Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Nintendo DSi

After dickering with a local seller over an orange Nintendo DSi, I grew tired of the BS and decided it would be best if I bought one off Amazon instead. Then I found out the Amazon price (third party seller of course) was three times what the local seller wanted, so I decided to choose another color. Years ago I had found nearly complete boxes for the Metallic Blue and Matte White DSi consoles, so I decided to choose between those two options. Sure the serial numbers don't match, but at least it's something! The choice I made was ultimately the metallic blue, as they seemed to be in much better condition than the matte white DSi consoles everyone else had for sale.


The first thing I noticed about the DSi was that I found its more squared off design to be more comfortable than the rounder edged DS Lite. The functional layout feels the same as the DS Lite, with the exception of the new power and volume buttons. The interactivity of the DSi's operation system was a great discovery as well. Where the DS and Lite were simply insert game or move along types, the DSi had what feels like the precursor to the 3DS interface, as well as the, now deceased, DSi shop and internal memory to install apps.
The less rounded edges of the DSi compared to the DS Lite.

Now let's discuss, yet again, the DS family hinges. After getting a DSi I think I've figured out the cause of Nintendo's hinge problems. With many of the DS family consoles the internal hinges require a bit more force to snap into place, where as the DSi will slowly glide into fully opened mode and stay there. Along the way you can easily decide at which angle you most want to leave the DSi's top screen open, but the most secure positions are fully open and fully closed, neither of which require much force to lock into. Lately I've noticed my 3DS XL has acquired even more cracks and I'm feeling less and less comfortable using it, but I notice the cracks opening up when I have to force the hinge mechanism to open up or lock into place.


One function that I was surprised that I enjoyed, perhaps more than I should, is the power button. When you press and hold the power button you switch the console on or off. Simply tapping the button works as the precursor to the 3DS family's Home button, albeit the DSi doesn't warn you that you're resetting the software. The good thing is that the power button requires a bit of force to press it, even to reset the software, so I don't foresee accidental resets being much of a problem.

Now, I format newly acquired electronics for a myriad of reasons, but the most important reason is that I want the item to feel fresh and unique to myself, as if I purchased it brand new. With the DSi I decided not to do this, mainly because there were five games installed and with the DSi shop being long since shut down I could never download them again. Secondly the DSi never required a Nintendo account to use the console, meaning I could simply change all the options over to my own and delete everything else within the console that I didn't want or need. Also, because the DSi store is dead there was no risk of me using the previous owner's information to purchase games.


Which leads us into the final chapter, the dead DSi shop. I kind of understand, but not fully, that Nintendo can't keep the DSi shop open forever, but for what it is the shop couldn't have been taking up much bandwidth as an expense. I wish there was a way to acquire the old DSiWare, but those days are gone. I'm glad I have the games I have installed and that I could easily change everything over without needing to format it and lose everything completely.

To be completely honest I was ecstatic with the condition of the DSi I received, which makes me feel a bit bad to admit this, but I prefer to keep it packed away in the mismatched serial number box for its own protection. Since I already have a 2DS and 3DS XL I don't really see much need to keep it out and risk possibly harming it. Still though, I do enjoy the games installed so much that every so often I'll pull the DSi out for short periods of time and give the DSiWare a few good play throughs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Panasonic RP-HC200 Headphones Review

About fifteen years ago I bought what I consider to be the absolute best headphones I've ever owned. Sadly, as things go, they broke down over time, and the pursuit of another pair to replace them has ensued since the very day I finally laid them to rest. I've tried expensive pairs of headphones and I've tried cheap pairs of headphones and still nothing can replace my $20 pair of (now defunct) The Speaker Company NC-3 headphones.

The Speaker Company leatherette bag the NC-3s were kept in.
Now home to my most expensive set of headphones.

About a year ago I was looking for an inexpensive set of headphones that offered noise cancellation but could also do a podcast, so I turned to Amazon to see what I could find. What I settled on were the Panasonic RP-HC200 noise cancelling headphones that seemed to be a good purchase at $27. If you're a return reader to this blog you may find yourself confused right now, as I'm actually reviewing a brand new item instead of a used pair of headphones. Don't worry, that one is coming up later, but for now I'll continue with the brand new pair of headphones for this review.


Upon opening the box I was immediately let down as these headphones are not only hardwired, they're hardwired on both sizes. The last four sets of headphones I've had (even the cheapest of which) were all 3.5mm jacks on one side, so if the cable goes bad you've still got a pair of headphones! Bad mark #1. I figured I would still go ahead and give them a try and see how everything went. After putting them on my head I noticed the pressure around my ears was far higher than any of the other headphones I've owned, which later turned into a headache. Bad mark #1.5.

Ok, ok. I bought these headphones based mainly on the fact they were noise cancelling, so I popped in the provided Panasonic battery (go figure!) and checked the quality of that feature. Bad mark #2. It doesn't cancel anything. Now remember these are brand new, so first impressions are factory specs. I could hear the slow change of the speakers as I flipped the switch. The sound was louder, which was already a little bit louder than it needed to be, but I could still hear my fan running from five feet behind me, even through the sound the speakers were emitting. The only thing these headphones cancelled was the joyous hope in my head that I had purchased a quality product.


After my TSC NC-3 headphones died I picked up two pair from the outlet store. It's been so many years since the first pair I bought broke down and were tossed away, but I remember the noise cancellation being decent and the ear pieces were so comfortable that I actually kept them for a number of years before having to throw them away because I had no use for them. The second pair I bought were the iSymphony NC1 headphones and they were superb! The middle of the headband detached and they folded into a small compact size. Approximately a year after I started using them the right side earpiece broke off, but I continued to use the left piece as a single over-ear for a few more years.

One thing I can say in favor of these headphones is that the sound is decent and they are loud, and as I said earlier even louder in "noise cancellation" mode. The main reason I bought these was because I wanted another decent set of noise cancelling headphones and these things absolutely don't do any of that. Through all of the headphones I've owned none of them offered such weak and lackluster noise cancellation as the RP-HC200s. If you're looking for a decent set of headphones that will squeeze your head and induce a headache, not cancel any noise other than that of your thoughts and if anything happens to the cable you're completely fucked, then these headphones are the ones for you!

Bonus: Found the Box for
much better headphones.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Third Party Wired Xbox 360 Controller Review

For years I had been looking for the adapter to use my wireless Xbox 360 controllers on my gaming PC. I'm a frequent thrift shopper, so I assumed one would pop up at some point during my thrifting adventures. I was wrong. What did appear was a third party, completely unbranded, wired Xbox 360 style controller. Perhaps the next best thing? Let's find out!


At first glance it looks like a blue Xbox 360 controller, but upon closer inspection the illusion falls apart. The main giveaway is that the center button is all chrome, with no logo or X in the center. Once plugged in the lights around the center button are a bit weak and cheap looking. The overall feel is ok, but you can quickly tell the plastic isn't up to the same quality as the official Microsoft Xbox 360 controllers.

It appears to be molded straight from the official wired Xbox 360 controller, but it just feels slightly off, maybe because I'm more familiar with the wireless controller than I am a wired one. The buttons all have a really nice tactile response like my official wireless controllers, but the triggers are where things came to a halt. Where the official triggers glide in and out smoothly, the no brand wired controller has a noticeable shift, although it doesn't seem to affect the operation of the trigger, it just feels off.

As with nearly everything I review I have to say this was used, so its condition at the time of purchase is all I have to go by and sometimes that's unfair. I will say that I've left this controller plugged into my gaming PC for quite a while now and use it for any game I possibly can. Would I prefer an official wired or even the adapter to use my official wireless controllers on my gaming PC? Yes! For now though, this thing sure beats the living hell out of the Snakebyte controller I bought a few years back!

ADDENDUM


Recently I took this controller apart to fix the frayed wire (as seen in the picture above) and while doing so I found that both triggers had one side of the piece that holds them in place broken off. Cheap plastic? Rough usage by the previous owner? I can't tell, all I can say is that now know why the triggers are a bit wonky. Again, it's not as good as an official 360 controller but it's still a perfectly serviceable controller to use for PC gaming.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Velleman VTDESOL3U Desoldering Pump Review

Although far from a professional I have been tinkering with soldering more and more frequently for the last ten years. One thing that quickly became a problem was finding a proper way to remove things without messing up the solder pads, and trust me I've ruined far too many items by improperly removing a component and having the solder pad disappear completely.

For something small like a resistor or capacitor I could just heat up each solder joint and wiggle it loose, but what about things like ICs or transistors or something with short leads? That lead me to buy a super cheap desoldering pump. Very quickly I found the skill it takes to heat the solder, get right down onto the melted solder and suck it up without leaving yourself with just a tiny amount that can now never be removed is well beyond me. I feared my only alternative was a super expensive desoldering gun or pump, until I found out about the Velleman VTDESOL3U.


I had a few extra bucks in Amazon and decided to take the chance. When it arrived I plugged it in and waited for it to heat up. Mine was smoking quite a bit on first heat up, as well as mine takes quite a few minutes to fully heat up, but once it's ready to go it's well worth the investment. The tip that comes with the Velleman is a bit bigger than I'd like it to be and sadly there are no currently know alternatives, but with a little foresight you can loosen the joint, wiggle the part of the component you're aiming to desolder and suck up enough solder from the joint to make it easily removable in the end.

My first impressions with the Velleman desoldering pump were just how cheap the plastic feels, but that's only the plastic. After a few uses mine was spitting solder back out at me when I would push down the plunger. I figured it was time to check the pump reservoir, which was impossibly difficult to remove. After an email to their customer service I was advised to use a small screw driver to pry it open, and upon doing so everything worked out better than I expected.

After using the Velleman VTDESOL3U quite a bit I find it to be an amazing investment. If you can afford a professional desoldering station or gun, you may find this to be a bit lacking, but for someone who has fiddled about for years trying to find something that does exactly what the Velleman desoldering pump does, I find it to be a great addition to my tools. Small hobbyists who may not have much money, or need, to invest into a professional desoldering method would benefit greatly from this product. It's cheap, it's functional and it gets the job done.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2DS vs 3DS XL

The day has come. I was out thrifting at a local Salvation Army and there it was. Its bright blue shell beckoning my gaze to it, as it sat half visible in the glass case among a sea of bland, grey items. My 3DS XL. I think it's time I write a followup to the my 2DS experience post.

The 3DS XL and everything it came with.

Now, I need to explain a little bit here, so bear with me. I was gifted my 2DS on Christmas eve 2015 and I had written that entry back in November, in anticipation for posting it on Christmas eve 2017. As things go, the holidays came and went and I had totally forgotten about it until I recently, literally three days ago, bought my 3DS XL. That's why it was posted in March, the same day as this article.

I can't deny that I was excited to find a 3DS XL, but nearly everything I said in the 2DS experience post still holds true. I emphasize nearly because two things about the 3DS XL really do stand out for me, but I'll get into that in a little bit. Obviously this one has been well used and is slightly beat up, but on the first day of owning it I gave it a thorough cleaning and inspection to see how well it had stood up to being used. As per usual with acquiring used electronics I also formatted the memory and setup a new 3DS account on the console. After cleaning the screens and clearing something crunchy from the right bumper button everything worked fine.

There are many scratches on the top and back, many bumps on the sides too.

What blew me away about the 3DS XL? The first thing I noticed was the sound, which is pretty amazing, I won't even lie. The 2DS only has mono, but even after comparing them side by side it doesn't make me hate the mono sound of the 2DS. It's not terrible by any means, it's just not the stereo the 3DS XL offers. I could take it or leave it, the mono is fine, but the stereo is just slightly more appealing.

The second feature that blew me away was the screens and just how big, vibrant and beautiful they are. Sadly I've had to change the screen in my 2DS, perhaps that's a check mark for the hinge crowd, and the aftermarket screen isn't as vibrant, but even so I still know what is what and I can still play all my games on my 2DS. After the side by side comparison, even with the sound difference and the complete difference in screen sizes and vibrancy, nothing has changed my mind on my love and adoration for my 2DS.

What did I not like about the 3DS XL? Well, it's the elephant in the room now isn't it? The fucking hinges! What I find exceedingly frustrating is that I have owned my 3DS XL for only three days and within that time I've noticed hairline fractures forming in the right side hinge. During the initial inspection and cleaning, the first day I owned it, I took a good look in the sunlight and noticed a few small cracks, nothing major but there were a few. A whole two days later I'm noticing brand new ones forming. Nothing seems to be flexing or popping out of place when I open the top, yet, but it's only a matter of time. I can't say enough just how much I hate Nintendo's hinge technology.

Visible cracks on the right hinge just waiting for
their time to render the whole console useless.

Since I ranted about the hinges I guess I'll explain how I feel about the clamshell design. If I was a person who took his 3DS everywhere to collect streetpass stuff, if any of that stuff is still available, I would feel much more secure with a clamshell design to protect the screens from accidentally being bumped into by something or someone, even in my pocket. However, I'm not that type of person and since my 2DS never leaves the house, and if it did I have a fairly rigid carry case for it, I'm perfectly fine with my 2DS. Plus I find the 2DS slab to be far more comfortable than the clamshell design.

Now we get to the namesake of the console and the whole marketing scheme behind its existence, the 3D capability. I'll state it as simply as I can here; the 3D is pretty neat, but you have to stay in one exact spot for it to work. I did some testing in the store just to make sure everything worked and when I first flipped on the 3D it looked like a vomited disarray of pixels on the screen. My eyes adjusted and I moved the console a bit further back and it popped in. If I moved the console any closer, further, left or right everything was, once again, a blurry mess.

Listen, I get it, the 3D was a really cool addition. When it works, it works and it does look really cool, but it's just so darn fidgety. You can turn it off, turn it down, but for the most part I keep it off, and as such that's why I prefer my 2DS. The major thing I would take away from the experience of owning both a 2DS and a 3DS XL is the fact that I heavily prefer my 2DS. Yes I love the stereo sound and I love the big, bold screens of the 3DS XL, but the 2DS is still the most useful of the two for me.

Friday, March 16, 2018

My 2DS Experience: Two Years Later.

Just over two years ago I received a Nintendo 2DS for Christmas from my girlfriend. At that point I didn't have any working DS consoles, but I had a good sized library of DS games that I wanted to play. Originally I thought I would repair one of my broken DS consoles, but the parts just weren't available anymore. That's when I decided it was time I looked into something that not only played my original DS games but would also open my collection up to the 3DS library. I read many reviews and wanted the most bang for my buck, that's why I requested the 2DS.

Reviews seemed fairly positive, but there were some who panned it as a kid's toy and the useless, handicapped brother to the 3DS. Something that struck me as funny though, was that most people who called the 2DS useless were also saying they rarely used the 3D capability of their 3DS. If I'm not mistaking, doesn't that make their 3DS a 2DS with hinges?

That leads us into one of the major reasons why I wanted a 2DS; the fact that the 2DS doesn't have hinges to break. It could go without saying, but throughout the life of the DS family, Nintendo never could get the hinges right. From my personal experiences seeing used DS family consoles I can say hinges for the original DS were horrible, the DS Lite was horrible, the DSi/XL and original 3DS seem to fair better but still break, but the 3DS XL went straight back to being a broken hinge nightmare. So why would I want to buy a console I know would break because Nintendo never bothered to test and perfect the technology? I wouldn't, and I didn't!

I do enjoy playing DS games on my 2DS, but it wasn't until I actually starting collecting 3DS games that the console really become my favorite handheld. It seems Nintendo took care to make, at least their first party, 3DS games quality, enjoyable and addictive. The console came with a download code for Mario Kart 7, and although it's much of the same from any other Mario Kart it's still great fun. Undeniably the 3DS games look better than the original DS games, but I still don't miss, or need, the 3D capability.

For my personal needs the 2DS was all I needed and all I would need for a while to come. Within the past few years I've acquired a handful of 3DS games and even more DS games to play on the system. I've also managed to acquire a DS and a few DS Lite consoles in rare, unbroken condition, but still the 2DS wins out as my primary console to play DS games.

I'm not saying I wouldn't love to have an original 3DS, a 3DS XL, a New 3DS/XL or even one of the New 2DS XL consoles, because I would. For me it's about simplicity, functionality and not having to worry about the console every time I open and shut the thing and wonder whether it will function the same way again. Hopefully soon I'll find an original 3DS to at least see if the 3D capability is as horrible as people say it is, regardless the 2DS still remains all I currently need.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gran Turismo Retrospective!

Years ago I wrote an entry about how much I hated the Gran Turismo license tests, and to a degree I still stand behind that entry. Yet, all these years later I can't help but be nostalgic about the series that gave me so many good times, although I won't deny it also gave me many frustrating times too.

Gran Turismo seemingly broke the mold when it came to racing games. Many games up to this point were arcade racers that didn't really come with all the trivial things that true life can throw into the mix. While you did need to have some degree of driving skills, Gran Turismo amplified that and enforced the need to become better. What could have easily been banal, Gran Turismo turned into a whole new genre!

Gran Turismo was one of the only games that I actively talked to friends about, as the Playstation was one of the only systems I actually had while people still gave a shit about it. Armed with my DualShock controller and my Greatest Hits edition of Gran Turismo, I was well educated in the subject when it popped up on the school grounds. Trading cars with friends, learning tuning settings and generally having a lot of fun with the game was exactly what I did in that time, and boy do I miss it.

The sheer depth of customization and tuning were things you never saw before. You could reach back into the NES era with games like RC Pro Am or F1 Built to Win, where you could upgrade parts on the car, but it was all superficial. There was a slight handling difference but nothing changed about the avatar you were controlling. Which is a great deal of what I enjoy about Gran Turismo; even though they did enforce the need to get better, you never really had to fully understand tuning or be an F1 level driver to play the game, enjoy the game and ultimately be good at the game.

It never hurt to do the license tests over and over until you mastered them all, in fact if you did master them all you received hidden rewards cars for your efforts. Again, I absolutely hated and dreaded a lot of those tests. What made sense under normal racing conditions was never allowed in the test, which makes no sense to me. I understand they wanted to lay down a strict learning environment, but if I can slide half my tires into the grass to pass someone under normal racing conditions, I may need to do so in the test teaching me how to pass 2 cars racing side by side.

After being overcome with a sense of nostalgia, as well as forgetting whether or not I officially had the exceedingly rare Yellow Dodge Copperhead, I decided to do some good old fashion Gran Turismo racing. After a while I thought to myself I wonder what a more modern Gran Turismo would be like, so I purchased Gran Turismo 5. Hey, I said more modern, I didn't say current day!

After I purchased the game off Amazon the day had finally come to see how a more modern Gran Turismo felt. I was in a more modern era, I was going to play what previously only Forza 2 had offered to me; racing cars in beautiful HD. Upon popping the disc into the PS3 I was greeted with 12 hours of updating. Yep, 12 whole hours that I couldn't use, nor shut down, my PS3 console. Lucky for me, however, the bonus car codes had not been used and, unlike the expiration date on the codes stated, they worked just fine!

Do you know what happened then? I did what any person who just bought a Gran Turismo game would do, I immediately started trying to do the license tests... and quickly became pissed off again! To help me suffer through I took breaks, and mostly learned from my mistakes, but those tests are still fucking awful! Oh, but isn't that just the greatest thing? They never eased up and they instill a strict learning environment, which brings all that nostalgia rushing back once more. I love you Gran Turismo!