With the dull thud of inevitability, next Wednesday brings the unveiling of the iPad 3 - and in keeping with company tradition, Apple's latest incarnation of its tablet is sure to include snazzy upgrades, an aura of sleek sexiness, and the general sentiment that your iPad 2, once the crown jewel of tablet computing, will soon find itself relegated to the status of "grandpa computer."
As per usual, the rumor mill is abuzz with speculation. There has been talk of a retina display (or something of that order), quad core chip, and other such loviness, though as this comes from the internet - that place where truth and lies dance a most terrible waltz, 24/7 - and as such, should not be taken as gospel.
It's long been known that Apple employees take a blood oath not to reveal company secrets. Failing that, the "iTerminate" app, preloaded on Apple's proprietary Killswitch, utilizes the power the Intel i7 processor ("it's fast") to sever the brain stem of loose-lipped individuals in just under 2.7 microseconds. Still, Orwellian future-tech aside, it will be interesting to see what happens with the latest incarnation of Apple's tablet. It certainly has its place in the gaming realm: whether one is hopeful about introducing an otherwise uninterested demographic to video games, or subscribes to the doomsday notion that the unending torrent of cheap games will spell death for "hardcore" titles, both iOS and Android devices have shown to be lucrative platforms for developers.
One can expect the iPad 3 to fetch roughly the same price as its predecessors - with an increasingly competitive tablet market, it seems unwise for Apple to stray too far from the iPad's $500 starting point - and those hoping to save some money on an iPad 2 will no doubt find themselves disappointed - that is, unless you're willing to purchase a used device online. As I recall, the original iPad was treated to a $50 or so discount (through the Apple Store), before kicking off into the Great iCloud, and assuming you already have $450 at your disposal, it makes more sense to fork over the extra $50 for the latest model.
Image via practicallyefficient.com
Controller-free gaming: Once the collective fever dream of the gaming world, they have found a happy little home in this generation of consoles. All three manufacturers have their offerings, though the Kinect stands out for using neither wand nor nunchuck: rather, it is your salacious, salacious body of yours that provides the input.
Now, with the Move already under its belt, Sony may be looking to encroach on Microsoft territory, according to a recently-discovered patent, filed back in October of 2011. While initially annoying - the Move brought accusations across the web that Sony was simply ripping off the Wii, and the company will no doubt face accusations of ripping off Microsoft - it is worth remembering that Sony has been working with controller-free gaming since the PS2. Invented by Richard Marks, who brought us the Eye Toy, Move and PlayStation Eye, the patent is for a device that provides a "real-time three-dimensional interactive environment using a depth sensing device." While the above sketch is rather basic - no doubt owing to Sony's "thousand of chimpanzees using MS Paint on thousands of PCs" department - it does give credence to the notion that such a device will be, at its core, a ramped-up incarnation of previous camera-based gaming peripherals. News is scant - we'll be providing updates as more details come in - but according to Eurogamer's summary, Marks & Co. aims to provide a more natural, fluid experience than previous devices.
While motion-control gaming has yet to dethrone the almighty controller, the success of the Kinect has shown that such devices can be successful in the marketplace, even if only to fill a niche. Thus, in the interest of
f**ktons of cash diversifying one's gaming portfolio, it's not terribly surprising that Sony has an interest in developing a successor to the PlayStation Eye.
So until we step boldly into the inevitable future - 2040 will be the year Microsoft unveils the "NeuroBox 360 Reality Synthesizer" - we'll simply have to settle for our primitive toys. I for one am disappointed. We were promised holodecks; instead, we have tricked-out webcams strapped to our televisions.
This is not the future I was hoping for.
A couple weeks ago, I reported that Razer was to debut a fancy new piece of hardware at CES, codenamed "Project Fiona." The consensus seemed to point to the notion that this would be the Razer Switchblade, a souped-up gaming netbook with a rather impressive, fully-programmable keyboard. Evidently, the tech has made it's way into the high-end, $2,800 "Blade" gaming laptop, and this "Project Fiona" business was, in fact, a gaming tablet.
Rather than running Android Honeycomb, as has become the standard for most non-iOS tablets, this 10.1 inch window into the digital realm is running Windows 7, though Razer informs Joystiq that the device "will eventually run Windows 8."
What was shown at CES is simply a prototype, and thus details are scant. What we do know is that it its 10.1 inch screen will have a 1280x800-pixel resolution, and will feature a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor. It will also have an accelerometer, as well as force feedback on the controllers affixed to the sides. Speaking with cnet, Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan (aka Captain Serious) estimates that Project Fiona "will have battery life akin to that of a laptop, not a tablet." As far as cost is concerned, Razer is looking at a "sub-$1,000 price tag when it brings the final version to market, planned for the end of this year.
Project Fiona is - well, it's something. To be honest, I'm not tremendously fond of the concept. One can only hope that those ghastly controllers/overgrown barnacles on the sides are in some way removable (the photos are less than encouraging) in the final product, lest Fiona lose the portability factor that, well, is the reason one buys a tablet. You could also buy a $900 laptop with a $30 USB game controller. Still, it will be interesting to see what changes come in the future - Razer's purpose for showcasing the tablet was to garner user feedback - and we'll let you know how things develop!
As news fiends may remember, Razer announced plans for something called the "Switchblade," an ultra-portable gaming computer. Now it seems that the fabled device (codenamed "Project Fiona") at will be making an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins in a mere six days.
An earlier video for the Switchblade, narrated by Razer CEO and "Most Serious Man on Planet Serious" Min-Liang Tan, gives an overview of the device. For those unfamiliar with it, the conceit is that it's essentially a gaming netbook. However, the main selling point is that every key on your keyboard is capable of displaying a separate image. While the QWERTY layout is the default setting, one can customize his or her layout for each game - for example, WoW players can have an icon for each of their abilities, essentially turning the keyboard into a giant controller - for a more efficient, intuitive experience. As for mouse controls, gone is the trackpad; rather, users are given the option of connecting a mouse via USB (whether the Switchblade supports Bluetooth is unknown) or making use of the "ultra-sensitive, multitouch screen."
It's an interesting idea, and does address my principal complaint with touchscreen keyboards: the lack of tactile feedback. Being a bitter old man, forever waiting to be plucked off a world that I simply no longer understand, I can't see myself ever leaving the old-timey charm of my clicky friend - take that, Star Trek.
As for those delicious, delicious pixels: Readers will be thrilled to know that with the zippy Atom processor, you can rest assured that you, intrepid gamer, can enjoy the cutting-edge, visual bounty of titles such as World of Warcraft, or... Quake III.
Jabs aside, and as a personal note, let me say that Razer does make some rather fine keyboards. I currently use the BlackWidow Ultimate mechanical keyboard. I've had no problems whatsoever, and it remains one of the greatest things I've ever owned. I'm really not sold on the idea of Switchblade, though for those fervent MMO enthusiasts, the crux of Razer's idea does offer some interesting prospects. The company currently has a keyboard with similar functionality (albeit with fewer fully-customizable buttons) on their website for a whopping $249.
No pricing or release date had been announced, but those interested should check the news coming out of CES January 10-13th!
Somewhere, deep in the heart of Sony's underground facility/HQ, an executive is punching an intern. Partly this is because he can; mainly, it's due to the recent confusion over the Vita, PSN accounts, and the frustration that stems therefrom. Initially, the company had indicated that the handheld would have a limit of one PSN account per system; users would only be able to use a different one by reverting the Vita to factory settings, thereby erasing all user data. After this, in an exchange with Wired, associate brand marketing manager Crystal MacKenzie stated that the reports we false. Rather, "Your PSN ID is bonded to your memory card and your memory card is bonded to your Vita [...] So if you wanted to change different PSN users but use the same memory card, you would need to go factory reset." In short, user information would be tied to the memory card only: Vita owners would be able to use multiple PSN accounts on the same system, though this would require using a different memory card for each account.
As it turns out, this may not be the case. Wired released a follow-up story after receiving word from a Sony rep that "PlayStation Vita is intended to be played by only one user." He went on to say that the owner's PSN account is in fact linked to the hardware, "which means that if a second person is using your Vita, it's not just a case of switching out memory cards, it's clearing out all of your saved data on the Vita itself when you do the factory reset."
While it may seem like a rather trivial thing, one of the advantage of multiple accounts is that gamers can pick up titles from different regions. So if you were looking forward to enjoying some non-North American downloads - this is, of course, assuming you're living in either Canada or "Mmmerica!!" (yes,that is the proper spelling of my country's name) - looks like you're out of luck, unless Sony decides to remedy this in a firmware update.
Time to go punch an intern.
Whatever one thinks of the Wii U -- whether it's an innovate step in home console gaming, or just gimmicky nonsense -- it's an interesting device. Featuring a tablet controller that interacts (or replicates, as the case may be) with action on your TV screen, as well as providing a limited amount of portability, the system has some rather interesting prospects. Unfortunately, while the tablet can be used to play games, the portability isn't quite as nifty as a handheld: the controller depends on streamed content, and thus must be close enough to the console to receive data. Moreover, the question of how many controllers could be supported by the Wii U has been up in the air; the rather curious news that the console would support a mere one tablet controller (classic Wii controllers could be used by other players) was chalked up to cost by Nintendo - more specifically, Nintendo President's Satoru Iwata's words that despite the fact that compatibility with multiple tablets could be possible, "We're not planning on asking our customers to buy multiple Wii U Controllers."
However, Develop Magazine recently posted a story on the matter, quoting a source who claims that while cost concerns were a factor, the additional RAM and processor speed needed to support two tablets are being ironed out. "Nintendo appears to be on the cusp of solving the technical conundrum of a single Wii U device supporting two tablet controllers," the source said. If so, this begs the question of how this will affect the pricing of the Wii U, particularly with rumors abuzz about the successor to the Xbox 360, supposedly codenamed "Loop" out on the horizon. Depending on the advancement in next-gen consoles, it's difficult to say. If Nintendo's price-friendly strategy with the Wii carries over into the next generation of consoles, it's entirely possible that even with the price hike, it could be cheaper than offerings from Microsoft or Sony. In any event, we'll keep you posted as the news rolls in!
Nintendo's not-so-terribly-super-secret 3DS-travaganza (version 2.0) is happening tomorrow (or today, depending on when you're reading this), and for those who nostrils are not ablaze with the dull waft of indifference, the event looks to tie up a few loose ends. According to Andriasang, "This pre-recorded presentation, hosted by CEO Satoru Iwata, will cover details that could not be covered during the September event." The 3DS conference page, looking quite similar to that of the September event, can be accessed at the following link. Between the indecipherable wall of Japanese characters (assuming you don't speak Japanese; if you do, then well done) there is a currently-inactive UStream icon. In all likelihood the link should be active by the time the event starts; if not, I encourage you, intrepid reader, to check Andriasang for further details.
Word is that the even will focus on the 3DS's impending firmware update, as well as offering fresh details about the upcoming Mario Kart 7. I'm particularly interested in the former, partly because as a 3DS owner, I'm terribly interested in the core features, evolving as they may be, of Nintendo's handheld Skynet. Mainly, it's because word is that the upcoming update will enable 3D video recording, and being that at my core, I am a tired old man waiting for death's icy embrace to free me from the endless cycle of monotony, i pass the time before said embrace by taking 3D pictures (and soon 3D video) of my cat -- trying desperately to find even the faintest flicker of what more socially-adjusted people call "joy" in such frivolous pursuits. With the recent revelation that such functionality should be available with the November firmware update, allowing users to record up to ten minutes of 3D video, I for one am planning to use it toward rather obnoxious ends - because if there's one thing that can be said about the internet, it's that it certainly isn't already over-saturated with videos of everyone's g** d**mn cats.
I'm a helper.
February 22nd: It marks the birthdays of George Washington, video game programmer Ed Boon, heralded news that "Dolly the Sheep" had been cloned. It's also the date of "Christian Feast Day" which, from the scant amount of reading I've done on the topic, has to do with something to do with saints, the liturgical year, etc., and rather disappointingly, nothing whatsoever to do with the consumption of an absolutely vulgar amount of food. So much for my plan to head down to the local Lutheran Church, hobnobbing with the parishioners in the hope of an eventual free meal - all the while, trying my best to convince them that I'm Lutheran.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, apparently Feb. 22nd, 1973 was the date that liaison offices were established between the United States and China. This followed then-President Nixon's visit, done in an attempt to bring some level of diplomatic normalcy between the two countries and, some time down the line, provide a ready-made labor force to manufacture "everything."
One might think that February 22nd is a wholly unremarkable date - one ranking right up there with wholly forgettable dates such as January 6th and Jun 17th - but one would be very wrong indeed. Jack Tretton would like you to know why:
This afternoon on stage at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, I shared some very exciting news that I know the PlayStation Nation has been anticipating since we unveiled PlayStation Vita back in January. For those looking to get their hands on the ultimate in handheld entertainment, I'm thrilled to let you know that starting on February 22, 2012, PS Vita will be available at major retailers in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe.
So there we go, come early next year, Baby Vita will be birthed from the loins of Capital - or at the very least, some god-foresaken factory in which one of the perks of employment is "not getting hit" - and into the hands of smiling boys and girls everywhere. Cake is being prepared, streamers are being put up, and a grant banner reading "Welcome to the World, Vita!!!" in macaroni letters will do doubt be hanging of the facade of Sony HQ, come late February.
Oops. Somewhere, in the belly of Walmart HQ, a lone soul is clutching his last paycheck, drinking from his flask and waiting for the executioner - Walmart's CEO, wearing a Walmart "smiley face" mask - to deliver a single shot to the back of the head, like some acid-headed reenactment of the closing scene from Orwell's "1984."
Indeed, the prolific mega-store/future ShinRa-esque, corporate monstrosity has experienced what those in the 'biz call "clerical error," with the Xbox 360/Kinect bundle in a recent circular. The console was mistakenly brought down from $299 to $249, despite rumors on the web that could have served as warning that could (or one might say, should) have brought the matter to the company's attention. So how does Walmart plan to rectify the error? Luckily, for with those fat wallets and fast cars with which to transport said wallets, the company is planning to honor the sales - while supplies last, of course.
While it is a bit surprising to the lay person that the company didn't correct the error, it's not altogether surprising. Having worked in retail for most of my adult life, I know that these ads are usually printed several weeks in advance - my nameless corner of proletarian purgatory is currently advertising an item that no longer exists - so it seems the company has simply decided to take the hit, rather than attempting some kind of last-ditch, "make everyone angry to save some money" approach.
The offer runs through September 5th, so for those who have yet to purchase one of these nifty devices, feel free to strike while the iron's hot. When Sally gets that layoff notice, she'll know precisely who to blame. Jerk.
Image via Joystiq
The FCC: at its best, it is decency's saving angel of grace -- the lone moral arbiter that stands between civilization and a savage dystopia, run on a depravity-based economy -- a collective hug for "the children" from your buddies on the Hill. At worst, it's a bothersome government agency that has clearly run out of things to do, and thus gets its kicks by issuing draconian fines for the utterance of "unacceptable" language -- by the way, your adorable little boy or girl is firing off such potty words like bullets from a killer's gun -- when frankly, we all have much better things to worry about.
When not silencing a caustic f-bomb or blurring out a rogue lady-t*t, the FCC performs testing on consumer electronics, and is generally the last hurdle a device must go through before making its way to market. According to images posted by Engadget (check the FCC's website for more), the Vita has cleared said hurdle, and is ready to send the PSP to... live on a farm. Indeed, a farm where little boys and girls will play with it all day, tell it what a pretty handheld it is, and never have to worry about sticky buttons or battery life again.
But I digress.
While it's noteworthy that the Vita has received FCC approval, Sony has yet to announce a release date. Speculation is that the handheld would be released around the holiday season, and a Blockbuster flyer seems to confirm this, stating a release of October 28th.
Though we will have to wait for Sony for official confirmation, this sounds pretty accurate, giving Sony a chance to cash in on that most lucrative of times: the Christmas season.
Update: Sony will not be releasing the Vita before Christmas in the North American and European markets. The official launch date for the Vita is to be revealed at TGS.
Whatever the date, I'm just happy to see that the Vita will be out soon. I haven't been chomping at the bit to pick up a 3DS -- I will say, however, that I am somewhat interested -- and as I've mentioned in the past, the Vita looks fantastic on paper. Emerging somewhat jaded from too many interminable months of "nothing interesting" on the PSP, I'm a bit more cautious this time around. Still, I can't think of any particular feature on the Vita that I don't like; in fact, it seems to have much of what I had hoped for in a next-generation handheld, and then some.
So once again I find myself tossing a little prayer toward Valhalla that Sony won't disappoint me. Particularly with the 3DS not doing so well (to a degree that a massive price drop seemed like the best option), I'm hoping that the Vita will help to keep my beloved handheld gaming afloat - assuming the 3DS doesn't bounce back from its troubles.
The Nintendo 3DS marks many firsts for a Nintendo handheld. It's the first handheld to provide glasses-free 3D gaming. The first to function as a 3D camera. The first Nintendo handheld to feature analog control. And, unfortunately, the first Nintendo handheld to feature fairly lackluster battery life. The stock 3DS battery lasts around 3-5 hours, depending on settings like screen brightness and whether the 3D effect is on.
That's where Nyko comes in with the Power Pak+ which it claims will double the battery life of the 3DS. And while in my own experience "double" is a very generous estimate on Nyko's part, it certainly does make the 3DS battery life more tolerable.
Installing the Power Pak+ is about as simple as you could hope. The Power Pak+ comes with a tiny screwdriver, which is used to remove four small screws from the back of the 3DS system. Once the screws are loose, the back panel comes off rather easily, revealing the battery. None of the system's other innards are exposed, so there is very little risk of harming your 3DS in the process. Actually removing the 3DS battery is probably the most difficult part of the process, since it's fit in rather snugly, but once it's out the PowerPak+ fits easily into the battery slot and covers the entire back of the system. From there it's just a matter of tightening the four screws again, and voila. The whole process took about five minutes.
To be clear, I didn't perform a stress test on the Power Pak+. Instead, I went the more practical route, testing how long Nyko's battery lasted under my regular play conditions. "Regular play conditions" for me mean that the system brightness is set to 3, 3D effect is off, volume is low, wireless is on, and power-saving mode is on. I can usually get about 4-5 hours of play on a single charge, with the system put into sleep mode in-between play sessions. On average, I have to put my 3DS in its charging cradle every 2 days.
Using the Power Pak+ I got a little more ambitious and turned off power-saving mode, while keeping the other settings the same. After all, I was using a higher capacity battery so I should be able to get the most out of my system. I found that I was able to go a full four days without needing to recharge. While that sounds like the Nyko battery did as promised and doubled the system's battery life, upon inspection of my 3DS activity log I had played a little over six hours during that time. Perhaps if I had kept power-saving mode on the Power Pak+ would have lasted another hour, which would still be a significantly more than a 3DS normally can, though still not quite double the regular 3DS battery life.
I can't talk about the Power Pak+ without also mentioning the bulk it adds to the 3DS. The Power Pak+ is about 1/3 of the thickness of the 3DS, so attaching it significantly increases the size of the system. It makes the system less pocket-friendly, and the added weight was especially noticeable when playing games where the system is held in one hand and the stylus in the other, like Picross 3D. The added size also means that the 3DS will no longer fit into Nintendo's charging cradle, though you can still plug the power cord directly into the 3DS or buy the PowerPak+ with a Nyko charging cradle for $29.99.
The most critical issue, however, is that the 3DS battery indicator seems incapable of accurately displaying the charge level of the Power Pak+. I said that the Power Pak+ lasted for four days without needing a charge, but for the first three of those days the battery indicator told me the 3DS battery was full. Suddenly, on the fourth day, the battery was half depleted; and in the time that it took me to complete Ocarina of Time's fire temple I was already getting a notification that the battery was almost empty. I assume that this is because the 3DS battery indicator is only supposed to sense a charge level up to the stock battery's capacity, so any charge above that simply registers as a full battery. The result, however, is that the Power Pak+ does not give you an accurate reading of how much charge you have left until it is too late, causing me to be more paranoid about the system's battery when using the Power Pak+ than without.
The final odd quirk of the Power Pak+ is that removing the system battery seems to mess with the 3DS system settings, namely by resetting the time and date. There is a chance that this could alter or erase your Activity Log data, though in my experience setting the proper date after changing the battery restored everything. This isn't an issue specific to the Power Pak+, as it just seems to be something the 3DS does no matter when the battery is removed.
Ultimately, the Power Pak+ does what it sets out to do by extending the meager battery life of the 3DS. If you're someone who travels a lot, I can definitely see the appeal of the Power Pak+. However, due to the added size, weight, and lack of an accurate battery indicator, I can't say that I would recommend the PowerPak+ for everyday use. Installing the extra battery isn't difficult, so I'll likely bring it out for my next flight, but after only one week of the Power Pak+ I've already removed it and gone back to the stock 3DS battery.
The Nyko PowerPak+ is available for $19.99 on its own or $29.99 with a charging cradle. A PowerPak+ was provided by Nyko for purposes of this review. I used it for one week playing predominantly Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Picross 3D, Picdun, and Starship Defense. I played under my regular system settings - which are the system brightness set to 3, 3D effect off, volume low, and wireless on - with the exception of turning power-saver mode off whereas I normally have it on. The battery needed to be recharged twice total during that week.
I remember how stoked I was when I first played the Wii back in 2006. The excitement of motion controls and new gameplay experiences seemed so much more appealing than HD graphics paired with conventional gameplay. Unfortunately, in 2011, it's clear that the Wii didn't live up to its amazing potential. Plagued with on-rails shooters, mini-game collections and so-called "ground-up" ports that offered shallow gameplay in comparison to their HD cousins, the Wii offered a few magical games (Super Mario Galaxy, Punch-Out!! and other Nintendo games) and a whole lot of junk. Nintendo's hoping to rectify that with the Wii U, an HD console with motion capability ... and a second, tablet screen. Hit the jump to see why I think this console has the potential to turn around the Wii brand.
And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!
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