Beware of the Synapse

Perusing tech sites daily, we tend to come across some great ideas and products worth mentioning. But for every good idea out there, we discover some not-so-nice things, “cluge-y“, annoying Easter eggs in products that would drive any tech-head insane.

Such is the case with the latest version of Razer’s Synapse software (the program responsible for allowing you to save your gaming preferences). Synapse 2.0 is Razer’s new cloud-based storage solution so that, ideally, you can access your gaming preferences anywhere in the world and at any time, provided you have a Wi-fi connection, of course.

In theory, Synapse 2.0 sounds like a great idea. By storing preferences to the cloud instead of onboard, Razer says that this new feature has allowed them to keep product costs down. Cost-saving measures! What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, there have been a few road blocks along the way. A user posting to Overclock.net has discovered that with his new Razer Naga mouse, if you can’t get online to register to begin with, the mouse if completely unusable, even as a traditional plug-and-play device. Read more to find out the minute details of his issue.

While rolling out Synapse 2.0, Razer has encountered server issues which has stopped customers trying to register a new mouse or keyboard leaving them with a peripheral that doesn’t work and a few quid lighter in the wallet. Although the server issues are temporary, having to wait to use your new mouse, well, sucks!

Alas, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Razer’s Terms and Conditions for Synapse 2.0 state the following:
By using Razer Synapse 2.0 (“Synapse”), the Subscriber agrees that Razer may collect aggregate information, individual information, and personally identifiable information. Razer may share aggregate information and individual information with other parties. Razer shall not share personally identifiable information with other parties, except as described in the policy below.

A device that gleans your personal information and shares it with third parties? Ugh. Synapse 2.0 is starting to sound more unappealing the more we learn about it.

Regardless, if you’re a gamer, Razer products are the way to go. But if you’re looking to upgrade anytime soon, we want you to be completely aware of Razer’s new wave of mice and keyboards so you know what you might be getting yourself into.

Here’s a list of Razer products that exclusively use the Synapse 2.0 software:
Ouroboros Mouse
Taipan Mouse
Naga Mouse
Naga Epic Mouse
Naga Hex Mouse
Naga Molten Mouse
Abyssus Mouse
DeathAdder Mouse
DeathAdder Black Mouse

DeathStalker Keyboard
DeathStalker Ultimate Keyboard
BlackWidow Keyboard
BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 Keyboard
BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth Keyboard
BlackWidow Ultimate Stealth Edition Keyboard
BlackWidow Tournament Edition Keyboard
Star Wars: The Old Republic Gaming Keyboard

And more devices coming soon

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Smart TV explained

Samsung Smart TV
For those who aren’t quite sure what Smart TV is all about, here is the lowdown on the next generation of television technology.

Smart TV incorporates all the benefits you get from the internet, such as streaming movies, Google maps, sharing pictures or making video calls, with all the usual functionality of a television set. It enables you to conveniently access both broadcast digital content and internet multimedia content using your remote and the on-screen interface. Some of the more advanced models don’t even have remotes, such as the 7000 and 8000 series Samsung Smart TVs. They use an integrated camera which senses motion and sound to navigate around the unit, a little like a cross between Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Kinect technology. Smart stuff!

The above examples have Smart TV already integrated, but having Smart TV doesn’t mean you need to purchase a whole new set. Apple TV is a small, standalone device that connects to your TV using an HDMI cable and connects wirelessly to your existing internet router. This enables you to connect to iTunes to watch movies, TV shows and much more.

Some Smart TVs are restricted to browsing the internet through online apps, which are just micro-websites or tools which make using the web a lot easier. For example, many enabled TVs come with BBC iPlayer and YouTube apps already installed, which make catching up on episodes and videos much easier than if you navigated via a search engine on your TV.

Although TVs are the last, everyday device to have got the internet wand waved at it, applying online capabilities to your box could cover a multitude of clutter and  in your home. A smart TV could cover the work of a landline phone, TV, DVD player, home entertainment system, game station and even a home climate control system. You can Skype your friends and family, share media on social networking sites while still watching live TV and even sign up to a cheaper movie rental subscription or watch movies on demand.

With all of this at your fingertips, you can seriously consider cancelling any Sky or satellite contract and save hundreds of pounds each year. Opening TVs up to the world of internet means that online movie services such as Netflix or LoveFilm have been able to thrive giving providers like Sky and Virgin Media’s Tivo some healthy competition.

So, is it better to get a whole new TV or get a standalone device to access the plethora of internet content out there? That depends on your budget and needs, of course. Either way, incorporating internet with TV opens a whole world of new media for you to enjoy all in one place, with the benefit of viewing it on a larger screen than your laptop or phone.

- Alison Wright
Kelkoo UK

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The Nintento Wii U: All it’s cracked up to be?

When Nintendo announced the Wii U, they seemed willing to jeopardise their own existing consoles. The idea of ​​the Wii U controller didn’t convince anybody on why they needed it over a DS. But Nintendo realised that something was wrong, sensed the failure and recognised their mistakes. Of course, if Nintendo says “go with us”, most fanboys will without question.

That’s how we ended up in the Wii U presentation. We must admit that we went reluctantly, but a miracle happened in those few hours. We left more or less convinced on the quality of the console thanks to a couple of games that really know how to squeeze the most from the console while incorporating great ways to use the controller. That being said, the companies that don’t know what to do with their tablet controller might as well use it as a paperweight. Let’s see the games we tested one by one, and our verdict on the console:

Nintendo Wii U

The console: The Wii U is slightly larger than the Wii, but more stylised. It seems that Nintendo has taken Apple’s philosophy, and knows that in many houses the console is going to be bought as a mere decoration. And, if it’s going to be decorative, it has to be more beautiful than the Wii ever was, right? As for the graphics and power, it’s still too early to say. Although it shows a big improvement over Wii games, it still has a long way to go to prove its real potential. For now, some games are moving at the level of a PS3 (or slightly worse), but bear in mind that we have played demos and not full games, where the quality can vary.

The controller: The famous Wii U controller has given us mixed feelings. On the one hand, we must recognise that it looks extremely good, with very clear graphics. Furthermore, the response time of the controller over the TV screen is excellent and, in many cases, can give a gaming experience like never before, infinitely more immersive. Of course, if the controller doesn’t enhance this experience (for example, in the case of a poorly thought fighting game), it is better to play with the classic controller, or with a Wiimote. This is because the Wii U controller is too heavy to hold up for more than an hour. It sounds cliché, but it’s true: the Wii U controller weighs less than it looks, but more than it should to be really comfortable. On the other hand, the buttons are well laid out and it’s all about getting used to it, but some (the secondary L and R triggers) felt a little strange the first time they were used.

Nintendo Land: Nintendo Land, the virtual amusement park of Nintendo, is not a bad idea at all if the game comes pre-installed on the console. Moreover, we can say that Nintendo Land is a lot of fun, especially as a game to kill time, as Wii Sports was when the Wii came out. In the single-player mode, we tried to throw a ninja star shuriken from the tablet to the TV (very intuitive and fun).  We also turned the knob to get a cart to the princess, in a scenario inspired by Donkey Kong.  This doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before, except the option to see what’s going on in close up on the controller and, at the same time, see the overall scene on the TV screen, to see how far we have until getting to the target. In multiplayer mode, we tried a screen that adapted Luigi’s Mansion in a fun way and in which the controller was the main protagonist: the player with the Wii U Remote controls a ghost who tries to attack players, while the other players try to find it with a flashlight to make him weaker (without knowing where it is as the ghost is invisible, except in the tablet controller) – very funny, but so specific we think only a few games will have a use like this for the controller. To summarise, if it comes in a pack with the console, it’s a great way to show the power of the controller. If not, it’s too expensive for the collection of mini-games that it really is.

New Super Mario Bros U: What can we say about New Super Mario Bros U? It’s fun. In fact, it’s really fun, especially when four players are playing at once. It’s well orchestrated chaos, more so than New Super Mario Bros Wii. In addition, you also get the chance to snatch up a new object, an acorn, that will allow you to fly in the air to achieve the highest goals and that won’t make you fall more than once. It’s colourful, fun and a worthy continuation of the saga. But of course, there are some negative points.

For starters, this game could have gone perfectly on the Wii, according to the screens that we have played. In fact, the biggest gimmick of the console, the tablet controller, is practically useless here! Do you remember the infamous second player in Super Mario Galaxy, which could only collect star pieces while his companion played on the screen as Mario? In New Super Mario Bros U, we again see something like that. The person who has the control is able to put some blocks to prevent their comrades from falling down. Yes, it is intuitive, and even the first game can be funny, but it will end up being a fun adventure for some of the players and very boring for the player who has the tablet controller. As a second negative point, we have to say the inevitable: this game is so similar to the rest of the series, at least in the screens we’ve played (there are others that have been seen in videos that look completely new, so we may still be proven wrong here), which leaves no surprise to the player. What a shame.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2: Little can be said of Wii U Tekken 2. It’s more of the same – a very large roster of fighters, but contributes little or nothing to the world of fighting games. We must say, we could only get a couple of fights, but the minutes we could play highlighted a negative point: whilst one player must play with a classic controller, the other player, who has the tablet controller, can read the possible combos on the controller screen and play more easily. Playing a fighting game in which one of the contestants has an advantage benefits no one and, of course, is a very poor way to use the tablet controller. From what we have tried, this is, without a doubt, the most boring and least innovative game. A missed opportunity.

Rayman Legends: There are games where the control, graphics or being critical about them doesn’t matter. Rayman Legends is one of those games. It continues on the trail of Rayman Origins but gives another twist, allowing pure and simple collaborative playing. The player who handles the tablet can rotate the controller to turn wheels, cut ropes and many other things. The other players run around the screen looking for the end, whilst enemies, beautiful designs and crazy things happen in front of you. The truth is that it’s difficult to think of it working on other consoles. The work of the controller is simple but mandatory, ensuring everyone has fun. But the greatest virtue of Rayman Legends is not just the fun, the scenarios are large and varied, highlighting a superb musical scenario in which we run at full speed with great background music on a screen that we can only cheer and applause. If it this doesn’t catch on with other consoles, this could be the perfect reason to buy the new Wii U.

ZombiU: Believe us when we tell you that the trailer for this game (the gameplay one, not the spectacular cinematic trailer) does not do justice to the game. ZombiU is a game that can’t be seen in a video, you have to play to understand it. Although ZombiU is not the best game we tested (that honour would go to Rayman Legends), it is the one that opens the door to a very bright future for the tablet controller. The game may seem like a zombie adventure like Resident Evil games, but the reality is very different. Cleverly, the controller serves as a backpack. While looking at the controller, your character will crouch to look into the backpack. Meanwhile, you can zoom in on the zombies that are far away on the TV screen to aim weapons with the spyhole, making us to interact more with the story. And all of this is set in a accurately recreated London. In addition, the game offers a very original possibility: when you die, the whole progress of your character will end, and you will start a new adventure with a different character (there are hundreds of possibilities) on another side of London. If you want to recover your inventory, you must go back towards the place where your previous character died and blow his head (when bitten, it has become a zombie!) to register the body. Interesting, huh?

Upon leaving the event, we also tested two new Nintendo 3DS games which will appear in the coming months: Professor Layton and the Mask of Wonders (which has an excellent technical foundation, at least until you switch to a bit of tatty 3D, but always with interesting puzzles) and Luigi’s Mansion 2 (which promises to fix the mistakes of the first game and give us a new, very funny adventure).

Is Wii U worth your money? That can be decided only by their future catalogue and what you want to use your console for. If you enjoy party games or you just want a simple Wii evolution, Wii U fulfilled its work greatly. For more hardcore gamers, it’s started well with Rayman Legends and ZombiU, but buying at launch could be a bit dangerous because of its high price (£299 for the 32GB model). Although we had a much better experience than we expected, it is advisable to wait and see the future of the video game catalogue. Oh, and bear this in mind: you have to try it before judging it. It really is an experience you will not expect!

The Nintendo Wii U comes out 30 November 2012.

-Miguel Fernandez
Kelkoo Spain

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Has Apple finally got it right with their latest EarPod design?

Apple earpodsIt has been a long time coming, but finally, Apple has decided it was time to revamp their offering to the headphones marketplace!

Ever since I had my first iPod and each iPhone I have bought thereafter, I have been thoroughly disappointed with the quality of the earphones which came with it. The new Apple EarPod headphones are said to have improved sound quality, a better ergonomic shape which is defined by the geometry of the ear and better protection from sweat and water if you are using them for sport.

The new EarPods look different to the original Apple earbuds. Although they have the same patented “seamless unibody structure”, with the mesh opening at the edge of each bud directing sound into the ear canal, each bud of the EarPod model also has an opening on the back, but we are not sure what the significance of this is.

My pet peeve about the old Apple earphones was the amount of sound which escaped for other people to hear, which seemed to impact the quality of the sound going into your ear. It seems that Apple’s engineers have worked hard on the design to improve the bass output, giving a deeper, richer bass tone, but also to minimise the amount of sound lost.

These headphones also include an built-in remote, which has been included on earlier models. This enables you to control your music and videos, adjust the volume and also answer and end calls. This remote control unit has been sealed more thoroughly, making it more durable when it comes to exposure to water or sweat.

Inside the EarPod, it would appear that the technology has not changed significantly apart from some of the materials used. They have replaced the material the speaker cones were constructed with – from plastic to paper – which should be more resilient and less likely to tear. In theory, this should also provide an improved bass tone. However, if these cones were to tear, they’re not really worth repairing. These are, ultimately, still throw-away headphones which come free with each Apple product purchase. To buy them independently will cost you £25.

I think it really comes down to this: Has Apple managed to improve the sound quality, durability, comfort and fit enough to warrant a £25 price tag? A lot of reviews online have already shown that although the new design sits more steadily in your ear than previously, they still don’t feel as natural as some other in-ear buds. Bottom line, there is a definite improvement on comfort and stability, which is a plus.

Some people have been comparing the new sound quality to more high-end earphones costing up to £200. Although, we can’t imagine this is entirely accurate, possibly a little exaggerated, we can give credit where it’s due – the sound and particularly bass quality has vastly improved. However, other rival models for the same or similar price will get you a significantly superior sound quality and design from manufacturers such as Sennheiser, Monster Cable, Sony or Philips.

So in conclusion, we feel that the new Apple EarPods are a great improvement, and very welcome as a freebie with your new iPhone 5. However, to buy these independently for £25, we think you could get something a lot better in terms of comfort, sound quality and appearance.

- Alison Wright
Kelkoo UK

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The iPhone 5: Getting the most POW! for your pound

If you haven’t pulled the trigger yet on getting the new iPhone 5, what are you waiting for?

If lack of cash upfront or fear of commitment are your biggest obstacles, then it’s only obvious that you should do some research and shop around. No doubt that the plans on offer are complicated and potentially costly over the lifespan of a 24-month contract. How do you know you’re really getting the best deal?

We’ve done the homework for you by crunching some serious numbers on what the best deals are online as of the publishing date of this blog post. As the honeymoon period for the iPhone 5 wears off, the prices on contracts will come down significantly. You may want to revisit the pricing structures for the providers below for the most up-to-date information.

The most important thing when shopping for the iPhone 5 is to ask yourself what type of user you are. Are you a texting addict or do love to chat on the phone? Do you use 3G/4G as much as possible when the signal is good? Assessing your needs accurately can save you from overspending on minutes/texts/data that you just won’t use.

Alternatively, underestimating your usage can be a costly mistake as overage rates can be downright extortionate! Admit it. We’ve all received that one shocking bill after we went over our monthly allotment. No one wants a repeat performance of that, do we?

Unlimited everything: T-Mobile came out tops here for the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models. For the 16GB iPhone, £41/month with a 2-year contract and £49 for the phone up front will set you back a total spend of £1033 over the life of the contract. Similarly, the 32GB costs £41/month, £149 initial outlay for £1133 total spend and the 64GB came out £41/month, £219 initial outlay for £1203 total spend.

The key here in reducing the cost of the total spend was investing more money upfront on the purchase of the phone while locking into a 2-year contract. With no limits on minutes, text or data, this really is the plan for the ultra-heavy user who uses their phone for everything. You’ll never get stuck with a hefty overages bill, too.

For comparison, here’s how the other providers offering the same “unlimited everything” plan or a similar package on a 16GB iPhone stacked up against each other:

MOBILE PROVIDERMins/Texts/DataMonthly plan costHandset cost2 yr. total spend
O2U/U/1GB£26£250£874
OrangeU/U/U£51£0£1224
T-MobileU/U/U£41£49£1033
VodaphoneU/U/2GB£47£0£1128

If you can squeak by on only 1GB of data a month, then the plan with O2 is a fantastic deal if can bear to part with £250 of your hard-earned money. With a total spend over two years coming in at £874, it’s a long-term investment that pays off over time.

Cheapest no- or low- commitment plan: Here is where the competition gets slightly more tough. Most, if not all, mobile providers structure their plans in a way where you can opt for pay-as-you-go, sign on with a 12-month contract or can purchase a SIM card only. But which to choose? Again this comes down to your personal preference, what services you think you’ll utilise the most and budget.

We made our choice for the best based on price and value for money. The cheapest option is to purchase an iPhone 5 from Apple directly and going with a pay-as-you-go SIM card.

In this particular instance, the 16GB iPhone for £529 and a £10/30-day SIM card from Giff Gaff will help you stretch your pound farthest. For example, Giff Gaff’s £10 Goodybag SIM gives you 250 talk minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited data with a use-it-or-lose-it structure for 30 days.

That means that over a 2-year period, your total spend will be a modest £769, a price sure to please the most scrupulous scrimpers. If 250 talk minutes won’t cut it for you, you’re actually better off going with T-Mobile’s “ulimited everything plan” we mentioned above. Regarldess, No other competitor came remotely close in being able to offer the same no-contract usage structure for £769.

Alas, if you’re keen on going with a name you know, the 3 network comes in second with their Essential Internet SIM 200 card for £9.90 a month. At that price, you get 200 talk minutes, 5000 texts and 500 MB of data.

The best part of getting a pay-as-you-go SIM card is that you spend more money only when you want to. If you anticipate increased or decreased usage over a particular period, you can purchase accordingly or suspend usage indefinitely without the hassle of cancelling any contracts. This is the best plan for those who need flexibility and must stick to a strict budget.

MOBILE PROVIDERMins/Texts/DataMonthly plan costLengthSIM + 16GB iPhone 2 yr. total spend
3200/5000/500MB£9.901 month237.60+529=£766.60
Giff Gaff250/U/U£101 month240+529=£769
Orange100/U/250MB£10.501 month252+529=£781
T-Mobile300/5000/250MB£101 month240+529=£769
Tesco Mobile150/5000/1GB£101 month240+529=£769

Of course, if you’re an existing customer of a particular network, you may be entitled to certain upgrades and price packages that can save you even more money than we’ve outlined above. Before locking yourself into another 2-year contract in the name of securing the hottest smartphone on the market right now, do your homework and see what the costs really are spread out over the life of the contract. You and your bank account will be glad you did!

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An Android camera? Yes!

Nikon S300c Android cameraIt was only a matter of time before digital camera manufacturers decided to stop standing on the sideline and jumped into the mobile networking fray. Thus far, if you wanted to share your treasured snaps with friends on Facebook or Twitter, you had to have a mobile phone with a camera or wait until you could reach your computer to upload and share.

To solve the problem of a lack of mobile connectivity in cameras, Nikon has teamed up with Google to bring you the COOLPIX S800c, the world’s first mass-produced Android-powered camera.

This camera ticks all the boxes you’d expect any Nikon compact digital camera to: 10x optical zoom, 16 megapixel CMOS sensor, full HD movie recording and sleek, minimalist design. What the S800c does that others can’t is connect you to your favourite social networks and photo-sharing sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr via Wi-Fi connection.

As with any Android device, you can also download apps and games from Google Play and use your camera for much more than just taking photos. A built-in GPS helps you geo-tag the locations of your pictures and the camera can operate independently when the Android platform is in stand-by mode.

The Nikon COOLPIX S800c can be purchased in white or black around the back end of September 2012 for a not so cool £379.99. Is the addition of Android 2.3 Gingerbread on this camera a marketing gimmick or a new frontier for digital photography?

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Femto photography: a new frontier

While digital cameras these days are focussed on increasing megapixels and the ability to record 1080p HD video, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have looked to the future by exploring the world of ultra fast recording.

Let’s run some numbers to put things into perspective: Your run-of-the-mill digital cameras take photos at a top speed of about 60 frames per second (fps), give or take. The fastest commercially produced video camera can shoot one million fps but at a greatly reduced resolution.

With femto photography, images can now be captured at an astounding rate of one trillion frames per second. That is fast enough to be able to capture a burst of light moving in slow motion.

Not only can femto photography be used for ultra fast imaging of things that are not visible to the naked eye, but we can finally see how light waves disperse and bounce off of objects around us. With this new technology, femto cameras can also see around corners by recording light bouncing off of objects and piece together a rough 3D image of the hidden object.

Associate professor of MIT’s Media Lab, Ramesh Raskar, gave a TED presentation on this eye-opening and new technology and the applications femto photography could be utilised for. Suggestions included car cameras to prevent car accidents and invasive medical imaging. These are exciting times in which we live and we look forward to see how femto photography eventually trickles down to consumers.

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Baby goes hi-tech

mamaRoo bouncing chairWho says hi-tech gadgets have to be limited to phones, computer and gadgets? The baby market has been overlooked when it comes to innovative technological upgrades. We’re not exactly talking about toys, as the techie entertainment market for babies and toddlers is well established. We’re referring to prams and baby bouncers, things to make a mum’s day that bit easier.

We’ve come across a U.S.-based company called 4moms that specialises in robotic inventions sure to help the most harried parent cope with the effectiveness of “one-trick pony” bouncers or swings and awkward, clunky prams. Started by robotic engineers from prestigious university, Carnegie Mellon, 4moms has filled a niche market with their ground-breaking bouncer, pram, bathing tub, faucet cover and, soon to come, travel cot.

The mamaRoo baby bouncer looks like a futuristic bouncing chair with sleek styling that even Steve Jobs would admire. Looks aren’t the only selling feature of this cleverly designed baby essential. The movement of the mamaRoo comes with five speeds and five pre-set motions: car ride, ocean, tree swing, kangaroo and rock-a-bye. Because the mamaRoo has a larger range of motion than a swing or chair, your baby is on the receiving end of movement that more closely resembles that of being carried by an adult or the gentle hum of a moving vehicle. This is one smart bouncer!

If the features listed above weren’t enough, the mamaRoo also comes with a playlist of built-in nature sounds and a dock so that you can connect your mp3 player allowing your little one can relax to your own custom playlists. The seat is washable, reclines to a variety of positions and will accommodate a child up to 25 pounds. The cheapest mamaRoo will set you back $199.99 (£128) with prices increasing to $239.99 (£153) for the more colourful seat fabrics. For that price, you also get a 1-year warranty. Currently, the company only ships to the U.S. and Canada although there are a few retailers in the U.K. that sell 4mom products such as John Lewis and Nordstrom.

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The iPad prototype that “never” existed

The photos below are of the ’035′ iPad prototype that Steve jobs famously denied at a conference in 2003 by saying that tablets were a “niche market” and were only for “a bunch of rich guys who can afford their third computers”.

The leaked evidence that Jobs was actually working on a tablet of some sort has come to light in view of the Apple vs. Samsung lawsuit based on Apple’s claims that Samsung had infringed on Apple’s many smartphone and tablet patents. The photos presented as evidence are supposed to have been taken from between 2002-2004.

The ’035′ tablet was more akin to a laptop in size and weight but still featured the rounded corners that are used in the iPads today. It’s quite bulky and unwieldy by today’s standards, but goes to show that Apple had actively jumped on the tablet bandwagon quite soon after Bill Gates showed off a prototype of his own in 2000 at ComDex.

If anything, the ’035′ prototype shows that Apple is capable of extreme secrecy and can only make one wonder what other top secret gadgets they have up their sleeves.

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