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Google Pixel 4A 5G review: more than just a bigger budget phone

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The Google Pixel 4A 5G is a good phone for reasons that have almost nothing to do with the “5G” in the name. The ostensible reason for the phone to exist is to offer 5G connectivity to customers who want a more affordable phone. It starts at $499 for most carriers but costs $599.99 on Verizon. But the actual reason to buy one is much simpler: it offers a big enough screen, great cameras, and a decently fast processor. It even has a headphone jack.

Phones with some of those attributes aren’t necessarily in short supply, even at the $499 price point Google has targeted. But few can match the Pixel’s photo quality or guarantees of timely updates.

Like the standard $349 Pixel 4A, the Pixel 4A 5G is an inexpensive way to get in on features usually reserved for top-tier smartphones. But as with any phone, there are trade-offs.

The Pixel 4A 5G has a plastic body
The Pixel 4A 5G has a plastic body.

Pixel 4A 5G hardware

The Pixel 4A 5G is the largest Pixel that Google is releasing this year, with a 6.2-inch screen. It doesn’t feel as surfboard-y as other large phones, in part because it’s relatively light compared to something like a Galaxy Note and because its screen just isn’t as big as others. In fact, Google wasn’t aiming so much at making a big phone with the 4A 5G as it was trying to balance the parts and the 5G radios. The slightly larger size is more side effect than goal.

It also has relatively small bezels around the screen, though they’re bigger than on the Pixel 5 and also a bit uneven due to the OLED screen technology Google used. The screen looks good. It’s only 1080p and doesn’t have a high refresh rate. Colors are accurate, and the screen is viewable in daylight, too, which isn’t always the case with inexpensive OLED screens.

There are stereo speakers
There are stereo speakers.

There’s also a headphone jack — hooray!
There’s also a headphone jack — hooray!

I’ll give this to Google: it has chosen an aesthetic for its Pixel phones and stuck to it. The Pixel 4A 5G looks very much like the 4A and the 3A. It has a basic plastic body that’s smooth to the touch — it’s neither slick nor especially grippy — but the plastic doesn’t feel cheap, just a little plain.

The rear also holds a small square-shaped camera bump with two lenses and a fingerprint sensor. The sensor isn’t very recessed, though, and my finger sometimes has a hard time locating it. When I do find it, the sensor is lightning quick. It’s much faster than even the best in-screen fingerprint sensor, but I’m not totally sure I prefer that trade-off.

Another notable hardware feature: a 3.5mm headphone jack. The exterior trade-offs Google made to bring the price down include no wireless charging, no high refresh rate screen, and no rated IP68 water resistance — the last of which is the biggest bummer to me.

The power button on the Pixel 4A 5G is the only playful part of the design
The power button on the Pixel 4A 5G is the only playful part of the design.

Pixel 4A 5G performance

Google made a bunch of other trade-offs on the inside of the Pixel 4A 5G, of course. The main one is the processor, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G. This trade-off cuts both ways: it’s more expensive than the regular 4A’s processor, but it’s also faster and provides support for 5G.

A quick word on 5G: in the US, it’s not great. That’s why I find it odd that Google seems so compelled to create and release this phone. The oddity is easily explained, though: US carriers aren’t eager to sell any phone that doesn’t support 5G anymore. The situation is worse on Verizon, which simultaneously has the worst 5G coverage and higher prices. If you are looking at Verizon, the $599.99 Pixel 4A 5G makes less sense than just spending $699 on the Pixel 5.

5G aside, performance on the 4A 5G is quite good, easily fast enough for day-to-day tasks. Judged side by side against top-tier phones like the Galaxy S20 or even the iPhone 11, the Pixel 4A 5G is noticeably slower at tasks like rendering webpages or loading big apps. But just using it every day, you won’t really notice. Especially at its $499 price point, the 4A 5G is fast enough and should provide good performance for several years. It’s notably faster than the regular Pixel 4A, which has a slower processor and lacks 5G.

The biggest performance question mark going in was battery life. The Pixel 4’s battery life is notoriously bad (the 4 XL is slightly better, if only because it’s bigger and has a bigger battery), so Google doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. Luckily, the Pixel 4A 5G has very good battery life, thanks to its respectably sized battery and efficient processor. I had no issue lasting through a day, clocking as many as six hours of screen time on it.

Like the Pixel 4A, the 4A 5G and the Pixel 5 lack the Pixel Neural Core processor that was used for faster image processing in the Pixel 4. Although Google says it has done work to speed up image processing, if you take a portrait or Night Sight image and immediately jump to review it, you’ll have to wait a few seconds to see it. This is perhaps the only performance downgrade I’ve observed between the 4A 5G and last year’s flagship Pixel 4, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

The Pixel 5 (left) and the Pixel 4A 5G (right)
The Pixel 5 (left) and the Pixel 4A 5G (right).

Pixel 4A 5G software

Out of the box, the Pixel 4A 5G comes with Android 11. Like all Pixel phones, it will be first in line for future Android updates, and it is guaranteed to get them for at least three years. Google’s take on Android is clean and simple compared to what other Android manufacturers like Samsung and LG do.

Google has also introduced a new battery-saver mode called “extreme battery saver.” The idea is if you need to go two or three days away from a charger, you can turn on this additional option. It turns off all but an approved list of apps you choose. I don’t know why Google couldn’t have made do by improving the standard battery saver mode, and in my time with the phone, I’ve found its battery life in normal mode to be plenty adequate anyway.

The customizations for the Pixel in Android 11 are fairly minor. Mainly, you’re just getting the experience Google intends to be common across all Android phones. Holding down the power button brings up a quick menu for Google Pay and smart home controls, and some chat apps can be put into floating bubbles that sit above your other apps. There’s a feature that turns your dock into a set of suggested apps, but it’s not especially helpful.

One of my favorite software updates is inside Google Photos. On some portrait photos, there is an option to move or change the intensity of a virtual light source to change the lighting on a face. It works much better than I expected.

The Recorder app has a little feature that lets you export short video clips that display the transcription along with the audio. It’s clever, but it’s also heavily branded with a logo for the Recorder app and the Pixel itself, so I don’t see myself ever using it.

Overall, I really like Google’s take on Android. It lacks some bells and whistles but makes up for that by being well-designed.

The regular and ultrawide cameras
The regular and ultrawide cameras.

Pixel 4A 5G cameras

The Pixel 4A 5G and Pixel 5 take photos that are as good as other Pixels, sharp and contrasty
The Pixel 4A 5G and Pixel 5 take photos that are as good as other Pixels, sharp and contrasty.
Pixels excel in low light conditions.
Pixels excel in low-light conditions.
The Pixel 4A 5G has an ultrawide camera instead of a telephoto
The Pixel 4A 5G has an ultrawide camera instead of a telephoto.

Despite being lower cost, the Pixel 4A 5G has the exact same camera system and features as the Pixel 5. There’s a main 12-megapixel sensor — the same that Google has been using since the Pixel 3 — and a new ultrawide sensor that replaces the telephoto from the Pixel 4. The selfie camera is 8 megapixels and sits inside a hole punch in the display.

Since the camera systems are the same, I’ll direct you to the Pixel 5 review for more in-depth analyses. Here, I’ll just give you the short version of my observations:

  • Photos out of the main camera are great, equal to other Pixel phones. I wish Google had pushed the state of the art more, but it’s still competitive with the best cameras on the market.
  • Night Sight is automatic now and also works with portrait photos. Both are excellent, but portrait shots in very dim light show the limits of what’s possible with this sensor.
  • The 16-megapixel ultrawide camera is much more fun to me than a short telephoto, but that does mean that zoomed-in shots aren’t quite what they could be. Quality on the ultrawide is on par or better than other ultrawides I’ve used.
  • Video quality is improved over earlier Pixels, but it still doesn’t quite rise to the challenge of beating an iPhone or the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
  • Google added some video stabilization options that are really helpful if you’re not very adept with a camera, and I found myself using them more than I expected to.

Overall, the Pixel 4A 5G’s camera is my favorite for photos on a smartphone, but a lot of that comes down to preferring the way Google processes images and how well the Pixel handles dark lighting conditions. That preference used to have a wide margin compared to competitors, but the gap has nearly closed, and Google has some work to do if it wants to keep ahead of the pack.

Bottom line for this $499 phone is that you’re getting a camera that’s head and shoulders above the other phones in this price tier.

There’s a hole punch for the selfie camera
There’s a hole punch for the selfie camera.

The Pixel 4A 5G is not an exciting phone. It doesn’t have the eye-poppingly low price of the standard Pixel 4A and it also lacks many of the features on more expensive phones. The list of things it lacks includes water resistance, wireless charging, a high refresh rate screen, and a top-tier processor. Many will look at that list and think none of those things are important. But all of them are nice, and it may be that at least one thing will be a deal-breaker.

If so, Google has the Pixel 5 for $699 with nearly all of those features (and the Verizon version doesn’t cost more). If the processor gives you pause (I don’t think it should), there are plenty of Android phones and of course the iPhone to consider. At $349, the regular Pixel 4A is easy to recommend. At $499, the Pixel 4A 5G requires a bit more comparison shopping.

As with all Pixels, the 4A 5G’s strengths are hard to put on a spec sheet. It’s more unassuming than other Android phones, but its software is also more elegant and easier to use — and of course, the camera is almost surely better than the direct competition. It won’t turn heads, but the Pixel 4A 5G won’t let you down, either.

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11 reasons why Quibi crashed and burned in less than a year

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Quibi, the shortform video streaming service designed for people to enjoy on their phones, has shuttered after less than a year of existence.

Led by veteran Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP CEO Meg Whitman, the streaming service was designed to be a revolutionary way to watch videos on the go, with shows and films specifically formatted to work in both landscape and portrait modes. With nearly $2 billion raised before Quibi even launched in April and a long line of Hollywood talent on board to provide movies and shows, Katzenberg and Whitman felt pretty good about their prospects — even if analysts and media critics questioned the duo’s strategy.

Then the United States joined the rest of the world in shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic just a few weeks before Quibi launched. Quibi, a streaming service built around the premise that people would watch its shows on the go, now faced an entire population of potential subscribers stuck at home. In its brief six months of life, Quibi also faced a lawsuit backed by a wealthy foe, subscriber woes, and product feature hump. It never managed to escape being the app to ridicule.

So why did Quibi fail? Those factors all played in, but it was executives’ fatal misunderstanding of what Quibi should be that led to its inevitable and rapid downfall.

Quibi’s Survive, a show about someone doing a thing that the company could not
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

1. Nearly all of Quibi’s shows were terrible

It’s the most obvious reason but also arguably the biggest. An entertainment streaming service needs titles that are going to convince subscribers to sign up and stay, but Quibi was packed with mediocre content that seemed to come from studios and networks happy to finally sell off the projects sitting on their basement floors for years. Katzenberg and Whitman invested more than $1 billion in top Hollywood talent, and projects from top studios, that nevertheless failed to produce anything of quality.

Most titles felt like jokes straight out of 30 Rock. Then there were “Daily Essentials,” a lineup of programming that appeared daily and focused on a certain subject, like recapping late night shows or giving sports updates. They were the equivalent to videos found on YouTube — except on YouTube, the same type of content was better and free.

(Disclosure: Vox Media is partnered with Quibi on two shows and there were discussions for a Verge show in the future.)

There’s a reason I bet 99 percent of people reading this can’t recall more than a few Quibi originals. Wireless? Die Hart? Survive? Do any of these ring a bell? The only show I can remember is Murder Unboxed, and it never even premiered. Nothing about Quibi’s shows were at all memorable.

2. People’s daily lives changed; Quibi didn’t

Quibi was designed to be watched on phones, and for the longest time, Quibi executives seemed reluctant to budge on that design. Quibi seemed positively opposed to adapting to its new world at first. The company relented and slowly started adding support for Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s Chromecast so people could cast from their phones, but doing so disabled Quibi’s Turnstyle technology, the only thing really setting its shows apart at this point. It wasn’t an ideal fix. Quibi didn’t actually release an app for Fire TV and Roku set-top boxes until this week… just one day before Katzenberg and Whitman announced they were closing up shop.

3. Quibi failed to invest in the power of memes

The only viral Quibi clip was recorded from another phone. Quibi didn’t launch with the ability to take screenshots or share clips from its shows and films, and without those sharing features, there was no way for people to easily discover and engage with Quibi’s series. This all speaks to the company being led by people with no real understanding of what the future of entertainment is, especially on mobile devices: it’s not just about what people are watching, but the interactivity of turning what you’re watching into content across your own social media networks.

4. Quibi’s price was too damn high

The fact that Quibi charged $5 a month for garbage bin entertainment (or $8 a month without ads) was nonsensical. The entertainment people were getting for free on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Twitch, combined with the highly talked-about shows and movies they were paying for already on Netflix, Amazon, and Disney Plus, left Quibi’s additional price not exactly something to be desired. Quibi tested a completely ad-supported free tier in Australia and New Zealand a couple of months before the company shuttered, but by that point, it was too little, too late.

5. Did anyone outside of Media Twitter know about Quibi?

Think back to the last time you saw an ad for Quibi on TV, Instagram, or TikTok. What about a specific show? Quibi was notably bad at marketing. There was an expensive Super Bowl ad that failed to actually demonstrate what Quibi was (that ran months before Quibi was available), leaving people more confused than anything else. None of the ads for shows ever traveled on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Arguably, part of the reason Quibi and its various series, including many of its multimillion-dollar bets, never took off is because no one outside of Media Twitter knew they even existed.

Quibi founder and board chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg Photo illustration by William Joel / The Verge | Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

6. Problems at the very top

Before Quibi launched, Whitman and Katzenberg were already running into problems with each other. Whitman threatened to quit as the company’s CEO, finding that Katzenberg was dictatorial, undermined her authority, and belittled her, according to The Wall Street Journal. On top of that, neither Katzenberg nor Whitman truly seemed to understand how people use their phones, what people want from streaming services, or why something like TikTok and Netflix worked. It’s hard enough to get a company off the ground in an increasingly competitive market; it’s near impossible if the two heads of that company can barely work together.

7. Why should Quibi exist? Quibi never figured it out

The problem that Quibi could never address was, “Why do I need this?” Katzenberg and Whitman repeatedly said “we’re not competing with Netflix,” but Quibi was competing with Netflix and every other app. Without a library of great content that other streamers have or social capabilities that other apps use, Quibi needed one show to get people to open the app. That never happened. There was no reason to ever open Quibi. A streaming service needs to feel essential to people’s daily lives to survive; Quibi never even made the case to get people to download.

8. If I’m on my phone, I’d rather watch TikTok

Streaming services and social media apps aren’t just vying for your credit card; they also want your attention — constantly. If people are spending their days watching Netflix, playing Fortnite, scrolling through TikTok, and posting on Instagram, it’s going to require something exceptional to take their attention away. Quibi was full of spaghetti content — noodles thrown at the wall to see what sticks. While Quibi tried to get people’s attention, time spent on the aforementioned apps (and sites like Twitch and YouTube) grew rapidly. It wasn’t that people didn’t have more time at home to watch things; they just didn’t want to watch Quibi.

9. An ongoing fight over Quibi’s main technology

It didn’t help that throughout all of Quibi’s short lifespan the company was facing a lawsuit from a competitive and well-financed tech company, Eko, over the app’s Turnstyle technology. That’s the very tech Quibi prided its seamless portrait / landscape mode transitions on. While the lawsuit by itself likely didn’t finish Quibi off, having to fend off a legal challenge to its key technology was just more kindling for the already growing fire.

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

10. Its entire thesis is wrong

I can not stress this enough: Quibi didn’t work because no one at Quibi knew what it should be, what people wanted, or how people use their phones. Its entire existence is predicated on the idea that people want high-quality shortform content every single day, but executives arrogantly failed to acknowledge the simple point that people have routinely been getting that, for free, for years. Quibi didn’t fail because TikTok existed; it failed because executives refused to see TikTok as its biggest competition. Instead of learning from the very apps people spend hours on every day, Quibi stuck its nose up and said, “we’re doing something different” — even if no one is particularly interested.

11. And yes, the pandemic

Fine, Katzenberg: yes, the pandemic probably hurt Quibi. It didn’t single-handedly kill Quibi, though. All of the above points — not being able to adapt, bad content, lack of social sharing, no effective marketing — weren’t because of the pandemic. It was because of poor leadership and a lack of insight into consumer behavior, wants, and needs. Did the pandemic hurt Quibi by removing the coffee lines and subway rides during which people potentially could have watched its shows? I doubt it. Even if the pandemic didn’t happen, Quibi would have failed. It just would have taken another few months. Quibi’s problems were built into Quibi’s design. The fatal blows were delivered before it even launched. The pandemic just accelerated its demise the same way the pandemic has accelerated unprecedented success for many of Quibi’s competitors that got it right.

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Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake revealed in first photo from the long-in-development Uncharted movie

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It’s been over a decade since work began on a movie based on Naughty Dog’s popular Uncharted games. In that time, the film has cycled through seven directors, five release dates, and a series of scripts and actors. But a new picture from star Tom Holland — who’ll be playing a younger version of series hero Nathan Drake — in full costume as the character gives the best evidence yet that the film is actually happening this time.

The shot is admittedly not much to go by — just a still of Holland in Drake’s cargo pants / henley combo and matching pistol holsters. But looking closely reveals the ring, which, in the game’s canon, belongs to Nathan’s maybe-ancestor Sir Francis Drake.

It’s also hard not to fixate on the fact that 24-year-old Holland, looks, well, young in his first appearance as Nathan Drake. Given that the Nathan Drake in the Uncharted games is in his mid- to late-30s, that’s not too surprising. The movie is reportedly set to be a prequel / origin story for the character.

But it’s still a jarring shift for anyone accustomed to the older Nathan Drake. That’s especially true when compared to other live-action interpretations of the character in media like Sony commercials or a particularly good fan film that starred Nathan Fillion and Stephen Lang as pitch-perfect replicas of Drake and his mentor Sully.

Original Nathan Drake voice actor Nolan North also shared a few images from the set, which appears to prove that the Uncharted movie — which, at least for now, is still being directed by Ruben Fleischer — is, in fact, a real film that is actually in production and could one day be something you’ll get to watch in theaters.

Uncharted is set to hit theaters on July 16th, 2021, barring any more changes in Sony’s theatrical release schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Taylor Ali, and Tati Gabrielle are set to star.

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How Microsoft brought Gears Tactics to the Xbox Series X and S

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Gears Tactics was a big game for Microsoft. A splashy, strategic spin on the Gears franchise, it served not only to show that Microsoft is willing to invest heavily in PC games, but that it’s just as committed to Xbox Game Pass on Windows as it is on Xbox consoles.

“We were thrilled,” says Tyler Bielman, design director at Microsoft’s Gears-focused studio The Coalition, when asked about the reaction to the game. “We knew that we had captured some magic in bringing that Gears intensity and action and combining it with a thoughtful turn-based experience, and we were really happy with the reviews, we’re really happy with everyone’s response — the response on PC Game Pass was tremendous, so yeah, we were really happy with it. We think it’s a really cool addition to the Gears franchise.”

While Gears Tactics was developed for PC first, a console version was always in the works, and now, Microsoft has confirmed that it’ll land on November 10th — the same day the Xbox Series X and Series S next-gen consoles go on sale. Gears Tactics is arguably the biggest first-party launch title Microsoft has for the new Xbox consoles. With Halo Infinite delayed into next year, this is the only console debut for one of Microsoft’s premier franchises that you’ll be able to play on launch day.

For the PC version, The Coalition had to figure out how to translate Gears’ fast-paced action to a traditionally console-unfriendly genre. Now, they have the opposite task.

“We wanted to really make it authentic for the PC strategy gamer first and foremost, but we also knew eventually we would take our time and and bring it to console in a way that feels really native on the console,” Bielman says, citing the game’s controls as the most important thing to get right. “The game has to feel great with the sticks in your hand, and the game that we have with Tactics is very free and open — it doesn’t take place on a grid, you can move your units anywhere on the map. We knew that in order to make that feel good, we couldn’t just have a simple mouse simulation on the controller — we had to add functionality.”

The bones of the game haven’t changed, but there are some affordances to make it play smoother with a controller. There’s a precision mode that slows the cursor down, and new snapping features that help you select the right target faster and more accurately. The UX has also been streamlined in certain regards, like the convoy area where you manage your soldiers and choose missions, and there’s additional content including a new playable character along with extra enemies and equipment.

Gears Tactics did ship on PC with controller support, but it clearly worked better with a mouse and keyboard, so The Coalition’s efforts to refine the game for controllers will also come to the PC version along with the new content. Conversely, Brieman says that you can plug a mouse and keyboard into an Xbox console and play the game just as it would run on a PC.

While a console version was always planned, it wasn’t necessarily intended to happen alongside the launch of the new Xboxes. “It wasn’t so much someone saying like, ‘Hey, you’re gonna make sure this game is on the hardware,’” says Cam McRae, technical director at The Coalition. “It was more like, our game’s gonna be ready to ship and there’s hardware so let’s target it and make it happen.”

“PC was our primary focus, but we we knew that we were going to ship on console eventually so we had a console version running mostly from the very start of the project,” McRae adds. “We didn’t specifically spend a lot of time with it, but we just maintained it to make sure that there wasn’t going to be this massive effort to go and actually make it run on Xbox at the very start. So when we started actually looking at the console, we already had an Xbox version running which was really good because we didn’t have to spend time on the table stakes of running on the hardware.”

“And then when Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S hardware came out, moving from Xbox to that hardware was not a huge effort for us. We were already working on it for Gears 5 and even though the hardware itself is different, the tooling that we work with remained the same, so we weren’t making this huge change to how we built the game. We just had a target like the rendering subsystem and I/O and other things to make it work on the new hardware.”

Microsoft’s multi-device Xbox strategy means that its new games need to run on a wide variety of hardware, all the way from the original 2013 Xbox One through the 4K-capable Xbox One X, the 1440p-targeting next-gen Series S, and the ultra-high-end Series X. According to McRae, though, tuning Gears Tactics for each system was simpler than making it work on PCs in the first place.

“It’s harder to make PC games,” he says. “Tyler can attest to the fact that my workplace has a stack of GPUs — there’s just so much hardware on PC. You have different RAM configurations and different hard drive speeds and totally different vendors on GPUs and then just a huge range of drivers you have to worry about and CPUs. So it’s harder, but it’s kind of fun, too.”

“For us, because we’ve made a few PC games now and we kind of understand how to scale for all that hardware, when it comes to looking the whole range of Xbox we can scale our game very well because we already know how to do it on PC. It really helps when you start targeting consoles — it’s just like yeah, there’s a few of them and and everything’s fixed, right? Targeting fixed hardware is always easier even if there’s two or three. It’s still much easier than the tons of combinations in the PC space.”

Gears Tactics will run at 4K/60fps on the Xbox Series X with a choice of 60 or 30fps for the cinematics — “not for any performance reason but more for just personal taste,” McRae says. The Series S will run the game at 1440p/60fps, while the One X will have the option for 4K/30fps or 1440p/60fps, and the One S is at 1080p/30fps. McRae says each version is tuned individually for each console beyond simple parameters like resolution. “I look at the hardware, look at all the different settings I have available under the hood in the engine, which is hundreds of things I can tweak and tune or optimize, and then it’s just balancing them all to get the best picture quality and hit a performance target.”

The Series X will obviously run Gears Tactics better than the other consoles, but one big question I had was the relationship between the Xbox One X and Series S versions. The Series S is a next-gen console with similar CPU and SSD advances as the Series X, but unlike the One X it doesn’t target 4K resolution, despite a GPU that’s roughly comparable in raw power. Given that both consoles can run the game at 1440p/60fps, with an extra 4K/30fps option on the One X, which is the better version?

“That’s a good question — it is better on the Series S,” says McRae. “It’s visually better — same resolution, same frame rate, but the CPU is so much better in the Series S and the Series X that we have a lot more ability to just draw more stuff. Even though the GPU is responsible for drawing, we still have to get it there off the CPU, and on the Xbox One X you’ll see that the visual quality is not quite as high as it is on the Series S in the performance mode.”

While Gears Tactics still needs to run on the CPU-constrained Xbox One consoles, The Coalition says this didn’t compromise the design of the game. The two foundational elements of Tactics’ action, according to McRae, were the number of enemies for a given encounter and how long it could take for the AI to make its move. There was initially a back and forth between the tech and the design side, as you’d expect, but ultimately McRae says the team hit a “really sweet spot” between the scale of the encounters and the speed at which they play out. “If you put too many enemies in, it becomes very overwhelming very quickly,” he says.

“Because we had worked to design the constraint of how many enemies and we kind of knew our hardware limits we could then go and say this is how much we need to optimize the enemy turns so that it can finish in time. So how that actually manifests in reality is, on a very slow CPU the enemy turn might go over its limit a little bit compared to a brand new CPU in the Series X or the Series S where the enemy turns are really snappy, they finish their planning really quickly and they do their turn and it’s back to the player.”

Microsoft’s hardware agnosticism has been taken to a new level recently with the launch of Xbox Game Pass for Android devices, all streaming over the company’s xCloud servers. The Coalition won’t confirm when or whether Gears Tactics will be playable this way, but I was interested to know the team’s thoughts on how the game might adapt to touch controls, which is something that Microsoft has been expanding.

“We actually looked at it way back when we started on the PC because we thought that people might be playing this on a PC that has touch,” says McRae. “So we did a very initial pass of it, but it wasn’t something that we really pursued because we were just looking at the data and not a lot of users actually would use touch for this kind of game. They would sit down and play on their laptop or they would play it with the mouse and keyboard. But when we look at something like xCloud, yeah, if we were gonna put it there then I think touch is something we would revisit.”

Wherever you end up playing it, Gears Tactics is worth checking out, particularly since it’s on Game Pass across all Xbox platforms. I really like the PC version — it’s a smart reinvention of the Gears series, and it’ll be one of the first things I fire up on a next-gen Xbox. Between Tactics and last year’s excellent Gears 5, it feels like the franchise is firing on all cylinders again.

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