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This is not your ma’s Plants Vs Zombies

The latest Plants Vs Zombies game, Battle for Neighborville, embodies a new playing style that features online combat and immersive maps. BRYAN TURNER reviewed the game.



Over a decade ago, Plants Vs Zombies was the go-to game for casual gamers, and the franchise exploded once it was released on smartphones. But the brand was badly hurt by a micro-transaction system that encouraged players to keep paying to play. While this system is highly effective in other types of games, casual gamers quickly found other games to play for free.

This caused a major pivot. The game went from a top-down tower defence game into an online third-person shooter. Since then, it has been refined over three iterations to get to Battle for Neighborville, which now features some PvE (Player versus Environment) action. PvE is a relatively new game style where players need to fight against computer-controlled enemies. The game is also online-only, so offline players are out of luck.

The characters are distinct from one another, which is a make or break factor for games like this. Players can either play as, and you guessed right, plants or zombies. It gets a bit more complicated after that, thanks to three character classes: attack, defence, and support. These classes shake things up for players in PvE mode, where each player needs to play to their class to ensure a win.

The multiplayer experience is very well-thought-out, thanks to a cleverly designed combat system. It also offers four different multiplayer modes, from killing the enemy team’s players or defending a payload. The end goal remains largely the same: kill the enemy team. Each mode also places a limit on the number of players in a match, ranging from 12v12 to 4v4.

There are three zones in the game, one for plants called Mount Steep, one for zombies called Weirding Woods, and a middle ground aptly named the Town Centre. Each zone has its own missions and rewards. The level design is rich and colourful, as one would expect from the series.

Battle for Neighborville came close to a battle royale type game, but didn’t go there. In the battle royal space of PUBG and Fortnite, it would have done well to shake up the market with a new take on combat. At the same time, it also can’t enter this space because plants would be against plants and zombies would be against zombies, which isn’t the name of the game.

One of my favourite features of the game is the accessibility. There is a narrator in the menu that voices over the settings so I knew what I was changing, even when I was far away from the TV set with my glasses off.

Overall, it’s a pretty great game for those who enjoy funky takes on online shooters. 


Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving



For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit

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Coronavirus to hit 5G



Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
Rest of Market13941165
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
Rest of Market99%85%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here:

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