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Review: Legacy of the Beast

Iron Maiden’s well publicised RPG now available on the Apps Store and Google Play has been well promoted by the band during their latest world tour supporting “The Book of Souls”. The game draws inspiration from all the bands previous albums and combines the music and artwork that fans have come to love with the tried formula of a turn based RPG. As you might expect the gameplay isn’t anything unique for mobile RPGs with a simple levelling system and well throughout skill trees combined with a plethora of in app purchases. This was never going to be the draw of “Legacy of the Beast” as it has been a game designed for hard-core fans who would recognise every reference from the bands back catalogue.

The game is well conceived to take advantage of Maiden’s mascot Eddie as you must play through a series of worlds from the Ailing Kingdom (The Wicker Man), The Kingdom of the Sands (Powerslave) and The Underworld (Number of the Beast) in order to recover the pieces of Eddie’s soul. Playing through each world unlocks another portion of Eddie’s soul and an aspect of the mascot to add to your playable characters which are interchangeable during play to capitalise on  their unique abilities.

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Beyond the inspiration for each world it’s not surprising that the developers have managed to squeeze in as many references to the bands body of work wherever possible. The newest album features strongly in the games mechanics as the book of souls which you collect early in the tutorial phrase allows you to utilise soul shards in order to summon creatures to help Eddie as he fight his way an army of cultist. However, the others are all their somewhere in different ways like the equitable items called talismans (The Final Frontier) the ever present guide called “The Clairvoyant” (Seventh Son of the Seventh Son) or a line of dialogue.

The result is a real blast for any Maiden fan as you can’t help prove your knowledge of the band by picking up all the little nodes to individual tracks. A soundtrack of some of the bands greatest hits is just the icing on the cake but is the element that obviously has pulled everything else together.

MWC Launch of the Flagships

Day one of Mobile World Congress was all about the newest flagships from LG and Samsung. The last couple of weeks have been full of speculation but now it’s official let’s check the special that matter.

Galaxy S7 and S7 edge

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The big predictions all came true with Samsung announcing the return of expandable memory through microSD support, water resistance and microUSB charger. In addition Samsung has listened to consumers and sacrificed weight for better battery life with a 3000mAh powering the 5.1 inch S7 and a 3600mAh in the 5.5inch edge.  This is a large improvement from the 2550mAh in the S6 and miles ahead of the 1750mAh in the iPhone 6s and will hopefully translate to better life. Unsurprising the rest of the internals have been upgraded with a 2.3ghz 64 bit octa-core processor and 4GB  of RAM which translates to a 30% improvement on its predecessor.

The key to a good phone isn’t just the hardware and Samsung hasn’t forgotten  to upgrade it’s version of Android bringing Marshmallow out of the box.  It also comes with a new always on feature like the LG G4 which allows uses to check the time without waking the phone and therefore saving battery life.  The other major change is the duel pixel technology which allows the camera to operate better in low light conditions and focuses faster to get the most out of the camera.  The edge also brings with it a few new features in the ‘tasks edge’  to pin specific tasks and ‘edge panel’ for widgets. Over the next few days at MWC every one will be putting these through their paces so check back for a hands on.

LG G5

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I have never really paid much attention to LG as a phone maker since it took them a little while to move passed cheap Android phones. The main point of difference with the S7 is that the G5 is a modular phone with the ability to swap out components.  These modules can be used to added extra battery life, physical camera buttons and an amp with 32 bit audio output.

The internals are comparable to the S7 with a 5.3 inch display,  4 GB of RAM, a 2800mAh battery upgradeable to 3000mAh,  microSD support and a 64 bit Snapdragon 820 processor. Beside the module upgrade slot the other point of difference is the inclusion of a double rear camera with a 16mp and a 8mp ‘wide angle’ which captures 135 degrees compared to 75 for the main shooter.  Based on the early first impressions it sounds like this is something uses will have to get use but should hopefully decrease the appearance of the selfie stick.  Not having used an LG before I’m not sure how their particular flavour of Android compares to the TouchWiz UI found on Samsung phones but for many this may be the deciding factor.

Not to be Forgotten

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Desire 825

 

Some what overshadowed by the other announcements HTC revealed four new handsets including the One X9 with an octal-core processor, 3GB of RAM and a 3000mAh battery which makes it a decent middle to top range handset but nothing to get excited about. The Desire 825 and Desire 630 share the same date snapdragon 400 and 2GB of RAM but the larger Desire 825 has a slightly bigger battery to power the 5.5 inch screen. HTC’s final device the Desire 530 is obviously aimed at the budget market with a snapdragon 210 and only 1.5 GB of RAM it’s hardly a device to really get much attention.

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Not to be left out Sony announced a whole new Xperia line of handsets. The midrange XA offers an edge to edge slightly curved display which is left out from its more powerful siblings but gives it a unique selling point. An upgrade to the flagship the Xperia X packs a snapdragon 610 processor and 3 GB of RAM alongside a 23 megapixel camera, an upgrade to that found on the Z5. Finally, the X Performance is equipped to fight with the big boys as it pairs the same impressive camera with a snapdragon 820 and includes water and dust resistance. Although it has created a little confusion with Sony’s existing line up of Xperia phones the X line up gained plenty of admires at MWC and seems to have faired better than HTC less inspiring announcements.

Stay tune for more from MWC including a wrap of the other major phone announcements,  tablets and virtual reality.

Cheers
Jono

CES wrap up

The consumer electronics show in Las Vegas is done for another year and the tech world is already turning its eyes towards MWC in a couple of weeks. However, I thought we should take a look at the major trends appearing this year and what it means practically for consumers in the real world.

Automotive
To nobody’s great surprise major car companies used CES to showcase everything to hydrogen powered cars to the latest in driverless car technical. New concepts from BMW and a new player in Faraday Future may have captured people’s attention but it was other announcements that are more likely to make a difference in the consumer market. Mainstream manufacturers Kia with is Drive Wise range of semi to fully autonomous vehicles, Toyota FCV hydrogen powered concept and Ford’s Smart mobility program which includes current road testing of experimental driverless cars all put forward an exciting vision of the future. In addition, Volkswagen unveiled the BUDD-e an electric powered van and Chevrolet showed off their own take on the electric car in the Bolt. It’s no wonder that CES is become the Car Electronics Show. As wonderful as all this sounds however it’s important to remember that a lot of these plans won’t start becoming a reality until 2020 not least of which because of the need for uninterrupted internet connectivity.

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BMW i8 Spyder3

 

Drones and Robotics
The CES floor was no doubt buzzing with new drones but the biggest announcement was the Yuneec’s Typhoon H. Using Intel’s Real Sense technology and Sonar senses the Typhoon H is able to avoid large obstacles in conjunction with the standard high end features it isn’t surprisingly that it captured a fair amount of attention. Most of the other announcements like the DJI Inspire Pro 1 and Phantom 4K offered upgrades to existing models. On the robotics side it was undoubtedly the Ninebot the collaboration between Segway, Intel and Xiaomi. No word yet on price but I suspect when it hits the market late this year that it will be out of reach for most consumers.

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Internet of Things
Just in case you have been living under a rock the new age of computing connects all kinds of device to the internet in order to make our lives easier. The IoT is yet to really take off with consumers but with big announcements from Intel with the Curie and Samsung’s partnership with Microsoft might mean that this is the year that IoT starts building for the future. Intel’s plan with New Balance to print custom shoe inserts caught my interest as it might offer everyone with flat feet like myself an easier solution.

Virtual and Augmented reality
The biggest news in VR broke before the convention got started with Oculus Rift announcing their pricing for their long awaited headset. A $600 US price tag seemed to get a few people upset but considering the price of other products and the inclusion of an Xbox One controller this appears reasonable. Now if any US techies really want to get worked up they can think about the $920 plus postage for Australian preorders, now that’s ridiculous. In addition, the other major developers including HTC and Sony used CES to demo new virtual reality content and their latest builds. One thing is for certain 2016 is definitely going to be the year of VR.

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Oculus pre-order package

Mobile
MWC in February is when most phone and tablet makers except Apple announce their major product news but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring anything to Vegas. Acer showed off their first Windows 10 handset the Liquid Jade Primo while the Huawei Honor 5X seemed like a premium Android handset. At the more affordable end LG’s K series and Alcatel’s Windows and Android phones got plenty of attention. PC makers seem to be following Microsoft’s lead making more hybrid Surface like devices that focus a little more on sleek design. Out of all these tablet convertibles my favourite was definitely the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO S, a high-end Windows 10 tablet with a full keyboard cover. Notably this marks the first time that the Galaxy brand has not been associated with Android suggesting that Samsung has recognised the benefits of Windows in the tablet market, we will just have to wait and see if this trend continues.

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Samsung Galaxy TabPRO S

Iron Maiden is getting its own RPG, coming to Android this summer

http://www.appy-geek.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=3&articleid=56069988&source=wordpress

I saw this on my daily tech feeds and thought it was the perfect combination, gaming, tech and Iron Maiden. The uniqueness of Maiden’s catalog should make this intresting since each album either has a setting in a different culture, explores a supernatural entity or embraces science fiction. In addition the bands mascot, Eddie, provides a central character for gaming to utalise rather than band members. It’s not the first time Maiden has expanded into gaming either with 1999’s Ed Hunter, a rail shooter for PC. This experiment  complemented the bands greatest hits using the album covers as inspiration for each level much like ‘Legacy of the Beast’ plans to but hopefully as this is marketed as an RPG we can expect a little more from gameplay than Ed Hunter.

Normally I don’t use my phone for gaming but for this will make an exception since its going to have a killer soundtrack.

Up the Irons
Jono

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 1

Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises.  In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant.  So lets break it down …

Microsoft Band 2

The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory,  personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.

New and improved the Band 2

HoloLens

By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience.  The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool,  robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.

Lumia 950 and 950XL

Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization,  USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.

Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices.  Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately,  most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.

I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only  for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace.  Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.

Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads.  Both realising the importance of getting  their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.

I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.

Till then,

Jono

The low cost handset

I recently got to have a play with a new Lumia 640 XL and couldn’t help but think about how far low cost handsets have come over the last few years. Only recently did a cheap phone mean that you were restricted to a low cost Andriod phone that lacked a decent screen or camera and an out of date OS among other limitations. However, as I updated a few apps for my father in law I couldn’t help but be impressed at what you can get these days for a couple of hundred Australian dollars.

The 5.7″ HD display looked reasonable crisp and seemed a good size in my hand. No longer having physical buttons on the front took some getting use to but didn’t cause any real issues. While Windows phone 8 was responsive and fluid more so then it had been on my aging lumia 920. Despite not getting to really put it through it’s paces or check out any benchmarks it is clear that the 640 XL would satisfy the average person’s needs. Possibly the biggest advantage is that Microsoft somehow managed to fit a 13 megapixal rear facing camera without breaking the bank which is easly better then anything else you’ll find at this price point. A common criticism remains the polycarbonate body but while some view this as cheap it often becomes pratical as I’m still not really sold on the “premium” feel argument about metal since most people like myself wrap thier iPhones or Galaxy S6 in a plastic cover. One of the things I liked about the Lumia 920 was for 2 and a half years I didn’t need a case and I feel the 640 XL would be the same.

At anywhere between $240 and $400 outright depending on your shopping skills and prefered currency the 640 XL is good value. In Aus you can even pick it up on plans under $50 with a $5 device charge. It’s clear to me why such products are gaining some traction in emerging markets. The only thing holding these new budget Lumia’s back is still the same story, the app gap. Hopefully, Windows 10 with it’s universal apps and iOS conversion tools can deliver the remedy at last.

Why the Apple Watch is no flop, and why Apple isn’t even breaking a sweat over early sales

http://www.appy-geek.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=3&articleid=44865165&source=wordpress

I’m normally not the first to jump in and defend Apple but in general I have to agree with Yoni Heisler from BGR. It is obvious that most media outlets and techsperts had an unrealistic expection for the Apple Watch. These were based on prejections using the success of unrelated product categories like the iPhone and iPad. Instead what they should have been focusing on is the actual demand for wearbles themselves as a category. As I have stated before wearbles suffer from a clear identity problem as all their primary functions can be carried out by existing technology and in most cases wearbles require a tethered device (iPhone) negating any real advantage.

This is largely the reason for unrealistic expectations but there are definitely things that Apple can change to help improve sales going forward. Yoni makes a comparison between the Apple Watch and iPod which he points out didn’t really start gain traction untill 2004. Unfortunately, Yoni doesn’t explain the steps taken by Apple, namely the release of iTunes for Windows in late 2003 and the release of the cheaper iPod Mini in 2004. This comparison provides a lesson for Apple as the solution seems simple, by shifting their strategy to provide a solution to Andriod users (like Windows years ago) they would greatly increase the size of their potential customer base. Obviously that doesn’t mean all Andriod users are going to jump at the opportunity to buy an Apple product but some will always be ready to look for the best product so if priced competively it would definitely improve sales.

Making the Switch: Windows Phone to Android

It’s been a while but I thought my decision to upgrade phones and jump on the Samsung bandwagon would make for a good post. Now, first of all I would like to point out that I have been a happy Windows phone user since I got my HTC Mozart more than 4 years ago and it was with some regret that I found it was time to upgrade my Lumia 920. My decision instead was motivated by hardware and the annoying lack of a new Microsoft flagship with up to date specs. The choice going forward was easy since I have had experience using both iOS and Android, the latters static icons, closed hardware and obsession with adaptors made up my mind.  So lets get down to it my phone is a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge running Android lollipop with the TouchWiz UI so my comments are not based on Google’s stock OS.

Lumia 920 Galaxy S6 Edge

The Good

One of the features that has made my transition easy are Widgets as they act similar to the live tiles available on  Windows Phone with both providing snippets of information for easy, quick consumption. The added bonus on Android is that not only do widgets show information but depending on the application have limited functionality. In conjunction with the improved ecosystem this has been a big win in making the change from Windows phone. Although I have never been obsessed with an endless supply of pointless applications that complete tasks that can already be done using the internet if it had a flash plug in the quality of official and major apps is a big improvement. The other area where I see a massive benefit in usability is Android’s ability to multitask, bring up open applications and close them all at once.

The Bad

My major criticism of Android and iOS has always been the layout of the homescreen into pages with a specific amount of real estate unlike the continuous scrolling Start Screen found on Windows phone. Now I realise that this is being a bit picky but I can’t deal with gaps on the homepage so I end up finding apps and widgets to fill up the left over real estate. Its not just all aesthetics however as I’m missing the inbuilt email client found in Windows phone as it was easy to use and allowed me to pin individual inboxes to the start screen. However, my main criticism is the insane amount of bloatware from Google’s range apps to Samsung’s own concoctions that manage to do the exact same thing. Now I’m not saying that Windows Phone doesn’t come with its own set of apps that can’t be uninstalled but its a much shorter list.

The Verdict

Overall I am content with my decision as I am quickly adapting to using Samsung’s version of Android and the larger range of apps has been good. However, I am not ruling out a return to Windows Phone in the future when Microsoft finally releases some top of the range hardware. I hope this opens some peoples eyes about being willing to change ecosystems in the future as most of the things ways we use our phones aren’t that different and making the jump doesn’t take long if you have an open mind.

Cheers

Jono

Why Is Apple Going To Have A Better Time Launching A Wearable?

Some iSheep will buy anything, but that doesn’t mean everything Apple touches turns to gold the last couple of versions of the iPad has proven as their market share and sales have been disappointing. What Apple needs for the Apple watch to be a success is a perceived need for the category. The reason why most wearables have not run of the shelves is simply that people do not see value in having something on the wrist that is a limited version of their phone with a smaller screen.

The only area where they have got any real traction has been as a fitness device which is not going to encourage people to fork out $300 plus an iPhone. This is also an area where Apple’s own marketing strategy will be against them because the Apple watch will not convince more people to change from Android to iPhone and has simply just narrowed an already limited market.

Finally the idea that the apple watch will be fashion accessory is laughable as at this price point in the form of a watch it is competing with anything from Armani to Citizen so the only people who would actually think this as cool would be diehards and tech nerds. So it might sell reasonably well with the iSheep but they have already sold their soul to the ecosystem and just want new things to show off, so it does not translate to a mass market trend. Until it hits markets I’m only speculating but it think those who are expecting a run away success are a little delusional.