Monday, June 19, 2017

Tablet Shootout!

A few years ago my mother gave me her first gen Kindle Fire, after she found a really good deal on an HP tablet. Up to this point I was a PC or laptop person, I had never used a smart phone or a tablet for any extended period of time. I find getting new electronic devices extremely exciting, but since it's a Kindle Fire that excitement was quickly quelled. Perhaps I could say that fire was extinguished? It's my blog and I'll make stupid jokes if I want!

The first things I noticed about the Kindle Fire were that I was locked to their browser, no Firefox or Chrome for me, just some lame, cut-rate browser that worked OK. Secondly I was greeted by the absolutely abysmal app store Amazon offers. Many apps I wanted just weren't available and I'm assuming never would be, without rooting the device.

Not wanting to take a risk and root the damn thing I trudged on with the tablet, hey at least I had one. As the excitement waned I just let the thing sit on its own and didn't touch it for weeks on end. The few apps I had grown attachment to were now abandoned, based solely upon the performance of the device and not the quality of the app itself.

Eventually the Kindle Fire would become a thing of the past, all thanks to a tablet that isn't built anywhere near as well as the Kindle Fire. I present to you the Apex Solo 7i, a tablet that truly feels like it might fall apart in your hands. At least this one is full Android, and not a truncated version controlled by an online shopping website.

The Apex was yet another amazing find at the outlet store, but it didn't come in perfect shape. A few scratched here and there, but overall the tablet is in working order and is actually quite nice. Quickly, even despite it's build quality, the Apex has become my tablet of choice over the Kindle.

The Apex Solo 7i runs Android KitKat, meaning I can access the Google Play store and download any friggin app I want! The screen is quite vibrant but shows how cheap it is when trying to view it from most angles that aren't straight ahead. There are both front and rear facing cameras, although they're such low rez they're absolutely useless, but the option is nice, and the tablet allows for Bluetooth connectivity.

To sum up the Apex's faults I would say the build quality is pretty lacking, the screen isn't great from all angles, the battery seems to be moderate, but not great, and anytime I watch videos on anything above 480p the tablet absolutely craps itself, although so did the Kindle Fire.

Where the Kindle Fire made up in build quality it completely lacks in functionality, usefulness and overall desire to use the damn thing. If you want a tablet strictly for watching videos on the go, or you don't need a large library of games, the Kindle Fire might be worth picking up used, although the newer versions have to be better and they're actually quite cheap these days.

Where the Apex Solo seems like an extremely cheap piece of junk, it's actually quite a good little tablet. Admittedly I've accidentally dropped the thing a few times and it seems more sturdy than I originally thought, although I wouldn't drop it from great heights onto hard surfaces. Since the Apex is running KitKat it's limitations, thus far, are few and far between. There are so many apps, browsers, etc. that I can use it's almost limitless.

Is the Apex Solo 7i better than the first generation Kindle Fire? Simply based on how useful it is, yes! Leaps and bounds yes! The Kindle Fire might have been an amazing little tablet, had it not been restricted so ludicrously by Amazon. Even so, I used the heck out of the Kindle until I realized there was a much larger and better world out there, a world ran by Android.

Monday, May 8, 2017

This Town Ain't Big Enough Fer the Two of Us: Gun vs Red Dead Revolver!

At the height of its popularity Red Dead Redemption was a household name. The idea of mixing GTA and the Wild West was a great idea, but had it been done before Red Dead Redemption? Well, not as well as Redemption, but to a much lesser extent it was attempted at least twice, with Red Dead Revolver and Gun.

Back when Redemption was still on the tongues, minds and consoles of video game fans, I was busy trying to find a copy of Red Dead Revolver. When I did find a copy I was fully expecting to see a GTA San Andreas style Western game; I mean for fuck sake when Red Dead Revolver came out Rockstar already had GTA 3 and Vice City under their belts, with San Andreas just around the corner.

The elation I felt for having a copy of what I thought was going to be an open world thrill ride through the wild west was quickly and painfully dashed, slashed and left out in the sun to rot. With Revolver being cut up into chapters I quickly realized that in the year 2006 (when I bought the game), I had played NES games that were more open world than this game. It was nothing more than mini games setup as missions/chapters, all themed the same and mashed together in some form of coherency.

I gave it a good go, hoping that at some point the game would open up and I would be free to decide whether I was a law abiding citizen, or become a legendary outlaw of the old west. Soon it became painfully obvious that no matter how far I progressed through the game, the only freedom I had was roaming through one town, choosing a mission and being placed within that mission until I succeeded, only to be placed right back into the town to pick another mission. Disappointed I eventually gave up on the game and put it back on the shelf, in hopes it would disappear.

Years went by and I still didn't have Red Dead Redemption, but I was still on the hunt for an Xbox era equivalent. This is when Gun was brought to my attention. I was familiar with the box art and the name, but I hadn't the slightest clue what the game was. After watching a few Let's Plays and reading some reviews, my childlike wonderment was renewed! Gun was the game that was going to send me into the wild, gun-toting west and allow me to decide whether or not I was going to be a law abiding citizen, or a lawless madman with a lust for killing.

For the first few missions of Gun I was sorely disappointed, yet again. The game opens up with the main character and who we assumed to be his father hunting to earn their survival. Suddenly things take a turn for the worse and the game throws you into a mission. Once that mission is over it throws you back into the game, all of which has been a tiny little map. It all felt too much like Red Dead Revolver so far, and I was quickly growing impatient.

Persevering along through a few more missions and I was allowed to ride a horse into a new town. Now this felt like the game was opening up, but still the map wasn't very big, it still felt very small and mission based. Eventually I reached another town, where the whole map was unlocked, after a handful more missions. It's not the Red Dead Redemption feel I was looking for, but this was leaps and bounds more freedom than Revolver ever afforded.

After each mission you are given a screen that tells you what upgrades you've gotten, which still feels too mission driven, but you're, essentially, dropped right back where you were before the mission started, making it feel less like the game is picking you up and dropping you off everywhere you go. Once I got past the painful first few missions of Gun, it truly opened up and made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted. Sure, it's still restrictive, it's nowhere near as free or as good as Redemption (even though I've never played it, I know it's better than Gun), but Gun is a really good western style game that I feel earns the badge of open world game.

Gun didn't exceed my expectations, but it sure as hell beats Red Dead Revolver out of the water. The end boss fight is quite frustrating if you walk into it without being properly prepared, but the overall game is fun. Even after you complete the main story missions there are a handful of things to do, not many but there are some. If this was a wild western showdown I would fully expect Gun to blow Red Dead Revolver away before it could even draw its pistol. No contest, Gun is the winner.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Once Bitten: Snakebyte PS3 Wired Controller Review

As a thrift store shopper I have a fairly unique opportunity to find cheap electronics and give them a thorough testing. Sometimes these electronics are good and sometimes they're bad. In the case of the Snakebyte wired PS3 controller I can't say that it's good, but I wouldn't write it off as being completely bad either. The Snakebyte wired PS3 controller just kind of... exists.

My original intent was to use the controller as a PC controller, which you absolutely can do. I saw it as a wired Dualshock style controller and figured I would give it a chance. The fact that it works on PC is great! It's simply just a plug and play scenario where you plug it in, Windows finds the drivers automatically, and without hassle, then you configure it through whatever game you wish to play. It's truly that simple.

Though I may praise it's simplicity in connectivity to the PC, the Snakebyte isn't without its flaws. All of the action buttons are analog, which I found quite surprising, but the particular nightmare here are the should buttons. Sometimes the weirdly designed L2 and R2 buttons don't register and even though they are analog it's far less sensitive than the official Dualshock 3. Whatever they were thinking when they decided to design them differently from the Dualshock 3 triggers, I don't know, but in either case these L2 and R2 buttons are this controller major downfall.

Another issue you may find with the controller, albeit not as bad as my previous gripe, is the analog sticks. Firstly the texture on them is very shallow and harder than the rubber on the Dualshock 3, making them much more difficult to keep your thumbs on. Secondly is the dead zone which feels like you could fit a complete Dualshock 3 controller in. This makes precision use of the analog sticks nearly impossible.

The overall build quality is decent with a firm and rigid plastic shell. The design takes a slight departure from the standard Dualshock form factor and offers elongated handles that I don't care very much for nor do I find very comfortable, but it's not horrible. The controller also offers customizable turbo functionality, while also including a clear function to undo turbo assignment. Finally the cable seems to be quite a long one; no complaints about having to sit right beside the console while using this controller.

My final verdict on the Snakebyte wired PS3 controller is this: if you need a cheap PC controller I'm sure there are better ones out there, but if you can pick this thing up for a couple bucks on clearance or in good, used condition it may suit what you need. If you need a cheap PS3 controller then you may want to follow the same advice. I'm sure there are cheaper, better PS3 controllers, wired and not, out there.

If I'm playing a game where precision isn't a necessity the Snakebyte controller is useful, otherwise not so much. I've played Fallout and Skyrim with the Snakebyte and I've done just fine, but as far as racing games, where the analog really is required, the controller falls flat. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Making Connections and Persistence Pays Off!

All the way back in the year 2010, yes when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I started my hardcore video game collecting. I had always collected video games on the odd occasion, but it was that year that I decided to make it a full on pastime. Along the journey I made friends at most of the thrift stores, as well as a handful of enemies, all of whom were employees of those stores.

From assistant managers who helped me find games from stock that had just come in, to managers who hated me because they didn't understand why I wanted them to change the price of common NES games from $20 to a more reasonable $3. Many fights were had, but mostly the visits to thrift stores were filled with either overjoyed scores or empty handed defeats, both of which were all part of the hobby.

One such occasion of being nice to store employees paying dividends I walked in on an assistant manager, whom I often spoke with, trying to get a Nintendo Gamecube to work because the lid wouldn't shut. Fearing the console was doomed to be trashed, I threw out the an offered of $5 (to my recollection), which he accepted. For a product he thought was trash his store was now $5 richer, and for about 15 minutes of work I gained a perfectly good Nintendo Gamecube, complete with power and video connectors.

I was also given steep discounts on items that just sat in the store, or display case, for extended periods of time. Eight NES controllers for 80 cents (total for all 8), SNES games at 25 cents each, a shoe box full of Atari 2600 games for $3, the list goes on and on. Sometimes the employees would even try to hold things back for me, and the manager would always put things out behind their backs. Although their efforts were appreciated I wouldn't want to score things this was, I prefer the thrill of finding the items on the shelves myself.

Salvation Army used to have a bric-a-brac section atop all of their clothes racks, which often yielded goodies such as a Gameboy Color for 59 cents, countless N64 games for 39 cents, among many other things. The perk of frequently going to the same places, regardless of finding anything or not, was that the employees saw me and knew I was in there quite often; even if we didn't build up a personal report they knew who I was. This meant when one Salvation Army store was given someone's nearly entire NES collection, I had a bargaining chip to get the games even cheaper.

The year was 2011 and the selection was vast! Someone had taken very good care of their NES games and I would say nearly all of them had their manuals and were kept exceedingly clean inside black Nintendo game sleeves. I knew I couldn't afford all the games I wanted at the price they were asking, which was only $3, so I went to the manager and asked him for a discount. He recognized me, although we had never spoken before, and after explaining that I usually find games for anywhere from 39 cents to $1 he told me that if I bought more than 10 I could get them for $1 each. SCORE!!

I quickly shoveled about 20 NES games off the shelves and into a cart. Back then I didn't have the ability to quickly and easily verify what games were worth what, nor did I have the ability to readily remember which ones I already had, so I had to go on instinct. Along some enjoyable filler titles like Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye, I picked up Ninja Gaiden 3 with its manual as well as Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers 2, also with its manual. All for $1 each, in mint condition and with a pristine Nintendo game sleeve.

Another case was at another Salvation Army store, where I saw a box with an N64 and PSone console and various video game things inside without any prices on anything within the box. After asking an employee, she quickly called over the manager, and after a short haggle I ended up getting the box full of video game goodness for $10. This would turn out to be my modded PSone, that I had no clue was modded at the time, as well as give me my copy of Mario Kart 64, which I played the hell out of for the following few months,

However, further interactions with that same manager didn't go as smoothly as this occasion. There was a time I asked him about a bare bones SNES console sitting in the electronics section of the store the was priced at $30, which I thought the price of the week made it 50% off. Without even looking at the price tag he wanted to charge me $50! Needless to say I walked out empty handed, laughing that he had raised the price $20 without even looking at the price right on the item itself.

The moral of the story here is to be friendly and build those connections. Of course you're not going to be the only one using this tactic, but stay persistent and eventually you'll have the edge. Nothing is more important than being kind, courteous, persistent and frequenting those places, being seen buying the things you're after and maybe even without your input employees will start to help you find those things as well.

Monday, February 6, 2017

When Two Become One, and the Leftovers Become Something Else.

Recently I found a rather beaten and worn Nintendo DS. The poor thing looks like it's been through a war, and it may have, but the strange thing is that the hinge is still completely intact. Once I got it home I plugged it in and let it sit for a good, long charge. After it was all good to go I immediately noticed that a few things weren't quite right.

The first thing that was wrong was the touch screen; there was a deep gouge running nearly the complete height of the touch screen, which caused the touch screen to not work properly, nor could I calibrate it. Luckily the only thing affected was the touch screen, the actual display screen was in perfect condition. The top screen looked great, until I noticed 2 black lines that only appeared when the back light was on. I turned the back light off and applied light from the front and the lines simply aren't there. I'm going to assume this is repairable as I'm pretty certain this isn't a fault with the screen itself, rather something between the back light and the screen.

So what am I going to do with this poor thing? I'm going to take the best parts from it and another original DS that I bought years ago (which had a broken hinge) and make a decent, working original DS. After taking them both apart and putting the best of the best within the housing with the good hinge, I finally have a working original DS with a working hinge. By the way, the plastic on the original DS has not aged well. On both consoles I found it to be quite brittle, which is sad and makes me not want to use it out of fear of it breaking, but oh well!

Once everything was said and done I had a pile of leftover parts. What am I going to do with them? Well, years ago an article circulated the internet about someone who converted an original DS into a back lit GBA. That's it! That's what I'll do with the spare parts.

The only real issue here is fitting a resistor beside the Start and Select pads, and making sure there is enough clearance for the whole shell to close up again. The resistor is needed so that the system will allow itself to turn on without the top screen being attached. I was too excited to really take any inner photos or do a tutorial on this, but I may in the future as modding the original DS to be a GBA isn't as well documented as the DS Lite mod. I prefer the original because the GBA games fit flush, unlike the DS Lite where the games hang out slightly.

Mine currently doesn't have speakers, but headphones are just as good. I'll figure out where to mount the speakers and get them all wired up sometime, but for now having a working GBA with a decent, but not great, back lit screen is pretty neat.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finding the Right Disc for the Right Case!

The summer of 1999 was spent almost entirely in my small bedroom with Warrant's Dog Eat Dog album blaring, while playing Resident Evil Director's Cut on my Playstation. I can't remember exactly where, but I had been playing a demo copy of Resident Evil and I really wanted to play the full version, so that desire spurred on the need to liquidate my Sega Genesis and NES collections, which is a horror story in and of itself. I traded in roughly $40 worth of stuff (1999 value) to the local FunCo Land for $7 and change and still needed to pay another $8 (plus tax) to buy Resident Evil, but at that time it felt all too worth it.

The only copy the store had in was a Greatest Hits copy, but that didn't bother me at all, at least I got the game I was after. As soon as I got home I knew the disc wasn't the right one, yet this was a decade before I learned that the manual, case and disc should all have the same SLUS code. Regardless of it not being in the right case I still played the hell out of the game. Through all the zombie slaughter, puzzle solving and jump scare goodness, I loved every minute of it.

Years went by and the same game is still in my collection; I learned not to give a video game store $40 worth of stuff for $7 in-store credit ever again. It always kind of nagged at my subconscious that the disc wasn't in the right case. Along came the Goodwill outlet store, where I could find loose PS1 games almost on the daily. Without much thought I would pick them up and throw them into a pile of I want or I already have. The I wants were packed away and logged in my video game collection spreadsheet, while the I already haves were placed in a bag, hoping to use as trade fodder for something I wanted.

Recently I happened to be checking through my collection of video games I could trade off, when I noticed one of them was a black and silver Resident Evil Director's Cut, much like I would expect to find in the Greatest Hits case I bought all those years ago. And you know what? I was right! After checking the disc's SLUS code it matched the case perfectly.

It's taken nearly 20 years to get the right disc, but at least I have it. Now I'll need to track down the original case and manual for the game FunCo Land put inside the case. Either way, I'm keep them both now!

Left: Correct Disc, Right: Disc FunCo gave me

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Skullcandy Ink'd 2 Earbud Review.

Ever since I can remember I've heavily preferred to use over-ear headphones for my music listening pleasure. With the exception of my absolute favorite TSC (The Speaker Company) NC3, noise cancelling over-ears, it's been hard for me to find a decent set of headphones that fill my ears with the right frequencies while not sounding washed out by background noise.

I've owned many different styles of over-ear headphones and always loved their delivery, the frequency response and the comfort factor. What always ends up happening is that I use them too much and over time they break at the headband. The last few pairs of over-ears I've had I tried to repair, in vain. The fewer parts, the less can go wrong, right?

I've never been a fan of earbuds, they never deliver the music quite the same as over-ears, they make my ears itch inside and are just overall a menace to use. When mowing I need something that will block out the sound of the mower, this is why I heavily prefer over-ears with noise-cancellation, and all the earbuds I've used up to this point were just not going to cut it, but that was about to change.

For home use I went with a simple pair of Roku earbuds, because they're purple and they aren't broken like my over-ears. The music didn't sound as great, but at least I was still getting music pumped into both ears, plus they didn't need to cancel any noise because it's just home use. They're not the best, but for moderate home use they'll do the job.

My eyes started to scour the outlet store for earbuds. Maybe there was a new set that someone hadn't used yet, besides you can always clean them, can't you? Yeah, I'm sure it would be fine to wash a pair of earbuds thoroughly and be safe. After seeing a massive amount of even lower quality earbuds than the Roku ones pass through, it finally happened. A pair of earbuds I was willing to buy used and risk getting some stranger's inner-ear, fungal infection. Skullcandy!

I've heard of the brand, but never tried their products. I'm not one who will jump on a brand as soon as they come out, pay a high price for a product and then sing their praises. I'll wait for everyone else to have their fun with said products and pick them up used, at drastically reduced prices. In the case of the Ink'd 2 earbuds, I would say they're well worth what I paid for them. Three cents at the outlet store.

After a thorough cleansing in alcohol and soaking the rubber parts in soap and water, I finally gave these suckers a test. Everything sounded amazing. I'd never heard earbuds this good before, not to say I've tried too many to begin with, but I've never heard earbuds that sounds slightly less dynamic than over-ears. Almost everything I wanted from over-ear headphones are offered in these earbuds, again, almost.

I can't verify whether or not they'll drown out any background noise, but once they're in place they stay, which is also new to me, and they do seem to block out more noise than any other earbuds I've ever used.

I'm not an earbud expert, nor am I a headphones expert, but I know what I expect from them and the Skullcandy Ink'd 2 earbuds offer almost (I can't stress that enough) exactly what I'm looking for from over-ear headphones. They are still a little lacking, obviously due to size limitations, but they are amazing for what they are. Would I pay retail for them? Considering they're only about $13-15 retail, I would possibly consider it.