Category Archives: Uncategorized

On cheat days and scales.

I always hear from people giving armchair diet advice to “take cheat days” on my diet, so as not to get discouraged or over-stressed. I have mixed feelings about cheat days. Every time I do one, it’s almost always A.) unintentional at the outset of the day, and B.) highly likely to result in regret the next morning. There’s nothing worse than waking up and thinking “I went backwards.” It guts me. I also think for people doing very nutrition/calorie-centric diets, cheat days are dangerous. They’re a reminder of the enjoyable part of getting fat, and when you’re just getting started, especially, they can derail an entire diet plan. I have had several cheat days in the last month, but I didn’t feel good about any of them.

Scales. I have long avoided buying a scale, because I fear it may do more harm than good – it would be easy to get discouraged if my measurable progress fell below my expectations / estimates. After weeks of deliberation, I bought a Fitbit Aria. It wasn’t cheap ($130), but so far I’ve found it to be a truly excellent and motivating investment. It has largely tracked with my own estimates, and the automatic Wi-Fi uploading of weight / body fat to the Fitbit site is amazing. Worth every penny. I honestly prefer it to the idea of a fitness tracker right now, because it gives me concrete results, not estimates. The precision is a bit wanting (I’d say +/- .3 lbs), but it’s accurate enough that I can already see a trend line emerging after 2.5 weeks with it (that trend line is pointing downward, thankfully). The body fat measurement is far from accurate from what I’ve read (+ / – 5%), though it is pretty consistent as long as I’m not weighing right after I get out of the shower (the moisture on your skin decreases your electrical resistance, screwing up the reading). And the Wi-Fi setup isn’t exactly a breeze. But overall, totally “would buy again.”

A brief and overdue review of Bioshock Infinite

I played Bioshock infinite a few months ago, and I had meant to write up my thoughts on the game here shortly after finishing it. I did finish the game, but I never wrote about it.

Bioshock Infinite is easily the most engrossing PC game I’ve played since Half Life 2. In some ways, though, it is a bit of a mess, and I hope that if there ever is another Bioshock, some of those mistakes will be learned from.

Put simply, there are two reasons you play Bioshock – the visual splendor, and the tale. Gameplay is secondary to these things, and it shows. At times, painfully so.

But it also doesn’t matter. Infinite is worth the $60, easily. Even if you only play through once. Which is probably all most people will do – there is no substantial reason to repeat the single player story, not until you’ve forgotten the various niceties of the plot 6 months to a year later.

Bioshock Infinite takes what players loved about the first two titles and tries to turn them up to 11. It succeeds. You thought Rapture was grand, ambitious, and original? Columbia makes Andrew Ryan’s undersea utopia look like a quickly sketched sand castle. The level of detail and imagination is truly astonishing. Subplots go deeper. Characters don’t simply advance the lulls in firefights or puzzles, they have real intrigue about them – they make you want more. And the story arc, well, although I doubt anyone cares about spoiling it at this point, I wouldn’t want to even risk it. It’s not perfect, but it surpasses the first two games in almost every conceivable way.

Bioshock Infinite is, frankly, a piece of art. You want to stop and appreciate the little things, to take in the full experience. The stuff you’d never notice in any other first-person shooter, because who gives a fuck what’s behind the produce counter in one of a half dozen shops on a street? In Bioshock, you care. And you should – the one piece of lore, the one Vox tape you need to really connect the dots at a particular point in the story, could be there.

Find me another game like that. All the way until the very, very end, you are utterly driven to dig deeper, listen harder, and look closer. This is the reason Infinite is a game you must play.

Oddly, the reason you shouldn’t play it, however, is the “playing” aspect. The first two Bioshocks had relatively simple but decidedly entertaining and unpretentious combat. As soon as you accepted this fact, you loved it. You’d use a weird Adam power just because you could, because it was hilarious or visually pleasing. Weapons had clear, defined purposes.

Bioshock Infinite just mucks everything up. Too many guns, too many powers, too many ways to tweak those guns and powers, and too much dependence on them to get yourself out of complex combat scenarios. They just tried too hard. Like the story and the visuals, 2K turned up the combat system from the original to 11. It wasn’t a good idea. Health is harder to come by. So is ammo. More fun, simple weapons become laughably ineffective later in the game, and your powers are either totally worthless or absolutely required based on the combat situation. There are too many enemies, and most of them just shoot at you (either with guns or powers) – how lame is that from the series that brought us wall-crawling hook-handed fish people? It just isn’t very fun. It’s not bad, but it’s not great by any measure. It tries to make serious a combat system that was never meant to be serious.

It by no means ruins the game, however. Combat is simply a means to an end. You hate it at times (a sniper rifle in Bioshock? Really?), but not others. One / two on one combat, for example, allows you to play with your powers and more unorthodox weapons – and you can have genuine fun that way.

Most of the time, though, it feels like busy work mowing down a dozen baddies and a George Washington robot from a hundred yards.

Even with the lackluster combat, though, Infinite gets an easy 9/10 from me. A fantastic game that any gamer should play through once, even if it doesn’t have a dog.

Yeezus: A quick review

I’ve heard opinions from three people I personally know about Kanye West’s new album Yeezus. All three have extremely negative critiques of Kanye’s shortest LP to date (a mere 40 minutes).

I suppose I can understand why. Yeezus almost completely foregoes the soulful hooks and choruses, by and large, of West’s older albums. Even My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy occasionally played it safe (All Of The Lights, Power), and had its moments of gentler reflection (Blame Game, Lost In The World).

Yeezus, however, will fray your nerves through all 40 jarring minutes. It will test your ability to stand Kanye’s narcissistic, self-pitying, and off-and-on misogynist / racist lyrics. Unlike other songs which struck such self-obsessed chords (“Monster”), Yeezus’ backing beats offer little in the way of distraction from the grating content of the verses. This, I think, is where Kanye’s hip-hop audience and more casual fans will parts ways with the album.

Since his rise to mainstream popularity, Kanye West’s music has largely been lost on tweens and twenty-somethings looking for “pop-ish” hip-hop or club / dance mixes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, though I also think it shows that many of West’s “fans” actually have very little respect for him as an artist, and look at him more like a glorified DJ (and I do consider that an insult). There is very little appreciation for what he has to contribute to the canon, as compared to how many tracks he can produce that are suitable for tonight’s playlist.

This is why, although it is not perfect in every way, I welcome Yeezus. Kanye has struck back hard against an audience that began to demand things of his artistic output, a demand I think no audience has any right to make of any artist. Not only that, it is a polarizing and artistically ambitious – not to mention risky – effort.

To draw on analogy, in 1975, an album called Tonight’s The Night was released by Neil Young, one of my favorite musicians of all time. It was hated by the majority of his fans. Even critics were less than totally receptive to it at the time (by contrast, critics seem to love Yeezus). It was dark, dreary, recorded by an absolutely shitface-drunk band, and incomprehensibly out of character for Young after he achieved fame for hits like Old Man, Heart of Gold, Ohio, and After the Gold Rush. Today, it has a very secure spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All TIme.

To critics of Yeezus, I say this: give it a month or two. Come back to it. Something tells me that if you really do like West as an artist, you will. And you’ll enjoy it. It’s now an integral part of the in-progress portrait of a man who may well be hip-hop’s most progressive force. Don’t be so quick to judge a change of direction.

On being fat.

I’ve been on one successful diet in my life. I’ve also been obese, apart from that dieting stint, since I was about 13. Being fat does suck. It makes your life more difficult, and is extremely damaging to your sense of self-confidence and motivation.

Even in America, where the “it’s not what’s on the outside” mantra was pummeled into us as children, it is still very apparent that being obese is considered a bad thing. And that is in part because major health issues that can be drawn back to consumption habits – heart disease, diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, kidney or liver failure – have been found time and again to occur at a higher rate in obese individuals.

Not only are obese people more likely to suffer from these sorts of health problems as they advance in age, they’re also much more prone to experiencing an increased rate of general physical deterioration, brought on by excessive weight and / or poor diet. People who are obese age more quickly and die younger. Obesity has also brought about a wider culture in the US that accepts or even celebrates excess indulgence in food and drink, a trend that food and beverage corporations have been all too happy to exploit over the years. (Largely through the use of high fructose corn syrup and processed meat that have made packing caloric density into cheap, fast meals easier than ever.)

This has often led me to ask myself: Why am I fat? If it’s so terrible and so harmful to me as an individual, why am I not terrified of the consequences? Well, you could probably ask the same of any obese person, and the answer would likely boil down to this: we like food. Or soda. Or candy. Or beer. Food is comforting – it makes us feel better. Our brains exhibit a highly positive, encouraging response when presented with foods or drinks we greatly enjoy. This obviously doesn’t explain everyone’s obesity (there can be severe and difficult-to-treat underlying medical conditions that cause obesity), but it does in many cases – like mine.

But doesn’t everyone experience this? Well, yes, to an extent. But not always to the same degree, or for the same root reasons.

It wasn’t until my teen years – often an age where food consumption increases quite a bit anyway to spur growth – that I started turning toward food to ease the extreme emotional burdens of social life (or lack thereof), acne, and my responsibilities as a student. It was a perfect storm of factors. Eventually, it simply became a habit. Much like playing video games or watching TV, food became something to do to distract myself from the emotional rigors of my daily life. I hated being a teenager – and I look back on that time of my life with little fondness. My life was not terrible, but I certainly wasn’t happy. Food was a comforting addiction to cope with that, even though it was also contributing to the problem.

Even as I became more comfortable in my skin during high school, I got fatter. I don’t know exactly where or when I peaked – I would guess around freshman year of college – but I was a little fatter than I am now. I also wore it like a younger person – more in my face and neck than I do today (now is much more in the gut, hooray).

I don’t remember when or why exactly I made the decision to lose weight. After freshman year of college, I felt a little less socially awkward, but I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I was frustrated. I’m sort of an angry person sometimes, and I do try to put that to effective use, and that’s what I did. I remember being so upset that I was fat, so infuriated at myself that I had let it happen to me, and that it was all my fault.

I began to research in earnest about daily calorie burn figures, and devised a plan that is similar to what most family doctors would recommend: calorie counting. I limited myself strictly to 1500 calories per day, which is on the low side for a male in their early 20’s, but by no means dangerous for someone who is obese (it might be a little dangerous if, say, I weighed 130lbs – something I absolutely do not anticipate ever being as a 6’1” male). I tracked my caloric intake religiously. I would never give myself the benefit of the doubt on foods where I could not get an exact count, and wrote off dinners where I couldn’t find or accurately estimate calories as 2000 calorie days, or more if I felt particularly guilty. I calculated my weight loss over time, and it actually matched up to reality pretty well.

Let me be the first to tell you: it’s pretty fucking hard to do this. It takes an insane amount of focus and dedication, and the ability to deny yourself when your mind is screaming at you to just eat a little more. The first two weeks were, frankly, torturous at times. I don’t recall if I “broke” during those fourteen days when I started. I probably did, once or twice. Most fit people (or those who just have ultra-robust metabolism) simply don’t understand the lengths to which your mind will go to convince you that you need more. It is what I imagine an alcoholic or a heroin addict goes through very early on in the withdrawal process, waiting between fixes. Of course, that’s also as bad as things get when it comes to hunger, though – you’re not going to go into a flop sweat, hallucinate, and start convulsing on the floor from having a case of the munchies (or your body telling you that you are), it’s just… uncomfortable.

The initial shock was probably made worse because I, as a result of being a broke and lazy college student, chose extremely high-protein, calorie-dense foods that were even less likely to provide a feeling of fullness. Canned chili and dairy-free soups – foods with few or no simple carbohydrates. Our bodies exhibit a much more marked emotional and physiological response to simple carbs, producing (allegedly) dopamine and serotonin in our brains, and a shot of insulin in anticipation of an increased blood glucose level. The foods I ate did not regularly produce this response. I think this helped me lower my emotional attachment to food significantly. The first two weeks were hell, the second two merely difficult. After that, my stomach shrank and my mindset changed, and dieting became much easier.

About 9 months into this routine (with more and more lenience in my diet as I lost more weight, actually), I had lost around 65lbs. Now, I know some people will say “it’s not healthy to lose so much weight so quickly without a lot of exercise involved,” but really, I didn’t give a fuck – I had gotten so far, made so much progress. A big help came from 6 weeks of archaeological field school, where I was able to eat more, but also did intense manual labor for 4-6 hours every single day. My metabolism got a boost, I’m sure. I was the happiest and healthiest-feeling I’ve ever been. Really. I was buying nice clothes in normal sizes, being social, and enjoying my life so much more.

By late in senior year of college, I had gained back maybe 25-30lbs. I put the onus here largely on beer, not food (well, maybe a few late Friday night post-bar Jack In The Box runs). I had turned 21, and my love of craft brews went straight to my gut. But by the time I left undergrad, I was ready to start turning it around again. And then I went to law school, and my plans were utterly derailed. It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. I hated it. I met some nice people, but it wasn’t the right professional culture for me. I know for a fact now that I would despise being a lawyer. So, I drank beer and ate fattening foods to cope with the stress. I got fatter.

I’ve been away from school one year now, and at this point I have basically gained back all the weight I lost in college. It is extremely aggravating. But about 2 weeks ago, I resolved to start again on my 1500 calorie routine. In part, because I was involved in a rather jarring car accident back in January that injured my back. I’ve been told several times by my doctors that I risk aggravating any long term effects of my injuries, and the health of my back in general, by maintaining my current weight. It was a good enough reason for me.

I’ve been pretty good – not perfect – but good enough that I feel confident about what I’m doing. I feel more positive with each day I can say I achieved what I set out to. And while I’ve had two previous false starts in the last couple years, this is by far the most successful one yet. I also know a lot more about what to avoid post-diet, and anticipate (hopefully) a lower-stress environment in which to re-acclimate to normal levels of food consumption when I reach a point I am happy with.

So, why am I telling all of you? Well, because I’d be a liar to at least several dozen people who read part of this (let’s face it, it’s long) if I was still as fat as I am today 6 months from now. I’m not going to post a bunch of updates (that seems weird to me), but I’m going to look back at this during trying times, and I’m going to think about what I said. Just knowing I put it out there will strengthen my resolve – so thanks for reading.

On wearable computers: get your dreams ready for crushing.

Kudos to Regina Dugan for thinking outside of the box about wearable tech, but I feel like the two examples she demos in this article are way too sci-fi-creepy for your average person to ever get comfortable with. An e-tattoo? Yeah, that doesn’t feel 1984-y at all.

It sounds like Motorola wants to get into wearables (ingestibles? inscribables?) in a big way, but flashy demos of experimental tech like this aren’t really what are going to make or break the wearables space.

I feel like, and feel free to disagree, Tim Cook gave a much better view of the way that the wearable computing market will truly emerge in the mainstream. Cook was wearing a FuelBand, far and away the most popular piece of modern wearable tech on the market. The FuelBand isn’t particularly versatile or powerful, but what it does, it does well.

It’s also pretty fashion-forward and discrete, and unlike pretty much every smartwatch, it doesn’t look like it was designed by a 20-something engineer. 

Things we wear – computers included – are dictated by a social awareness of what others wear, aka what is fashionable. Cook stated rather aptly that it will be the 10-20 year olds who are so obsessed with appearances and brands that decide the fate of wearables in the market.

If there is to be a market for general purpose wearable computers (something I am still far from convinced of), I think it will be guided far more by form than function. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I know what that form will be. Kids are wearing some weird, ugly shit these days.

It might be on the wrist, it might be around the neck, or as Google hopes, on your head. But don’t be surprised if the world’s first really popular wearable computer is something you think is “dumb, closed, and overpriced.” Because if you think people are too concerned with the brand and aesthetics of their smartphone, you’re in for a real treat when they start buying gadgets that could clash with their outfit.

A customizable phone is a nice dream, but it probably is just that – a dream.

With all the X phone stuff going around right now, I just have to add in this tidbit about all the “build your own phone” rumors. I will say this: I’d believe RAM options before I’d believe build material choices.

Apple – the number one single-model smartphone manufacturer on earth – offers its phone in two colors, and with the iPhone 4, it couldn’t even get the white one right for six months. Believe it or not, building a device that goes in and out of your pocket on a daily basis for a year+ that doesn’t look like complete shit or crack after a few weeks is fairly difficult in and of itself, even if it’s just plastic.

The thought that Motorola – a company with comparatively little capital goods and supply chain connections to work with – will be able to offer a phone in dozens of colors, let alone frames made of multiple materials, is ridiculous. R&D costs aside, tooling factories to build the near-endless combinations of phone designs would be stratospherically expensive. Motorola would never get its money back – it simply wouldn’t be profitable.

The only way such “customization” would be possible is if the exteriors were little more than glorified snap-on cases, meaning they would never fit perfectly, and would substantially increase the bulk of the phone, as well as reduce its overall rigidity as compared to an integrated chassis design.

The reason car manufacturers can offer you 20 colors is because you’re buying a product that costs tens of thousands of dollars. And sure, they’ll paint it any color you like, if you cough up $3000 more. Leather? $1500. 

My point is this: customization of mass-market, high-tech products built on assembly lines products is not about the cost of the materials to customize, it’s about the cost of having an assembly line that can do that sort of thing and still meet volume requirements, and thus maintain profitability for the business. 

Tl;dr – Samsung would probably offer you a Galaxy S4 made of wood if they thought they’d make any money on it.

On the HTC One’s camera, and comparisons to the Galaxy S4.

I’ve received a lot of comments on the One review claiming the S4 has a superior camera, and that I am flat wrong about the One’s camera. I’ve been looking at many photo comparisons between the two, and in some respects, I am inclined to agree that the S4’s camera is superior.

The S4 without a shadow of a doubt will produce superior detail at full crop – it’s not even a contest. Most of that is because of the One’s lower resolution, though, and is to be expected. If you’re concerned about full-crop detail, the S4 will have the better camera, hands down. So will the Xperia Z / ZL, and likely so will many other phones this year. Heck, the Galaxy S III has way better full-crop detail than the One.

I am far less convinced of any outlet claiming the S4 has superior low light performance. Maybe it has superior “low-ish” light performance, but for photos actually taken at night? I would be seriously surprised to see the One lose out, and the one real night shot comparison I’ve seen has the One easily besting the S4 / Xperia Z even when night mode is turned off.

I also have yet to see any motion shot comparisons, which I am quite confident is a comparison the One would win because of it’s ultra-wide aperture (f2.0 vs f2.2 on the S4) that allows extremely fast shutter speeds, along with OIS to keep the camera steady. This is doubly important when taking shots of actual human beings at night – they move!

Finally, I’m seeing a lot of daylight photo samples that look to have been taken with a dirty lens on the One, something that it is unusually sensitive to. I had to scrap about 1/3 of my review photos because I neglected to wipe the lens before shooting – it causes major washout / overexposure. Without a doubt, this is an issue. I wipe the One’s lens off every time I go to take a photo just in case.

But to say the S4’s camera is definitively better? I think some people are getting a little ahead of themselves.

On Dealbreakers And Breakthroughs: Why You Really Shouldn’t Hate Any High-End Smartphone Right Now

In Android Police’s private chat room – deep in the bowels of a place known only to a select few… Android Police writers – conversations are often aroused over what makes a phone good, and what makes it bad. (Tablets much less so, oddly.)

We each have our own stance on the issue. Some have a strong preference for stock Android, and anything attempting to subvert or otherwise ‘break’ Android the way Google intended it (unless Google’s intention sucked) is basically bad. For others, it’s less about how it looks, and more how it works: is it smooth, fluid, and functional? And, of course, there are the typical arguments about SD cards, removable batteries, and plastique.

Then comes the time for the passing of judgement: is this a dealbreaker? That is, would a particular flaw (or feature, as the case may be) actually be a reason to buy or not to buy a phone? As anyone in any tech blog comment section will tell you, literally every single smartphone on the market has dealbreakers. All of them.

That is such a backward-ass way of thinking, and excuse my bluntness for saying it, but it’s utterly counterproductive.

I am not without fault when it comes to this. I’ve reviewed high-end smartphones I simply couldn’t recommend. Most of those reviews I stand by steadfastly, because I honestly believed a phone was not enjoyable to use. That really is my benchmark at the end of the day: did I like using the phone? One or two, though, give me pause.

Since writing for Android Police, I’ve conducted 19 phone reviews. Which seems like a lot, to me at least. And while I may get a reputation as a negative Nancy, I consider 10 of those reviews to land in the “Positive” category pretty definitively. Only 4 are outright “Negative,” and the remaining 5 land in the sort of “Meh” area. Yes – that means I’ve liked more phones than I’ve not liked or been ambivalent about combined! Hard to believe, I know.

And I’ll say that even of those I outright panned (DROID Incredible 4G, Xperia TX, Meizu MX 4-Core, DROID Charge), I really only feel like the Xperia TX might have deserved a slightly easier time. I harped on the build quality pretty hard, but I’ve held worse phones, and now that it has a Jelly Bean update, I’d be curious to see if the experience has improved. I just did not like using it, to be honest. The app push sync was unreliable, and the camera was a total stickler to use.

Anyway, back to dealbreakers. Some of the ones I hear often are SD card or a removable battery. Sometimes they’re a little more… eccentric. Maybe you absolutely 100% need an MHL-compliant phone for HDMI out. Or an unlockable bootloader is necessary. And perhaps you just can’t live without a video app that pops out and floats over the UI.

The thing is, though, none of the aforementioned things (including SD cards and removable batteries) are actually necessary to have a good experience on a modern smartphone. I’m sorry, they just aren’t. They’re only necessary if <insert relatively niche circumstance here.> And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, because there isn’t. Not that many people need an SUV that can go off road with more than 1′ of ground clearance, but there are vehicles out there that will readily meet that specification, and that’s good.

To put it a little more directly: just because a particular phone is the best phone for you, does not make it the best phone for me. Or really anyone else. And just because another phone lacks the things you need doesn’t make it a bad phone. It makes it a phone that isn’t good for you specifically. That’s really all you’re saying. They are two different things. No one reviews a Range Rover and says it’s a terrible car because it gets relatively low gas mileage and doesn’t handle very well – if those are you concerns, why are you even considering it? That’s what really gets my goat: people who know full well they won’t like a phone because it won’t suit their personal needs, but go on ahead and shit all over it anyway like it’s actually objectively terrible. And again, sure, I’m guilty of this as well sometimes.

I’m writing this right now because I’m going to start working on my review of the HTC One this weekend. Spoiler alert: I like it kind of a lot.

But, I can already see the 5-10 comments not simply lamenting the lack of a removable battery, an SD card, or whatever new software features Samsung’s packed into the Galaxy S4, but absolutely blasting the phone because of these things. I’m not trying to stop those comments with this post, because frankly, who could? The internet will be the internet. It’s going to happen. But I’m not going to respond to them, even though in all likelihood one will rise to the top with DISQUS’s wonderful voting system. Mostly because doing so would be about as useful as debating a moon landing hoaxer.

Fear not, though, SD card enthusiasts – your ire will get to me at least a little bit. And that’s primarily due to the fact that I take pride in the evaluation I give a phone. I want to convey my feelings accurately and impartially, and issue a relatively definitive judgment on a product. I want to be able to say “This is a good product,” “This is an OK product,” or “This is a bad product.” I find it very disappointing to get to the end of a phone review and discover a non-conclusion. I want to be conclusive.

I’m also not saying there aren’t objective, rational reasons to dislike a phone. Of course there are. No one likes bad battery life, or a display that looks poor. No one like a camera that takes crappy photos. I can’t think of anyone who yearns for a slow phone, or one which is poorly constructed. But even the Xperia ZL, which I roundly “Meh’d” a couple weeks ago, is still a decent phone. I didn’t hate it! I promise. But I did look at it on the merits, and it was very difficult to understand why it was any better than its competitors, when it was inferior to them in big ways – the screen is worse, the battery life is worse, the camera is worse, the speed is worse, and the build quality wasn’t anything outstanding. And that’s why it got a pretty ‘meh’ review – you have noticeably better options at your disposal, and I can’t go recommending something knowing that those options exist. I want to guide people to the great phones, not the ones that you can live with. People got upset anyway, because, well, internet.

The fact is, I like the HTC One. I very much predict that I will like the Galaxy S4. I also like the Optimus G Pro, which I’m currently testing out as well. Every single one of these phones has / will have flaws – objective ones. I will probably like one of them more than the others, and I already have a good idea which one it’s probably going to be. But please, don’t tell me wrong for liking something because I can’t use both of the cameras to record video at once, store all 50GB of my pirated movies, or flash a ROM to stock. You can choose not to buy it for that reason, but claiming that makes it ‘bad’ is like complaining that a burrito isn’t crunchy. You knew what you were getting into.

Ouya and GameStick remain basically flawed – stop trying to shove a TV into my mobile games.

Look at this review of Ravensword – for a mobile title, the amount of polish is impressive. This is very near or at the level at which one would call a smartphone / tablet game “AAA.” The visuals are of a high quality (generally), the game is pretty original (as original as a 3rd person sort-of-medieval open world RPG can get), and the amount of content seems perfectly reasonable given the price and scope of the game. This really is about as good as it gets for a “serious” open world RPG on Android.

I would never, ever want to play this on my television. I wouldn’t even want to play it on my computer monitor. The demands of the game’s open world rendering mean major sacrifices on terrain and foliage textures, and the limited power of mobile GPU’s also heavily limit the amount of active character models you can render at any one time. Everyone loves to talk about ‘console-quality’ graphics being just on the horizon for mobile, but that’s just not true. You can be tricked into seeing something that is approaching original Xbox / Gamecube / PS2 levels, but you are being tricked: it’s only because you’re inside a dark room with a few bad guys, no shadows (or very simple ones), no dynamic lighting, lame physics, and dead-simple wall textures that it looks at all “good.”

This game (Ravensword) doesn’t hide the capability of mobile GPUs. Sure, some things look pretty OK, but a lot of the environmental stuff (eg, the walls, trees, ground) could pass for Nintendo 64 textures.

The alternative is the Infinity Blade approach – 1 enemy, small, controlled environment. Yes, everything looks pretty, but it’s only because the GPU is focusing on rendering a few complex elements, as opposed to 50. And who wants to play something like Infinity Blade on their TV? Not me – it’s much more convenient to sit back with a tablet. Fact aside that games like this were designed from the ground up for touch, and its inherent imprecision. Playing most mobile games with a gamepad kind of sucks – you expect a lot more control, precision, and customization than you actually get.

The sad (but also good!) truth is that many games can be simplified such as to be enjoyable and playable on a smartphone or tablet. A tablet is more portable than an Ouya or a Gamestick will ever be, and it’s a lot more versatile, ubiquitous, and easy to use. These companies are trying to ‘reinvent’ the game console on the notion that consumers can be convinced that many of the reasons they play mobile games (convenience, ease of access, portability) should be sacrificed in order to use a controller and a television.

I don’t need a controller and a 60″ screen to play the DS port of Final Fantasy III – and I don’t want those things. I prefer it on my tablet. It’s more laid back. It’s more convenient. Yes, 15 years ago, you might have wanted to play a game like that on a TV – but if someone gave you the option to play it on a 7″ screen using a touchscreen for controls on a device with always-on internet and no cartridges or CDs, guess what: that would sound god damn amazing.

This game just adds to my point: you can make good mobile games meant for mobile devices. This one needs a bit of work, apparently, but it doesn’t change the fact that the TV and controller really aren’t what people want. People want good games, and developers are adapting to the medium they want them on.

An equipment repayment plan is still a contract, T-Mobile.

T-Mobile did not just end the era of smartphone contracts, they gave them a new name. They did, however, start the ball rolling on the death of major smartphone subsidies – a trend you’ll likely see a lot of US carriers get on board with in the next few years.

There is no major difference as far as your wallet is concerned between upgrading early on an ERP plan versus a contract. I can walk into an AT&T store today, buy an iPhone 5 for $200, and cancel my contract the next day and pay $350.

If you walk into a T-Mobile and buy an iPhone 5 for $100, and you want to cancel your service tomorrow, you still have to fork over $480 if you don’t want to make those monthly payments. How is that not a contract? You have contracted to repay the remaining cost of that phone, whether you keep T-Mobile service or not.

Now, you might say that 18 months in, you’d have to pay an early upgrade fee at AT&T (usually $200) if you wanted a new phone, but not at T-Mobile. That’s true. But you’ve also been paying a $20 surcharge every month to pay off your phone at T-Mobile, and that’s cost you $360 at this point, along with the $120 still left to repay. That’s not nothing.

T-Mobile is still finding a way to get money out of you, and they are actually saving money by making you finance your own expensive smartphone habit with a de facto contract. Remember, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint are still eating the bulk of the cost of your phone in exchange for your 2 years of loyalty.

T-Mobile is still a good value, but this is still a contract.