Month: August 2010

Samsung Removable Hard Drive; Don’t Matter If You’re Black or Gold

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Following up on my review of the SkyDrive service, I thought I’d review something I purchased recently. Is it the most tacky gadget I own? Possibly. But, it is the cheapest 500GB external hard drive I have seen.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Michael Jackson!

What possessed me to buy it, you might ask? Well, blame the other physics nerds – one found it, and the great deal got emphasized to everyone… Now like 8 people in university own it. It really is that fucking good a deal, at £38 with free Amazon delivery, that is under 8p per gigabyte.

MJ HD
Tacky indeed. But price beats style, especially since you get a free slip-case!

Why so cheap? Well… if my sources are to be believed, they are hitting rock bottom in high streets too. It seems that people are in fact put off by the hideous gold plastic cover, and not at all swayed by the included digital movie of ”This is It”. Maybe I would watch it if it wasn’t horribly DRM’ed… no, actually I probably wouldn’t.

Ok so perhaps some actual information. The drive is Samsung, and of course has a usable capacity of less than 500gb due to the on-going nonsense where they measure a gigabyte in their own imaginary scale where gigabytes are 1000 megabytes, which are 1000 kilobytes etc. In the real world the rest of us know that bytes work in 1024s, or 2 power 10. Don’t we have advertising laws?
The casing itself is cheap in look and feel. It is a crap plastic, with a distinctly 90s kids toy texture on the black back. I’m not at all worried about the back though on appearance, the front kinda removed visuals as a concern. I should say that you do get a Samsung black sleeve that the drive fits in and can be used in, eliminating visual concerns.
You also get a shortish usb cable, perfectly adequate. It doesn’t require a secondary power cable or usb.
The drive is also small enough to easily slip into a pocket.
It comes with some software for backing up and security, but personally I recommend forgetting about it and just getting PortableApps.

I don’t know what more to say really. The drive won’t win any awards; it isn’t the fastest, or the most pretty, but its quiet and small, portable and cheap. Did I mention cheap? Yeah, hard drives are continuing to get bigger for less money but this really is cheap. If you are looking for a cheap way of backing up, storing, moving, data, this is great.

Just don’t expect people to react well to the look. Could be worse, they could think you’re a paedophile or something…
…Sorry Michael, but it was too obvious to pass up!

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Quiet
  • Large capacity
  • Needs no extra power cable

Cons:

  • Gold
  • Michael Jackson

Check out the product at Amazon!

Peace, out!

Matt

UPDATE: Price is now back up to £50!

Windows Live Essentials Review – Sky’s the 25GB Limit!

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Did you know that a new version of Windows Live Essentials is on the way? Well it is, and the beta is already available for free download.

Live Essentials contains a load of programs, including Mail, Movie Maker, Family Safety and more. I don’t use these however 😉 and so I’m sorry! I will be reviewing Messenger, Outlook Connector, Sync and SkyDrive.

There’s lots to discuss here – the new version of Messenger for example is substantially different to your old version, but as you will see, it’s a lot better.

On with the review then, and let’s leave Messenger to the end. We’ll start with Outlook Connector, which is pretty simple. Have you noticed how these days all your social networks talk to each other, authorizing each other to see this and that data? Well Outlook Connector is a plugin for, strangely, Outlook. It allows you to add Facebook, Live Messenger, Linked In, and MySpace to your Outlook, and it will link up all your contacts or get you to do it.
What does this give you? Outlook gets a brand new ‘People Pane’ where you can see recent emails and social network info from your contacts. Simple but nice. I tend to be a little OCD so I like everything to be tidily linked.

Now onto Sync. For me, this is a dream. It’s a little app that runs on startup, and it allows you to associate each PC you use with your Live account. Live keeps track of any PC running Sync and can keep folders and program settings synced between the two. It’s remarkably fast, detecting changes instantly and updating the other PCs. It also stored these files optionally on the special 2GB ‘Synced Storage’ SkyDrive; this is not part of the 25GB I will discuss in a minute, it’s extra!
Sync also has one unobvious function. It has a brilliant remote control function, allowing you to finally, seamlessly control one PC from another in a secure way using your Live account. Once the particular PC is enabled for remote access Sync its done!

Finally Live Messenger. Well hold on guys. It’s now much bigger looking and more useful in this modern age. Facebook integration. Yes, Messenger now incorporates a social feed, taking your social feeds from Live and Facebook and combining them into a nice interface. Additionally, the chat now allows you to chat on Facebook Chat too. Useful.
The chat window has had an overhaul too. New drawings for emoticons, and the ability to share files stored on your SkyDrive such as photos are here.
Oh, and ‘block’ is now just called ‘appear invisible to’ lol

The title mentioned 25GB. So time for SkyDrive. You probably have heard of online cloud storage before. Meh, right? Well, reconsider. Hard drives in your PC don’t last forever. Any freak error, flood, fire, theft, crash and your precious memories, gone. And with Microsoft now giving every user 25GB of free storage, you have no excuse. It even links with their new Photo Album app.
I recommend using something like SDExplorer, which allows you to mount your storage as a drive on your PC, giving you traditional explorer functions. Be warned however that this app has horrendously slow transfer speeds.

Well, in summary:

Pros:

  • Finally a modern set of Windows apps
  • Facebook integration is nice in Outlook and Messenger
  • Sync tool is the best of the lot – sync all my uni and PC stuff, and also allow remote control
  • SkyDrive storage now has all my photos backed up and safe
  • Beta seems bug-free to me

Cons:

  • Messenger is much less minimalist (at least by default) and some may not like this change
  • Lacking in other social network integration in Outlook and Messenger (e.g. Twitter)

I am actually pretty impressed, visually it all fits nice with Windows 7  and the apps themselves (at least the ones I reviewed) are great.

N.B. – I can’t vouch for the other parts of the Essentials Pack!!!

Peace, out!

Matt

Pre-owned Gamers – THQ Hates You

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Pre-owned games have long been a controversial area of modern gaming. Now, some developers, such as THQ, are putting the fingers up to the pre-owned market.

It’s like this – if you walk into a store and buy a pre-owned game, you give zero money to the company that made the game:
Gamestop buy a copy of Final Fantasy XIII from Square Enix, imagine it costs them £15. Square Enix gains £15. Gamestop sell this game, new, to you for £40. Gamestop are now £25 up.
You return the game, and they give you £15 for it. Gamestop are still £10 up.
They sell this game, used, for £30. Gamestop are now £40 up.

THQ
They hatin' - THQ are among the first developers to start with restrictive DRM that prevents reselling

See how profitable pre-owned can be for the store? Yet, in the example, Square Enix only benefit from the initial £15.

Now, you might say that when people trade in games, they spend this on more games. A perhaps valid counter-argument.

Now, let’s get back to the news… developer THQ has said that it’s upcoming title “Smackdown vs. Raw 2011” will feature a one-time code in the box, and without activating this one-time code, online play is locked out. You also get the first DLC free. The most newsworthy part of this story is, THQ ‘doesn’t care’.

That’s according to Cory Ledesma, an employee of THQ, who said “loyal fans” who are interested in buying the game first-hand are the priority:

“I don’t think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don’t get the online feature set I don’t really have much sympathy for them.”

“That’s a little blunt but we hope it doesn’t disappoint people. We hope people understand that when the game’s bought used we get cheated,” he continued.

“I don’t think anyone wants that so in order for us to make strong, high-quality WWE games we need loyal fans that are interested in purchasing the game. We want to award those fans with additional content.”

EA were perhaps the first ones to test such a system, using “Online Pass” on its sports games. It similarly requires gamers to enter a one-time code for in-game content.

I understand the situation of the developers. Yeah, they are essentially losing money to the retaillers, who are taking advantage of the situation. However I have a few big problems with these plans.
Firstly, I am very disillusioned with the recent trend of giving ‘new’ buyers a code that allows ‘DLC’ when in fact that DLC is already on the game disc, just locked out. I also dislike the current trend that DLC is created for short games, expanding them to what I consider a ‘normal’ level, and that we have to pay for this ‘privilege’. Online play is similar to this.
Next, perhaps giving ‘new’ buyers some exclusive content is ok, but just plain DISABLING part of the game (online play) is dirty. A lot of buyers won’t even realise that if they buy this game pre-owned, it won’t work AS ADVERTISED.
What happens if my Xbox dies? I buy a new one… but what happens to the code? It was locked to that Xbox…
My big worry is the future. This is the next step in a more and more locked down digital world, and in fact this might hinder our culture. I can only imagine if the same measures were in some of the games I remember from my youth, which you can still get from eBay or other places, for retro and long dead consoles. I love old games too, my Sonics and Chaos Engine, etc. Will future generations be able to enjoy this game once the publisher stops manufacturing / goes bankrupt?

More and more, we don’t own digital property, we ‘rent’ it. And this is just a reminder that the company you ‘lease’ it from can take it away from you any time it likes. I can’t help but draw parallels to the music industry, who cry and wail about losing money in piracy etc yet still turn record profits… How much do you value cash over customer good-feeling, digital industries?

Interestingly, with a bit of clever work, I am already tricked into a similar situation with Steam. But I guess there I never had any expectation of being able to resell my games, and Steam value their customers, and have great deals without restrictive DRM. I can also always re-download everything as long as Valve exist.

My message to THQ and other developers is this: Stop punishing the customer – he will just stop buying from you. Put the squeeze on retaillers to give you some profit. They don’t like it? Tell them you won’t give them distribution rights to your games at all. I’m sure they will comply.

Peace, out!

Matt

PS – Surprise surprise, the masters of DRM, Ubisoft, are said to be ‘very interested’ in a similar approach.

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Blackberry OS 6 – A Storm is brewing

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I have been greatly anticipating the upcoming release of Blackberry OS 6, as I assumed that my Storm 2 (released in the UK last November, and I bought it only in January) would be getting the upgrade.

It would seem not.

From GadgetVenue:

RIM just announced the BlackBerry Torch 9800 this morning. The new BlackBerry Torch will run the long awaited OS 6 when it launches in a couple of weeks time. Along with the launch details earlier today, a press release was sent out that indicates that older devices will not be getting an update to BlackBerry OS 6.

Subject to carrier certifications in the months ahead, the new OS is expected to be available for the BlackBerry® Bold™ 9700, BlackBerry® Bold™ 9650 and BlackBerry® Pearl™ 3G, as well as future BlackBerry smartphones.

For those who have an older device, it looks like you’ll be stuck on BlackBerry OS 5 and will need to upgrade to a BlackBerry Torch or another new unreleased phone if you want to test what OS 6 is all about.

Hints at older devices not being capable of running OS 6 came recently when some Storm 3 details were revealed that show the device has more memory and power to make it more capable of running the newer OS.

I am gutted. Not because the current OS is bad, but because the additions were to include a new webkit browser, and more fluid scrolling, social network integration, along with just an updated UI. I also don’t understand why it can’t come to Storm 2 in particular. The Storm 2 has specifications that match or exceed the Bold 9700, so there is no reason why it cannot come to Storm 2. Add that to the fact that on the teaser videos all over the internet, it is clearly a Storm 2 screen.

I am still hoping this is a mistake, an error of omission from the press release. I will be very disappointed otherwise. If I wasn’t only 6 months into my contract, I’d consider going to Android.

Limbo – The Edge of Hell?

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Electricity is not your friend, and signs can be a death hazard. Luckily, this sign is broken, much like the fractured world you pass through, with no explanation for how or why it is.
Those spikes in that pit don't look inviting
In 'Limbo' you play as a young boy in a desolate world, where you are but an insignificant silhouette, hunting for your sister.
Limbo is an Xbox Live Arcade game, developed by PlayDead. It is available for 1200 Microsoft points, and makes up part of their ‘Summer of Arcade’ campaign.

If you keep an ear out on the Xbox Live Arcade scene, you will probably have heard about ‘Limbo’ by now. I purchased the game and had the pleasure of playing through it this past weekend. Why don’t I tell you a little?

Please be aware that there might be some very minor spoilers in this article.

You awake in the dark world with very little aplomb, a quiet opening of two pale white eyes against a black backdrop which is your character. The world, too, is dark and foreboding, quiet, with an ill breeze. Hope you are ok with that, as there is not a speck of colour to be found (intentionally obviously). The world of Limbo is but a shade of gray, a fitting decal for the edge of hell. Oh, as is the gore.

Sailing through the world of Limbo
Sailing through the world of Limbo. Even the water is but a gray form, still and unmoving. The light shines on the boat as you reach the shore, to explore further.

The atmosphere this creates is remarkable. I recommend playing this game in a dark, quiet room, giving it the attention it deserves. It will really enhance the experience. There are chilling moments, with animal attacks to insects, pointy spike-traps and death falls, rising water and falling elevators. It will freak you out. As will all the sudden deaths in various, often violent ways.

So, let’s get down to business. Review, eh? Ok. Well I loved the game. It really suits my style of gaming, and if I had to compare it to a recent game, I would have to say it is like Braid, in a sense. The game is as much for its art than the game itself. However, it is very different in design and play than Braid.

Electrical signs can be a death hazard.
Electricity is not your friend. Luckily, this sign is broken, much like the fractured world you pass through, with no explanation for how or why it is.

I have a few minor gripes with the game. Firstly, I currently have 104% completion. Nitpicking I know, but why not just go up to 100%? It’s a blatant attempt to play to the hunter-gatherer instincts, specifically the gatherer part :P. I’ll add to this that whilst I’m happy in that the game doesn’t repeat its puzzle types, towards the end the puzzles become harder, yes, but in my opinion, a little less interesting. In the beginning, you have some clever puzzles including encounters with a terrifying creature of nightmare proportions. These later dry up a bit and become timing-based physics puzzles in a much more mechanical environment.

Often, this boils down to dying enough times to work out the sequence, the rhythm, the timing or a jump or fall. Luckily, frequent checkpoints avoid you tearing out your brain in frustration.

The second gripe is the length. The game is not too long – I would set an estimated time for about 5 hours. This flows nicely into my final gripe, the price. Microsoft / PlayDead have set a price of 1200 Microsoft points, which is fair, however it is above the odds a little bit – I think they might sell more if it were only 800 (and actually I believe it will fall to that price in a while).

I am nitpicking. The game is excellent for those who like this type of game, which I am. I thoroughly enjoyed playing, and even once complete, I played through a few more bits to collect the various, and for once challenging, achievements. I am tired of getting achievements for ‘doing the tutorial’ or just for ‘completing mission 3’. It’s nice to see a game be a bit more cryptic with its rewards, although of course the solutions are widely available online by this stage.

Pros:

  • Extremely atmospheric
  • Fair pricing
  • Artistic
  • Good musical score
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Violent
  • Interesting story concept
  • Inventive achievements

Cons:

  • Could have been cheaper
  • A little short
  • In places, the game is a little too trial-and-death-and-error

Overall, I’d give it a 8 out of 10, an excellent score but falling just below a 9 due to the length. A totally recommended buy, but if you are feeling the pinch a bit, I’d suggest maybe waiting a little as I believe that it will drop to 800 points in a few months.