Nintendo Switch follow-up review

A few days ago I got myself a Nintendo Switch, did a basic unboxing and gave my initial thoughts.

Since then, I’ve been playing Diablo 3 on it and with it, I can better determine the pros and cons of the device.

First is the audio. Even though the speakers are capable of producing stereo sounds, at three-quarter of volume setting, they still sound a little weak when it comes to the higher ranges and bass. They aren’t as crisp or punchy as I would like. Maybe it’s because I’m spoilt by the speakers found on the iPhone X and iPad Pro where playing music through those would make you want to move and dance along.

And if you are attempting to play games on the device in a rather noisy environment, chances are you won’t be able to enjoy the audio properly. But the good thing is that it has a 3.5 mm audio port for you to connect an earphone, headphone or maybe even speakers to it as you play. That way, you can use a sound-cancelling earphone or headphones when you in a noisy environment or when you don’t want to announce to the whole world you are gaming in public.

There is one good thing when you attempt to raise the volume higher than 3/4 of the way when an earphone is connected. The device will actually warn you about possible ear injury when it’s too loud. And it actually stop me from attempting to push the volume any higher to compensate for noise generated by the train as it moves.

The other thing I found problematic with the audio was its lack of support for bluetooth audio. I use AirPods with my iPhone whenever I’m outside to listen to music, take on phone calls, etc. There are times when I want to play games on the Switch but I found myself having to put the AirPods back into storage and pull out the 3.5 mm wired earphones from my back before I could start playing. To play Switch I need to switch my audio output device. Nice one. To me, it’s just a hassle. That means I could I only take out the Switch when I’m seated or in a less crowded area. And if I’m on the train, I would have a hard time pulling out the earphone from my bag since it would be pack with people especially during rush hour. It was during moments like this I just wish there’s support for Bluetooth audio. And yes, I’ve been spoilt by Apple’s seamless experience when it comes to their products.

Next is the display.

Although you won’t be able to see individual pixels when you play games due to the 237 pixels per inch 6.2inch display, it’s just not that bright. So when you play games in a bright environment, you may have to increase the brightness. In turn, it will drain the battery faster and reduce your overall play time. But I didn’t go that route so I have to find a corner that’s darker to play my games or squint my eyes.

But I definitely like the screen size. It’s the sweet spot. Come to think of it, the iPhone XS Max also features a 6.2 inch display that’s nearly edge to edge. But sadly, the notch just is too distracting especially if you are gaming on it. Besides, the iPhone doesn’t have games like Diablo 3, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or even Doom on it. So that’s where the comparison ends.

The other issue was the lack of P3 colour gamut. Considering that we are now into 2018 and since then there has been various consumer-grade devices featuring P3 colour-gamut capable display starting with the iMac back in 2015, I don’t see why Nintendo didn’t put that in. It could have help to make Mario and friends look way more vibrant and colourful.

Lastly, it’s the bezel. It’s rather big by 2017 standard. Maybe Nintendo could find a way to reduce the bezel by another 10% or 20% and make use of those free space. When that happens, it would be more enjoyable.

The other thing I want to mention is the battery life. Even though it’s advertised that it can allow up to 6 hour of game time, when I was playing diablo 3, I find the device down to 15% of battery after about 4 hours. And that was spread across the whole day since I only play games while I’m on the train or when I get home. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I’m playing games like Doom (2016) on it.

But so far, I didn’t face the problem of running out battery when I’m on the go. Even then, I don’t really need to fear because I got myself a 20,000 mAh Power Bank that is more than capable of charging up a Nintendo Switch over USB-C. Based on the specification of the power bank, I can charge the device up to three times.

Now, despite all the so call flaws I mentioned, I still love the device because it is the only one so far that allow me to use conventional buttons to play serious games on the go. I just never quite like using touchscreen to play games because of the lack of tactile feedback. I want to know and feel that I have pressed a button. And it’s really satisfying when the game you play is all about button smashing. A touchscreen display can never give you that.

And if Sony Or Microsoft can develop and release their own version of the Switch with Xbox One X processing power that runs on battery in the same form factor, it could be really interesting. Imagine playing Horizon Zero Dawn on a handheld device without any graphical sacrifice.

Book Review: Slipstream – Book #1 of A Crisis of Two Worlds

Slipstream was a debut science-fiction novel written by Michael Offutt published in 2012. It was the first book of the A Crisis of Two World series. I came upon this book on Goodreads because I was searching for a good LGBT-themed science fiction to read and it was one of the good ones. I didn’t manage to buy it because it’s not available in store here. It was only after I got the Kindle app on my phone before I bought the e-book.

The book is about a teenager who discovered he had the ability to manipulate space-time after a car accident. And that was in addition to his innate ability to fix situation that have gone bad. As the story went on, we will see his talents with the sciences and mathematics and how he used those knowledge to help him navigate the world.

For a start, I like the writing style of the author. It’s concise, easy to read and does a good job of showing what’s going on. And there aren’t any words used that forced me to stop and use the dictionary, which will pull me out of the fiction world. That’s something I hate.

The second thing I enjoyed was the story. The story started out showing a teenager, Jordan, navigating through high school, struggle with drug use, having to deal with dreams and the drama from sharing those dreams with his sister. This help establish the brother-sister relationship that was way more interesting than the one I have in real life.

Then a car accident happened and it sets off a chain of events that put Jordan, who discovered he had the ability to manipulate space-time, his sister and a stranger, known as Kolin, in an alternate Earth that an apocalyptic event which wiped out most life due to a nuclear test gone wrong. By now, I’m truly hooked because I’m interested in how societies turn out on an alternate Earth that suffered some kind of world-changing event. And I love stories about people having special abilities. The inclusion of cybernetics, fantasy-related ideas like vampires and succubus further made the world the story is set in interesting.

And after arriving on alternate Earth, or should I say parallel Earth, Jordan and his sister were recruited to help bring down Shadow, the half of the AI that gone mad. To achieve that, both of them had to undertake various missions with the people who work with Light, the other half of the same AI. This is where I knew I wasn’t going anywhere else as I love a good AI-related story. The book also reminded me of my favourite movie, i,Robot, where a conflicted AI ultimately resort to taking power away from humans due to the wrong conclusion drawn from the Three Laws of Robotics.

And during one of the missions in the book, the characters encountered a monster. To me, monsters in science fiction are aliens or rogue AIs, not a monster monster you typically find in Japanese monster movies. And I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s just delightful to see how well it fits.

The other thing I like is how the relationship between Jordan and Kolin unfold. Even though this is the first fictional male-male relationship story I’ve read, I can tell the pacing wasn’t too slow or fast. The attraction and ultimately love for each other didn’t come across as fake or pretentious. And the way the two of character struggled with the potential truth and the discomfort arising from being judged that they are queer, and how they actually feel about each other throughout the story made me sympathise with them.

But the book isn’t without its own flaws.

Other than Kolin and Jordan, the remaining characters seemed boring and doesn’t really resonate with me. For characters like Kathy, Jordan’s sister, she looked interesting at first but after a while, she started to look like she was an extra and came across as an enigma because there wasn’t much shown about her personality or thinking. There were also attempts to show certain amount of closeness or intimacy between some of the characters but those actually felt weak and not as memorable.

The end of the book actually felt like it was kind of rushed. The fight scenes ended too fast. The enemies, although made to look like they were invincible and powerful initially, went down very quickly. Finally, the reveal of Jordan and Kathy’s origin just make me feel a little meh.

So I will give the book a 3.5/5. As for whether I will read the next book in the series, I can’t decide yet because I got myself the Greg Mandel series by Peter F. Hamilton on Kindle and would prefer to finish that first.

Book Review: Salvation – Book 1 of the Salvation Sequence

Salvation is the first book in the Salvation Sequence, a brand new trilogy from Peter F. Hamilton. Instead of the physical copy, I got the Kindle version because of my recent transition into e-books.

My first exposure to Peter Hamilton’s work was Judas Unchained, which I got the chance to read several years back. Since then, I have read The Void Trilogy, Chronicle of Fallers, The Night’s Dawn trilogy, Manhattan In Reverse and Great North Road. But I digress.

This book consists of two story threads. The first story thread was set in the 23rd century where humans have pretty much colonised multiple worlds, asteroids, and moon with their portal technology that made spaceships redundant. The second thread was set in the 51st century, focusing on a group of children who were trained to be warriors in an upcoming war with an alien race. The story threads finally linked up and we got the chance to see who was the real enemy humans faced throughout the book.

With this book, you will get the same prosaic writing style expected from Hamilton, a style that I love. For some people, they may find it rather boring. There isn’t much bombastic words to tell a story, world building or character development, which in my view, made the reading a little easier. But that’s not to say that there were some words that I actually had to pull out the dictionary to understand what it meant.

And unlike the earlier books by Hamilton where I could get lost with the sheer amount of characters and subplots to follow, Salvation actually has fewer characters and subplots. It makes following them easier especially with the way the stories are laid out on the pages. The transition between different viewpoint is also well done in my view. In fact, the switching of perspectives was done on chapter basis with individual title summarising what you will read next, which makes it easier for me to recap what I’ve read before. It’s especially so for the 23rd century story thread. The 51st century on the other hand, because the stories are placed far apart from each other in terms of pages, you may have to go back to re-read again if your memory is poor. Good thing about e-books is, you can jump around rather easily.

Now I honestly couldn’t remember the structure of his more recent books. So if this well-structured manner of presenting is also present in Chronicle of Fallers books, then I apologise for not being able to make a better comparison. It’s been a year plus since I read A Night Without Stars.

I also noticed that with this book, the amount of sex scene is minimal and are mostly set in the 51st century because those characters are younger. I remember vividly the amount of sex found in The Night’s Dawn trilogy. In Salvation, the relationships can be said to be believable with the usual ups and downs but it’s obvious they aren’t exactly intimate with each other, especially for the 23rd century story thread. I suspect it’s because the characters are much older and seen a lot of shit in their respective lives that made sex not a priority. This contrast is definitely welcomed.

With Salvation, you will also get the noir-detective story telling manner that I have come to enjoy with Hamilton’s books. In Salvation, the characters were investigating various things that was going on until the subplots merge and give you the conclusion. It reminded me of the Commonwealth Saga where Paula Mayo tried to investigate multiple crimes that culminated in her acknowledging the existence of Starflyer and participated in the war against the alien as well as arresting criminals for what they did. I’m also reminded of the book Great North Road where the police had to investigate the murder of a clone of a wealthy North family that also concluded an alien was involved.

I will give this book 5 out of 5 stars because I really enjoy it and it didn’t disappoint me at all.

Now, I just can’t wait for the next book, Salvation Lost, to be released next year.

Initial Review – Creative SoundBlaster Roar Pro

Introduction

Today I got myself the Creative Soundblaster Roar Pro after much consideration. I wanted a small speaker system that sound really good, support both bluetooth and wired connection so that I can use it with my PC and my Apple devices.

It’s selling at SG$349 in retail but that was not what I paid as it was on promotion and I got it for SG$199, which I thought was a steal.

Unboxing

On first look, the black on white box looks great.

But upon opening up the box, the first thing I felt was, “Oh, this thing look cheap.” The accessories weren’t packed as neatly as I would like. It is definitely not that ecologically friendly with the heavy use of plastic to pack the cables and the manuals. Then there is the eye sore of the product manuals. Red on white but the product box is black and the product is black. Where is that consistency?

I guess I’m spoilt by Apple since the internals of their boxes are always so well designed and done. Even their manuals, which I know most people don’t read, are at least consistent with the overall theme. Apple do make you feel like you are opening up a great product and that is important to the overall user experience.

The box came with a charging adapter, a USB cable for you to connect the speaker to a computer, a AUX cable to connect to another Roar Pro or audio device. The charging adapter also come with two different kind of plugs that you can swap depending on your power socket. In Singapore, we will use the three-pin plug.

And here is the actual product.

Other than the rows of buttons and switches at the back, the overall speaker is pretty clean and well-built. The black matches well with my desktop setup of mostly black and grey. On the top where the main function buttons are, I would prefer the use of touch buttons instead of physical button. Nonetheless, they don’t detract much from the overall design.

Performance and Experience

I’m no audiophile but I know enough about the various sound range and the type of sound I enjoy listening to. I can tell if there’s crackling caused by the driver’s inability to transform the input signal to sound, if certain sound is muffled, not crisp and clear or if there is an overlap.

I always prefer a good mid-range and bass. To test, I played a few songs like Monody by The Fat Rat, Fountain and Hunting for Pearls from the album BLUE by iamamiwhoami, and Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons. The Roar Pro with its 2.5 inch mid/bass driver located at the center and pointing up definitely delivers on that front. The mid range is crisp and the bass has enough dynamic range that it doesn’t sound muffled or too low. I suspect the two passive drivers on the side has been well-tuned to help with the bass reproduction.

The high range on the other hand seems rather ok but then I don’t listen to music that has a lot of that because how they hurt my ears and give me a headache. My predominant genre is electronic and pop. And they definitely have higher ratio of bass and mid-range compared to maybe classical music or symphony.

The pairing process with iPhone or Mac is pretty easy but not as easy as AirPods. You will have to power on the device, press and hold the bluetooth button for 3 seconds and see the LED light beside it flash. After that, go into the iPhone’s bluetooth setting or Mac OS’s bluetooth preferences and click connect.

It doesn’t take long for the connection to be established. Once it’s done, you can start playing music off it.

Conclusion

I have not start exploring playing games with it and when I do, I will update again. There are a few things that I have yet try. One of them is the use of the other functionality like playing music straight from an SD card. Another would be connecting it to another Roar Pro to via the AUX IN port for MegaStereo.

Yet, I really enjoy the sound coming out from this speaker and I couldn’t tell the difference from a SONOS Play 3 based on trial play in store. For the price of SG$199, I think it’s really good though the packaging could be better.

5 Things I Love About iPhone X

iPhone X is now my primary phone since Jan 27 and I have since put my iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 Plus into storage. I got the 256GB version of iPhone X for $2249 and that was inclusive of Apple Care.

Although it’s expensive, I still feel that it’s valued for money.

Here are five things that I love about the iPhone X.

Face ID

Using Touch ID to unlock your phone with it is pretty convenient, compared to typing in your passcode, especially when your passcode is more than 6 characters long. However, Touch ID doesn’t really work when your fingers are wet. It’s particularly irritating if you are suffering from hyperhidrosis because your fingers are wet most of the time. I spent half of the time unlocking my phone using my passcode. Face ID changes the way phone is unlocked.

With Face ID, I just need to glance at it when the display is on and swipe up. It works correctly like 98% of the time. The times it doesn’t work is when I didn’t put the phone far enough for the camera to detect my face correctly. All you need to do is to cancel the passcode screen, reposition the iPhone, and swipe up again. And it will work again.

Super Retina HD and OLED Display

Apple made the OLED Super Retina HD display way better than the competition. The OLED used made blacks really black. When you play games like Inside, you actually feel like you are in a dystopian world because of the OLED display. Combined with the Super Retina HD, everything looks crisp and sharp.

With the wide color gamut, colors from videos and games are just popping out and looks great. It just made the whole viewing experiences much better than iPhone 7 Plus.

Overall Design

The all screen design with the thin bezels immerses you into whatever you are viewing. The way it follows the edge of the phone, joining up to the highly polished stainless steal band which then transit to a glass back made everything look really seamless. It is almost like the whole device is one solid thing.

And the controversial notch on top of the phone? It was one of the most unique and striking feature of the phone. It made the phone easily identifiable. In someway, it looks like the phone has very nice looking horns. I love just how original it was.

Size

At 14.36cm tall and 7.09cm wide, iPhone X is smaller than iPhone 7 Plus at 15.82cm tall and 7.79cm wide. It is much easier to hold and with it’s all screen design, screen estate is not compromise. You still get to see as much content as you can on a iPhone 7 Plus.

On the other hand, iPhone 7 or even iPhone 8 is way too small. The bezels and the home button take up much of the screen real estate and make webpages, images and videos too small for comfortable viewing.

Speakers

iPhone X has better sounding speakers than iPhone 7 Plus. With the volume bar set at center, it’s is louder. The sound are crispier and the bass is more perceivable. Even at a 75%, the sounds produced don’t crackle.

Bonus: Performance

With its new A11 Bionic chip, the phone is snappy and doesn’t have noticeable slowdown when watching videos, or playing games, and listening to music.

Switching between apps when multitasking also doesn’t feel slow and could keep up with me, enabling a more productive day.