Torment: Tides of Numenera preview: This is the bizarre follow-up Planescape deserves

Three hours disappeared.Torment: Tides of Numenera

That’s how it felt when I sat down to play Torment: Tides of Numenera recently. I was the last one scheduled to use the PC that inXile had set up in the corner, and so I was told I could play pretty much as long as I wanted.

I took full advantage of that offer, wending my way through half a dozen discreet stories in “The Bloom,” a massive slug-like organism that contains an entire city inside its stomach, itself stuffed with multiple political factions, a transdimensional marketplace, and “The Gullet”—a place where those who’ve fallen out of favor with the Bloom are slowly digested and then spat back out, body intact but their memories gone.

Torment: Tides of Numenera is weird. As. Hell.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

And that’s possibly the highest compliment I could pay. This is, after all, a successor to 1999’s Planescape: Torment, a game considered a classic in large part because of its nontraditional structure and setting. We’re delving into 17-year-old spoilers here, but Planescape: 1) Eschews the traditional “save-the-world” drama to focus on an intensely personal, philosophical story. 2) Has you play as a no-name character who has died-and-been-resurrected-sans-memories possibly hundreds of times. 3) Takes place across multiple “planes of existence” a.k.a. dimensions, including one memorable sequence wherein a city slips over the boundary between Neutral and Chaotic planes, with disastrous results.

Play Planescape nowadays (I finished it again two weeks ago) and it’s clunky and ugly and often obtuse. It’s still revered though, because in all the 40-odd years of video game history there is no other game quite like it.

I’m trying not to make any grand, sweeping statements about Torment: Tides of Numenera. I’ve only played a small fraction of the game. But what I’ve seen is spot-on, striking the same balance as its spiritual predecessor—weird and alien, but not in a random way. Quite the contrary. The Bloom has well-established rules, a structure you’ll come to know and understand across dozens of different conversations.

It’s a dense game. Not maybe so dense as Planescape, where dialogue often reads more like a series of philosophical dissertations than two characters talking. Tides of Numenera is better at hiding its subtext within the trappings of an actual conversation.

Still, there’s a lot of information hidden within the branches of any given dialogue. And if you choose to pursue it, digging to the end of every chain, the game notices: You’ll grow closer to the “Blue Tide.”

Think of Tides sort of like Alignments in Dungeons & Dragons, but linked to the context of an action rather than its morality. The Blue Tide is related to seeking out information, for instance, while Gold is related to sacrificing yourself for others, and Red means you follow your passions.

As I said though, these aren’t tied to morality. You see Gold and its relation to sacrifice, to empathy, and you think “Well that’s the Good Guy route”—and yet a Gold Tide can just as easily attach itself to false modesty, to sacrifice in the name of manipulation. Similarly, those with an affinity for the Red Tide are known only for their passions, whether it’s rushing into action against evil or good.

 Torment: Tides of Numenera

Me? I was Blue Tide with a mix of Indigo—the Tide associated with compromise and justice. And that’s where we get into another parallel between Planescape and Tides of Numenera: In three hours, I only got into a single battle.

See, another reason Planescape is so famous is that most often the “best” route through any given quest didn’t involve any combat at all. Unlike most RPGs, the most important stats were Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. Even the final boss battle can be won simply by talking.

I’m not sure Tides of Numenera goes that far, but it definitely comes close. Even in the midst of battle, you can stop and talk, try to appease your enemies instead of killing them outright. You can talk your way through pretty much every quest it seems, given the right approach and stats.

Your character and party members each have points in Might, Speed, and Intellect, and it’s pretty obvious what those correlate to. What’s interesting is how Tides of Numenera resolves skill checks. Rather than simply comparing your stats to a number and giving you a Yes/No answer, Tides of Numeneralets you “spend” your stats to get a better result.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

For instance: You’re trying to convince two groups from opposing factions to leave each other alone. You use a Might check, and your base stats give you a 40 percent chance of succeeding. Well, you have 8 points in Might, so you can spend 3 of them to raise that chance up to say 85 percent—a much better chance.

Those spent points aren’t gone forever. They return when you rest, which—like any other Infinity Engine-inspired RPG—suggests that you can abuse the rest system. But that’s a question for the full review. At the moment it at least seems like a more interesting idea than just thumbs up/down based on your raw stats.

Asking inXile’s George Ziets about abusing the rest system, I also found out certain quests in the game are timed. It’s not on a level with Fallout, with its 100-day limit. One of Torment’s goals though is to make failure as interesting as success, and so certain quests will move on with or without your assistance.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

An example, trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible: At one point while exploring the Bloom, you’ll come across a group of religious protesters who demand that [A Thing] happens, and soon, or else violence may result. If you resolve the quest right away, great, you’re done. But if you put it off for a few days, Ziets tells me you might return to find the protesters have indeed taken matters into their own hands, with much more disastrous results.

It’s an interesting idea, though like all time-based missions in games I expect it’ll also be divisive. Players really seem to love the idea of dropping quests into a big ol’ bucket, returning to them at their leisure. I expect a few complaints.

Three hours with a game is a long time—even side-stepping story spoilers as inXile requested, there’s still seemingly infinite amounts of stuff I could cover. The bottom line though is that from what I’ve played, Tides of Numenera is what I’d want from a Planescape successor in 2017. It’s more approachable, more “modern,” but keeps the trademark weirdness that defined its predecessor.

We can do literally anything with video games, go anywhere, create any world we want. We’re not limited to generic sword-and-board fantasy and post-apocalypse retreads and modern war games. It’s high time an RPG recognized that fact again. Torment: Tides of Numenera might just.

Hugo Barra quits Chinese phone maker Xiaomi to return to Silicon Valley

Hugo Barra is returning to Silicon Valley, just over three years after he left Google to help turn Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi into a global company.launch event 02

During Barra’s time in Beijing, Xiaomi has grown far beyond its home market with its strategy of selling stylish Android phones on thin profit margins. In January, it made a splash at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, capping a series of international launches that had taken the company into over 20 countries, including India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, Mexico and Poland.

Barra, once Google’s vice president for Android product management, announced in a Facebook post Monday that he planned to return to the U.S. for personal reasons.

He had concluded it was time to leave Xiaomi, now that the company’s global business “is no longer just an in-house startup,” he wrote.

But Barra’s real motivation for leaving Beijing and returning to Silicon Valley now is personal, he said. “The last few years of living in such a singular environment have taken a huge toll on my life and started affecting my health.”

He also said he wanted to be closer to friends, family and what he considered to be his home.

Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun has asked him to remain an advisor to Xiaomi indefinitely, Barra wrote. He will remain with the company until after the Lunar New Year, which will be celebrated at the beginning of February this year.

Barra announced his move on Twitter and Facebook, a contrast with his departure from Google, which he announced on Google Plus. His public profile there appears not to have been updated in 18 months.

Microsoft expands FastTrack migration service

Microsoft is expanding the free services it offers to help enterprise customers adopt its products.microsoft stock campus building

The company announced Monday that its FastTrack services now encompass Dynamics 365, Windows 10 and Microsoft Teams. Those come in addition to Office 365 and the Enterprise Mobility Suite, which were already covered under FastTrack.

Each service is designed to help companies get the most out of products they’ve already subscribed to and adopt products that the company has recently released. FastTrack includes adoption guides, tools to find a Microsoft partner company to help with migration, and consulting help from Microsoft employees on particular issues.

FastTrack began life a year and a half ago as a one-time service to help companies migrate to Office 365. Since then, the service has evolved to support continued use of Microsoft products and adoption of new features.

Organizations evaluating a Windows 10 deployment will be able to use FastTrack in planning a rollout and upgrading users. For Dynamics 365, FastTrack will offer expert guidance on how to get the most out of Microsoft’s suite of business apps, which include CRM and operations management tools.

Getting customers to use the subscription services they pay for is important to the long-term success of products like Office 365 and Dynamics 365. If companies aren’t using the subscriptions, they won’t renew them.

It’s a common issue for most enterprise software companies, including Oracle, IBM, Salesforce, SAP, and smaller players like identity and access management vendor Okta.

“In our world, if the product doesn’t get deployed, [customers] don’t renew. They’re not successful, we’re not successful,” Okta CEO Todd McKinnon said at a press event last week.

Including Windows 10 in the FastTrack service should help Microsoft get customers to upgrade to the new OS. It will provide a centralized set of resources for IT administrators dealing with difficult aspects of migrating their users, like ensuring apps are compatible with the new OS.

On the Dynamics 365 side of things , Microsoft is offering technical talks, workshops and ongoing calls from its engineers to help with adoption of its products, which launched last year. It’s a suite of different products that compete with the likes of Salesforce, Zendesk and ServiceNow.

The Microsoft Teams support for FastTrack includes guides that help walk users through scenarios that might be helped by the live collaboration service.

Cyril Belikoff, a senior director of Office marketing at Microsoft, said in a blog post that the company is making those resources available ahead of the launch of Teams so it’s easier for administrators to get people to use it.

Samsung sees 2016 profit jump despite Note 7 debacle

Samsung Electronics said its profit rose almost 20 percent in 2016 despite nearly flat sales and the costly recall of the Note 7 smartphone.mam 239835 391149 de 100612905 orig

The company reported an annual net profit of 22.7 trillion won (US$19.5 billion), up 19.2 percent, on sales of 201.9 trillion won (US$173.5 billion), up just 0.6 percent.

Samsung saw some of its biggest sales gains in memory chips on the back of strong demand from smartphone makers. The company is one of the world’s biggest memory chip manufacturers.

The mobile division saw sales fall 3 percent in 2016 to 97.8 trillion won. It’s Samsung’s biggest division by sales and was hit by the recall of the Note 7 smartphone and slowing demand for high-end phones.

A day earlier, Samsung divulged that battery problems were to blame for the fires and explosions that led to the massive recall. It said batteries from two manufacturers suffered from internal problems that caused a short circuit and fire.

Looking ahead, Samsung said it expects the smartphone market to slow down while artificial intelligence services present a new business opportunity. To date, Samsung handsets have featured Google’s AI personal assistant, but the company reportedly is developing its own assistant.

Samsung also signaled that it plans to boost the competitiveness of its mid-to-low-end smartphones by adding features that were previously only available in more expensive models.

In the consumer electronics business, sales barely rose but profit more than doubled to 2.6 trillion won. Samsung said it sees high-end QLED televisions and large-screen 4K televisions as key to growth in 2017. It will also attempt to expand the business-to-business side of its home appliance division.

Trump names net neutrality foe Ajit Pai to lead the FCC

President Donald Trump has named Commissioner Ajit Pai, an outspoken opponent of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, as the next head of the agency.13959900047 bede3e5ba4 o

The choice was widely expected after Trump’s election last November. Pai is the senior Republican on the commission, having served since 2012. He doesn’t need to be confirmed by the Senate because he is already on the Commission.

Pai attacked the reclassification of broadband as a utility in 2015, saying it would place excessive burdens on service providers, other internet players and consumers. The expansion of broadband service through a competitive marketplace has been one of Pai’s themes as a commissioner.

“I look forward to working with the new Administration, my colleagues at the Commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans,” Pai said in a statement Monday.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed the net neutrality plan and former President Barack Obama strongly supported it. Trump and Republicans in Congress have criticized the rules and are expected to target them as part of an overall push for deregulation.

Although Pai can take over as chairman without a confirmation vote, he will need to be renominated and reconfirmed at the end of this year when his current term on the Commission expires.

The FCC customarily includes three members from the president’s party and two from the opposition. If Trump follows suit, he will name one more Republican and one more Democrat. In addition to Pai, Democrat Mignon Clyburn and Republican Michael O’Rielly are on the Commission now.

Pai grew up in Parsons, Kansas, the son of immigrants from India, according to his biography on the FCC’s site. In addition to several positions as an attorney in the federal government, he was an associate general counsel at Verizon from 2001 to 2003.

Pompeo sworn in as CIA chief amid opposition from surveillance critics

Mike Pompeo was sworn in late Monday by U.S. Vice President Michael Pence as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, amid protests from surveillance critics who worry about his conflicting views on a number of key issues.161118 pompeo 1

The oath of office was administered to him after the Senate voted in favor of his confirmation in a 66-32 vote.

Critics of Pompeo, a Republican representative from Kansas, are concerned that he may weigh in with the government on a rollback of many privacy reforms, including restrictions on the collection of bulk telephone metadata from Americans by the National Security Agency under the USA Freedom Act. There are also concerns that the new director may try to introduce curbs on the use of encryption and bring in measures to monitor the social media accounts of people.

The new CIA chief wrote in January last year in an op-ed that Washington is “blunting its surveillance powers” with measures like the USA Freedom Act. Pompeo had previously voted in favor of the legislation.

“Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database,” Pompeo wrote in the op-ed he coauthored with constitutional lawyer David B. Rivkin.

During a recent confirmation hearing, Pompeo did not provide details of limits he would accept, if any, to the new surveillance powers he has suggested.

His proposals have not unexpectedly irked critics of the government’s surveillance, who are concerned that Pompeo has not clarified when asked for details about the kind of data he would like the government to collect.

“After two rounds of submitted questions and a hearing, we still don’t know what Congressman Pompeo meant when he referred to ‘all metadata’ or how he defines ‘publicly available financial and lifestyle information,'” said Ron Wyden, Democrat senator from Oregon, in a speech in the Senate.

Wyden said that on issue after issue, whether on surveillance, torture or Russia, Pompeo had “taken two, three or four positions, depending on when he says it and who he’s talking to.”

The CIA last week updated rules governing the collection, retention and dissemination of information on U.S. persons with an eye to addressing concerns about the collection and handling of information on U.S. persons in the course of overseas surveillance. One of the measures was to put a five-year limit on the holding of sensitive data. The rules introduced under the administration of former President Barack Obama come into effect on March 18.

Microsoft tries to expel Chromebooks from schools with Intune app and low-cost PCs

For years, Apple Macs dominated the classroom. Then Chromebooks took over. Now, Microsoft is once again pushing for kids to learn via new, cheap Windows 10 PCs, managed by a new Intune application designed specifically for education.intune for education set up pcs

Chromebooks aren’t much more than web browsers built on top of a bare-bones OS. That can be a drawback for businesses, which demand a rich platform for computing. In classrooms, though, the relative simplicity of the platform can be a positive, as they’re easier to manage.

intune for education dashboard

Microsoft’s Intune for Education dashboard allows classroom PCs to be quickly set up and managed, Microsoft says.

To counter that advantage, Microsoft is debuting Microsoft Intune for Education, a cloud-based version of the Intune application- and device-management service to make managing 30 or 40 laptops per classroom less of a chore. Schools can customize over 150 granular settings, assign them to a student, and apply them to hardware, apps, browsers, the start menu, Windows Defender, and more, Microsoft said in a blog post. For example, a particular student can be assigned to a specific group, and be automatically assigned the same apps as other members of the group.

Managing a few devices can be handled by just logging into the service with an Office 365 login. A separate “set up school PC” app can handle larger deployments, Microsoft said. Intune for Education will be available in preview in the coming weeks and more broadly available this spring for $30 per device, and via volume licensing for 69 cents per month per teacher.

“Ultimately, both Intune for Education and [Google’s] Chrome Management console provide cloud-based device management for classroom devices, but Intune for Education integrates better with the rest of the existing school infrastructure and allows access to full Intune for management of Android, iOS and Windows devices,” Microsoft said in a statement.

intune for education tests

 According to a September 2016 report by FutureSource, about half of the computing devices in U.S. classrooms are Chromebooks, the inexpensive Chrome OS-powered devices manufactured by Samsung and others. Microsoft hopes to regain dominance via its partners, who are marketing inexpensive PCs that can compete on price while offering capabilities like touch and electronic inking that Chromebooks lack. Still, at least in the classrooms we’ve seen, Chromebooks seem to have a solid foothold.

Although Windows Ink is in its infancy, Microsoft pointed to apps like FluidMath and Drawboard PDF as two educational apps that would benefit from a touchscreen and stylus—and that Chromebooks wouldn’t be able to match.

“We believe Windows Ink is a truly valuable tool especially in the classroom, in fact, handwriting and neuroscience studies report 36 percent better test scores for kids that have diagrammed their notes,” Microsoft said in an emailed statement.

At the BETT conference this week in London, Microsoft said it will show off existing PCs designed for education, such as the HP Stream 11 Pro G3, starting at $189. Three others were announced as well:

With four usage modes, the 11.6-inch convertible notebook can be folded back via its 360-degree hinge to approximate a tablet. The $299 notebook includes a stylus and touchscreen supporting Windows Ink, a battery good for 13 hours of work, a shock-absorbent bumper and spillproof keyboard.

acer travelmate spin b118

 The TURN T201 is a PC designed for students aged 12 to 18, with a Microlens microscope and a thermal probe.

jp.ik turn t201

 Lenovo has also updated its education PCs with the addition of the ThinkPad 11e, either in a traditional clamshell or Yoga form factor. The 11e’s battery supports 11 hours of battery life and comes with a stylus. The N24 does as well, plus a 11.6-inch IPS display. Lenovo offered no other details, save for its expected release in mid-2017.

lenovo thinkpad 11e

Microsoft also added some new features to its Minecraft: Education Edition. “Global Pause”  allows teachers to force students to take a break, while improvements like text-to-speech for in-game chat has been added for greater accessibility. Other new features include an updated user interface for managing in-game settings, new “mobs” includong polar bears, 256-block world heights for greater building capabilities, plus gameplay from the first night to The End dimension.

This story has been updated at 9:37 AM with additional details and to correct the volume pricing of Intune for Education.

Interview: How Amazon Channels is building a la carte TV

Cord-cutters who’ve been pining for a la carte TV subscriptions might want to start paying attention to Amazon Channels.amazonchannels2

The service, which launched in late 2015, allows Amazon Prime members to add on-demand video subscriptions from premium networks like Showtime and Starz, international services like Acorn TV and DramaFever, and streaming-only offerings like AMC’s Shudder and NBC’s Seeso. Amazon Channels isn’t exactly a la carte nirvana—there are no live channel feeds, and no basic cable offerings like FX and Comedy Central—but it does help make streaming video less chaotic. Each channel integrates with Amazon’s existing video apps and Fire TV devices, and ties into a single billing mechanism that, unlike cable, lets users add and drop channels at will.

The initiative seems to be gaining traction. Amazon now offers more than 100 channels, up from 75 in November, including HBO and Cinemax, which signed on last month. And while Amazon doesn’t share specific subscriber numbers, the company says it has “millions” of Channel subscriptions.

What does all these mean for cord cutters and TV networks? I jumped on the phone with Michael Paull, Amazon’s vice president of digital video, to find out.

Although Amazon Channels removes some of streaming-video’s billing headaches, and might spare you from jumping between so many separate apps, subscribing to multiple channels won’t save you any money. HBO still costs $15 per month, equal to a standalone HBO Now subscription. The same goes with Starz ($9 per month), Seeso ($4 per month), and Shudder ($5 per month).

amazonchannels1

Paull says that over time, Amazon might consider packaging channels together at a discount. Though he wouldn’t get into specifics on how this might work, it’s not hard to imagine Amazon as a TV bundler for the streaming age.

“I can’t really comment on the rights that we have and the relationships we have with our partners. What I can say is based on conversations we’ve had with many of the channels that we have on our platform, they would be open and excited about putting packages together,” Paull says.

The other potential snag with Amazon Channels is that you need the Amazon Video app (or an Amazon Fire TV device) to access the content. So if you subscribe to HBO through Amazon Channels, you can’t easily watch Game of Thrones on your Apple TV or Chromecast. It’d be nice if subscribers could use the standalone HBO Go app as a workaround.

Paull says Amazon is open-minded about TV Everywhere authentication, noting that Showtime subscribers can use their Amazon credentials to log into the Showtime Anytime app on other platforms. But getting other providers to offer this feature takes some work on both sides.

“It is a two-step process,” he says. “One is, we need to give them the rights to do it, and then expose the capability, and two, they have to implement it … but we generally are very customer-focused, so we want people when they pay for programming to be able to watch it anytime on any device.”

Amazon Channels is only as valuable its content, but right now it doesn’t offer the vast majority of channels people get with a cable subscription. Might that eventually change?

Paull says he can’t comment on discussions with media companies, but notes that Amazon is already working with networks like NBC, AMC, and Lifetime—albeit on services that aren’t part of a standard cable bundle.

Amazon Fire TV

To lure media companies into participating, Amazon is trying to sweeten the deal with usage data. Compared to cable, Amazon can provide more granular—but not personally identifiable—information on what people are watching. Networks can then use that data to help them decide what to put in their Channels.

“One of the big things that we’ve helped some of our partners to discover is the importance of regularly refreshing programming,” Paull says. “So an example is, based on the experience we’ve had on our platform, we’ve learned that having a new tentpole show on a monthly basis is really important.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon has also found that exclusive and original series help keep people from jumping ship on a particular subscription.

“I think having some programming that’s available on a non-exclusive basis is good, especially if it’s shows and movies that people will be excited about. But what drives these services, both in terms of acquisition and retention, is exclusive programming as well as original programming,” Paull says.

Amazon also isn’t above creating its own Channels to meet a particular need. That’s what happened with Anime Strike, a $5-per-month channel curated by Amazon. Paull says Amazon talked to a variety of media companies about doing an anime channel before deciding to put together its own. So far, he says, Anime Strike is “exceeding our expectations.”

Still, Paull isn’t worried that Amazon-curated channels might scare off media companies who have similar content. He sees Amazon Prime, for instance, as a “premium” service akin to Showtime and Starz, who were part of the original launch. Despite all the competition, HBO and Cinemax eventually jumped in.

“In our mind, we don’t want to have one option per category,” Paull says. “We want to have multiple options per category, and we think that will contribute to the flywheel that we have in terms of being able to acquire new customers and upsell them.”

Sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter to get this column and other cord-cutting news, insights, and deals delivered to your inbox.

This story, “Interview: How Amazon Channels is building a la carte TV” was originally published by TechHive.

French to fight fake news with backing from Google, Facebook

News organizations operating in France will open up a new fact-checking service, CrossCheck, at the end of this month. Their initial focus will be on covering the forthcoming French elections, but with a number of international organizations participating, the project’s reach could grow.Donald Trump

CrossCheck’s focus will be on identifying and debunking misleading news sites, photographs, videos, memes or comment threads.

The service is backed by First Draft News, an organization that offers guidance on how to find, verify and publish content from the social web, with support from Google (through Google News Lab), Facebook and news organizations including BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse (AFP), and a host of national and regional French newspapers.

The news organizations involved will help debunk false information, and use that work to improve the accuracy of their own reporting, First Draft said Monday.

But at the News Impact Summit in Paris on Monday, some speakers doubted whether readers appreciate such fact-checking initiatives in the coverage of politics.

Journalists tend to believe that candidates for office should not tell lies, and assume that readers share that opinion, said Yoni Appelbaum, Washington bureau chief for The Atlantic. “The audience may not share that opinion of what’s qualifying or disqualifying in politics,” he said. “One of the things the media gets in trouble with is bludgeoning its audience over the head with facts rather than telling stories.”

Matthew Ingram, a senior writer for Fortune, summarized that: “The more you argue, the less they trust you. The more you fact-check, the less they believe you.”

One reason for that, said Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, is, “There are so many different definitions of what’s fake news, it’s so hard to agree on the basic facts, even when it’s data.”

That won’t stop CrossCheck and its contributors. These include French newspaper Le Monde, which has built a database of more than 600 news sites, Le Décodex, identifying them as “satire,” “real,” “fake,” and so on.

Facebook, one of the vectors for the kinds of information CrossCheck seeks to debunk, will also support the project, providing dedicated tools, explaining the verification process to its users, and keeping them up to date with confirmed and disputed information relating to the election.

It’s impossible to fact-check every piece of information published in the press or circulating on the internet, so CrossCheck will be picking its battles. It will use CrowdTangle to discover social media content relevant to the election, and Spike a tool developed by NewsWhip to predict which posts will go viral.

It’s not just about France: Bellingcat, one of the CrossCheck partners, will map patterns in misinformation as part of a wider project to map European elections.

And First Draft and Google News Lab have been involved in election coverage before, through the Electionland initiative to report on voter suppression in the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Intel packs a tablet chip from yesteryear inside New Balance’s new RunIQ smartwatch

You’re probably aware that the chip inside your smartphone contains more computing horsepower than the systems that helped launch a man to the Moon. Intel’s taken that in a slightly different direction: An Atom chip formerly used in smartphones and tablets now drives New Balance’s latest RunIQ smartwatch.New Balance runiq promo

Jerry Bautista, vice president and general manager of the New Business Group within Intel, said that the New Balance RunIQ fitness watch, which began shipping last week, contains a “Cloverdale Peak” chip inside of it. Specifically, that chip is part of the Z34XX family, Bautista said, which powered tablets and Intel’s smartphone efforts in 2014.

“Powered” is the right word. Intel claimed that the original Z34XX family for tablets and smartphones had enough horsepower to run Asphalt 8, a fairly sophisticated 3D driving game for Android, iOS, and Windows phones. If the RunIQ ran the full Android OS rather than just the more limited Android Wear, you might be able to play some pretty hardcore games on a smartwatch.

Intel has rapidly diversified beyond just a PC company, as chief executive Brian Krzanich likes to remind us at public events. A year or so ago, Intel was making waves with partnerships with Luxottica, Fossil, and Opening Ceremony for a number of stylish, smart devices. What’s interesting is that those devices were often powered by Intel’s Curie or Quark, small low-power edge processors Intel designed as the engines of the Internet of Things. New Balance went a different route, opting for Atom’s more powerful legacy and possibly trading off some battery life in return. Will Atom show up in other wearables, too?

asphalt8 2 1500

 New Balance’s RunIQ doesn’t necessarily look like a former smartphone chip is hiding inside of it, though the $299 fitness watch is decidedly chunky. Intel and New Balance ruggedized and waterproofed the watch to 5 atmospheres. Its battery life is rated at 24 hours, though just 5 with GPS tracking and its real-time optical heart-rate feature turned on. That’s considerably less than what smartwatches like the Garmin Vivoactive line offer, however—or even the Basis Peak, which Intel began manufacturing in 2014, later recalling it after a sensor problem.

Otherwise, the RunIQ watch can store your music with 4GB of onboard flash storage, then stream it wirelessly via Bluetooth. It can’t make calls, though it will display messages from a synced Android phone.

Behind its color AMOLED display, however, hides a surprisingly powerful Atom processor. According to Bautista, Intel repurposed and repackaged the Cloverdale Peak chip for RunIQ. The company isn’t disclosing the exact specifications of the chip, though the related Z3480 gives some idea: the Z3480 is a dual-core, dual-threaded chip, running at a whopping 2.13GHz.

“It’s a very, very capable platform,” Bautista said of the Cloverdale Peak chip. “Android is very, very snappy on this device. There’s no delay. It’s a very good experience.”

Bautista said Cloverdale Peak was a legacy of Intel’s efforts in the smartphone business, which struggled without an integrated cellular radio. In 2016, Intel drastically cut its Atom line, essentially exiting the smartphone business.

So how in the world did Intel shoehorn a smartphone chip into a smartwatch? “Well, the good thing is that we do have very deep packaging expertise,” Bautista said. “So for us, to take a piece of silicon, repackage it, move the I/O differently…is just something that we can do. And it gives more life to a product that is quite fine. Performance is great per watt. So why not? Why not just use that?”

Though Intel has seemingly prioritized Curie and Quark in recent years, Bautista said that Intel will pursue a hybrid strategy, repurposing older silicon like the Atom where it makes sense. Sometime, though, that’s not good enough. “In a number of cases, you do have to build purpose-built silicon from the ground up,” he said.