RANDOM REVIEW: Acer Iconia TAB A100

The Rules of Tech Support on the Acer ICONIA TAB A100

Okay, so I couldn't help myself

So, a ten inch tablet is way too big for me, an eight inch one was just a hair too big, and so a seven-inch tablet should be just right…right? After returning my Vizio tablet, I decided to see what was available in the 7-inch space.  Neither the Kindle Fire nor the Nook Tablet had been announced at the time, so I was looking at full-featured tablets with GPS, Bluetooth, a micro-SD card slot and all those nerdy things nerdy nerds like me care for.

The Samsung Galaxy was nice, but it was also pretty darn pricey and running the phone version of Android. There was no way I was going to pay a premium for another ‘phone without the phone’ device. The Dell Streak 7 was very nice and was even supposed to get a Honeycomb update in the near future, but at the time I was looking, T-Mobile was the only place selling it.  While I didn’t mind the thought of getting a data plan, T-Mobile data service is pretty craptacular in my hometown, which was where I would really want to have that mobile data connection. The HTC Flyer was also ridonkulously overpriced, even more so than the Galaxy. Sure, it had a stylus, but as much as I miss using a stylus, I don’t miss it that much. And as I mentioned before, the cheapo ‘e-readers with Android on them’ were a no-go with their lack of access to the Android Market and barely-responsive screens.

The Acer ICONIA TAB A100 was the first 7-inch device to come with the ‘Honeycomb’ version of Android out-of-the-box. This is important because Honeycomb is written specifically for tablets and should not have that the ‘phone without the phone’ feeling the Vizio did.

HARDWARE

The A100 has a 7-inch widescreen that is nice to look at but gets washed out in sunlight like most mobile screens. The Gorilla Glass that sits atop the screen is also highly reflective (as you can tell by the photos) which can be a little distracting. I also found the touchscreen to be just a hair on the overly sensitive side when I was typing, but that may just be the keyboard software, my fat fingers, or more than likely, a little bit of both.  It is multi-touch, though, so I can zoom and out with ease.

The power button and headphone jack are on the top right of the device, pretty standard stuff there. The volume control, rotation lock switch and a MicroSD card slot are on the right side. The A100 provided an okay amount of audio, nothing earth-shattering, but then again I’ve learned to not expect decent audio out of anything smaller than a 13-inch laptop. The bottom of the device has a host of ports: Micro-HDMI, microUSB, a docking connector and a charging port. A 5MP outward facing camera with LED flash and 2MP front facing camera are also present, and a capacitative Home button lies just underneath the screen. The cameras take okay pictures, certainly ones that are good enough for throwing onto the web.  At a half-inch thick and weighing in at .92 pounds, the A100 feels comfortable in my hands with its rounded corners and sides. The casing is plastic and a bit of a fingerprint magnet, though.

Battery life is about 4-5 hours, depending on Wi-Fi and GPS usage, of course. After being able to use the Vizio tablet for almost an entire workday (9 hours), having to recharge the A100 barely after my lunch break is a bit of a letdown. Unfortunately, the A100 cannot be charged via its USB port; the included AC adapter is your only charging option, well, that or a $100 dock.  The lack of charging options only serves to make its limited battery life a bigger limitation than it should be. If the A100 could be charged via USB, I could use nearly any charger, but as it stands, there is no official Acer mobile charger available for purchase as of this writing, so I either have to find a wall socket or run out of juice.

Under the hood is the same 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU that powers most of the other first-gen Honeycomb tablets, 1GB of memory, and 8 or 16 GB of storage, which can be supplemented via a microSD card. The A100 is fairly responsive, and doesn’t feel underpowered or sluggish.

SOFTWARE

Acer Iconia TAB A100 Home Screen

Home is where the data is

Honeycomb is a different animal than the phone versions of Android. The first thing I noticed about it was the bar that ran across the bottom of the screen, it makes it look and feel more like a PC desktop.  Honeycomb places Home and Back buttons on the bottom left of the screen, so physical buttons are not needed on Honeycomb devices at all.  A new third button brings up the last ten open apps, which comes in handy, and if you are using a phone-based app, a fourth menu button appears that takes the place of the physical “menu” button found on Android phones. Aside from the Home button just below the screen there are no physical navigation buttons to be found.

On the top left of the Home screen are a Google search button and a voice search button. The upper right corner has an Apps button that gives access to all apps and a plus sign that allows the user to add widgets and apps to the Home screen or change the wallpaper.

Having been accustomed to using Gingerbread on my phone, it took me a little doing to get accustomed to getting around Honeycomb, but once I did, I appreciated the way it worked. I do miss having physical buttons, though, the bar on the bottom of the screen that holds the soft buttons never really goes away, which I found annoying when viewing pictures or videos.

Overall, though, Honeycomb is a step forward for Android and it is quite nice once you get the hang of it, which doesn’t take too long.

APPS

The Amazon Appstore

Amazon made a better store, go figure

The A100 has access to the Android market, and unlike the Vizio, I was able to download all of the apps I needed. Some of them were optimized for tablet use, but some appeared to be phone apps that were scaled up to fill the device’s screen.  They didn’t look too bad, but the amount of empty spaces in such apps is pretty hard to ignore. I have to say that while I’m not a big fan of playing games on my phone because of the inaccuracy of my big fingers, doing so on the A100 was quite nice thanks to the increased screen size.

I also discovered the Amazon Appstore, which, I have to say, is awesome for two reasons: First off, they give away a free paid app every day.  While it is often a game of some kind, every now and then it’ll be something nicer, like a Microsoft Office app or a drawing program. The second and more important reason is that it keeps track of your downloads and synchronizes your apps across multiple Android devices. This means that when I download an app onto my phone the appstore is smart enough to ask me if I also want it on my tablet and vice versa. For the life of me, I don’t know why the Android Market can’t do this, but hopefully Google Play will take care of that.

CONCLUSION

The Acer Iconia TAB A100 is a good tablet with one flaw that may be fatal for some users. Plastic nonwithstanding, the hardware feels good, and as is often the case with mobile devices, the screen is a bit reflective and not-quite-so-good in sunlight. Micro-USB and HDMI ports are nice to have, though I haven’t really done much with them. The same also applies to the micro-SD card slot; even though I have an 8GB card installed, I use it mainly for storing media. The device’s internal 8GB has been sufficient, though I should mention that I am a pretty light app user.

Honeycomb is a step up for Android, it feels like an actual desktop environment as opposed to a ‘giant phone.’  It would be nice to not have those soft buttons following me around nearly everywhere I go, but that’s a minor quibble.  An upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich (the next version of Android) is forthcoming, so I’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.

The A100’s Achille’s heel is its limited battery life.  I’ll go as far as to say it prevents it from being a really great tablet. The 4-5 hour uptime is not even enough to even last a full workday, and the lack of additional charging options makes it feel even more limited. A mobile charging option or at least the ability to charge via USB are sorely lacking. Thus, while I have been very satisified with how well my A100 works, the fun is often cut short by being constantly tied to AC outlets, which significantly reduces the device’s portability.

While the Acer Iconia TAB A100 is a good device overall and I love the 7-inch form factor, this particular device limited by its relatively short battery life. I would call it a good ‘home tablet;’ something nice to have around the house for those moments when you want to look something up quickly, take to bed with you, or take on a trip to the coffee shop. Road warriors and those who intended to use it for extended periods of time should be leery of its lack of charging options.

That said, with the next wave of Android tablets hitting stores, you can definitely find one for much cheaper now than its original retail price of $329.  Heck, its going for $249 at the Acer Store.  It isn’t a bad device, and I am certainly enjoying mine…I just wish it had a bigger gas tank.

I give the Acer Iconia TAB A100 just barely four out of five AC Chargers.

RANDOM REACTION: Windows 8 Developer Preview

Just when I was growing to love Windows 7, Microsoft has to come up with something new. Windows 8 is expected to drop in late 2012, but that’s a wild guess from people that get paid to make wild guesses.  For now, though, there is the Developer Preview, which was introduced on September 13th at Microsoft’s BUILD developer conference.  In a pretty smart move, Microsoft made it available to the public, which only makes sense because everyone was going to share it anyway, and it gave Microsoft something to brag about: 8 was download half a million times within its first 12 hours of release.

Like any good geek, I wanted to poke at the latest thingamabobber from the depths of Redmond.  I started my download, went to bed, and burned a Windows 8 install DVD before going to work the next morning.  I figured I could install it while I was at work and poke at it during the day.  I started the installer, and about an hour or so later, after using my Windows Live ID for maximum effect, I had a nice purdy Windows 8 screen thingie looking back at me.  FYI, this screenshot was taken after I’d set up the Socialite (Facebook) and Weather apps, so it isn’t quite the default:

Windows 8 Start Screen

Its Hip to be Square!

Windows 8 eschews the Start Menu (almost) completely and give you a Start Screen.  The Start Screen uses the “Metro” interface found on Windows Phone.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.  Its good because it places lots of information and apps in front of you but its bad because well, most of the information presented wasn’t too important. The Facebook tile seemed to display just random images of friends, and the Tweet@rama (Twitter) tile was set to one of Microsoft’s feeds.  While I’m sure that the UI and tiles will be more customizable the closer we get to release, right now the constant stream of data just feels like overkill on a desktop.

One thing that became rapidly apparent was that the Windows 8 user interface was clearly designed with touch screens in mind; the Start Screen’s big chunky tiles appear to be more suited for finger tapping than mouse clicking.  Since I was using a mouse, I had to make do with horizontal scroll bars that constantly appeared at the bottom of the screen which got more than a little bit annoying.

Luckily, for those of us dinosaurs that still want to work with the Desktop, clicking the “Desktop” tile pulls up a Windows 7 desktop that looks like the one we’ve grown to love over the past two years or so.  Programs can be stuck onto the taskbar just like in Windows 7 but getting to them isn’t quite as simple as it used to be:

Windows 8 Apps list

Get'cher apps and programs here!

In order to get to your list of programs and apps you have to click “Search” which pops up in a menu that appears when you move your mouse to the lower right hand corner of the screen.  You can then type in a search term or scroll through the list until you find what you want.

The Start Menu?  Gone.  Kaputski.  No Mas.  Frankly, I think that is a horrible decision on Microsoft’s part.  Here’s why:

Windows 8 Start Screen after Office install

I only needed Word, doggone it!

That is my Start Screen after installing Word in Microsoft Office 2003.  Most of the programs on the right hand side of that screen I am never, ever going to use.  Normally, they stay tucked away in the Start Menu unless, by some miracle of fate, I actually need one of them.  When I install Word, I take the Word icon and drop it onto my taskbar because that’s all I need.  Now all those extra icons are all over my Start Screen, cluttering it up unless I take the time to go in and delete each individual one.  This sucks.

Yes, it may be used less often these days, but when you aren’t using it, the Start Menu stays out of the way.  If Microsoft insists on keeping backwards-compatibility with earlier Windows versions, it needs to keep the Start Menu lest they risk pissing off their userbase, because I guarantee you that the first thing everyone is going to look for after starting up their shiny new Windows 8 machine is look for the Start Menu.

That quibble aside, Windows  8 is a pleasure to get around, the teeny-tiny Notification area that used to be on the right side of the Start Menu has been moved over to the Settings area, which is accessed using the lower-left corner menu:

Windows 8 Settings Sub-screen

Very niiiice!

As you can tell, the Settings area is easy to view and read, and is definitely an improvement.  Apps written for the Windows 8 Metro interface also have a different look to them, such as Internet Explorer which you can see below.  The screenshot shows the pop-up menus that appear when  you right-click.

Internet Explorer 9 in Windows 8

Shiny!

While older programs run within the Desktop, apps run in full-screen mode.  Right clicking the mouse brings up menus that are different from the usual “File, Edit…” ones we’ve used to using all these years.  I think this is a definite improvement and should make Windows much easier for people to use, assuming, of course, that the interfaces are done right.  That may become an issue when we’re talking about more complicated software packages like Excel and Visual Studio, but the Desktop is available as a fallback.

As far as performance goes, Windows 8 seemed to run okay on my Toshiba Satellite T115D-S1125 laptop with 4GB of RAM.  All of my hardware appeared to work and the Frowny Blue Screen of Death was nowhere to be seen.  It did chug a little bit at times, but as this is a pre-beta, so that is forgivable and it did work well enough to be usable during the time that I had it installed.  Older Windows software such as Office 2003, WinAmp 2.9 and Microsoft Money 2000 also worked just fine.

Windows 8 is looking like a pretty nice update so far.  The Metro interface is very different from the old Desktop we’ve been using all these years and should make using Windows a much easier experience for less-technically savvy people.  Unfortunately, 8 also has to work with software written for previous versions of Windows, and the lack of a Start Menu is going to make the Start Screen pretty unusable for folks that are going to be installing a bunch of legacy programs onto it.  Microsoft may have been testing the waters by leaving out the Start Menu, but it is a bad move unless they decide to rip out backwards compatibility altogether, which I severely doubt is going to happen.

My other big beef with Windows 8 is its tablet-centricness.  This is not necessarily a Bad Thing, but I felt as if I was not able to make full use of it because I was using a mouse and keyboard.  In fact, a few of the programs were all but unusable because I did not have multi-touch, so I couldn’t pinch or widen two fingers onto the screen.  I would love to see this running on a tablet, but on a desktop, it feels a bit clunky right now.

In my opinion, Windows 8 is a step in the right direction and a long-needed shift for operating systems in general.  Metro is clean, sharp and very user friendly.  I look forward to seeing 8 evolve as the devs hammer at it and hopefully take user feedback (like this!) into account.  I just hope that Microsoft does not leave us old fogey mouse-and-keyboard users out in the cold in favor of the cool kids with their tablets and touchscreens.

RANDOM REVIEW: Vizio VTAB1008 Tablet

Vizio Tablet 1008

My God, its full of...space

View the Vizio VTAB 1008 Product Page at Vizio.com

INTRODUCTION

As portable as my twelve inch laptop is, it’s not really that portable, partially because of all the stuff I need to carry along with it: the charger, mouse, cables, external speaker, external hard drive…okay, so I don’t help by filling my laptop bag full of crap.  Disregarding my tendency to overpack, my laptop bag does take up a decent amount of space and weight.

While my Samsung Moment smartphone can do a lot of stuff, it does have its shortcomings, not the least of which is its screen size.  Also, after nearly two years of reboots, crashes and a less than reliable GPS, I find myself wondering if all the extra stuff smartphones can do comes at the expense of the phone.  Just sayin’.

Thus, I started looking at tablets, the near-ultimate in portability and (hopefully) functionality.  The most obvious device would seem to be the iPad, but I have never been a big fan of Apple’s locked-down portable devices.  I also hate iTunes with a passion and try to avoid using it after getting frustrated with it way back when.  Those statements are odd considering that I own an iMac, but one can get around most, if not all of the iMac’s annoyances.  Heck, if worse comes to worse you can install Windows on it. -shrug- My needs are a bit above that of the average user, so a do-it-Jobs-way-or-else iPad was not going to cut it.

Android was familiar to me from having used my Moment for nearly two years and so I began looking into Android-based tablets.  After hearing all the wonderful things my friends were saying about their newer Android phones, I figured that the problems I was having with Android were due just it not having been updated.  My poor phone can’t even play Angry Birds, for crying out loud.

Thus, I found myself at Ye Olde Electronics Store poking and prodding at various tablets.  Despite the fact that I had no intention of buying one, I even checked out the iPad as well.

SIZE MATTERS

I am pretty good at typing, so I wanted to have something I could hold in my hands and type on using my thumbs like a phone.  As it turns out, all of the ten inch tablets I sampled were too wide to be used in that way, never mind my arms getting tired from holding them up for extended periods of time.

I found seven inch tablets to be much easier to use in that way, though.  I could almost bang away on their keyboards with aplomb, but soon discovered a new problem: crappy screens.  Quite a few of the smaller tablets were less expensive eReaders that happened to run Android, but their screens were not nearly as responsive as their larger, pricier brethren.  As enticing as getting a tablet for $200 or under sounded, the compromise of having to deal with a less than responsive screen quickly killed that idea.

I seemed to be stuck at this point.  I could get a quality device that would be too big for me to use the way I wanted to, or get a smaller device of dubious quality.  I just happened to find something in the middle.

ENTER THE VIZIO TABLET

Vizio, best known as a maker of low-cost TVs of average quality, recently introduced the their first tablet.  The VTAB1008 (VTAB from here on out) is an eight-inch model priced at $300.  Of course, getting the price that low means some compromises had to be made: it does not run the latest and greatest version of Android, does not have a dual-core CPU like the big boys do and has a pretty low amount of built-in memory (2 MB, which can be increased via an SDmicro chip). Vizio also puts a custom interface called “Vizio Internet Apps Plus” on top of Android that places all of the application icons on the device’s home page like the iPad.

I did some research and checked out online reviews: many of them described the VTAB as being an average device that wasn’t bad for the price.   At $100 less than a ten-inch tablet, it seemed like a good deal so I figured it was worth a shot.  I excitedly picked one up from Wal-Mart and got to tapping.

HARDWARE

The VTAB is a solid device with a little bit of weight to it, but it isn’t terribly heavy.  Like many devices these days, it sports a glossy screen that is a bit on the reflective side, but its 1027×768 resolution produces a good picture. An inwards-facing camera is at the top center of the panel and the typical Android Back, Home and Menu touch buttons are at the bottom.  Oddly enough, the only thing you can do with the camera right now is take pictures of yourself, as Skype is not available as of this writing.  A second pair of touch buttons are on the device’s left hand side are are used when holding the VTAB horizontally.  The buttons light up when available and go dark when not in use.

At the top center of the VTAB is the power button which is flanked by two speakers. In a pretty clever move, a third speaker at the bottom right corner of the device is activated when the VTAB is held sideways so that you always have stereo sound.   The bottom center has a Micro-USB charging connection, a Micro-HDMI out connection, and a Micro SD card slot on the bottom left.  Volume control buttons are on the right side and a control-free left side round out the unit.

The VTAB’s battery life is pretty good compared to other portable devices I have owned, it lasted about eight hours of on and off use with everything on.  Turning off the GPS bumped up the battery life significantly, to over ten hours.  Those numbers aren’t based on “stress tests” so don’t read too much into them, but I will say that I have had to charge it each night in the short time that I have owned it.  Its use of a Micro-USB charger instead of some crappy proprietary connector means I that can use the charger for other things, which is very convenient.

As I mentioned at the opening, Vizio makes television sets and other home theater equipment, and so the VTAB also has an infrared transmitter, so the device can be used as a giant remote control.  The remote app doesn’t quite make full use of the ability, though, important buttons can sometimes go missing.

The VTAB is a pleasure to carry around. It has a slightly rubbery finish on the back that provides some grip so I don’t have to worry too much about having it slip out of my hands.  After putting a screen protector on it, I can tap away with impunity.  Typing on this thing is AWESOME, it is as close to typing on a keyboard as I have ever gotten to on a portable device.  It’s actually better, thanks to the installed SwiftKey TabletX software which does a scary-good job of guessing what I’m about to type.  The VTAB is almost a little too wide to be used comfortably when typing using my thumbs like a phone.  I am enjoying it for now, but time will tell.

SOFTWARE

The Vizio Tablet runs the “Gingerbread” version of Android (2.3.2 to be exact) so if you have an Android phone it will feel very familiar.   This is a good thing and a bad thing.  It’s a good thing because it is easy to use, but it is a bad thing because makes the VTAB feel like, well, a giant phone.  That isn’t necessarily bad per se, but the apps and even the OS itself simply do not take full advantage of the larger screen.

A good example of this is the Widget screen, which is identical to the home screens on Android phones. It sadly limits widgets and shortcuts to a four by four grid.  While my main Widget screen is almost full, it also has way too much unused space.

Flash 10.1 is installed, but the browser loads the mobile version of websites fairly frequently.  Alternate browsers are available but seem to confuse the device.  I kept getting asked which browser I wanted to open when I tapped links, which got annoying.

I can understand why Vizio customized Android the way they did, but I think they took away some of its usefulness in doing so.  For example, the notification area at the top of the screen does not behave in the same way as in “plain vanilla” Android.  Normally, each new notification appears in the bar with its own icon, and in order to see them, you drag down the top bar and they appear in a list.  On the VTAB, all notifications are accessed by clicking on a fat asterisk sitting in the upper-right corner that never goes away.  Bleh.  Having to click an icon to get to a “widget board” is also inefficient and defeats their purpose

While the VTAB does get slow on occasion, it is fairly responsive for the most part.  Vizio is reportedly working on a Honeycomb update for it, but as this is their first true computing device,  I’m not sure I trust them to keep that promise.  I’ve been burned in the past by established manufacturers that didn’t keep their products up to date (like my Samsung Moment) so I’m a little skittish about trusing the new kid on the block to do so.  To their credit, Vizio has released two minor updates since the device’s launch, so there may be hope yet.

APPS

The VTAB is severely lacking in apps, which is a unfortunate considering that one of its selling points is access to the Android Market.  I wanted to install many of the same apps that I had on my phone and was surprised to find many of them were not available.  As of this writing, Yahoo! Mail, Netflix, Skype and even Facebook apps are nowhere to be found.  I don’t use very many apps, so not being able to get the few that I do use is a bit of a downer.

CONCLUSION

For me, the Vizio Tablet is almost a keeper.  Instead, the delight of having Android running on a bigger screen is quickly offset by the disappointment of realizing that this device just doesn’t do a whole lot with the additional real estate.  The hardware is pretty good for the cost, but the VTAB’s potential is wasted by the fact that the version of Android it runs was not written for tablets, making it a really big phone-without-the-phone.  App support is the final nail in the coffin; if I could get any app from the Android Market that I wanted, the VTAB would be a slam dunk, but  even with my limited app use, there are too many things missing.

Keep in mind, though, that my needs are not the same as the average user’s.  Most people will be content to check Facebook through the Vizio Tablet’s built-in browser.  Most people won’t care about editing Word documents and attaching them to emails.  Most people won’t care which version of Android their tablet is running under the hood.  Those people will probably be perfectly happy with a Vizio Tablet.  As for me, I’m going to give it a few more days, but it looks like it will be going back to the store while I wait for a reasonably priced 7-inch device to come along.  I may also just say to heck with it and get a cheap E-reader running Android instead.  I guess this eight, isn’t quite enough.

3 out of 5

RANDOM REVIEW REVISITED: Nintendo 3DS

Read my Nintendo 3DS review here.

AT LAST, MY GREATEST CREATION IS COMPLETED!

It has now been almost four months since I purchased my Nintendo 3DS, and I have been happy with it so far.  Of course, you should keep in mind that I paid $200 for it, as I received $50 off for trading in my DS Lite.  A system update in June was pushed out that included some software additions that now complete the system:

The 3DS-exclusive eShop is an extension of the DSi Shop.  In addition to games and apps, videos can be downloaded to the system.  While videos are available to watch in 2D or 3D, the selection so far is limited to movie trailers and previews of upcoming 3DS games.  As far as games are concerned, the only 3D content so far is currently limited to a Pokedex app and re-releases of Excitebike and Xevious.  Nintendo is also bringing some of their older portable titles to the eShop, but for every Super Mario Land and Kirby’s Dreamland there is a Baseball or Tennis.

For those who still have a DSi, the System Transfer utility is also now available for transferring games from a DSi to the 3DS (and vice versa).  After downloading it to both the 3DS and the DSi the utility works as advertised.  Games are removed from their original system after being transferred, so no sharing!  Some games and apps also do not transfer, so they will have to be repurchased or redownloaded, and some don’t make the jump to the 3DS at all: no Flipnote Studio?  Come on, Nintendo!

The Browser is now available.  The first time I tried it, it ran very slowly and locked up my 3DS, so I haven’t touched it since.  Oh well.

A Netflix app is also now available from the eShop.  It works in a similar manner to the versions currently on the PS3 and Xbox 360.  After linking your Netflix account to your 3DS, you can watch your movies on your 3DS via a WiFi connection.  While the picture quality is very good, the 3DS’ teeny speakers make headphones necessary unless you are in a fairly quiet room.

Archer on the 3DS via Netflix

Archer on the 3DS

Finally, there is the recently released Nintendo Video app.  While it is possible to get videos from the eShop, the Video app downloads videos from Nintendo while the system is in sleep mode.  In a message I found slightly creepy, Nintendo encouraged me to leave my 3DS on sleep mode all night.  I’m really not sure that I want to know what ELSE it will be doing as I slumber, though.  The initial batch of our videos included a movie trailer, two funny videos and an introduction video.

STILL WAITING FOR GAMES

While the browser, Netflix and the other functions of the Nintendo 3DS are fun to play with, this game machine is still suffering from a lack of games. While some good titles have dropped, such as Dead or Alive Dimensions and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries, Nintendo again continues the tradition of making the best games for its systems with the recent re-release of The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.

When I first head about Nintendo pulling the ol’ re-re-re-release thing again, I was disappointed, but I have done a complete one-eighty after playing Ocarina of Time.  Unlike previous re-releases, this version has been remastered from the ground up to take advantage of the 3DS’ hardware and the difference is astounding.  Ocarina of Time literally looks better than ever before without the Nintendo 64 blur and fuzz we’re all come to know and love.  I can’t wait for StarFox 64 now.  With the holidays approaching, there should be more games on the way, but as of now the 3DS’ lineup is still fairly weak.

On the flipside, maybe Nintendo is being a little more judicious in handing out the dev kits this time around.  Hopefully the 3DS won’t become a hotbed for shovelware like the DS and the Wii.

CONCLUSION

The Nintendo 3DS is now complete thanks to the recent system update, and there are lots of things to do with the system besides play games.  Unfortunately, this game system is still lacking in high quality games to play.  Until that little issue is resolved, it is hard for me to recommend buying a 3DS just yet but as we get closer to the holidays that minor quibble should be resolved.  Of course, I should again bring up the system’s relatively poor battery life (3-4 hours) so keep that in mind if you travel a lot.

If you look at the list of current games (which won’t take long) and see enough games there to keep you happy until the holidays, then by all means buy a Nintendo 3DS.  My recommendation for most folks is to wait until there are enough games that you want to play.

RANDOM REVIEW REVISITED: Sprint Overdrive

Read the Sprint Overdrive review here.

After purchasing my Sprint Overdrive about a year and a half ago, I was a pretty happy camper: I could access the Internet from pretty much anywhere, even in the hole in the Internet that is my hometown of Odem, Texas.

Two problems eventually arose, though. The first being that my income took a pretty nasty drop (like to zero) and so I came to rely on my Overdrive as my sole source of internet.  While it served that purpose fairly well, I couldn’t help but notice the less expensive alternatives that were popping up courtesy of pre-paid providers such as Cricket and Virgin Wireless.  After my employment situation stabilized, I wondered if it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to ditch Sprint and use a prepaid device for those few occasions when I needed internet on the go.

Overdrive with "battery critical" message

He's Dead, Jim

The second thing that happened was that the Overdrive stopped working completely.  Turning on the device resulted in a “Battery critical. Charge Immediately” message appearing on the screen, and after a few seconds, the device would turn off on its own.  Upon first seeing the message, I plugged in my charger and the device reported an 85% charge.  I let it charge completely, and the message appeared.

I went to a Sprint Store and they did offer to repair the device for $35, which seemed reasonable.  Despite that, I decided not to repair it because of the fact that I was not using the Overdrive enough to justify the $60 a month expense.

While it is pretty lame that the Overdrive did not even last long enough to cover the 2-year contract I signed to get it, the bigger story here is that $60 a month for the service is too much for the few times that I actually used it.  My current job doesn’t pay as much as the one I had when I bought it, so I’m cutting back where I can now.

While Sprint has apparently been kind enough to cancel my contract (as far as I can tell, I’ll know for sure once my next bill comes in) I will probably end up getting a 3G USB device from a prepaid provider.  Sure, it’ll be slower, but it also won’t be as expensive, and I won’t be tied down to a contract.  I could also get a new Android phone, but I’m not too sure I want to stick with Google’s wunderkind.  That’s a blog for another day, though.

In conclusion, the device worked great while it lasted, but be sure you are going really NEED an always-there fast internet connection before signing a 2-year contract with a provider for a 4G device.  If you have to think that question over, then you just might be just fine with a prepaid 3G device.  The operative word, of course, is “might,” though, I’ll let y’all know how that works out!

RANDOM REVIEW: Texas ComiCon 2011

Two Supermen and Lex Luthor in his powersuit

Looking SUPER!

I need to begin by mentioning that I had a different role at Texas ComicCon (TCC) this year. At the 2010 event (see my write-up here) I was an attendee like most folks, but this year, I was an exhibitor. I manned the First Storm Manga table in order to get the word out about our second Mezasu Mini-con coming in September. I also helped out some with the game tournament, so I was aware of their issues as well.

If I had to pick one word to describe the difference between the 2010 and 2011 Texas ComicCons it would be ‘bigger.’ They had bigger guests, such as Brent Spiner, Cindy Morgan, Margot Kidder, and some notable comic guests as well.

There was a bigger selection of artists and dealers. The San Antonio Event Center was jam-packed with dealers and artists. If you look at the picture of the Ghostbusters from my 2010 write up, you can see lots of empty space in the background. This was not the case this year; the organizers packed as much as they could into the building without it being too crowded. There was plenty of room for people, stormtroopers and the occasional Dalek to get around.

Sadly, there were also some bigger issues. Nearly all of them only affected exhibitors, though, so if you were at TCC 2011 as an attendee, then it rocked pretty hard.

Once again, there were problems with badges. Last year, the badges sucked. This year, we didn’t have any at ALL until Saturday (or at least that’s how long it was until I got mine). At this point, I have to wonder if it’s a problem that just happens to follow me around…so look out, San Japan!

I am a little shocked at the size of the staff working the event; if it was more than half a dozen people, I’d be surprised. If TCC is going to get bigger next year (and I have no reason to doubt that they will) then they are going to need to have some volunteers helping out. To the best of my knowledge, there is no safety staff and nobody helping out with Artist Alley. Other cons have volunteers that are available to keep an eye on a dealer’s tables for a few minutes if they need a bathroom break or somesuch, but this was not the case at TCC.  I saw one of the guys running the event at my table maybe four times the entire weekend.

The remainder of the issues I am going to discuss all involve the location. As I said last time, the WalMart San Antonio Event Center’s glory days are way behind it, so yeah, it hasn’t gotten much better since last year. It is what it is and so I can’t place too much of the blame on the organizers. That said, there were a few things that could have been anticipated:

The facility was supposed to have WiFi, but sadly, the signal did not extend to the back right corner where I was situated. It didn’t affect me much, because I didn’t really need it and I have a hotspot device for when I want it, but the guys in the booth next to me needed it and were pretty miffed that they couldn’t get a signal. I gave them the password to my device and it was good enough to keep them going for the event.  I can only imagine they would have raised a pretty big stink  if I hadn’t.  According to the TCC webpage, WiFi was supposed to be available.

Electricity was an issue on two fronts. For starters, unless you brought your own extension cord, you couldn’t get squat. Luckily, the guys I had lent WiFi to were kind enough to let me run a power strip off their extension, which was nice. I was later able to borrow an extension cord from the San Japan table, which allowed me to set up a monitor so that I could play a video from our first event (thanks, Proz!). I’m willing to concede that okay, I should have bought my own cord, but considering how many folks use laptops and cell phones, it shocks me (ba-doom, tish!) that electricity keeps being considered an afterthought at these events (see also: Mizuumi-Con). I don’t mind paying for juice (if the cost is reasonable) but let me know ahead of time if I need to bring a 25-foot cord just to get access.

The second electrical problem had to do with the video game tournament. The Original-Gamer.com guys bought along eight Xboxes, eight monitors, four television sets, and four Playstation 3s to use for their tournaments. Unfortunately, there were only two outlets within reach, and when all that stuff got turned on, the breaker tripped. This was eventually resolved by moving some of the equipment to another outlet, but I’m a little surprised that this wasn’t anticipated.  Even the game tournament guys should have known that many machines was too much.

There were some doors near the back corner where I was at. With no staff around to keep the doors closed, it got a little warm in the afternoons. Unfortunately, at least one door was open nearly all the time because smokers were constantly running out to get their fix. Before you think I’m being nitpicky, keep in mind that there was nothing to stop people from sneaking in without paying. I don’t know if anybody did, but with no security staff around to check badges it’s a strong possibility.

Except for perhaps the staff issue, the stuff I mentioned are mostly minor nitpicks, because Texas ComicCon 2011 was a great event. I had a lot of fun, and judging from the reactions I’ve gotten from friends and seen online, it looked like lots of other folks did, too. I look forward to coming back next year, and look forward to seeing it come back even bigger and better.  Great job, guys!

 

RANDOM REVIEW: Texas ComicCon 2011

 

TCC 2010 Review: http://www.randomizer9.com/?p=342

 

I need to begin by mentioning that I had a different role at Texas ComicCon this year. At the 2010 event I was an attendee like most folks, but this year, I was an exhibitor. I manned the First Storm Manga table in order to get the word out about our second Mezasu Mini-con coming in September. I also helped out some with the game tournament, so I was aware of their issues as well. So, here we go:

 

If I had to pick one word to describe the difference between the 2010 and 2011 Texas ComicCons it would be ‘bigger.’ They had bigger guests, such as: Brent Spiner, Cindy Morgan, Margot Kidder, and some pretty notable comic guests as well.

 

There was a bigger selection of artists and dealers. The San Antonio Event Center was jam-packed with dealers and artists. If you look at the picture of the Ghostbusters from my write up of the 2010 event, you can see a big wide space in the background. This was not the case this year, the organizers packed as much as they could into the building without it being too crowded. There was plenty of room for people, stormtroopers and the occasional Dalek to get around.

 

Sadly, there were also bigger issues. That said, nearly all of them only affected exhibitors, so if you didn’t have a table, then yeah, ComicCon 2011 rocked pretty hard.

 

Once again, there were problems with badges. Last year, the badges sucked. This year, we didn’t have any at ALL until Saturday (or at least that’s how long it was until I got mine). At this point, I have to wonder if it’s a problem that just happens to follow me around…so look out, San Japan!

 

I am a little shocked at the size of the staff working the event; if it was more than half a dozen people, I’d be surprised. If ComicCon is going to get bigger next year (and I have no reason to doubt they can) then they are going to need to have some volunteers helping out. To the best of my knowledge, there is no safety staff and nobody helping out with Artist Alley. Other cons have volunteers that are available to keep an eye on a dealer’s tables for a few minutes if they need a bathroom break or somesuch, but this was not the case at ComicCon. I saw one of the guys running the event at my table maybe four times the entire weekend.

 

The remainder of the issues I am going to discuss all involve the location. As I said last time, the Wal-Mart San Antonio Event Center’s glory days are way behind it, and well, it hasn’t gotten much better since. It is what it is and so I can’t place too much of the blame on the organizers. That said, there were a few things that could have been anticipated:

 

The facility was supposed to have WiFi, but sadly, the signal did not extend to the back right corner where I was situated. It didn’t affect me much, because I didn’t really need it and I have a hotspot device for when I want it, but the guys in the booth next to me needed it and were pretty miffed that they couldn’t get a signal. I gave them the password to my device and it was good enough to keep them going for the duration.

 

Electricity was an issue on two fronts. For starters, unless you brought your own extension cord, you couldn’t get squat. Luckily, the guys I had lent WiFi to were kind enough to let me run a power strip off their extension, which was nice. I was later able to borrow an extension cord from the San Japan table, which allowed me to set up a monitor so that I could play a video from our first event (thanks, Proz!). I’m willing to concede that okay, I should have bought my own cord, but considering how many folks use laptops and cell phones, it shocks me (ba-doom, tish!) that electricity keeps being considered an afterthought at cons (see also: MizuumiCon). I don’t mind paying for it (if it’s reasonable) but let me know ahead of time if I need to bring my own cords and stuff.

 

The second problem had to do with the video game tournament. They bought along eight Xboxes, eight monitors, four television sets, and four Playstation 3s to use for their tournaments. Unfortunately, there were only two outlets within reach, and when all that stuff got turned on, the breaker tripped. This was eventually resolved by moving some of the equipment to another outlet, but I’m a little surprised that this wasn’t anticipated, heck, even the game tournament guys should have known that it wasn’t going to work.

 

I need to begin by mentioning that I had a different role at Texas ComicCon this year. At the 2010 event I was an attendee like most folks, but this year, I was an exhibitor. I manned the First Storm Manga table in order to get the word out about our second Mezasu Mini-con coming in September. I also helped out some with the game tournament, so I was aware of their issues as well. So, here we go:

If I had to pick one word to describe the difference between the 2010 and 2011 Texas ComicCons it would be ‘bigger.’ They had bigger guests, such as: Brent Spiner, Cindy Morgan, Margot Kidder, and some pretty notable comic guests as well.

There was a bigger selection of artists and dealers. The San Antonio Event Center was jam-packed with dealers and artists. If you look at the picture of the Ghostbusters from my write up of the 2010 event, you can see a big wide space in the background. This was not the case this year, the organizers packed as much as they could into the building without it being too crowded. There was plenty of room for people, stormtroopers and the occasional Dalek to get around.

Sadly, there were also bigger issues. That said, nearly all of them only affected exhibitors, so if you didn’t have a table, then yeah, ComicCon 2011 rocked pretty hard.

Once again, there were problems with badges. Last year, the badges sucked. This year, we didn’t have any at ALL until Saturday (or at least that’s how long it was until I got mine). At this point, I have to wonder if it’s a problem that just happens to follow me around…so look out, San Japan!

I am a little shocked at the size of the staff working the event; if it was more than half a dozen people, I’d be surprised. If ComicCon is going to get bigger next year (and I have no reason to doubt they can) then they are going to need to have some volunteers helping out. To the best of my knowledge, there is no safety staff and nobody helping out with Artist Alley. Other cons have volunteers that are available to keep an eye on a dealer’s tables for a few minutes if they need a bathroom break or somesuch, but this was not the case at ComicCon. I saw one of the guys running the event at my table maybe four times the entire weekend.

The remainder of the issues I am going to discuss all involve the location. As I said last time, the Wal-Mart San Antonio Event Center’s glory days are way behind it, and well, it hasn’t gotten much better since. It is what it is and so I can’t place too much of the blame on the organizers. That said, there were a few things that could have been anticipated:

The facility was supposed to have WiFi, but sadly, the signal did not extend to the back right corner where I was situated. It didn’t affect me much, because I didn’t really need it and I have a hotspot device for when I want it, but the guys in the booth next to me needed it and were pretty miffed that they couldn’t get a signal. I gave them the password to my device and it was good enough to keep them going for the duration.

Electricity was an issue on two fronts. For starters, unless you brought your own extension cord, you couldn’t get squat. Luckily, the guys I had lent WiFi to were kind enough to let me run a power strip off their extension, which was nice. I was later able to borrow an extension cord from the San Japan table, which allowed me to set up a monitor so that I could play a video from our first event (thanks, Proz!). I’m willing to concede that okay, I should have bought my own cord, but considering how many folks use laptops and cell phones, it shocks me (ba-doom, tish!) that electricity keeps being considered an afterthought at cons (see also: MizuumiCon). I don’t mind paying for it (if it’s reasonable) but let me know ahead of time if I need to bring my own cords and stuff.

The second problem had to do with the video game tournament. They bought along eight Xboxes, eight monitors, four television sets, and four Playstation 3s to use for their tournaments. Unfortunately, there were only two outlets within reach, and when all that stuff got turned on, the breaker tripped. This was eventually resolved by moving some of the equipment to another outlet, but I’m a little surprised that this wasn’t anticipated, heck, even the game tournament guys should have known that it wasn’t going to work.

There were some doors near the back corner where I was at. With no staff around to keep the doors closed, it got a little warm in the afternoons. Unfortunately, at least one door was open nearly all the time so that smokers could run out and get their fix. Before you think I’m being nitpicky, keep in mind that there was also nothing to stop people from sneaking in without paying. I don’t know if anybody actually did, but with no security staff around to check badges it’s a strong possibility.

Despite the nitpicks I just mentioned, I felt that Texas ComicCon 2011 was a great event. I had a lot of fun, and judging from the reactions I’ve gotten from friends and seen online, it looked like everybody else did, too. I look forward to coming back next year, and hope that it comes back even bigger and better next year.

There were some doors near the back corner where I was at. With no staff around to keep the doors closed, it got a little warm in the afternoons. Unfortunately, at least one door was open nearly all the time so that smokers could run out and get their fix. Before you think I’m being nitpicky, keep in mind that there was also nothing to stop people from sneaking in without paying. I don’t know if anybody actually did, but with no security staff around to check badges it’s a strong possibility.

 

Despite the nitpicks I just mentioned, I felt that Texas ComicCon 2011 was a great event. I had a lot of fun, and judging from the reactions I’ve gotten from friends and seen online, it looked like everybody else did, too. I look forward to coming back next year, and hope that it comes back even bigger and better next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RANDOM REVIEW: 2010

The most telling thing that I can say about 2010 is that I spent the last third of it without a full-time job, after getting canned back in August. I’ll be honest, I have nobody but myself to blame for that; a friend asked me if my bosses had been looking for a reason to get rid of me awhile back.  I sheepishly replied: “Well, if they were, they didn’t have to look very hard!”

Thus, the whole “what am I going to do with myself” debate I’d been having since 2009 (and heck, probably earlier than that) took on a whole new meaning as I applied for tech writer, tech support, and even editing jobs in an attempt to get away from programming.  I am currently scheduled to start a new programming job on the January 24th…well, so much for that.

Of course, sitting behind a desk for 40-something hours a week hating my job was not the only thing I did all year.  I also continued to be involved in First Storm Manga, handing out flyers and manga at a couple of anime cons throughout the year and keeping the website humming.  We are also going to be hosting our first event, the “Mezasu mini-con” on January 22nd.  While I enjoy hanging out with the guys, and it is fun going to events, I’m not sure that I want to be as involved in First Storm next year.  I’m just not sure that I’m getting a lot out of it, but I’ll bottle up that angst and save it for a future blog.

Another new ‘side job’ that I picked up was that of Writer/Editor/Voice Guy for video game website Original-Gamer.com. I started out just providing narration for some of their videos but eventually got more involved in the site, editing articles for readability and even writing reviews.  Because of that involvement, I was able to attend the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in July, and it completely blew me away.  I also had the privilege of attending the “Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy” concert in Houston, and the pleasure of interviewing famed video game music luminaries Nobou Uematsu and Arnie Roth.

Speaking of music, I was invited to join a band called The Loliholix. It turns out they needed a drummer, and I just happened to know how to play drums and have way too much time on my hands.  After getting an electric drum kit and an big ol’ honkin’ PA to use as an amp, I was ready to rock.  Practicing and hanging out the band was fun, but playing our first big gig at San Japan was awesome.  Being part of a show, even if it is a small one, is just incredible.  The audience feeds off of your energy and gives more back to you.

All the while, I have continued with my creative endeavors, namely writing.  I completed some very short stories, even entering one into a writing contest, and am working with my friend Chris Holm on some comics.  I also have some longer works that I hope to finish soon.  I am hoping to get my stories, and even some non-fiction, onto the various e-readers and phones and pads that are all the rage these days.  Hopefully, I can make a few bucks on the side that way.

As if being a part time musician and writer wasn’t enough, I also read for a part in a short film that my friend Carey Martell is currently working on called “Deathfist Ninja GKaiser.” Now, I won’t be too disappointed if I end up as Man in Suit #6 but having a speaking part and being the first person in the show to get fried by the Big Bad Guy would be cool, too.

All the while, I managed to post to this blog and keep up a somewhat-regular schedule with my podcast: “300 Seconds.”  I figure that if I can get out one blog post a week and two podcasts a month on top of all the other stuff I’m doing, then I’m doing alright.

Overall, 2010 was a great year for me.  I got to meet a lot of cool people and had a lot of really neat experiences.  Sure, it sucked to lose my job, but with the help and support of family and friends (and some creative budgeting) I’m hanging in there, in fact, I already have a job lined up in a few weeks so things are looking up!. I have faith that things will turn around soon and 2011 will rock even harder.

Farewell and Godspeed, 2010.  You were one to remember.