Nvidia released their Shield branded version of Android TV and it has turned out to be a very impressive device. As the device is geared towards a gamer audience, it shipped with an nVidia game controller. The controller can be used for browsing Netflix, Youtube, etc., but it is not optimal as it is big, it will power down if left untouched, and it features soft-touch buttons that are way too easy to accidentally press (specifically the $%@# voice search button)...
The nVidia offered alternative to this is a $50 bluetooth remote that initially looks nice (very thin, headphone jack, microUSB charging) but eventually fails when it is used for consuming media. It feels as if it was created in CAD by talented engineers and designers -but with no actual hands-on functional testing/revisioning before production.
The Shield Remote features three buttons situated below a four-way navigation circle with an additional button in its center. The bottom half of the remote contains a stripe with a touch sensitive volume control (pretty cool!). There is a mic at the very top of the remote (for voice search) and a headphone jack on the bottom (for roommate quiet-time or night use). The remote is rechargeable via a microUSB port next to the headphone jack.
1st complaint: navigation pad placement
The navigation circle is placed at the very top of the remote.
The remote is flat and thin and has the sensation of not feeling 'stable' in hand: it wants to flip over on an edge and not lay flat while fingers are involved (it will securely lay flat in palm when not in use). It feels somewhat odd pressing the directional pad left/right with my thumb as I want to move my index finger up behind the navigation pad to brace -and that is a very unstable grip. The end result is I often end up pressing the wrong (or multiple) button(s). Sliding the remote down orients the circle pad a little better, but then it is ass-heavy in the hand.
2nd gripe; the (completely useless) voice search button is in the center of the remote (where the navigation pad belongs).
I personally find voice search for a TV to be not-so-useful; I would rather browse around Netflix/YouTube/Etc. However, the location of the button almost guarantees will hit it when my thumb wanders away from the touch of the remote for an instant- resulting in the search overlay blanking my TV show, muting the audio, and providing a knowing 'chirp'...
3rd groan; the only 'backlit' button is the (aforementioned useless) voice search button.
I am really unclear on why anyone would design a button to light up in green to indicate a voice search request (covered by a finger at that moment) as the TV will also blank and provide an audible search 'chirp' affirming that same action. That particular green LED would have been much better situated behind the directional pad that is located in wrong place...
This particular remote is headed back to Amazon as I personally cannot justify $50 for a dysfunctional search button stick. Hopefully there will be a v2 (or a 3rd party) remote that addresses some of the above issues.
Continued rant about voice search:
Hands-free search is useful for a cell phone in a car- but not-so-much on a game console/media player/home automation system (or on the same phone in any other situation). In the time it would take to pick up a remote and enunciate 'Battlestar Galactica' (-and assuming the search engine understands me on the first try) I could also browse through Netflix (or Kodi) and find the same movie with the same remote (and not appear to be going schizophrenic/tourettes to the roommate..).
My first thought is the 16GB be upgraded with a 2.5" hard drive like the 'Pro' model uses?
The console has no visible screws; the bottom readily popped off with a plastic tool.
Below are images of the innards of the nVidia Shield Android TV (note: serials obfuscated).
I am in the market for headphones so I visited a few local electronics stores to see what is available; It seems that at least 15% of BestBuy’s floor space is dedicated to headphones, with shelf space allocated in the PC, xBox, Playstation and Wii sections- plus two aisles of additional headphones and ear buds for MP3 players….
Turtle Beach is a long-time player in the headset market and they have a staggering number of headsets for sale (I counted 34 different headsets- just for PC- on their main webpage; note: seven of these are ‘recertified’ models and several others are specific game/movie branding duplicates).
The model names they use do not seem to much sense; most are prefixed with X, DX, XP, PX, DPX, of Z and followed by 1-3 digits plus an occasional trailing letter. The Z-Seven appears to be their flagship, followed by the Z300 and Z22. The first two are wireless models but the Z22 is a wired model (i.e. Z does not indicate ‘wireless’). The Z300 states it is a 7.1 surround sound model, and it seems to share this with the Z-Seven, the DP11, the DPX21, the DX12 and the ‘Charlie’ models- but not the Z22, the PX22, or the X12 (perhaps ‘D’ is for Dolby surround- but not on the Z-Seven or Z300?)
There appears to be zero effort to use model numbers as indicators of what the headset actually does. No matter, I decided to click the top headsets and compare their features:
It appears the person that is in charge of entering in the headset information no longer works at Turtle Beach?
Looking into the comparison, a good deal of information that I would like to know is missing, such as:
- Wired or Wireless?
- Bluetooth Capable?
- Surround Sound or Stereo?
- Battery Life?
One item lists that it supports at least one audio input (stereo 3.5mm aux input jack- but I hope they have additional inputs for 7.1 audio) and another lists it has a USB port (for Chat & Power)…
However, they do take the time to note that *most* of the models I looked at come with a quick start guide and a Turtle Beach sticker (-which no one really cares about).
The Turtle Beach website is pretty, but completely useless for deciding on a purchase.
Instead of me spending another 45m in the aisles of BestBuy trying to decipher what the difference is between the Z-Seven and the Z300 (other than $50) I think I will go try out something from Creative Labs (which appears to make ‘only’ 14 models of gaming headsets) as they include relevant information on their website to help facilitate my purchase decision:
To Turtle Beach: try to work out a comprehensible naming standard that doesn’t looks like you pulled random letters and numbers out of a bag- and please update your website with semi-relevant information on your products…
In 1997, Bullfrog Productions released an interesting game called ‘Dungeon Keeper’. The premise was to control the denizens of a dungeon and build up various minions to battle the forces of good. The game included much dark humor and was generally well received.
A sequel was released in 1999 that had better graphics (screen resolution up to 1024x768), additional minion/room options, and humorous between-level cut scene videos.
Both versions of the game were incredibly fun and memorable.
…and then Electronic Arts (EA) attempted to revive the franchise in 2014.
Dungeon Keeper mobile by EA is loosely based on the original game franchise and was released as a freemium offering. The premise of building up the strength of your minions and improving dungeon rooms is still in there, but the quest lines have become very basic defense of your dungeon or offence on another (very similar) dungeon. Additionally, players can raid another online player’s dungeons (randomly chosen- unless you retaliate for an earlier incursion).
The basic mechanics are pretty enjoyable; add rooms, level up abilities by spending mined/plundered gold or stone, and deploy defenses to make your dungeon more resistant to attacks. The game includes a ranking system that shows an individuals standings vs. the other Dungeon Lords all across the Internets.
The game is run in real-time (i.e. if you disconnect, processes in your dungeon are still continuing on EA’s servers) and every construction/training/upgrade takes some measure of real-world time: Excavating a dirt block only takes 4 seconds, but mining a gem vein block will take 4 (for a normal vein) or 24 (for a hard vein) real-time hours; Training minions can run mere seconds to several minutes depending on type and level; Upgrading dungeon rooms requires from 15 minutes up to 48 hours (possibly longer) as the level of each room advances.
EA has decided that time is definitely money and has done all it can to fill its coffers with by plundering their players with micro-transactions.
Upgrades to objects inside the game will require either stone or gold resources; both are readily available via mining, quests or raids. Much rarer are the gems that are required to bypass the time required to perform tasks. For example, instead of waiting 24 hours to upgrade a training room, I could spend 450 gems to have it completed instantly. A player starts off the game with 550 gems and can obtain additional gems in-game by completing achievements (5 to 25 gems each) or randomly while mining dirt (3 gems) or gem veins (unknown amount).
A player starts with one Imp minion that will perform all work in the dungeon (mining, building or upgrading rooms, deploying traps, etc). Adding a second imp is 100 gems; adding a 3rd is another 800 gems. Based on current yields I am anticipating that it will likely take me 2-3 months to obtain enough gems to purchase a third imp- and that assumes I spend none of the gems on other upgrades/builds.
If a player doesn’t want to wait, they can trade real-world cash for the virtual game gems; EA’s ‘Best Value’ offering is 14,000 gems for $99.99… That’s $100 to bypass a portion of the over-excessive time delays that EA has mine-fielded through the game with the sole purpose of annoying the player enough to part with said cash.
One example (that really urks the the Hell out of me) is removing a hard gem vein (normally 24h per block); based on EA’s ‘Best Value’, each block will cost about $1.78 USD to remove- which is about 1/2 way to a decent paid game in either Google Play or the iTunes store…
It is very important to note is there is no offline mode for Dungeon Keeper mobile- when you start the game, it logs into the EA servers. If you cannot connect to the Internet, you are sent away.
Another aspect of the game that is moderately annoying is the player must always replenish their minions after a raid- regardless if they win or lose the battle. Replenishing requires gold and (you guessed it!) time or gems. An average minion summoning time for my current dungeon is about 15 minutes; after I conduct a raid/quest, I re-summon my selection of troops before closing out of the game.
The game also features prominent push notifications- such as the in-game narrator announcing that ‘your minions are ready for battle’- that will go off at the some of most interesting hours of the morning. On the Android version, system volume appears to be ignored when making these announcements (save for full mute) and this can be ‘hellishly’ loud at 3am as I am notified that my ‘Library upgrade is complete’. It was amusing for a while… a very short while. It then took me some time to find how to disable these notifications: In the Android version, select the in-game icon that looks like a ‘Play’ button on left'; then select the ‘Gear’ icon’; next pick the drop-down arrow (next to help & about at top) to select Game Settings; and finally turn off Push Notifications.
The gameplay itself is moderately enjoyable; the realization that EA tainted the gameplay time mechanics solely to annoy the player enough to purchase digital gems overpowers the enjoyment. I really want to like this game, but after the first 15 minutes of gameplay, it is about as entertaining as watching paint dry on an overcast day.
My personal advice is if you have an extreme measure of patience, give it a shot- you will probably enjoy. However, if you are a fan of the original series, you will likely feel like EA has slapped you in the face and told you to ‘pay up, bitch!’ after your initial enthusiasm fades. Instead of wasting USD on digital gems, I would suggest visiting GoG games and consider purchasing the original Dungeon Keeper or Dungeon Keeper II for $5.99 each. If the 640x480 graphics of the original game isn’t tolerable on your 30” LCD monitor, check out the fan made KeeperFX mod that brings the graphics up to near-2003 display resolution standards. Additional fan-made maps and goodies can also be found in the Keeper Klan forums.
I have been a FitBit user since I ordered an original unit on September 29th, 2009. I had forgotten the unit and it went through the wash and died. I replaced it and continued to enjoy the information it gave on my activity. A few years later the FitBit Ultra was released (it tracked vertical distances traveled) and I upgraded again.
In early 2013, Fitbit release the Fitbit Flex. They were in high demand, so it was June before I was able to acquire one.
The Flex regressed in design as it could no longer detect vertical travel and its display digressed to a 5 dot LED display. The older versions of Fitbit could show numeric info (steps taken, miles walked, calories burned, etc) and the Flex can show percentage of your daily goal in 20% increments (based on the number of LED dots that illuminate when you double-tap it).
Additionally, I can 'rapidly tap' it to let it know I am going to bed so it can start recording my sleep paterns.
The form factor is awesome; it clips on my wrist, it is waterproof and I only need to charge it every 5 to 7 days (I get an email when the battery is low- or the companion iOS/Android app lets me know the battery status).
The 'tapping' input is about to drive me nuts.
I have it set to provide an alarm clock function at 8:00am. At this time, the band will start vibrating until I 'rapidly tap' to acknowledge the alarm. It takes me about a full minute to get the unit to exit alarm mode- and more than often it will go into sleep recording mode which requires more taps to get back to normal.
Last night I attempted to double-tap the unit to get an update on my steps taken. It went into sleep mode and it then took me another 3 minutes to get it to go back to normal- up to the point of taking the band off and beating it against the steering wheel for a good 30 seconds.
This behavior appears to have worsened with age as 3 months ago it was very responsive.
I am considering pulling my old Fitbit Ultra out of storage and giving up on the Flex- it has become just that annoying.
Apple’s iOS products were very useful when they were the only real option. For a long time I carried my Android phone for most of my normal use and an iPod touch for specific media uses. At the time, there were not a lot of real good alternatives for some of the options that iOS offered and I was stuck in-between using two devices.
These hold-outs included:
- Music – albeit iTunes is a bloated POS on both Windows and MacOS, there is not an easier way to organize and synchronize your music to a portable music device. Windows Media does sync, but it is temperamental at the best of times. There are tons of 3rd party apps that try to synchronize, but I have found most to be more buggy than iTunes- and none of them do a decent job at Audiobooks or Podcasts (see below).
The replacement for this was moving to a monthly music service. At first I used Spotify as it tied into Facebook, but the novelty of this wore off and I eventually stopped using it. When Google music announced an all inclusive option for $7 (for early adopters) I was interested as I had already synchronized my music collection to Google over a year ago. All my music + every other song I can imagine = awesome!
Now if Google could just make their Play Music work more like a real music player (like PlayerPro or PowerAmp)…
- Podcasts – This was a long hold out as I have a few odd podcasts I actually pay for (Mysterious Universe) and they require a login to access. I tried BeyondPod Podcast Manager and Podcast Addict, but both were lacking in one feature or another. I eventually sprung for DogCatcher. This app isn’t the easiest to figure out- but once I did it is like having all the functionally of iTunes podcast setting in my phone- plus additional features I probably will never use. :)
Additionally, with an extra plugin, I can change the playback speed of podcasts; 1.5 is the default max, but tweaks can allow up to 3x playback (2x is a good speed for me).
- Audiobooks – This was the last great holdout. I listen to audiobooks quite a bit. Audible has a good selection of Audiobooks and their player is very good on both platforms, but I also obtain audiobooks from other sources. For a while, the best option was to take MP3 versions of audiobooks, brink them into Audibook Builder on a Mac and convert them to M4B format that would work with iTunes and iOS devices.
M4B format is an Apple proprietary format that allows for chapters, bookmarking and other nice audio formatting. On iOS devices, the M4B audiobooks can be played back as ‘faster’ to reduce the listening time by speeding up the reading with no noticeable change in pitch- just a faster canter of speech. This format does not allow for variable speed playback on other applications without licensing- and iTunes appears to limit the playback speed to 1.5x. (This seems unbearably slow after listening to the Audible app playback at 2x).
As M4B was initially awesome, but its downfall is destined due to licensing, limited playback speed and lack of compatibility with most things non-Apple. I tried Akimbo Audiobook Player, Smart Audiobook Player and a bevy of others. Most of them are chunky, do not offer decent playback speed options or feel like the UI was designed 2 years ago and never updated.
Listen Audiobook Player broke the last link in the Apple audio dependency for me. Listen will intelligently scan for audiobooks, download cover art, provides variable speed playback (under labs settings) up to 3x, has a useful high-speed scrubber bar (Audible should take note of how this works) and many other features.
- Audio Interface – The final revelation came when I realized my USA Spec PA15-HON2 iPod interface for my car also had the option for an RCA audio input. I popped open my dash, flipped a dip switch, installed a RCA to 3.5mm headphone adapter and cable and I was able to play back EVERYTHING from my phone- and at any playback speed I wanted... :)
The only feature I do miss is the ability to track up/fast forward from the controls on my steering wheel. Hopefully Android will one day provide an interface for such features (and a working headphone volume/remote interface!) as it would be useful to control an Android music player with a remote.
I have an iPod Touch and an old iPod classic 160GB that I will be putting up on eBay. They were good for for their time, but having to dock them on a computer to get updates for podcasts or music has become a bother. The newer iOS devices have a new proprietary plug that I have little interest in investigating any further.
It is very comforting that I now have one device that can do everything I want for entertainment, home automation, security monitoring, email, web browsing, GPS directions/logging/tracking and games- and much more… Along with a Mophie juice pack to keep all of these things going for 24h+ :)