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7 Days: A week of Xbox exposés, Surface delights, and the curious case of Amazon's button

7 Days is a weekly round-up of the Editors' picks of what's been happening in the world of technology - written with a dash of humor, a hint of exasperation, and an endless supply of (Irish) coffee.

From across the tech world this week, there have been some lovely surprises, a couple of disappointments and, of course, plenty of intriguing hints about what’s still to come. But, as ever, 7 Days is here to guide you through the biggest stories of the week – and this time around, we start our journey Down Under.

Those on the lookout for a cheap-as-chips smartphone in Australia may have just been presented with the perfect opportunity to make a purchase. Microsoft’s Lumia 530 is currently available for just $29 AUD (around $22 USD), along with a free cover, at Big W stores, as part of a special Easter promotion. The Lumia 530’s specs aren’t exactly amazing – but it’s hard to argue with what’s on offer at such an incredible price.

Meanwhile, over in the US, Best Buy is currently giving away a free Lumia 635 4G Windows Phone to buyers of its Xbox One 500GB Halo: The Master Chief Collection bundle.

Halo fans across the globe rejoiced this week, as Microsoft aired a live-action trailer for the next game in the series, Halo 5: Guardians. But even more exciting than that, the company also revealed the game’s release date for the first time. Yippee!

But there was bad news this week for those eagerly anticipating another Xbox One exclusive title, Quantum Break. The game was first announced in 2013 ahead of a planned launch last year, but it was later pushed back to 2015. Unfortunately, its release has now been delayed again, and its developers say it won’t go on sale until 2016 at the earliest.

If you’ve got an Xbox One, you may well own the utterly crazy and absurdly fun Sunset Overdrive (and if you don’t, be sure to check out our review of the game here). If you do own it, get ready for more action, as the new Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines expansion pack is available now.

While we’re discussing all things Xbox, it’s worth highlighting some rather intriguing revelations that emerged in an interview published this week with Seamus Blackley, one of the co-creators of the original Xbox. He revealed that Microsoft seriously considered making the original Xbox free, and even mulled the possibility of buying Nintendo, at a time in the Xbox’s development when MS was planning to focus the console on casual gaming.

The timing of the interview was unfortunate, as when we published our article about it on April 1, many readers assumed that it was actually an April Fools’ joke. It wasn’t.

Remarkably, a tiny handful of people still smugly insisted that it was all made up – revelling in how brilliant they were for spotting the deceit – even after being explicitly told that the interview was genuine and the article was factually correct, and not a gag.


Anyway... Microsoft announced that it has stopped selling its Kinect v2 sensor for Windows – but it’s not quite the end of the road for Kinect on the desktop OS. In fact, you’ll still be able to buy the regular Kinect v2 sensor for the Xbox One and connect it to your Windows PC via an adapter that’s been available since October.

Over in the US, Verizon finally caught up with its rivals this week as it opened pre-orders for Samsung’s new flagships, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge. Verizon is pretty sloppy when it comes to offering the latest devices in a timely fashion – for example, it only recently began to sell Google’s Nexus 6, months after rival carriers launched the device.

Oh, and speaking of the Galaxy S6, it turns out that the handset bends just as easily as Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus – which, frankly, makes Samsung look pretty stupid for rubbing Apple’s face in it during the whole ‘Bendgate’ saga.

Also: [insert incredibly obvious joke about Samsung copying everything that Apple does, here].

After unveiling its latest flagship, the One M9, on the same day as Samsung’s Galaxy S6 was announced, HTC quietly revealed another high-end addition to its range this week. The One E9+ features a 5.5-inch Quad HD display, along with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of onboard storage and a (very noticeable) 20MP rear camera.

Leaked renders also emerged of yet another HTC flagship-class handset, the One M9+. The device is also expected to feature a large Quad HD display (compared with the standard M9’s 1080p screen), along with a high-end MediaTek chipset and a fingerprint scanner.

ASUS launched its new Zenfone 2 in Europe this week, offering some pretty tasty specs at some very reasonable prices. In fact, the top-of-the-range model went on sale in France at the special promotional price of €299 (it will eventually be priced at €349), and includes a quad-core 2.3GHz Intel Atom Z3580 processor, 5.5-inch Full HD display, 32GB of storage and a whopping 4GB of RAM, along with Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Leading Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi announced its new Redmi 2A handset on Tuesday, aimed firmly at the lowest end of the market. Even so, the device features some fairly impressive specs considering its modest price tag.

But it seems the company may be planning to go even further in targeting buyers with tiny budgets. Xiaomi will reportedly launch another affordable handset next week, with a 4.7-inch HD display, quad-core 1.7GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB storage and plenty of other features, for the equivalent of just $80 USD.

Despite not offering any Windows devices of its own, Xiaomi is Microsoft’s official partner on an exciting new project aimed at offering owners of the Chinese firm's flagship Android handset, the Mi4, the ability to install Windows 10 onto the device. A video was published on Xiaomi’s own forums on Thursday, showing Microsoft’s new OS in action on the Mi4.

Another video emerged this week, showing build 12534 of Windows 10 for phones in action – and if that wasn’t enough, a bunch of screenshots also surfaced of build 12531.

Microsoft has so far released only one build of its Technical Preview for phones – and even then, only for a tiny handful of devices. But while it had already stated that it will bring the next build to most of its Lumia range, Microsoft confirmed this week that it is also “working on” extending availability of the Windows 10 preview to non-Lumia handsets.

But in a far more exciting development, Microsoft officially released another build of its Windows 10 Technical Preview for PCs this week – just two weeks after making the last one available:

The latest build isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with new features. But in fact, the release of 10049 was really aimed at delivering one important new feature to Windows Insiders: Microsoft’s next-generation web browser, Project Spartan:

But Microsoft had some even bigger news to share this week – even more exciting than the new Windows 10 build and the first public preview of Spartan.

On Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled the Surface 3, a lower-cost alternative to its popular Surface Pro 3 tablet. The new device features a 10.8-inch 1920x1280px display (3:2 aspect ratio) and quad-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom x7 (Cherry Trail) processor, with various configurations priced between $499 and $699, offering up to 128GB of onboard storage and 4GB RAM.

However, unlike its bigger brother, the new tablet doesn’t include the Surface Pen (that’ll set you back an extra $50), and the keyboard will cost a further $130.

On the same day as launching the Surface 3, Microsoft’s Panos Panay discussed the launch of the first-generation Surface RT – a device that never came close to meeting Microsoft’s sales expectations. Indeed, the company wildly overestimated demand for the original Surface, which ultimately prompted it to write down around $900 million in “Surface RT inventory adjustments”.

Panay said on Tuesday that the Surface team learned “unbelievably valuable” lessons from the launch, the lukewarm response to the product, and the eventual writedown.

Still, it seems that Microsoft hasn’t quite found the right balance when it comes to managing supply and demand of its devices. A report this week claimed that the company had ordered just 30,000 units of its new Band wearable device for its launch in the United States – which would certainly explain the severe stock shortages that frustrated potential buyers for several months.

There was good news for developers on Wednesday, as Microsoft announced pricing for its new Visual Studio 2015 tools, including some very significant price reductions.

Microsoft’s Windows XP reached the end of its life last year, but it’s still clinging to its reputation as the OS that just won’t die. The latest data shows that XP still has more users than both Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 combined, although its share of the market is gradually declining.

Microsoft Technical Fellow and Azure chief technical officer Mark Russinovich said in an interview published on Friday that open sourcing Windows is “definitely possible”. It’s also pretty unlikely, for all sorts of reasons, but Russinovich made the point that Microsoft has been considering every possible option when it comes to making decisions about the future of its software and platforms.

Microsoft is certainly quite a different company compared with how it was just a few years ago. One key element of its transformation has been the shift from focusing its software efforts almost exclusively on Windows, to its new cross-platform approach of making its software as widely available as possible.

Yet another example of this emerged this week, when the company announced that it was making its Office Lens app – previously a Windows Phone exclusive – available on both Android and iOS.

Meanwhile, Apple’s latest idea of embracing other platforms isn't quite in the same spirit. The company is now accepting select Windows Phones and Android handsets in part exchange for a new iPhone, in an expansion of its Reuse and Recycle Program.

Over in the UK, leading carrier EE announced that it’s giving away a free 2600mAh battery to millions of its customers – but the plan is far more interesting than just a one-off freebie. In fact, EE says that customers will be able to use the Power Bar charger to juice up their handsets, and then either recharge it at home, or - if they're out and about - they can simply head to one of its stores and swap it for another fully-charged unit, at no extra cost.

After first being spotted in India last month, voice calling is now available for Android users of WhatsApp across the globe. iPhone users are expected to be next in line to receive this functionality, but there’s no info at all on whether WhatsApp plans to bring this feature to its apps on Windows Phone or BlackBerry as well.

It’s now been almost six months since Google announced Android 5.0 Lollipop, but frustrated users around the world continue to wait impatiently for it to land on their devices. But for a lucky few, the wait was finally over this week:

But perhaps the most bizarre announcement of the week, came from Amazon. Each of its new ‘Dash Buttons’ is dedicated to one specific product, and can be placed anywhere in your home. Fancy some mac and cheese? Just press the Dash Button for that particular product, and it will be immediately ordered for you from Amazon, and then delivered to your door... at some point later.

Almost unbelievably, the Dash Button is actually a real product and not a brilliant piece of self-deprecating April Fools’ comedy by Amazon, satirizing the desperate need that some consumers have to mindlessly buy anything and everything that they possibly can from the company.

Now that would have made us smile...

But, alas, that brings us to the end of this week’s round-up. For now, all of us at Neowin hope that you have a great weekend, and a happy Easter!

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