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Sony Prototype Earbuds Keep You Aware of Your Surroundings

BERLIN—It was teased during MWC, then never mentioned during Sony's IFA press conference, but the oddly shaped Xperia Ear Open Style prototype was here on the showroom floor.

The Sony Xperia Ear we reviewed last year consists of an earpiece that sits in one ear and serves mainly as a voice assistant and a way to make phone calls. The new Xperia Ear Open Style is for music, too.

The two earbuds are slung around the bottom of your earlobe and remind me a bit of old-fashioned hearing aids. Placement was not intuitive; I required assistance from the Sony representative, and found the fit to be profoundly uncomfortable because of the way the earbuds pulled down on my earlobe. That said, they served their purpose in allowing background noise to filter in even when music was playing.

Sony Xperia Ear Open Style prototype

That's a feature Sony has been keen on lately. Its new line of Bluetooth headphones, neckbuds, and earbuds all feature smart ambient sound that automatically adjusts noise cancellation to let you hear things like announcements. What the Xperia Ear Open Style does isn't quite so advanced; the earbuds are simply designed to let in sound and there's no built-in noise cancellation or app that lets you adjust the level of sound you let in. If you want that feature, go for the WF-1000X.

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The two earbuds have a four-hour battery life, according to Sony, and the included charging case can give you an additional 12 hours. Like the first Xperia Ear, the Open Style supports Sony's Xperia Agent, Google Assistant, and Siri for voice commands. We weren't too impressed with the implementation of Agent during our Xperia Ear review, but Google Assistant is a compelling alternative.

Audio quality is always hard to determine on noisy and crowded showroom floors (especially when using earbuds designed to let in noise). What I listened to can best be described as flat and a bit muddy. And because of the open style, the earbuds can also leak sound depending on the volume level.

However, Sony was very clear that the Xperia Ear model being displayed is an early one, so it's premature to pass judgment, and we're sure fit and audio quality will improve before you see these available for sale.

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Microsoft’s Twitch rival Mixer gets a revamp, including new developer tools for interactive gameplay

Microsoft is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its game streaming service and Twitch competitor, Mixer, with a host of new features, including a refresh of the user experience and the launch of an expanded developer toolkit called MixPlay. The new streamer tools will roll out along with the revamped version of Mixer .com across desktop and mobile web, and will initially be available to Mixer Pro subscribers. The company claims the service saw more than 10 million monthly active users in December 2017 – a figure, we should point out, may be higher because of holiday sales and the accompanying bump in game downloads and playtime seen across platforms. However, Microsoft also says that the Mixer viewing audience has grown over four times since its launch, and the number of watched streams has grown more than five times. These are still not hard numbers, but third-party reports have put Mixer well behind Twitch’s sizable and still-growing lead in terms of both concurrent streamers and viewers. (Those reports aren’t 100% accurate either, though, because they can’t track Xbox viewership.) Microsoft says the updated Mixer.com rolls out beginning today, with a focus on making it easier for viewers to find the games and streamers they want to watch, as well as those broadcasting in creative communities. While Pro subscribers will gain access first, they’ll have to opt-in by visiting their Account Settings and turning the new look on manually. (To do so, select the “Site Version” dialog, then the “Feature/UI Refresh” option, Microsoft says.) The full refresh will arrive to all Mixer users later this summer. As part of the new experience, the company is also rolling out more tools for developers with the launch of MixPlay. As Microsoft explains, instead of just adding buttons below a stream, MixPlay lets developers build experiences on top of streams, in panels on the sides of the video, as widgets around the video, or as free-floating overlays – all of which can be designed to mimic the look-and-feel of the streamed content. Basically, this means the entire window is now a canvas, not just a portion of the stream itself. One example of what MixPlay can enable can be seen in April’s launch of Mixer’s “Share Controller” feature, which created a virtual Xbox controller that could be shared by anyone broadcasting from their Xbox One. This allowed gamers and viewers to play along in real-time from the web. In addition, MixPlay will enable other games that are only playable on Mixer where controls blend into the stream – like Mini Golf, which launched this month and now has 300,000 views, or Truck Stars, for example. Three new MixPlay-enabled games are launching today, as well, including Earthfall, which lets viewers interact with streamers or even change the game; Next Up Hero, where viewers can help a streamer by taking control or freeze the streamer at the worst possible moment, depending on their mood; and Late Shift, a choose-your-own-adventure crime thriller you control. These sorts of MixPlay experiences shift the idea of Mixer being just another game streaming service to one where viewers can actively participate by playing themselves, or at least guiding the action. That could also serve as a differentiator for Mixer as it tries to carve out a niche for itself in the battle with Twitch and YouTube Gaming. But MixPlay isn’t just for interactive experiences, Microsoft notes. It can also help developers build experiences that simply enhance streams with additional content, too, like a stats dashboard. Another update involves the Mixer Create app, which offers mobile support to streamers. Now, streamers can kick of a co-stream by clicking the co-stream button on their Mixer Create profile, then send out invites, among other things. This is live on Android in beta today, and will launch soon on iOS beta, with a full rollout in early June. In terms of perks, Microsoft is running an “anniversary” promotion offering $5 of Microsoft Store credit along with any Direct Purchase of $9.99 or more. A second promotion is giving away a free, 1-month channel subscription and up to 90 days of Mixer Pro to anyone who reaches Level 10 on their account between May 24th, 2018 at 12:00AM UST and May 28th, 2018 at 11:59PM PDT. The company additionally announced a new partnership with ESL on esports, which will bring over 15,000 hours of programming from top competitive games to Mixer, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Dota 2. These tournaments will take advantage of Mixer’s FTL technology for “sub-second latency,” the company says. Other announcements around games and esports are mentioned in the Mixer blog post, too.

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