Review / First Impressions of GameStick

I literally have only had about an hour, so please consider this more first impressions than a full-fledged review, but I am reasonably impressed with the Gamestick. It’s true that the majority of the games available on the console aren’t new, and have been available on iOS or Android for 2 years already. But that doesn’t mean the developers haven’t put some care into them. Shadowgun is currently the best looking game to show off the console with, and it’s free to boot (I wonder if this is an introductory bonus?). For a 2011 game that was originally designed to be played on cell phones and tablets? It looks gorgeous on my living room television. I noticed some controller lag at a few points, but the game itself looked excellent and played without any noticeable slow downs or lengthy load times. I played a couple of other low resolution games which clearly took advantage of the twin-stick controller design and were easy to get the hang of.

When thinking of the graphics of the games and the console, it is important to not get caught up in comparing this new breed of device to the major video game consoles. Does it look like the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One? No. It’s also less than a quarter of the price. The main competition for devices like GameStick are the similar consoles on the market (primarily Ouya), and other similar tablets. As the tablet market evolves (a new iPad every year, and companies like Samsung pushing new tablets every few months), it may not be long before the GameStick’s ARM® CORTEX™ – A9 CPU & MALI™ – 400 GPU really show their age more than they already do. But still, try to remember the price-point. A new iPad will set you back just as much as an Xbox One, but nobody complains that its performance isn’t on par with the Xbox.

Back to the GameStick itself. I was a little disappointed to find out I would need to connect it to an external power supply to run it. Although it’s not the end of the world, it does kind of defeat the purpose of the GameStick unit fitting inside the controller. On that note, as well, it is easily a two handed process to remove the GameStick from the shell of the controller, as it is a snug fit and the rubberized texture makes it mildly difficult to slide out of its compartment. Credit to the designers for the easter-egg-eyes inside the compartment, looking back at you if you peer in.

The familiar ABXY arrangement is taken straight from the Xbox 360 controller, and the rest of the buttons were easy to use. The “click” of the D-Pad buttons is a bit annoying, and the L&R buttons are a bit rigid for my tastes, but at no time was anything “uncomfortable.” The controller itself feels a bit bulky, but it is not heavy, nor is it too large for my hands. As I mentioned, it isn’t uncomfortable, but at times you do feel strange with a big rectangle in your hands, as we’ve gotten used to more ergonomic designs of PlayStation, Xbox, and even the Ouya’s controllers.

The GameStick service seems to be alive and kicking. Although I had no problems activating my account and logging in, the service may be under a bit of pressure from everyone checking out their new devices. The firmware update seemed to take an abnormally long time just to download (despite my being on a 30Mbps connection) – applying it didn’t take too long at all, but I did find it strange that I had to repeat some of the setup-steps I had already done (reconnect to WiFi, adjust screen size, etc…). Game downloads could also have been a bit faster, but the real disappointment was installation time. I don’t know what in the world the console was doing, but extracting and installing the games that were downloaded took several minutes. A 100MB game took roughly a minute, and the 300+MB Shadowgun extrapolated the install time similarly. I sincerely hope this can be improved in future releases. Nothing puts a damper on things like lengthy install or load times (leading my own father to comment, “what is this, Donald Duck’s Playground?” – a Commodore 64 title from my childhood notorious for lengthy floppy-diskette load times). To be fair, once installed, the game launched quickly, and loaded levels, etc… without any inordinate load times.

I did have a strange issue with my WiFi being peculiarly weak. When all other devices in the same room had a strong or at least moderately strong signal, the GameStick was showing only about half-strength, and at one point appeared to lose connectivity.

After only about 15 minutes of play time (and a roughly 30 minute period of downloading & installing the day-one firmware update, and downloading / installing some games) the GameStick unit itself was quite warm to the touch. This is to be expected housing a device as powerful as many tablets in something physically smaller than my keychain! I am curious if it will stand up to “all-nighters” the way gaming consoles typically need to, time will tell.

All-in-all, I think my VERY first experience with the GameStick was actually a BETTER “first” experience than I had with the Ouya, but these micro-consoles will hopefully continue to improve with firmware updates and support from the developer community. At this point, the GameStick is a nice toy at a great pricepoint, but to any parents thinking of picking them up for the holidays, keep in mind that everything is purchased digitally. You can’t go to GameStop and buy used games, or to your local video store and rent a game for your kid, most of the games are going to carry a small price tag, but if you’re an adult interested in something new to tinker with and don’t mind tossing a few bucks towards indie game developers, this could be right up your alley.

Are consoles dead? Is it time to return to PC gaming?

As the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 approach, I suddenly feel less compelled than I have to join the fray. Recently, my time has been taken up by other things, but it’s not just a lack of time. I could be the most busy person you know, but if I really wanted to, I would make time for the next chapter in the Halo universe! But that’s not it. I already got in to why I’m not buying the Xbox One at Launch, but it continues to nag at me. Continue reading “Are consoles dead? Is it time to return to PC gaming?”

No, Sprint, I will not resubmit my ATIV S Neo review

A few weeks ago, I wrote a review on Sprint.com for a phone I picked up in August. The Samsung ATIV S Neo. Unfortunately, the phone has a few issues – and Sprint’s customer service isn’t going to help you fix them. I think this should be known to potential customers. Unfortunately, I received an email stating that my review would not be published until I removed my complaints about Sprint’s customer service. Customer Service is part of the problem with this phone. Not the individual agents – they care, I know they do. The problem is that they aren’t being informed of a much wider issue, and all it does is frustrate those of us with ongoing issues!

Below, I have decided to post my entire, uncensored review of Sprint’s Samsung ATIV S Neo. Enjoy.

I love Windows Phone 8. Just as I loved Windows Phone 7 before it. It gets a bad wrap for not having a lot of apps, but all of the apps that I actually use on a day-to-day basis are right here when I need them. I can do my banking, all of my email and chat programs, social networking, etc… several of the networks can be integrated directly with the phone, even without the specific app installed: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can all be updated from the “Me” tile with just a couple of taps

The downside seems to be a known issue with Windows Phone 8 that Spring and Microsoft have refused to officially acknowledge and tell us whether or not a fix is on the way. The overwhelming majority of WP8 users (both this Samsung model and the HTC model) are reporting that the voicemail indicator does not work. You have no idea that you have a voicemail until you actually force yourself to manually call in and listen – hoping “there are no new messages” is all you hear. This is a massive frustration we have brought to Sprint’s attention in the support forums, and they try to go through troubleshooting steps with you each time, as though it is a problem that can be resolved on the headset when it appears that THOUSANDS of WP8 handsets have the issue. Windows Phone 7 had no such problem, and I’ve strongly considered going back to my HTC Arrive because of this.

The phone ITSELF, though, is amazing. The hardware design is beautiful, it’s nearly identical to the Galaxy S4. The processor and memory make for one of the fastest WP8 devices you can buy, the screen supports beautiful 720p resolution, and although it’s no Lumia 1020, it takes beautiful pictures and video, although I do find the flash to be slightly off which can lead to difficulty when trying to use something like the Chase bank app’s Quick Deposit feature where you need to photograph checks. I don’t buy cases for my phones, and even riding in my pocket with change and other items, the back and screen of the phone are scratch free and still beautiful to look at. The large screen can make the phone a bit wide for some peoples hands, mine included, but I don’t mind the size when the image quality is just SO good.

Just a reminder, John McAfee is insane

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw someone post a link to an NBC News article about John McAfee being asked to take a look at some of the problems with the Obamacare website. Look, I don’t care where anybody stands politically, or what opinions one may have of Healthcare.gov. Anybody, and I mean anybody who thinks that asking the guy who appeared in the video below just a few short months ago to take a technological “look-see” at something, is out of their minds! Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Libertarian… why would anybody want to associate themselves with this? I’m still waiting for an “October fools” follow-up to this article. Warning: the video below is likely not safe for work.