writing about tech

Month: August 2014 (page 2 of 2)

New section: The Elite

I’ve created a new permanent section of the site titled The Elite.  The Elite is a section devoted to devices I would recommend to others without hesitation.  They are not the only devices I’d recommend, and I don’t even own all of them myself, but if someone asks me what device to buy in a given category, chances are my answer will be one of these, as they are generally the best all-around device(s) in their category.  This list will be updated as time goes on.

Deprecated Post: My love letter to the JayBird BlueBuds X

When creating my new section, The Elite, I searched for my post about the JayBird BlueBuds and quickly realized I’d never actually posted it on this blog, so here it is.  These headphones are just the best, you guys.  

The following was originally posted on The Verge’s forums on November 9th, 2013.

Introduction

Let’s talk about the JayBird BlueBuds X Bluetooth headphones.

I hate to start posts with disclaimers, but I thought it was important to cover a couple of things right off the bat: I was originally going to call this a “review”, but that’s not really fair, because it’s mostly just me gushing. Enough people have asked me about them, though, that I felt it was worth putting my thoughts down. I will cover the negatives, of course, but I’m not even going to pretend this will be remotely balanced. It’s also important to note that I would never be mistaken for an audiophile – but that probably goes without saying, as I don’t think a true audiophile would be caught dead with Bluetooth headphones. For me, the convenience of wireless headphones has always outweighed any loss in audio quality.

So, with that out of the way – let’s get started.

The Good

I listen to music and podcasts basically all the time, so I’m pretty picky about my headphones – I need a pair of headphones that are just as usable and comfortable when I’m sitting at my desk at work as they are when I’m running on the treadmill or walking my dog. They also, preferably, need to last long enough on a charge that I don’t need to stop and charge them halfway through the day – I don’t need to add my headphones to the list of devices whose battery I worry about.

The Motorola S305 headphones used to be my go-to Bluetooth headphones – and I still think they’re a great value for the price – but there were still things that bugged me about them. I lost several pairs to sweat while working out; I actually reached the point where I kept an extra pair around at all times for when I inevitably lost another pair to a workout. They aren’t exactly bulky, but they aren’t super-portable, either – since they’re rigid, you can’t easily put them into a pocket . The first two are deal-breakers for me for many situations; I couldn’t just take them out in public anywhere, and I gave up on trying to use them in any capacity while exercising. Certain devices didn’t get along with them as well as others – most notably my MacBook Air and my Vita. The latter was especially annoying, as I’d really looked forward to having a handheld console that worked with Bluetooth headphones.

So why am I talking about the S305 when this is supposedly a post about the BlueBuds X? Because all my issues with the S305s are a thing of the past. The BlueBuds are small and convenient enough to how with me basically anywhere, yet somehow have a battery life greater than the S305. I seriously believe some sort of dark magic is involved.

Bluebudsclose_medium

Where is your battery?!  Where is it?!?  ARE YOU A WITCH?!?

Also unlike the S305, “basically anywhere” thankfully covers my indoor and outdoor runs and bike rides. The Bluebuds have a lifetime warranty against sweat damage, and more dark magic that protects them against the elements:

To further enhance our Lifetime Warranty Against Sweat,
BlueBuds X feature Liquipel Sweat Repellant Nano Technology.
A super hydrophobic process that provides the BlueBuds X with
added protection from exposure to sweat and the elements.

Finally, I’ve yet to find a device that the Bluebuds wouldn’t pair effortlessly with. iPad Mini? Yup. HTC One? Of course. Nexus 7? You know it. PS Vita? Surprisingly great. MacBook? Easy peasy.

Bluebudsdevices_medium

I LOVE EVERYONE!

I am constantly switching between devices, so being able to easily change what device my Bluebuds are connected is a pretty big deal to me. I’ve dealt with too many Bluetooth devices – headphones or otherwise – that were a pain to pair with multiple devices, so it’s refreshing to finally have something that Just Works ™ in that regard.

I would also say their range seems better than any other pair of Bluetooth headphones I’ve used. I can go basically anywhere in my (admittedly small) house and retain a connection, without any skipping or degradation of quality. Currently, they’re connected to my Nexus 7, located in the middle of my house, and I went from typing this outside on the patio to upstairs and back again without issue. I can’t ask for much more than that.

The controls are also wisely placed, and so far they’ve worked perfectly with any device I’ve tried. The only complaint I have is that I can only view the device’s battery meter on an iOS device – nothing else seems to support it. My suspicion is that this isn’t a problem with the BlueBuds themselves, though.

I almost didn’t mention it, but in case anyone was curious – on the rare occasion I’ve used the BlueBuds to make or receive a phone phone, they’ve worked fine. Audio quality wasn’t particularly good or particularly bad, and people didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding me. I’m probably not the best person to ask about this, though, as I avoid talking on the phone whenever possible.

Speaking of audio quality – as I mentioned before, I am not an audiophile, so all I can really say is that these headphones sound as good, or better, than any pair of Bluetooth or wired headphones I’ve ever owned. I’ve never owned high-end wired headphones though, so take that for whatever it’s worth. While they don’t have any sort of active noise cancellation, I’ve never had issue with ambient noise overpowering them – much to the dismay of my co-workers when they try to get my attention.

Comfort-wise, I have no complaints – with one important caveat that we’ll get to in the next section – suffice it to say that, more than once, I’ve actually forgotten I had the headphones on. You can wear them either “over ear” or “under ear” – I’ve found I greatly prefer the under ear configuration.

The Bad

So, about that comfort thing – while the Bluebuds conveniently come with three sizes of earphone tips, my ears just didn’t agree with the silicon material they’re made of. I couldn’t wear them for more than an hour or two at most without needing to take a break. Fortunately, a bit of Google research led me to Comply’s T-500 Isolation Earphone Tips which are relatively-cheap foam-based earphone tips that, essentially, saved the Bluebuds for me.

It’s fair to ask how I can be so positive about a product that required another product before I considered them 100% usable, but I wouldn’t (and don’t) blame JayBird for this – I’m sure there are people who can painlessly use the included earphone tips, I’m just not one of them.

The Ugly

$137.94. While I truly believe you get what you pay for with these headphones, the price can still be a difficult pill to swallow, especially if your use cases for headphones aren’t as broad as mine. If you just want something for work and for using around the house, I think the S305s are still a great choice.

Conclusion

There are precious few devices that I recommend to others without hesitation or qualification, and the BlueBuds managed to slide into that esteemed category almost without me even noticing. I honestly delayed writing this for awhile, largely because I enjoy them so much that it was hard to write anything that wasn’t just BUY THEM BUY THEM BUY THEM. It’s the same reason I don’t review something like my router or my cable modem – because when technology works well enough, you stop consciously thinking about it.

It is no exaggeration to say I rarely leave the house without taking the BlueBuds with me, whether they are in my ears, dangling around my neck, or stashed away in a pocket. It’s a special type of technology that painlessly dissolves itself into your everyday life and, honestly, that’s the highest compliment I can pay to any device.

“writing about tech” staff accepts the Ice Bucket Challenge

Of course, the “writing about tech” stuff consists solely of “me“, but still…it’s not untrue.

Sorry for the crappy audio; as I said in the video, I only had one shot at this. Alas, I have no idea what the background roar was. I cleaned it up as best I could with the limited tools I had available.

Also, yes, I definitely ripped off the intro to Bill Gates’ Ice Bucket Challenge, and no, I’m not even a little bit sorry.

I can’t believe how fast the new consoles are selling

Arstechnica writes:

Combined, US sales for the Xbox One and PS4 are up 80 percent compared to the first nine months of sales of last generation’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, NPD said. Those consoles sold a combined 3.82 million units in their first nine months in 2005 and 2006, putting current combined US sales of Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles at around 6.87 million.

Even as someone who loves his PS4, I continue to be surprised by how fast both it and the Xbox One are selling. I figured only the more passionate gamers would translate into early adopters, but I guess public appetite for new game consoles is much greater than I (and many others) thought.

The next Tomb Raider is an Xbox Exclusive, because Money.

Polygon writes:

Rise of the Tomb Raider, the next game in the reboot of the storied franchise, will be an Xbox exclusive, Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison announced at Gamescom today.

There’s a quote explaining “why” from Crystal Dynamics, but it may as well read: “You know what we like?  Money, sweet, sweet Microsoft money.  Thanks for buying our last game though, suckers!”.

I can understand why some people feel betrayed, as I think there’s a difference between securing a brand-new IP like Sunset Overdrive, and making the sequel of a successful multi-platform game (a game which, apparently, sold better on the PlayStation) available exclusively on the Xbox. At the end of that day, though, that’s business, and Crystal Dynamics must have been written a pretty huge check to both make the game exclusive and potentially alienate any number of fans.  It’s a gamble and it’ll be interesting to see if it pays off in the long run.

It seems like an especially weird business decision, given that the last Tomb Raider game sold better on PlayStation systems, but I guess Microsoft can write some pretty huge checks.  Either way, I guess Winter 2015 is going to boil down to Uncharted vs. Tomb Raider, and I know who gets my money in that equation.

Next-gen gaming is becoming a service-based industry

Today, Polygon announced:

Hotline Miami on PS4 is cross-buy compatible with is PS3 and PS Vita versions — if you own one of these versions already, then you can download Hotline Miami on PS4 at no extra charge.

This relatively small bit of news today served to highlight something that I think has become more and more obvious in the past few months:

Next gen gaming isn’t about hardware, it’s about software services.

“Software services” don’t sound terribly sexy on the surface, but let me explain.  A couple weeks ago, I went out of town, and that trip happened to line up perfectly with the release of Rogue Legacy on the VitaRogue Legacy (a fantastic game, by the way) supports both cross-buy and cross-save, meaning that when I bought the Vita version, I also got a copy for my PS4.  Not “for an additional fee” – the same game, available on all my Sony platforms, at one price.  While I’ve known of this feature for awhile, I’ve rarely had a chance to leverage it.

Gaming, at its core, is about delighting the user, and let me say – being able to seamlessly resume my game of Rogue Legacy on my PS4 when I got back from the trip was delightful. I’ve used the Kinect, I’ve used the Wii U gamepad, and I’ve used a 3DS, but none of those hardware gimmicks impressed me as much as that.  It feels “next-gen” in a way that those haven’t.

The beautiful thing is, games like Rogue Legacy are becoming more of the rule than the exception.  I purchased Hotline Miami on the Vita a couple years ago, and now I get it on PS4 for free.  Just like that.  When I bought my PS4, there was a copy of Flower waiting for me, because I’d bought it on PS3 five years ago.  Just.  Like.  That.  Every time I see another game announced as cross-buy, it makes me feel, every so briefly, like a company is treating me like a human being, and not just a potential dollar sign.  It’s a fleeting feeling, to be sure, and I know it’s just fiction – but it’s a nice one.

It stands out in stark contrast to Nintendo’s strategy; Shovel Knight, another great game, was released for both the 3DS and the Wii U…but you’ll pay full price if you want to play on both platforms, and there’s no benefit to owning both.  Currently, owning a 3DS gives me no real reason to own a Wii U – and that’s a damn shame, because a few tweaks behind the scenes and Nintendo could easily change that.

Also in stark contrast, unfortunately, are the way AAA games are handling cross-generation titles.  The Last of UsGrand Theft Auto 5, and Sleeping Dogs are all expecting you to double-dip for the privilege of playing them on a new system, leaving it up to retailers themselves to offer you some sort of “upgrade deal”.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to see this changing in the immediate future – but one can hope.

I think the industry has hardware figured out; we know the equation to make a great console, and the PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U are all the result of that equation – now it’s time for the battlefield to move to software and services.  Already we’re seeing that, with PlayStation Plus and Games with Gold both offering great games for free every month, and now EA Access joining the fray.  If Nintendo can work out a similar deal with their own back catalogue, well, then we’d have a real interesting fight on our hands, as I think it’s a largely untapped resource that no other gaming company can truly match.

While I am certainly excited for the potential hardware advances, especially in the world of VR, I am undoubtedly more excited by the potential of software services, at least with regard to its broad impact on the industry.  This generation has the potential to be the most interesting – and, perhaps most important, the most gamer-centric – one yet.

Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe unable to buy their way out of trouble

The Verge writes:

Judge Lucy Koh of California has rejected a proposed settlement by Apple, Google, and other companies that allegedly agreed to not poach or hire each others’ employees. Court documents say that Koh said the $324 million settlement wasn’t high enough to compensate for the lost wages employees may have suffered. The companies first proposed the settlement in April; now, they’ll need to go back to the drawing board and come back with a higher number in order to avoid taking the issue to trial.

Good. These companies consciously fucked over their employees and shouldn’t be able to buy their way out of this.

Twitch is stuck between a rock and a giant bag of dicks

Regarding the Twitch controversy of the last few days, Polygon writes:

I was fucking furious when I first got word of Twitch’s plan to begin muting the audio of archived videos containing copyrighted music.

This move felt actively harmful to me, as someone who has spent over a year building my personal Twitch channel into something I care about strongly. I recognize the need to protect copyrights, and I’m as annoyed as anybody by streamers who play Spotify on top of the games they’re streaming.

The music industry, Chad noted, is notoriously “aggressive [in] enforcing its copyrights in lieu of what may be good business.” He’s careful to remind me that they also have the right to do this, even if it might seem short-sighted. And it’s almost certainly that aggressive-minded music industry that Twitch is trying to sidestep with this move.

Basically, while Twitch could’ve handled this way, way better, the blame mostly falls on the music industry, which continues to be run by giant dickbags who have absolutely no idea how the modern world works.

As much shit as we like to give cable companies and networks for being behind the times, the music industry still seems to largely live in the 1990’s. The more modernization democratizes the distribution of content – music included – the less relevant these pathetic middlemen become. The worst part is, these people apparently see it coming, and rather than adapt and find a way to actually be relevant in the changing world, they continue to desperately fight the inevitable using terrible, out-of-date copyright laws.

Kids these days with their YouTubes and their Twitches

Several of the podcasts I’ve listened to have mentioned that their kids are largely foregoing regular TV in favor of watching people play video games (mostly Minecraft) on YouTube and Twitch.  I didn’t really believe it was that widespread until I saw the results of this survey:

That’s the surprising result of a survey Variety commissioned in July that found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube faves, eclipsing mainstream celebs including Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen. The highest-ranking figures were Smosh, the online comedy team of Ian Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, both 26.

Number three on the list is the infamous PewDiePie, who specializes largely in Let’s Play videos and currently makes about a 4 million a year.  At first glance, that seems insane, but on further reflection…I spent a great day of time as a kid watching people play video games, just in-person rather than online – and you know what?  I loved it.  A few months ago, one of my best friends and I spent the entire day at my place messing around in GTA5, passing the controller back and forth, and it was probably the most fun I had with the game – and that’s in no way a condemnation of the game itself, which I thought was fantastic.

This whole trend is pretty fascinating to me, and I wonder if what impact this coming generation of teenagers is going to have on the entertainment industry.  The common belief is that Netflix and similar on-demand streaming services will continue to gain ground at the expense of standard cable packages, but what if that’s just a temporary thing?  Will these kids “grow up” and move on to other, mainstream form of entertainment the same way kids used to watch Saturday morning cartoons and eventually moved on…or is this an indication of something more, something that many in the entertainment industry – content creators and content distributers alike – won’t even see coming?

I’m more excited about a talking raccoon than I am about a turtle-who-is-also-a-ninja. Strange times.

Polygon writes:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is kind of a mess, but not an unpleasant one. The script is all over the place, with some surprisingly smart scenes, solid action and a profoundly dumb retconning of the turtles’ origin story. There are eye-rolling lines aplenty and a gruesome pizza-related fart joke. It’s not the smartest movie ever made, nor is it the wittiest. And it doesn’t have the same charm as the 90s live action films (at least, the first two). But it is action-packed, more than a little funny, and it never takes itself too seriously.

As pseudo-positive as this review slanted, it basically confirms all my fears. I’ll still see it, because apparently I have no respect for my wallet or my time, but it’s frustrating that a franchise like TMNT doesn’t get the same sort of respect a property like Guardians of the Galaxy gets, even though Guardians is an equally absurd (if not even more-so) premise.

Guardians shows that a movie based on an out-there premise doesn’t have to be stupid to be fun, and I think something as mediocre as as this movie will end up suffering even more than it usually would – both in the eyes of viewers, and in the box office – because of this stark contrast.

Still, at least I’ll (presumably) be able to tell who is fighting who, which already puts it a step over the Transformers movies.

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