Mar 02

I Just Pre-Ordered Mass Effect 3

So… I havent’ played a BioWare game since… Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. No, not the new, critically-acclaimed MMO by BioWare, Star Wars: The Old Republic that came out in 2011. The, now long-in-the-tooth RPG that I played on the original XBox back in 2003. Before that I played Neverwinter Nights and Baldurs Gate(which was my first RPG). I loved all of those games, so… why the long break in playing Bioware’s games? Maybe I am just out of the loop? Maybe my friends have failed to let me know that Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age, etc. were awesome games? Or… maybe they just weren’t awesome games and I didn’t hear about them because they just weren’t well-received. Maybe playing Skyrim has gotten me thinking “RPG” again?

At any rate, I’ve been reading stories about the upcoming launch of Mass Effect 3… and it sounds cool. What has me most-excited: 4 player co-op! When was the last time you played a co-op game on the PC?

Feel like picking it up? I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon and will have Mass Effect 3 (affiliate) on my doorstep on the 6th of March. Let me know in the comments if you pick it up.

Feb 29

Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX Review

A little history before we get to my promised Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx review

About two years ago I started my foray into the smartphone world with the HTC Droid Incredible. Though initially hesitant, I was quickly won over by internet access that moved with me, great integration with the Google products I already used and loved(search, mail, talk, voice, calendar, docs) that I was already using, GPS navigation, app market, streaming media, etc. Some of the complaints I had about the Incredible: miserable battery life, a display that was not-quite-right and sluggish response to input. Enter the Droid RAZR Maxx.

I like to give myself an extra buffer before gadget obsolescence sets in, so I tend to buy consumer electronics near the high end. In this case I had my next smartphone purchase narrowed down to either the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx, or the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. As the urge to upgrade slowly increased, I found myself weighing the best-in-class battery life of the RAZR Maxx vs. the stock Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwhich(ICS) and larger display of the Galaxy Nexus. I was barely considering the iPhone 4S, but I’ll list the specs just for comparison’s sake(thanks to anandtech.com for some of the specifications listed!).

Motorola Droid RAZR MAXXSamsung Galaxy NexusApple iPhone 4S
BatteryInternal 12.54 WhrRemovable 6.85 WhrInternal 5.3 Whr
Operating SystemAndroid 2.3.5Android 4.0iOS 5
Storage16 GB + 16 GB microSD preinstalled32 GB16GB, 32GB, or 64GB
Screen4.3" 960 x 540 SAMOLED4.65" 1280x720 SAMOLED3.5" 960 x 640 LED backlit LCD
Cameras8 MP, 1080p video, 1.3 MP front-facing5 MP, 1080p video, 1.3 MP front-facing8 MP, 1080p video, VGA front-facing
Height130.7 mm135.5 mm115.2 mm
Width68.9 mm67.94 mm58.6 mm
Depth8.99 mm9.47 mm9.3 mm
Weight145 g150 g140 g
CPU1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 44301.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4460Apple A5 @ ~800 MHz Dual Core Cortex-A9
GPUPowerVR SGX 540PowerVR SGX 540PowerVR SGX 543MP2
RAM1 GB LPDDR21 GB LPDDR2512 MB LPDDR2
Price(w/ 2-year Contract)$199$199$199($299 for 32 GB)

 

What impacted my decision to buy the RAZR Maxx in the first place?

The first 5 items in that table were the deciding factors: battery life, operating system, storage, screen and cameras. If my battery is dead the rest of the features don’t matter! The whole point(for me) of a mobile device is, just that: mobility. I don’t want to be tied to a charger and this factor ended up sealing the deal. With almost twice the watt-hours of the Nexus and iPhone 4S, I could not resist the RAZR Maxx. In practical use, I only need to charge the Razr MAXX once every TWO days! This compared to my Incredible, that was often completely useless after a day of very light use.

Ice Cream Sandwhich did cause me to second-guess the RAZR, but because I had done my homework I knew that Motorola was planning on rolling out ICS to the RAZR as early as March – a wait well worth twice the battery life for me. At this point, I am invested in Android and “Siri” isn’t enough to draw me into the iOS mobile world and away from tight integration with my Google account.

Next, we have storage and the RAZR definitely wins this one for me with the ability to both upgrade my storage via microSD, but also to quickly transfer data between devices. My recent purchase of the excellent NZXT Switch 810 case(review in the works) which has a built in SD card reader made this even more attractive. I definitely take issue with the fact that so many companies are charging so much for devices that are identical except for storage. When I can buy a 32 GB micro SD card for $30, I find it ridiculous that someone wants to charge me $100 to move from 16 GB installed to 32 GB installed(I’m looking at you Verizon and Apple!)

I love screen size and pixel density as much as the next technophile, but the iPhone’s 326 Pixels Per Inch(PPI), the Galaxy Nexus’ 316 PPI vs the 256 PPI of the RAZR just wasn’t enough to outweigh the other factors in the RAZR’s favor. Would I have loved the Nexus’ 720×1280 screen on my RAZR? Definitely. It’s still strange to see those numbers when the PPI of my 50″ HDTV is a mere 44. sigh.

Lastly, the ubiquitous smart phone camera. My Incredible had an 8 MP camera and I simply didn’t want to downgrade – period. As a father of two boys, my smart phone camera is sometimes all that stands between me and memories of their childhood slipping away faster and faster. This was the death knell for the Galaxy Nexus. All of the phones I considered had 1080p video recording and front-facing cameras and thus didn’t factor into my decision.

I went bought the Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX around Valentine’s Day and I’m happy with my purchase. At this point I’m going to assume that you are aware of the general advantages and features of smartphone ownership and launch straight into the Pros and Cons of the the RAZR.

What are you going to like about it?

If you’ve used a smartphone before, you’re going to love the battery life on the RAZR Maxx. I would classify my average smartphone usage as light-to-medium: social media, e-mail, texting, occasional phone calls, streaming media and some light gaming are my typical uses. That said, the RAZR Maxx can easily last me a full 48 hours between charges – I was lucky to get 12 on my HTC Incredible. Keep a charger in your car and on your nightstand and you’ll be good-to-go.

The form-factor has got to be just about as close-to-perfect as one can get: slim, adequate screen size, and light. I have no problems slipping the RAZR into(or out of) my pocket when I’m on the go and rarely notice that it’s there. The “kevlar” backing of the Razr has an excellent texture that really helps the device feel at-home in your palm with just enough friction to keep it from feeling slippery.

Speed! Gone are the stutters and agonizing wait times that prior smartphones suffered with even when surfing the web. The RAZR delivers a smooth, responsive experience that really makes other devices I’ve used feel sluggish(to say the least).

Signal reception is noticeably improved from my Incredible: both 3G/4G and WiFi. The display is bright and very crisp even when outdoors in direct sunlight. As with all Android devices, seamless integration with my Google account really helps to make setup a breeze. I really appreciate not having to sync multiple accounts or transfer my data when upgrading my hardware.

What are you going to hate about it?

Fortunately this list is pretty small, but I do have a couple things that stick in my mind as negatives.

First, there was a small snag during initial setup: I did not have a 3G data connection until after I synced the phone with my Google account. This would have been a big deal, had I not performed the setup at home where I had a WiFi connection available. 3G immediately activated following the sync. My wife has noticed on one occasion that her 3G connection “disappeared” until she rebooted the device. Otherwise, connectivity has been wonderful on both WiFi and 3G/4G.

Second, the fact that there is both a RAZR and a RAZR Maxx(with different thickness/weight) means that accessories offered for the RAZR are not going to fit “just right”. Case in point, is the Car Navigation dock: the RAZR Maxx fits, but looks and feel like one big bump in the road would cause it to come crashing out of the cradle. This is really more of an accessory/support issue than with the actual device, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Is the Droid RAZR Maxx for you?

The RAZR Maxx is really designed for power users looking to take advantage of all of technology offered by mobile computing: streaming media, graphically-intensive applications, etc. There is a never-ending stream of new devices due out in the market, but if you want the best that there is right now then the Droid RAZR MAXX is for you. This is the category that I fit into and I am thrilled with my purchase: it is everything that I have come to expect from a smartphone with a measure of power and polish that I, frankly, had not expected when I walked into the Verizon Wireless store.

Maybe you’re considering your first smartphone purchase and you’re not sure if you should go with an older, cheaper phone(The Bionic is Free with a 2-year contract, for example)? My advice to you: take the plunge! New android models are showing up in stores monthly and what is the top-of-the-line today will quickly become run-of-the-mill. Do yourself a favor and start at the top of the chain to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your device before you get the urge to upgrade again.

On the other hand, maybe you’ve had your phone for 6-months to a year, are fairly satisfied with its performance, but are contemplating the upgrade “just because”. To you, my advice is to wait – that’s right, just wait. You’re not going to get a meaningful boost over the Bionic, or similar hardware and new Android phones come up every few months(or more frequently!) Android 4.0(ICS) is going to start shipping on more devices in the upcoming months and if you can get better hardware with ICS stock you’ll be thanking me.

Score – Excellent! 9.8 out of 10

The Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX get a 9.8 out of 10 from me. The performance(especially battery life) is much better than I anticipated, the build quality is excellent and with Ice Cream Sandwhich around the corner it’s a no-brainer purchase if you’re looking for the best smartphone on offer.

 

Feb 16

Castle Ravenloft Board Game Review

Dungeons and Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game  After hearing it plugged on the Wizards of the Coast D&D podcast, I made the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game a last-minute addition to my Christmas Wishlist this past year despite concerns that the “Dungeons & Dragons” would scare most of my friends away from giving it a try. To my pleasant surprise, I received it and have already played a number of enjoyable games. Not only has Castle Ravenloft been well-received by my D&D gamer-friends, but even by those who had never seen a d20 before – a huge testament to the accessibility of the game and its ability to rise above and beyond the stigma sometimes associated with Dungeons & Dragons. Originally retailing for $65, the price has since dropped to $45 on Amazon.com

 

An exciting D&D boardgame for 1–5 players. The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner—and you are invited! Evil lurks in the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and only heroes of exceptional bravery can survive the horrors within. Designed for 1–5 players, this boardgame features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and cooperative game play.

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Feb 16

Upcoming – Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX Review

Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX UPDATE: My Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx Review is Live!

I’m in the process of writing a Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX Review – Stay Tuned!

My wife and I celebrated Valentine’s Day early this year and somehow ended up walking through our local mall at the end of the night. As a result, we walked by the Verizon Wireless store, remembered that we were up for our “New Every Two” contract renewal and decided to go see if anything “Wowed Us”.

I had previously done some “research” – which consisted of surfing some of my favorite tech blogs – and noted that the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus were the current front-runners of Verizon’s Droid lineup. (Side note: I don’t have anything against Apple, or the iPhone, I’m just not excited about it, currently.) After my research, I knew what the decision would come down to:

 

Would I prefer the Nexus’ superior display and stock Ice Cream Sandwhich(ICS), or the Razr Maxx’s awesome battery life with ICS potential down the road?

As a previous user of the HTC Droid Incredible(with dismal battery life), I was pretty much decided on the Razr Maxx, but since we wanted to get the same phone this time around(she had the Original Droid before) I wanted my wife to be on-board, too.

To cut a long story short, we both liked the Motorola DROID RAZR MAXX(especially with ICS looming), Verizon was having a buy-one-get-one-free deal, and we pulled the trigger. Apparently lots of others had pulled the trigger, too, as they were out of stock and had to ship them to us. As fate would have it, they arrived on Valentine’s Day(Two business days later) and we managed to get them activated and charged by the end of the night.

Initial impression: I made the right choice, but we’ll see how it fairs in my full review.

 

Question(s): Anything specific you’d like to see included in the review? Let me know in the comments.

Feb 10

Khan Academy

Watch. Practice.

Learn almost anything for free.

Today I saw news that Craig Silverstein, Google’s first employee has left the company. My first thought? “What company is offering him an opportunity better than what he found at Google?” It turns out that he will be joining Khan Academy, a “not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” Quite a lofty and philanthropic goal.

So, what is the reality of Khan Academy? It’s a collection of almost 3,000 videos covering a veriety of subjects from fundamental arithmetic, to computer science, art history and lots of things in-between. As a product of Home Schooling, it immediately struck me as a fantastic resource – not only for full-time students, but for anyone with a thirst for knowledge or those who aim to foster that thirst in others. I feel that I have forgotten just about all of my Calculus and Linear Algebra and am considering going back to school to get a graduate degree. Perhaps I should fire up some of those lessons to see just how much I have forgotten, eh? 🙂

Check it out, let me know what you think.

Jan 24

Plight of the Tech Enthusiast

This was passed on to me by my friend Marco and it struck such a strong chord that I couldn’t help but re-post it here. Enjoy!

The Plight of the Tech Enthusiast

Jan 19

The Age of the Tech Enthusiast(Death of the PC?)

By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide.

It’s a great time to be a tech enthusiast (and gamer)! The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the Consumer Electronics Show(CES), once buzzing with the latest, greatest desktop and laptop technology, now buzzes to a cacophony of tablets(such as the iPad), smartphones(such as my already-dated HTC Incredible) and other mobile technologies. They quote a statistic by Gartner, a market research company:

According to Gartner’s PC installed base forecast, the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter.

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Jan 14

Sennheiser PC330 G4ME Headset Review

Sennheiser PC330 G4ME Headset Review

As promised, my Sennheiser PC330 G4ME Headset review from the discriminating, but subjective perspective of both a gamer and a tech enthusiast. Established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is a world leader in microphone technology, headphone transducer technology, and in the development of active noise-cancellation. Having heard many great things about the Sennheiser brand, I was quite excited to put the PC330 headset through the paces and see if it lived up to my expectations. At $169 MSRP, Sennheiser is marketing the PC330 G4ME towards value-conscious gamers looking to “take it to the next level”, falling at the lower range of their “pro gaming” headsets next to the PC333D($239), PC350($229) and PC360($299).

The DJ-inspired PC 330 G4ME is an all-in-one LAN party wonder. Designed for total immersion and intense gaming action, this headset not only looks great, it’s also packed with practical features. The closed acoustics keep you focused on the win but you can easily stay in touch with your teammates, too – simply by swinging up the DJ Hinge ear cup.

Another clever feature of the PC 330 is the volume control, which Sennheiser Communications has conveniently integrated directly in the right ear cup. It’s a vast improvement on the standard in-line control and cuts out that annoying fumbling around for wires in the middle of a game or Skype session.

Ready for a break? Mute the microphone by raising the boom and relax to music or videos in great Sennheiser sound.

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Jan 08

Get the best graphics card for your money – January 2011

Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great—that is, if you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, what a gamer needs is the best graphics card within a certain budget. –TomsHardware.com

I couldn’t agree more! One of the biggest hurdles to enjoying PC games is having hardware that enables you to play the latest and most exciting games. What more important piece of hardware is there than the video card? Near the top of my list of favorite tech review site, Tom’s Hardware just published the latest in their series of monthly articles, “Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2011” and as usual I found it to provide clear, timely insight into the value of graphics cards currently for sale. Not only does the writer, Don Roligroski, recommend a “Best Card” at various price points, he also provides a “Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart” at the end of the article to give even the most novice gamer a clear view of how the cards stack up against one another. A must read for any gamer looking to purchase a video card, copied here for your convenience.

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Jan 04

Upcoming Review – Sennheiser PC330 G4ME Headset

I recently got my hands(ears?) on a pair of Sennheiser’s PC330 G4ME Headsets. (Doesn’t the “G4ME” make you feel so “l33t” just by reading it?) To provide the best review possible, I felt it was my obligation to really put the PC330 through the paces: gaming, music and video, before reporting on my impression.Sennheiser PC330 G4ME Headset

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