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Zelda Sheikah Slate review: Link’s new phablet has magic, but no Netflix

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Breath of the Wild’s best toy is a really big smartphone

Photo: Nintendo

The Sheikah Slate is not your run-of-the-mill gadget. Bestowed upon hero of light Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Slate is severely limited in its feature set and unable to do basic modern-day tasks, like browsing Netflix or accessing a global communications network linked together by satellites. It does, however, pack some pretty unique specs and comes capable of performing feats of alien magic.

The Slate’s screen appears to fall right in the middle of phablet territory, not quite a 7-inch tablet and too bulky to compete with the standard iPhone. The display seems powered by some mystical liquid-crystal technology developed likely by the Zoras, a race of ancient humanoid amphibians. Its Hylian-01 chip also looks like the world’s first mobile quantum processor, or else how could it achieve its near-unlimited processing power, or conduct instantaneous matter transfer over long distances?

With infinite battery life, the Slate would have to be powered by a miniaturized nuclear fusion reactor. Yet unlike a sleek iPad or the versatile Surface, the Slate’s design is a bit old-fashioned and rustic, and few will find its built-in carrying handle all that useful. One neat feature is the ability to use the Slate as a telescope, yet its fixed optical zoom means you’re often bumbling around at the edges of skyscraper-sized tower structures trying to see where to go next.

Hardware aside, the Slate’s standout features are in its software and services. When interfacing with a shrine of unknown origin, the Slate is allowed to download apps of sorts called runes, which imbue it with new abilities like allowing the device to manipulate the otherwise unbendable laws of electromagnetism, thermodynamics, and general relativity.

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

One slight downside is its proximity sensor, which ceaselessly drives you to the edge of insanity by beeping at an increasing frequency until you turn on location services and grant the Slate its desired privacy permissions. The Slate also materializes explosives from thin air, which may result in less careful users inadvertently blowing themselves up.

The device has a passable back-facing camera and front-facing selfie cam, making it one of the more capable mobile shooters out there. But in a surprising twist, the Sheikah Slate makes use of some advanced machine learning algorithms to perform real-time object recognition.

After having been trained with millions upon millions of examples of goats and baked apples, the Slate’s neural network is able to identify these items from your photographs and then passively track them in the wild at your discretion.

There are some noticeable trade-offs to point out. The Slate’s OS is a pretty locked down and third-party app support is nonexistent, forcing Link to use apps like Hylian Maps over superior alternatives when traversing Hyrule. (Though one neat feature is a geotagging system for Hylian Maps that lets the Slate drop pins for notable points of interest when scoped in.) It also requires local wireless connections with app shrines, some of which are precariously located and guarded by gargantuan robot spiders.

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

These automated killing machines are an anti-piracy measure implemented by known pro-DRM advocate Calamity Ganon, ensuring only the most dedicated and law-abiding of early adopters can use the Sheikah Slate’s more cutting-edge features. Still, the policy is pretty user-hostile and may result in violent laser combustion.

Some other notable additions to the Slate include a NFC chip for contactless mobile payments — and for opening otherwise impenetrable and ancient locking mechanisms:

Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

Costing approximately 100 years of your life in a deep and dreamless slumber tucked away inside an ancient mountainside, the Sheikah Slate doesn’t come cheap. But if you’re looking for a solid midrange device that defies all known laws of physics and absolutely obliterates the known limitations of modern technology, it’s a worthwhile purchase — even without Netflix.