Monday, 9 March 2020

The Original XBox... A Beautiful Beast

About three months ago I bought an original XBox. I have wanted one for a while and one came up for sale locally. £20 for the console, S controller and 9 games was too good a bargain to give up.


I had an original XBox about 10 years ago, then my kids took it over and it got upgraded to an XBox 360 - which I had no interest in. Since then I have been firmly in the Sony camp - despite being a Sega diehard.

A sixth generation console, the original XBox was Microsofts first step into the console business - besides its brief pairing with the Sega Dreamcast offering Windows CE on discs for added functionality. It competed with the Sony Playstation 2, Nintendo GameCube and the Sega Dreamcast. The XBox was by far the most technologically advanced.


It is basically PC hardware in a fancy case and custom software, powered by a 733Mhz Pentium 3 processor, 64MB RAM, 8/10GB hard drive, DVD drive, built in ethernet and nVidia graphics chip. This is a large and heavy device.

It was the first console to feature a built in hard drive. However, it isn't for installing games on - like modern consoles, it is for game saves and ripping audio to. 8GB (or 10GB in later models) is plenty for even the biggest gamer and could hold a lot of music as well.

Since buying this XBox I haven’t touched any of my other games devices. There is something amazing about using a simple and dedicated gaming machine. Modern consoles might offer fancier graphics, but they come with a lot of baggage, from having to install games, waiting for large system or games updates and charging wireless controllers.

With the XBox, you plug in a controller, turn it on, put in a disc and you are ready to play in seconds. For a console that is almost 20 years old, the graphics on it stand up very well, even though it doesn’t feature HD graphics.

I have been rocking a selection of games, which is growing very quickly.


Halo is amazing - which I have already completed, Halo 2 is even more fantastic and I am loving classics like Project Gotham Racing 2, Outrun 2, Midtown Madness 3 (an absolute masterpiece of a game) Dead Or Alive 3, XIII, S.W.A.T, Soldier Of Fortune 2 Double Helix, Doom 3 and Doom 3 Resurrection Of Evil (which was an expansion pack for Doom 3, but was released as a stand alone game for the XBox).

As far as I know there were only about a thousand games released for this console, which had a five year life and despite it being fantastic, it doesn’t have the fan base of other consoles. Only 24 million units were sold worldwide which is tiny compared to the 155 million for Playstation 2, however it still outsold the GameCube at 21 million and the Dreamcast at 9 million.

Accessories are expensive, but games are very cheap, however secondhand shops only ever have a few games - yet they have piles of PS2 games.

I am absolutely in love with this games machine. It might be old, it might be heavy and you might have to sit with a controller wire trailing to your console - but the game experience is fantastic.

As with all older consoles they do develop faults. Luckily mine seems to be fault free currently, with the exception of a DVD drawer that sticks occasionally. I have removed the top casing and everything looks tidy in there and it is a 1.6 revision, so one of the later ones. To keep it going I’m going to strip it down and replace the thermal paste on the processor and graphics chip, just to ensure it runs cooler and nicer for longer.


I may not be a Microsoft fan, actually that is an understatement. I own a Mac, cannot stand Windows and detest the XBox 360 and XBox One, but Microsoft got it right with the original XBox. It is an awesome games machine and lead the way for online gaming.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Xiaomi Mi Band 4 Review

Well, my Mi Band 3 died after almost exactly a year, refusing to charge at all, so I needed a replacement. The Mi band 4 had just come out so I got one of those. Let's hope it lasts longer! The Band 4 arrived in a slim, long box, with little charging cable and instructions.


The Band 4 is almost exactly the same size, but the screen looks so much nicer, brighter, much easier to read in bright sunlight. The other main obvious difference is instead of charging from one end, the Band 4 uses a connector underneath and a little cradle to charge, hopefully this works much better for longer.


The Band 4's strap is identical to the 3, so you can re-use any of your previous custom straps if you want to.


A bunch of new watch faces are available, I chose the third one along in this selection.



 have had the Mi Band 4 now for several months now, and the best thing about it is the battery life, I have regularly been getting over 20 days between charges.



Other than the extra battery life and better screen, it does the same stuff for me as the older model, providing notifications from my phone and counting my steps. I don't use the  heart rate monitor but at least it works, it never did on my old Band 3. If you're after a basic watch for notifications etc and don't want to fork out more money for a  basic Fitbit, the Mi Band 4 is ideal. Hopefully it will last me for awhile. I am considering getting an Android watch as my next upgrade, but not an expensive one.   






Sunday, 22 December 2019

From Google Pixel XL to Google Pixel 3a

I needed a replacement for my ageing first gen Google Pixel XL as the battery has pretty much had it and I managed to crack part of the screen on it too. I knew the ideal replacement would be the Pixel 3a and luckily it was reduced in the Black Friday sales not long after my birthday. I chose "Just Black" as I didn't like the odd colour buttons on the other colours. And the Purple-ish wasn't purple enough for me. This is the first time I have had a brand new device, I have always owned secondhand phones.

I chose the Pixel 3a as it's about half the price of the new flagship Pixels but still has a great camera and stereo speakers of the flagship.  As a bonus, unlike many flagships now, including the Pixel 4, it has no screen notch and it has a headphone socket!


Transfering my settings between my old Pixel XL and the Pixel 3a was very easy with the provided OTG adaptor in the box, it walks you through the steps. it synced messages, installed apps, various system settings and the photos I had stored on it.



Although the screen is slightly larger than my old XL (5.6" instead of 5.5"), the device as a whole (being the non-XL version) is actually smaller and lighter. It feels significantly lighter at 147g than the Pixel XL's 168g. I assume the plastic body saves quite a bit of weight. The screen is OLED rather than AMOLED, it seems brighter, crisper, though it has a lower pixel density (~441 compared with ~534).




I love Ambient Display on the 3a, constantly showing the time and what music is currently playing is very handy. Also I don't think I have ever previously had the option of  listening and identifying what's playing nearby, all the time. Lift to Wake is always great to have too.


The Pixel 3a has a feature where you squeeze the sides of the phone to activate Google Assistant, I haven't had a phone with that before. I haven't really played with that much, apart from it accidentally being squeezed in my pocket. I've changed the setting so that now it won't activate with the screen off. I have a cheap flip case on it, as I wanted to protect it, it still allows the sides to be squeezed.






Problems?

Only slight issue I have had is the GPS was all out of whack. At first it struggled to find my location at all, then I calibrated the GPS in Google Maps and GPS Status app. Oddly the Untappd app had location completely disabled in its settings for some reason so I fixed that. And that's the only minor issue I have had so far. It still seems to go off a bit and needs calibrating every now and then.


Battery Life

With the knackered battery in my old Pixel, I would start getting anxious at 60 something percent, but with the 3a I'm getting much better usage, thankfully. Though my old XL had a slightly bigger battery, it was so worn out I could run my battery down in less than an hour of web browsing and it would often shutdown at 30 or more percent.

My first full days usage, which is always the heaviest as you end up playing with it the most, I got over 16 hours usage. This was a day of sitting in coffee shops and pubs browsing the net on the wifi a lot, and walking round taking plenty of  photos.




I am now mostly getting between 16 and 19 hours, often with over 5 hours screen time, and that's when letting it go down to around 15%, with Ambient Display and Bluetooth on all the time. I always have it connected to my Xiaomi Mi Band 4 watch.


Cameras

Part of why I went for the 3a is of course the camera, and it's fantastic! The original Pixel was impressive for the time and this is even better, I am very impressed, particularly as this isn't a flagship device.



The selfie camera is great too, and the Portrait mode, where it blurs the background of the shot around you, makes them even better. Those work most of the time, but it's worth taking several shots to make sure at least one of them works right, particularly if you have wild hair. This photo was taken at sunset, so it's in fairly low light.



Night Sight is even more impressive on the 3a than on my old Pixel. These photos were taken around 10pm. These were just quick shots taken off a bridge and in a market square.





Some more Night Sight shots taken on another wet winter night:





It also takes Motion Stills, which seem to be automated, they're a few photos bunched together in a little animated gif. Can be useful for capturing a reaction of someone or a car going past.

The 3a also takes much better videos than my old  Pixel XL, they look brighter, less washed out.  Having optical image stabilisation also helps, my old XL didn't have it.



I am very happy with my Pixel 3a so far, it's been the first smartphone I have had where everything works near perfectly. It is buttery smooth, has a great camera, good screen, and all day battery life. It's taken a little getting used to the new Home screen navigation, swiping up from the bottom to show recent apps, rather than pressing the right hand on screen button on my old XL. I could have just installed a third party launcher and changed it to the old way, but I'd rather keep it stock for now. I hope to keep my pixel 3a for as long as possible, as long as it still works well.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Motorola Moto Z Play... In 2019


I love Motorola phones. Since leaving the iOS camp two years ago, our house has become full of them and my latest purchase is a Moto Z Play. This is a first gen one released in 2016.


Specs

Spec wise, the Moto Z Play packs in Octa-Core 2.0Ghz Snapdragon 625 processors, 3GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, 5.5” screen, 16mpx camera and 5mpx front camera and a whopping 3510mAh fast charging battery. It shipped with Android Marshmallow and received Nougat and Oreo.

It is the only version of the original Z range that has a headphone socket (essential to me), which is located on the bottom next to the USB-C socket. The right side houses the very tiny volume and power buttons. The top holds the pull out SIM (dual SIM in my case) and MicroSD card tray.


The back features a shiny naked glass back. The Z range takes advantage of the Moto Mods accessories which includes a snap on interchangeable back cover. This would cover the Moto Mod pin connector, protect the back of the phone and ensures the camera doesn’t stick out.


This is my first experience of USB-C, and what an improvement it is. The socket and cable just seem a stronger fit over Micro USB.


Feel

A new phone always feels special, but I was so surprised how gorgeous this Moto Z Play looks and feels. The large screen looks great and the metal frame around the edges of the phone give it a solid feel. The naked glass back seems a bit vulnerable - something I will have to address with a Moto Mod Shell. It is a very slippery phone to handle. Even the metal side make it slide in your hand.


The volume buttons and power/lock button on the side are very small and will take a little getting used to.


Battery and Performance

This phone has a massive 3510mAh internal battery and boy does it perform. I got 2.5 days use out of a single charge. I haven’t had the phone long but it has broken that ‘charge every night’ cycle I have been used to.

The 2.0Ghz Octa Core processor and 3GB RAM give this phone superb general performance. The whole phone is a joy to use and amazingly quick. I certainly noticed a huge performance increase from the Hexa-Core processing in my Moto X Style.


Screen and Audio

The 5.5” screen is very bright and crisp, even when the brightness is turned down.

As a phone it works perfectly and call quality was superb. It has a single speaker on the front which has decent sound - as decent as you get on a phone. The Z Play is the only Z range phone that kept the headphone socket, something I need and listening to music through it was great. I listen to a lot of music and bluetooth audio just doesn’t cut it for me.


Camera

The main camera is a 16mp that takes great photos in the right light but it can let in a little too much white at times. The dual-LED dual-tone flash does a good job of low light areas. Without a shell on, the camera module sticks out and means the phone doesn’t sit flat when laid down.

The front camera is a 5mpx 1080p ’selfie’ camera, which does its job and is great for videos, which I take a lot of for uploading online.

It seems to take more of a cue from newer Motos. It doesn't have double tap power button to open the camera but a twist of the phone does. The Motorola camera app has the same layout as the G4.


Storage

I would never go back to a phone with less than 32GB internal storage. The breathing room this gives you and the amount of apps you can install is fantastic. The addition of a MicroSD slot to house all my music is superb - this is something that put me off looking at a Pixel.

Oreo

This is my first experience of Oreo (my two previous phones stopped at Nougat). It certainly is fast and has a few changes over Nougat that I am still getting used to. It houses more app icons on screen, the swipe up to open the app drawer and the soft press on some app icons will give you shortcuts within these apps before opening it. I love the new incoming call screen too, it is much neater looking.

Moto Additions

Motorola phones are praised for their near stock Android, but it is nice to have a few additional tweaks. The twist to activate camera and chop action to turn on the flash light are great as well as the way the screen will wake with a simple wave of the hand over it.


Fingerprint Sensor

OK, so this might not be a new thing but it is the first time I have had one. I never saw the appeal of one, but within hours of using it, it has made unlocking the phone and signing in to apps so much easier. It is a fantastic addition.


Conclusion

I am loving this new (to me) Moto. Another fantastic phone with near stock Android and insane battery life. The design and look of it is superb, with my only concerns being the slippery feel to it.

Motorola really seem to pack a lot in to their phones for the price. Even though this phone is a few years old, it doesn’t feel like it. It still packs a punch and outperforms anything I have used or seen recently.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Moto Mods... Add-Ons For The Motorola Moto Z Range


I have just bought a Motorola Moto Z Play (first gen 2016 model) and one thing that grabbed my interest were Moto Mods. The back of the Moto Z range is flat with a 16 pin connector which enables a range of accessories to be added to the back of the phone via a magnet.


There was a huge buzz around upgradeable phones in the middle of this decade, with Google taking the limelight with its Project Ara modular upgradeable phone. Others jumped on this and Motorola came out with Moto Mods.

There are a range of different mods covering a variety of features.

You have a simple back cover, which protects the pin connector and gives your phone a different look and a newer version which includes wireless charging.

There are three additional batteries, the Power Pack and the Turbo PowerPack as well the incipio OffGRID Power Pack which includes wireless charging.


You have two camera mods. The Moto 360 camera is a full HD 360 degree camera and the HasselBlad True Zoom, an optical zoom camera.


The JBL SoundBoost and SoundBoost 2 add stereo speakers to the back of your phone and drastically increase the sound quality, both include a kickstand too.


The Insta-Share Projector turns your Moto Z into a screen projector so you can share and watch your phones screen on a wall. Interesting.


Three new mods which I didn’t know about until recently are an instant Polaroid Printer (yes, a mini printer mounted to the back of your phone), a Alexa smart speaker and a gamepad which turns your phone in to a portable gaming machine with physical buttons.


You have to applaud Motorola for not only breaking the mould and creating a unique take on expanding your smartphone, but also for keeping it compatible with any of the Moto Z range including the Z Play and Z Force range and covering the oldest to the newest release.

However the downside to these mods are the price. While the simple Style Shell wont set you back too much, some of the fancier Moto Mods can end up costing over £100.

Some of them interest me and if I could find some second hand ones at a good price I probably would grab a battery pack or a speaker.

Its a fun and innovative idea and if you have a Moto Z and upgrade to a Moto Z4 all your existing Moto Mods will work which is a great idea, but it hasn’t really taken off as well as it should have done.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Sony Playstation 3... Still An Amazing Console

The tech world might be buzzing for the Playstation 5 release, but I am still rocking a Playstation 3 and loving it. It is an often overlooked console, sandwiched between the PS2 - the biggest selling console of all time - and the behemoth that is the PS4.


For me the PS3 is the perfect console. Released in 2007 in UK, it was a huge fancy upgrade over its predecessor. I was late to the game, only buying one in 2016, a whopping nine years in to its life.
The bonus of this is price. You can pick one up for around £40 (or less), with games now being dirt cheap and accessories reasonably priced. I have the Slim 160GB version released in 2009, which is around 30% smaller, 30% lighter and uses 30% less power than the original.
Under the hood you have a 3.2Ghz Cell PowerPC processor, NVidia graphics with 256MB VRAM and 256MB main memory. It also packs in a blu-ray drive, internet connection, HDMI and wireless controllers and the introduction of the PS Store.

It featured a new interface called XMB, it was more than just a games machine and its interface reflects this, giving more system management options as well as TV/Video services allowing Netflix, NowTV and various on demand TV services. It can also browse the web and play music.

In terms of graphics, the jump from PS2 to PS3 was phenomenal, partly due to it HD capability. It still amazes me today how detailed later games became, with some games being released for the PS3 as well as the PS4 and games playing just as well on both systems.


It is interesting to see how the games have changed throughout its life span. F.E.A.R, while being an incredible game to play graphically, looks like it was originally designed for the PS2. Launch title Resistance Fall Of Man shows how a game designed for the system should look, but even that looks a little dated compared to its two sequels. Games such as Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare, Crysis 3, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Wolfenstein The New Order (all released 2013/2014) really push the hardware and show just how capable this decade old system is.


Online gaming requires a Playstation Network account - however unlike the PS4, this is a free service. I have played online (although a lot of PS3 game servers have been taken offline) and never once needed to pay for PSN.

Backwards compatibility have always been a key selling tool for Sony (although oddly dropped with the PS4 release). All PS3 consoles can play PS1 games. However the original 20GB and 60GB ‘phat’ versions could also play PS2 games - due to having PS2 hardware chips in them - meaning these versions could play three console games in one. A few later ‘phat’ PS3 models did this via software emulation. My wife recently picked up a 60GB ‘phat’ Playstation 3 and it is great to be able to play those PS2 titles. This PS2 compatibility was lost in Slim and Super Slim models. Compared to my Slim model, the original ‘phat’ is certainly a bigger beast and is a lot noisier. The fans on my wifes kick in a lot, but were prone to overheating and the ‘yellow light of death.’

I am a huge fan of the PS3. It is an excellent console, with amazing HD graphics and games that can be picked up for almost nothing.

Some of my favourite PS3 games are:
Burnout Paradise, Call Of Duty 4 Modern Warfare, Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare, Call Of Duty Black Ops, Call Of Duty Black Ops 2, Call Of Duty Ghosts, Crysis 2, Crysis 3, Dead Or Alive 5, Doom 3 BFG Edition, Duke Nukem Forever, F.E.A.R, Grand Theft Auto 5, Little Big Planet, Mirrors Edge, Resistance Fall Of Man, Resistance 2, Resistance 3, Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed, Sonic Generations, Street Fighter IV, Twisted Metal, Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein The New Order.

I know many will wonder why giants like the Uncharted and Far Cry series aren’t in my list and its because I am not a fan of third person games. I love the full immersion of first person.

I see nothing - except a few newer games - that wants me to upgrade to a PS4. I would lose all my game collection and be faced with expensive games and accessories. When you can purchase a complete PS3 system for the same price as a PS4 controller it makes sense.

Currently I am trying to gather as many official accessories to compliment my PS3, grabbing numerous controllers, the wireless keypad attachment, bluetooth earpiece and Playstation Eye camera. I am on the lookout for the bluetooth blu-ray/media controller, controller charging dock and Move controller.

There are three cycles in a consoles lifespan. First cycle is the new period where everything is fresh, new and expensive. The second cycle comes when its successor is released, prices drop to ridiculously cheap. The third cycle is when it hits retro status and it becomes expensive and a must have again. The PS3 is well in to its second cycle, making it an ideal time to buy one.


I absolutely love my PS3. It has never let me down and even in 2019 Sony released minor system software updates for it, showing it is not all dead and forgotten yet. It is a superb gaming machine with a huge catalogue of fantastic games.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal


Thursday, 1 August 2019

GTA 5... The Worst Discs Ever

You can’t deny that Grand Theft Auto 5 is a phenomenal game. Released in 2013 it is one of the longest games I know of to receive updates. It even spans console generations - being on the PlayStation 3, XBox 360, PlayStation 4, XBox One as well as Microsoft Windows.


Its a huge game. Installing on a console takes a long time and then installing the years of updates takes even longer. The XBox One and PlayStation 4 both total over 40GB.

I have it on three of those platforms and all have had their issues with installing. All my discs are in mint condition, so installation issues cannot be put down to scratches and finger marks.

My PlayStation 3 has caused me the less stress, but a few weeks ago I had a brief time where the disc was unreadable when playing. This fixed itself.

The PlayStation 4 is a constant issue. There are two in my house currently and neither will install past about 8% before it claims the disc is unreadable and may need cleaning. At times it will not even detect the disc in the drive and at least twice I have had to do a force boot eject.

The XBox One version has suffered from similar issues as the PlayStation 4 version. It became stuck in my daughters XBox multiple times, but eventually did install.

The Windows version isn’t without its hitches either, with install problems and quitting during play rife on forums.

Searching the internet, there are multiple tricks to get it working. Some have had luck turning off the internet connection - claiming installing and downloading the updates simultaneously being the issue. Other tricks include turning off mid install or rebuilding your console database.

For me nothing has worked on the PlayStation 4 version. I am stuck with a perfect disc and it not working on multiple consoles. While every other game works perfectly fine.

The only option is to download a digital copy - which of course I would have to pay for again. This is not a road I want to go down.

Rockstar really need to address this multiple system problem.

Written by Simon Royal. Follow me at twitter.com/simonroyal