The funding is the New York company’s first round of financing. It comes from the Disruptive Innovation Fund, Toniic Network and angel investors.

The company says the coming camping stove will let you cook with merely the twigs you collect while outside, and boasts that “it’s quick to light, fast to boil and clean to use.”

BioLite StoveThe company says 3 billion people in India, Sub Sahara Africa are cooking on toxic smoky fires, and often walk miles to gather fuel and light their homes with kerosene lamps. Smoke from indoor cooking kills nearly 2 million people every year, and it’s a major contributor to global warming. BioLite’s technology helps reduces smoke emissions by more than 90 percent, and thus global warming, it said. “We’ve created the world’s first improved cookstove to achieve 95 percent reductions in pollution without reliance on external electricity, said CEO Jonathan Cedar in a statement. The company says it uses less than half the wood of an open fire.

Cedar, along with some of the company’s other employees, previously worked at Smart Design, the product development consultancy that designed products like the OXO Good Grips and the Flip video camera.

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VGA premiere: Alan Wake American Nightmare

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 05:58 PM PST

Alan Wake was one of the best games of 2010, in my opinion. But it never got the recognition because it was overshadowed by the hit game Red Dead Redemption. Now the franchise will get a second chance with its sequel, Alan Wake: American Nightmare, unveiled tonight at the Spike TV Video Game Awards.

The trailer shows that there is a new imposter who is posing as Alan Wake and bringing new nightmares to life. Alan Wake’s graphics were quite incredible and the new game has the same emphasis on light and darkness. In the first game, you used light, such as flares or flashlights, to destroy the enemies that emerge during the night.

The new title has the same kind of TV-show style narration and deep storyline, and it looks like there is a lot more action in it as well. Wake is a writer whose dreams and writings come true into a real-life nightmare. His bad double is called Mr. Scratch, who fights with darkness, and Wake fights with light.

The game will premier as an Xbox Live Arcade title. While we can give kudos to Remedy for sticking with the franchise, it’s too bad this isn’t going to be a full console game. But perhaps the title will still get a good reception as a downloadable game.

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Ubisoft shows off Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Patriots at VGA show

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 05:49 PM PST

Ubisoft unveiled a scene from its upcoming Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Patriots show today during the Spike TV Video Game Awards show.

The new game sets the stage for the latest edition in the popular franchise. The trailer shows a terrorist group taking over the country, first by capturing the President of the United States.

The game is expected to hit the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the Windows PC in 2013.

In this game, the U.S. is under attack by a group of citizens-turned-radicals dubbed the True Patriots. They will overthrow the government that is dominated by greedy politicians and corporate special interests. The player has to fight off the terrorists by leading an elite Rainbow counter-terrorism team. Yeah, I know. It’s like another reality game.

Ubisoft promises new cooperative and multiplayer play in addition to a single-player campaign that focuses on squad tactics.




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VGA premiere: EA shows off Command and Conquer Generals 2

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 05:35 PM PST

Electronic Arts showed off a trailer from its brand new game Command & Conquer Generals 2. The company showed off the game’s new trailer at the VGA awards show tonight on Spike TV.

That means EA is serious about reviving a franchise that hasn’t had a new installment for some time. C&C is a classic real-time strategy game and the Generals franchise debuted in 2003. So EA has kept this series on the backburner for a long time. The clip from the video showed a tank battle scene that resembled something out of Battlefield 3 or Battlefield Bad Company 2.

The last C&C Generals 2 game was set in a modern combat world, in contrast to the other C&C titles that were sci-fi games. It was a nice idea, but wasn’t executed so well. It was, for instance, an incredibly short game for a real-time strategy title. Each of the three different sides had just seven missions. Hopefully this title is going to have a lot more content, as EA really has to revive the reputation of this part of the franchise.

The storyline for Generals 2 involves a world left without political leaders. EA promises “destruction that will bring a new level of fidelity to strategy games.” The game is being developed by a new BioWare Studio, BioWare Victory, and will debut on the PC exclusively in 2013.

BioWare chief Ray Muzyka said that BioWare will take its vision for emotionally-engaging game play and great attention to quality to the C&C franchise. Jon Van Caneghem, executive producer of the game, said that C&C fans “have been begging for a return to the Generals universe” for the past eight years. the game will have cooperative and multiplayer modes as well as a single-player campaign. In the story, world leaders are seconds away from signing a peace treaty when a devastating terrorist attack rips through the conference, killing everyone in attendance. The world’s military leaders are left in control.

EA’s BioWare also showed off a new scene (pictured below) from Mass Effect 3. That’s the good thing about being a giant company like EA. You can always dust off an old franchise and the rabid fans will be excited about it. The Mass Effect 3 title, coming early next year, showed an epic battle between Commander Shepard and the Reapers, the evil giant machines taking over the galaxy.

The big snake-like thing in the video is a giant Thresher Maw, which squares off against a giant Reaper. Mass Effect 3 will be released in March.



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VGA video game premiere: The Last of Us from Sony

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 05:20 PM PST

The Last of Us is a new title coming from Sony. It’s a futuristic title about a post zombie-apocalypse. The title is the first title unveiled at the VGA awards tonight.

The trailer shows a father and his daughter fighting it out with a thug and then battling some fast-moving monsters. The girl pictured right narrates the clip and talks about how such fighting is a way of life to them.

“This is our routine, day and night,” she said. “All we do is survive.”

It’s rare to see truly original titles, so it’s good that Sony’s two thousand or so game developers are busy producing original PlayStation 3 games such as this one. And it seems that it is another solid movie-like production, driven by character development and emotion.

It’s not a surprise that The Last of Us is being developed by Naughty Dog, the creators of the character- and emotion-driven Uncharted series. The game blends survival and action to tell a character-driven story about a population decimated by a modern plague. Abandoned cities are being reclaimed by nature and the remaining survivors are killing each other for food, weapons and anything else. The main characters are Joe and Ellie.

Evan Wells, co-president of Naughty Dog, said the team has been working on the title for some time and hopes it will be a step forward in cinematic gaming and storytelling. Developers include game director Bruce Straley and creative director Neil Druckmann. The Uncharted series has sold more than 13 million copies to date.

The trailer says the game is captured directly from a PS 3 system. The beginning looks beautiful, with leaves blowing in the sunlight and curtains blowing in a window. But it soon gives way to a shot of a body dripping blood on a floor and a teenage girl discovering a brutal fight to the death. They search a body and then find that some human-like monsters are coming in to eat the body and then them.

“He tells me about how these streets used to be crowded with people, going about their lives,” Ellie says in closing. “Must have been nice.”

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Didn’t know about Amazon Price Check? Well now you do — rush to save $15 tonight

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 05:18 PM PST

Amazon Price CheckAmazon kicked up a stink yesterday, after it announced a special offer to save $15 today (Saturday) when customers using its price-comparison feature to check out prices at offline merchants.

The offer, valid for today, and still announced on Amazon’s Price Check app page, lets you get a 5 percent discount (up to $5 on select items in electronics, toys, sports, music and DVDs), on up to three times. You just check prices on any item with a “deal” button on it

The irony is that most Americans probably wouldn’t have found out about the deal, were it not for the huge amount of publicity generated by groups opposed to it. Check Google News for Amazon Price Check right now, and it’s almost impossible to find Amazon’s original announcement about the deal. But you’ll find more than 200 articles by publications about the furor it has created among groups deriding the app, and calling it “evil.”

Another great example of the “Streisand effect.”

Retail trade groups say the app is unfair because it encourages consumers to buy products online even though they may have found the products while shopping at a bricks-and-motor store.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) called the Saturday promotion “anti-competitive.”

The fight comes also as major retailers — both online and offline — are divided over a proposed piece of legislation that seeks to clarify the murky issue of charging sales tax for purchases made on the web.

Several states only require customers to pay a sales tax on purchases made online if the online retailer has a physical retail store address within the state. But retailers that operate entirely online, like Amazon, only have shipping and service centers, not actual stores, which has allowed the company to evade charging its customers a local sales tax in some cases. This gives online retailers an advantage over direct competitors that operate both on the web and through physical stores — meaning customers get a better deal when shopping online. It also means state governments miss out on billions of dollars in tax revenue.

The newly proposed bill, called The Marketplace Fairness Act, was introduced last month by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.). If passed, the new law would give state governments two ways to collect sales taxes from online purchases. The first way requires U.S. states to sign a multi-state legal agreement that would bring each of their sales tax codes into conformity. The states can then compel online retailers to charge or remit a sales tax. States that don't sign the legal agreement can still force online retailers to collect sales tax on purchased goods if they adopt some minimum standards to simplify their collection process.

Amazon has come out in support of the Marketplace Fairness Act, which is likely because the company has already successfully negotiated deals with some states that allows them to continue not charging sales tax (despite operating a shipping or service center within the state). However, eBay is against it.

Just yesterday, we reported on a study by Forrester that suggested that taxing online purchases would do little, if anything, in changing consumer behaviors, and would not return shoppers to main street. It also said that less than 10 percent of shopping is done online.

Filed under: media, mobile, VentureBeat

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Live coverage: VGA awards kick off, promising 13 new game reveals

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 05:12 PM PST

We’re covering the Video Game Awards via the livestream right now as gamers eagerly await the unveiling of 13 new games.

The Spike TV VGA show has become a must-watch for game fans who want to see trailers about some big games coming out in the next year or so. Zachary Levi is the host of the show this year.

The games that will be revealed tonight include a new title from BioWare; Metal Gear Solid: Rising; Alan Wake: American Nightmare; BioShock Infinite; The Last of Us; Mass Effect 3; a new game from Epic Games; Rainbow Six: Patriots; another Amazing Spider-Man game; a new Tony Hawk game; Hitman Absolution; Darsiders II; and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron.

The revelations will come in the form of new trailers and screen shots. Sit back and watch with us. Mixed in with the new game reveals are the scenes from nominees for the Game of the Year, such as Portal 2 (pictured right, in a virtual representation on the VGA stage.


Filed under: games

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Tens of thousands rise in Moscow. Will social media spur another revolution?

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 04:20 PM PST

Tens of thousands of Russians protested in streets of Moscow Saturday chanting that Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin is “a thief," in one of the largest anti-Kremlin demonstrations since the struggles of the post-Soviet collapse in 1993.

The protests have put Putin in bind. The unrest doesn’t appear to be dissipating anytime soon: The crowds vowed that a larger protest on Dec. 24.

And it comes as a surprise to Putin, who just a few months ago faced a population that was all but apathetic. He enjoyed high official approval ratings, and saw opposition parties in a shambles. That all changed last week, with the raid viral spread of videos (here’s one) that allegedly show evidence of violations during last Sunday’s parliamentary elections. And added to that are the continued blog posts and tweets coming from protester and blogger Aleksei Navalny (below right), who was thrown into jail earlier this week for 15 days. Navalny had channeled the unrest with charismatic speeches about government corruption. However, he is apparently still tweeting to his 141,000 followers, with the last tweet about 12 hours ago, pointing to his latest blog post.

There’s been other good reporting about how Russians, once conditioned to be apathetic by a daunting bureaucracy, have been moved by seeing fellow citizens rise up in protest, and how Facebook, and Russia’s homegrown social network, VKontakte, have been used for calls to action. And while the Kremlin has apparently launched denial-of-service attacks on some critical sites, it’s going to be tough for it to do more, short of bringing entire Internet to a halt.

Meanwhile, dissatisfaction is surging uncontrollably against Putin, and word of mouth — helped by social media — is helping to drive the uprising. In fact, the opposition has been growing since Putin brazenly announced in September that he would swap jobs with President Dmitry Mevedev. Currently the Prime Minster, Putin’s move would keep him in power — assuming he’d stay for two terms — until 2024. This incensed the Russians, because the move requires voters’ approval, but Putin had apparently assumed he could get away with the announcement, in part because of the disarray of the opposition parties.

For a while, Putin’s September power grab had been met with eerie silence.

But what Putin apparently underestimated was the power of technology — namely social media — to spread discontent. Much has been made of the influence of technology — such as the use of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — by revolutionaries in the Arab revolts to date. There just doesn’t seem to be any question that social media and technology is a positive force for change in Russia right now. Russia is indeed corrupt. We’ve blogged about that, and what it means for business. Change is good, and tech is helping driving that change.

Indeed, the bigger question now may be what can social media do to help gather consensus and building constructively after a revolution instead of just tearing down. We’ll be watching closely at Russia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and beyond about how that other story unfolds.

[Image credit: Courtesy of the Institute of Modern Russia]

Filed under: media

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LeWeb: 4 social-mobile trends to bank your money on in 2012

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 01:19 PM PST

Carlos Espinal is partner at Seedcamp, a European micro seed fund for internet technology companies.

Despite any clouds looming over the macro-economic climate, Europe's startups and investors (and increasingly those from further afield) gather together once a year to attend the LeWeb conference in Paris.

Part of what makes LeWeb so great is the multitude of events that occur on the periphery of the actual conference. With our very own Seedcamp event taking place a few days earlier, Le Camping's social event at the Paris Stock Exchange, Startup Bus having a get together, and the many private dinners held by companies, tech industry celebs, and investors alike, there is no shortage of opportunities to meet new and influential people as well as up and coming tech startups.

If anything, it is this peripheral networking during LeWeb 'week' that makes it increasingly one of the most influential conferences globally. And it is oftentimes the casual conversations that occur on the tails of a great talk between the attendees that the new ideas will take hold for the next year.

I had the chance to catch up with a few friends who attended — Chipper Boulas (Boulas Ventures), Mike Sigal (Guidewire Group), Francois Tison (360 Capital), Scott Sage (DFJ Esprit), Maximilian Claussen (Earlybird), and Marek Kapturkiewicz (Innovation Nest) — to discuss what the future may bring in terms of ideas born out of discussions and talks at LeWeb. These are the four clearest social/mobile trends we expect to see over the next year:

1. Innovation linked to smartphone proliferation – With the ongoing penetration of mobile devices into emerging economies, particularly smartphones, more innovative mobile services will spawn, particularly regarding payments and hyper local targeting.

2. Increased use of groups for social filtering — People are increasingly pressed for time and saturated with social media (George Colony, CEO of Forrester, mentioned that people's use of social media is only second, in terms of time spent, to childcare, implying we are in a social bubble and people are reaching a saturation point in the use of their time). As a result, companies, content creators and advertisers will struggle to make relevant connections with individuals. However, the rise of social filtering based on the awareness of an individual’s affinity groups while traversing the web (for example, something like Google+ circles) may solve the relevancy and targeting issues associated with trying to connect with an individual without knowledge of the social contexts in which the individual operates.

3. Continued evolution of micro location and hyperlocal applications – While in the past micro location (being able to track a person's location to a high degree of accuracy whether indoors or out) has been difficult to do, Google's location head, Marisa Meyer, spoke about how the indoor mapping features of Google Maps for Mobile 6.0 will help spawn greater use of hyperlocal apps and services to provide advertising opportunities for brands and agencies but also more relevant search results for users.

The greater use of APIs such as those from Google and Foursquare will also continue to generate more locally aware applications.

4. Financial technology innovation will speed up — Financial technologies will see wider adoption and democratization. With service providers such as the Currency Cloud, present at LeWeb, and other disruptive players such as Transferwise (Seedcamp Company) and Kantox making inroads into how companies deal with foreign-exchange risk and costs. Additionally, how consumers interface with their financial institutions via their mobile will continue to evolve.

It will be interesting to look back on this list at next year's LeWeb to see how far and how fast these technologies have moved and to speculate on a new batch of emerging trends over the conference's great (and free) Nespresso.

Filed under: mobile, social

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In-game ad firm IGA Worldwide lays off nearly a third of its employees

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 01:12 PM PST

IGA Worldwide, a once-promising in-game advertising firm, has laid off an unspecified number of employees, VentureBeat has learned.

The New York-based company cut about seven of its 22 employees, according to two sources, who requested anonymity. The layoffs suggest that all is not well with the in-game ad business that focuses on PC games and consoles.

Justin Townsend, co-founder of IGA Worldwide, said in an email that the “one-third layoffs” was incorrect. But he declined to comment further. [Update: Townsend said that less than a quarter of the employees were laid off and more details will be announced later. This was due to a strategic realignment of the business and a focus on other priorities.]

Back in 2008, IGA Worldwide had 70 employees and it was reaching gamers on four platforms: the PC, Mac, Flash games, and the PlayStation 3. But in the meantime, much of the brand advertising has been moving into social games on Facebook and mobile games as well.

IGA's financial backers include GE/NBCU, Intel Capital, Morgenthaler Ventures, Easton Capital, DN Capital, KTB Ventures, Translink Capital, Itochu Technology and Sumitomo/Presidio STX. Altogether, the company has raised nearly $30 million in two rounds. Townsend founded IGA Worldwide in 2004. Back then, in-game ads were hot and Microsoft paid hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the leading in-game ad firm, Massive. Google also entered the market and then pulled out.

Microsoft is now inserting ads into the Xbox 360′s dashboard and int some of its games on Xbox Live as well.

Filed under: games, media

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Apple partners with patent troll Digitude Innovations — and wow, what a deal

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 12:54 PM PST

apple patent Digitude InnovationsApple has partnered with a patent troll company called Digitude Innovations, VentureBeat has confirmed, allowing that company to attack the world’s largest phone manufacturers of smartphones.

In a clever deal that effectively gives Apple immunity from attack by the troll, Apple agreed to some cross-licensing deals that gave Digitude the ammunition for a heavy attack against Apple’s rivals. Digitude recently filed suit against RIM, HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony, Amazon, and Nokia. It did so at the International Trade Commission, a body that can quickly block the import of products deemed to infringe on patents. Moreover, it included four patents in its claim, two of which were owned by Apple earlier this year, before they were transferred to Digitude.

VentureBeat has confirmed the deal with a well-placed source. News that Apple had forged some sort of partnership with Digitude was first reported by TechCrunch.

The move is just the latest twist in heated battle among leading smartphone manufacturers to both protect their intellectual property, and to use it to cudgel their opponents in international courts. The reason is clear: The smartphone revolution, where hundreds of millions of people are buying new expensive digital devices that have in effect become their second brain, is the biggest source of wealth and profit for tech enterprises.

Here’s the gist of Apple-Digitude relationship: Digitude Innovations, a firm backed by a private equity firm Altitude Capital Partners with a long history of patent trolling (or the practice of using patent ownership to either bully opponents into paying huge licensing fees or stop production all together) apparently approached various manufacturers with threats of lawsuits. The group included Apple. But Apple, seeking to defend itself, won an agreement from the firm that it wouldn’t sue Apple, in return for a set of cross-licensing deals. Apple agreed to include the licensing of the two patents used in the latest ITC suit.

Apple wouldn’t comment for this story.

Under the arrangement, Apple hasn’t necessarily directed the attacks, because Digitude is an independent company. However, in dealing with Digitude, it must have known it was paying off the devil, and that there’d be plenty of blood to come at the expense of others. Large portions of the Digitude suit with the ITC are redacted, upon request from Digitude, apparently in an attempt to shield the public from knowledge of its secretive arrangements.

The two patents in question in the ITC suit are USPTO #6208879 (Mobile Information Terminal Equipment and Portable Electronic Apparatus) and USPTO #6456841 (Mobile Communication Apparatus Notifying User Of Reproduction Waiting Information Effectively). The first patent, originally filed by Mitsubishi Electric, describes how a phone can display different screens for different applications, when switching from being used as a telephone to being used as “an information terminal.” The second patent, also originally filed by Mitsubishi, covers visual voicemail notifications.

Apple, of course, finds itself square in the middle of the wider, global smartphone fight. Apple until recently had the largest market share among smartphone makers (Samsung just overtook Apple), and so has among the most to lose from any fight on the patent front. And with plenty of attacks already launched on Apple from all quarters, namely from Android phone manufacturers, Apple has more of an interest to fight back, and thus cut a deal with Digitude. Almost weekly, indeed daily, the disputes are hitting the headlines. Just yesterday, we reported that a German court sided with Motorola in a patent  lawsuit again Apple, which accused it of using data transmission technology in its iPhones and iPads without paying. Samsung, one of the largest makers of Android phones, has fought back against Apple on multiple fronts for violating its patents, although Apple hit Samsung first, and has even changed Samsung’s strategy. Google bought Motorola mainly because of Motorola patent portfolio, and the ammunition it would give it to defend itself against patent attacks from others, including Apple.

Apple founder Steve Jobs has complained that Google's actions in creating its mobile operating system Android amounted to "grand theft." He told his biographer Walter Isaacson: "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

In its deal with Digitude, Apple transferred ownership of its patent to a company called Cliff Island LLC, as first documented by TechCrunch. Cliff Island is affiliated with the private equity firm Altitude Capital Partners. Altitude backed Digitude with $50 million in 2010. Altitude  has a history of investing patent trolling companies. Visto, the mobile messaging company, is among the companies it backed. We once called Visto the most controversial company in Silicon Valley, because of its bullying tactics. In 2009, Visto acquired Good Technology, and changed its name to the acquired company’s. Later in 2009, Research in Motion paid $267.5 million to settle a suit filed against it by Visto.

This isn’t the first time Apple has been called a patent troll.

Digitude Innovations had a web site until recently, but it’s been taken down.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Nokia’s Lumia 800 Windows Phone matters more than you think

Posted: 10 Dec 2011 10:46 AM PST

While it may not seem like it at first, Nokia’s Lumia 800 is one of the most significant smartphones on the horizon. It may lack the absurdly high-end specs of current Android superphones, and it doesn’t have the hype of Apple’s iPhone, but for Nokia and Microsoft, the Lumia 800 represents the viability of their joint mobile future.

I had a chance to test out a Lumia 800 for a few weeks, which made it all the more clear to me just how important this little phone will be.

Microsoft and Nokia, sitting in a tree

When the two companies announced earlier this year that Nokia was partnering with Microsoft to make Windows Phone 7 its primary mobile operating system, the initial response was mostly skeptical. At the time, Microsoft’s new mobile baby was just a few months old, and it was struggling with sales. Nokia, meanwhile, was still trying to shoehorn its aging Symbian operating system into touchscreen interfaces.

Even though Nokia never lost its knack for killer hardware, it was clear that the company needed a modern smartphone OS sooner rather than later. That meant the company couldn’t keep wasting time on MeeGo, its next-generation OS that was still years from completion. For Nokia, the union with Microsoft was born out of cold-hearted pragmatism — that much was clear from Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s dramatic “burning platform” memo.

The fact that the Lumia 800 exists at all (along with its lesser sibling, the Lumia 710) is a sign that Microsoft and Nokia’s partnership is already paying off. It shows that Nokia is capable of humbling itself by wholeheartedly and quickly adopting Microsoft’s platform, and that Microsoft is fine with relaxing its typical restrictions on Windows Phones to make a truly unique product. (Microsoft is rumored to be paying Nokia over $1 billion to use Windows Phone.)

It’s also a significant feat that Nokia was able to announce and release the Lumia 800 in international markets before the end of the year, as the company previously hinted that its first Windows Phone may not be released until 2012.

A phone unlike the competition

Nokia Lumia 800So now, some 10 months after that fateful announcement, we finally have the Lumia 800, the first fruit of Microsoft and Nokia’s union. It’s not as fast as many competing smartphones, and it’s missing some key features like a front-facing camera for video conferencing, but it’s still in many ways a high-end device that will turn heads.

For one, the Lumia 800 looks and feels completely unlike any phone on the market — except of course Nokia’s own N9, an experimental MeeGo phone that served as the launching point for the Lumia’s design. Its curved glass display makes the imagery from its eye-bleedingly sharp 3.7-inch AMOLED display almost jump out at you. The Lumia’s screen is described as “ClearBlack” because of its uncanny ability to display truly dark, inky blacks, a sign of a high-quality display.

Eschewing the typical metal or plastic shells of its competitors, the Lumia 800 features a unibody polycarbonate case, available in black, cyan, and magenta. Since the colors run straight through the polycarbonate case — instead of just being painted on — nicks and scratches are virtually unnoticeable.

The phone features Windows Phone 7.5, also known as “Mango.” Unlike other manufacturers in Microsoft’s harem, Nokia was also able to include some of its own unique apps, like Nokia Drive, Maps, and Music. (Nokia’s less-expensive Lumia 710 Windows Phone also includes these apps.) The inclusion of Nokia Music is confusing, given that it’s completely separate from Microsoft’s Zune store and app.

As is typical for a high-end Nokia phone, the Lumia 800 features a killer 8-megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens. The phone can also shoot 720p high-definition video at 30 frames per second. Long before Apple’s iPhone 4 and 4S cameras wowed consumers, Nokia was shoving quality sensors into its phones. For many consumers, especially in America, the Lumia 800 will be the first taste of just how well Nokia can put together a phone shooter.

Proof there is a mobile future for Nokia (and Microsoft)

Nokia Lumia 800After using the Lumia 800 for several weeks, it’s hard not to imagine where Microsoft and Nokia are headed. For years, it seemed like Nokia, despite all of its hardware expertise, couldn’t create a high-end smartphone to compete with the likes of Apple and Android phone makers.

But that was the Symbian-era Nokia. Now, thanks to the Windows Phone platform, Nokia can focus on developing its killer hardware without worrying about managing an operating system of its own.

And of course, Windows Phone once again gives Nokia a gateway to the US phone market. Nokia has been struggling to land phone deals with US carriers since before the iPhone was released, and the advent of Apple’s uber-popular smartphone certainly didn’t help things. As the premiere Windows Phone maker, carriers will be fighting tooth and nail for Nokia’s phones.

For Microsoft, the Lumia 800 proves that it chose wisely by teaming up with Nokia. Even though it’s already working with popular phone makers like Samsung and HTC, Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia is unprecedented, and it will open doors for Windows Phone internationally.

Ultimately, the Lumia 800 is fetching and capable enough to sway many consumers, including those not even considering Windows Phone. While there have been several Windows Phones with better hardware, the Lumia 800 will, for many, be the first must-have device on the platform.

Below, check out our hands on with the Lumia 800 by VentureBeat’s Sean Ludwig.

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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