Who wants a knockoff of a useless Android phone?

Jacqueline Seng for CNET:

The “Note” is actually Ainol’s Android phone, and, yes, it’s simply called the Android. This 3G handset comes with a mobile TV tuner and has dual-SIM capabilities.

It also has a 2,500mAh battery, although its 5-inch WVGA screen is slightly smaller than the Note’s 5.3 inches.

It’s ironic that this knockoff of the Samsung Galaxy Note is actually running a better version of Android and has a more usable form factor than the device that “inspired” it.

With that said, “Android” is a terrible name for a phone, because no one will ever find it via a Google search. Still, I guess it’s better than a random combination of numbers and letters. 

Best games of E3: The Last of Us

This is the post-apocalyptic game we’ve been waiting for.

If it wasn’t clear already, Naughty Dog can take any genre of video game and set a new standard for other companies to live up to. Platforming? Yup. Action-adventure? Done that. With The Last of Us, they’re taking the survival action-adventure formula and turning it on its head. 

The footage shown has everything we have wanted from the genre. There’s the sidekick who reacts realistically to player actions and actually helps out in a fight when needed and stays out of the way when she isn’t. There’s scavenging for materials and an item system that forces the player to make quick decisions. And then, there’s the combat.

If you haven’t seen the trailer I linked to, it’s brutal. Joel (the protagonist) smashes enemies faces into nearby surfaces, wrestles weapons out of their hands, and sets them on fire with Molotov cocktails. Hell, I cringed at the end when he shot the downed enemy in the face at point-blank range. This isn’t like your average first-person shooter, where players mow down waves of enemies with little emotional impact. These deaths are all dramatic, and carry weight to them, as they should. 

What Naughty Dog is expressing is the survival-of-the-fittest nature of the end of the world. There wouldn’t be enough guns and ammunition laying around for every conflict to go down as a major firefight. Instead, conflicts would be one-on-one as survivors compete for resources. And according to IGN, they didn’t just stop there when it comes to showing off the reality of the situation: players will have to scavenge supplies from those who couldn’t find it in them to make it through such a tragic scenario. That’s deep for an action game. 

I do have a few thoughts on the gameplay. First, according to that IGN article I linked to above, there will in fact be multiple ways to approach any given encounter. This is excellent news, as gamers who prefer stealth and distraction will feel just as at home with the game as those who like to run-and-gun. Second, I have to wonder whether the physical encounters with enemies are quick-time events or fought using contextually-aware buttons. I’m hoping it’s the latter, as the trailer doesn’t make it clear. Given the freedom suggested by the IGN article, it seems that players will be controlling the fighting, which makes the trailer all the more impressive.

Best games of E3: Watch Dogs

I can’t remember the last time I was this surprised by a game.

My first thought: This game must be coming on next-gen consoles. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Diablo 3 on my MacBook Air, but the graphics for this game look amazing to me. It’s all the little details in the city. The grates on the sidewalk have all the bumps you would expect, the individual tree branches blow in the wind, the lighting in the club is dynamic, and the rain towards the end of the trailer is beautiful. We’ve seen all of these details elsewhere, but not in an urban free-roaming game.

But as the last few years have shown us, graphics aren’t everything. Which is why I’m glad the story and gameplay are so intriguing. The interaction between the protagonist and his friend was like something out of a good television show, in that it was not only entertaining in its own right but also gave us insight into the characters shown. As far as gameplay goes, the way Ubisoft is approaching the hacking element looks great. The idea of “hack anything” is really promising, and will hopefully give players a variety of options for missions and not simply require us to figure the one specific thing we need to do to for progression.

Now, there was one worrying aspect of the trailer. The game world looks very dynamic and realistic, with people reacting to things as you’d expect – the man brushing is coat when splashed with water and the other mourning over his just-shot wife come to mind. But if these are simply responses that happen all the time in-game, they could get old fast. In the best case scenario, gamers simply decide to ignore these details and focus on the task at hand. However, if Ubisoft only programmed a limited number of responses, in might be rather irritating to hear the exact same crying every time that there’s a firefight (the citizen responses in Spider-Man 2 come to mind). 

Overall though, Watch Dogs looks like a great new IP that combines elements of two of gaming’s best series, Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed.

Jim Dalrymple on the Apple television

From TechPinions:

That’s the type of challenge Apple faces in the television market or any other market it enters. Apple will try to solve the current problems, while advancing what consumers can do. The home entertainment market needs to be shaken up and it will take a company that isn’t afraid to change the status quo to do it.

Some people think Apple will release a television with new menus or Siri integration. I don’t believe they are thinking big enough. If Apple enters that market they will disrupt it and change it forever.

Jim is absolutely right. If Apple enters the TV market, it won’t be with a fancy 1080p screen that has the Apple TV interface with Siri built in. It will change the entire market with a content distribution system unlike anything available today. Any less than that wouldn’t be worth Apple’s time.

Blogs worth paying for

I’ve always wanted to be a patron of the arts, the kind of guy where the rising painter unveils his work and says, “And all of this was made possible by the generosity of our host for the evening, MR. RUSSELL!”

Unfortunately, I am neither wealthy enough nor educated enough about art to pay for any young talent’s work. I am however, an avid reader and geek. I can tell you when a blogger is good at putting out interesting content on a regular basis and whether or not they have a style of their own or are just regurgitating press releases from Engadget/The Verge/TechCrunch/etc. 

And supporting these guys is pretty damn affordable. So if you’re like me and derive most of your enjoyment from homegrown blogs written by one or two guys, maybe you should think about sending a few bucks their way so that they don’t have to give up on this whole writing thing. Some blogs I’ve decided are worth paying for:

daringfireball.net  – While Gruber’s obviously raking in the money with his ads and RSS sponsorships, the quality of his writing and his connections at Apple make buying the t-shirts he sells every few months a no-brainer.

curiousrat.com – A less well-known blog than the others listed here, Harry Mark’s RSS feed is always full of snarky and insightful writing that pretty much skewers at least one lazy journalist per day.

512pixels.net – I love this blog because Stephen Hackett isn’t your average technology writer. He isn’t in the Bay Area and he’s actually worked on the front lines as an Apple Genius. 

loopinsight.com – A great Apple blog, but also a great source of funny/interesting videos and articles on topics ranging from music to new Heineken beer bottle designs. The free music Jim linked to from SXSW (over 7 gigs, all legal!) alone ensured my subscription for at least the next year.

My next iPhone will be prepaid and unsubsidized

As you may have heard, it’s been announced that Virgin Mobile will be offering the iPhone 4S as a prepaid phone with plans starting as low as $30 per month that include unlimited data. This is following a similar announcement several days ago that Cricket will be offering the iPhone with plans starting at $55 per month. The only downside to either of these options is that the phones are sold unsubsidized (in the case of Virgin) or only slightly subsidized (in the case of Cricket).

This means that instead of only paying $200 up front for the iPhone, you’re paying upwards of $500 for the device itself. While this might be a tough pill for some to swallow, the fact of the matter is that either of these options are steals compared to the offerings from the major carriers. To demonstrate, let me do some basic math.

On my plan at Verizon, I pay roughly $100 a month for 2 GBs of data, unlimited texting, and 450 minutes. Combined with the $200 phone itself, this results in a total cost of about $2600 for the entirerty of my 2-year contract. Compare this to a comparable plan on Virgin Mobile: $30 a month plus the $650 for phone results in a two year cost of only $1370.

That’s an insane bargain. Honestly, if Sprint starts rolling out their LTE network by the time Virgin Mobile gets the new iPhone (which I assume will be some time after the major carriers), I see no reason for me not to break my contract with Verizon to jump on the Virgin train.