Nintendo announces 3DS XL

By Mike on 11:11 am

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If you thought the 3DS wasn't big enough, oh boy, you're in for a treat. Nintendo has announced it will be launching an XL version this summer. Blind grandmas rejoice!

The system has been fattened up to match the size of the older DS XL. It has a 4.88'' top screen and a 4.18'' bottom screen. Nintendo says this offers 90% more viewing area that the original 3DS. Due to it's fatter form factor, it also features improved battery life. According to Nintendo, you can expect up to 6 hours of gameplay, compared to 5 hours on the original.

The XL will retail in Japan starting July 28th for ¥18,900. It will arrive in North America on August 19th for $200, to coincide with the launch of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Initially, it will be available in black, red, and blue.

Courtesy of Kotaku
A couple of curious things have cropped up in the announcement. First of all, the Japanese model will not be shipping with a charger. That will be sold separately. It's mind blowing cheap not to include such a basic accessory. Especially for a device that doesn't take standard AAs. Nintendo sure is adamant about not selling their stuff at a loss. Fortunately the North American model will include one, which makes even less sense. Why include one and not the other?

The second thing I noticed was a lack of a second analogue stick on the XL. I know we've had this discussion before with the PSP. The difference is, Nintendo makes a peripheral that adds a second stick. It would seem logical that the next version would include one built in. Furthermore, the current Circle Pad Pro is incompatible with the XL due to its sheer size. Any game that uses it will lose that feature. It's similar to how Nintendo killed off a bunch of accessories by removing the GBA port on the DS XL.

The timing of the device is also a bit odd. Nintendo did not announce it at E3. Some pundits are arguing that the 3DS is tanking in sales. This doesn't seem to be the case. It has shipped over 17 million units since launch. There's not a whole lot that makes sense about this announcement. The XL already feels half arsed even before it's come out.

Source: Kotaku

Okami HD coming out this fall

By Mike on 10:43 pm

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I'm a huge fan of Okami. It's a masterpiece. One of the few in its genre that can touch the Legend of Zelda.

Which brings me to a fantastic piece of news from Capcom today. It is being remastered in 1080p for the PS3.

Back when Sony re-released God of War, I said that Okami deserved the same treatment. This will definitely put a lot of similes on fans' faces.

Aside from HD graphics, it will also support the Playstation Move. For those who didn't like how motion control worked on the Wii, you'll still be able to the regular controller. Presumably, the game's beautiful soundtrack will also get updated to full surround sound as well. It will launch sometime this fall on PSN for $20. That's a steal for one of the greatest games ever made.

Source: Joystiq
Title image copyright Capcom

The iPad 3 Mega Review takes a bite out of Mike's time

By Mike on 10:57 am

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My saga with the new iPad has been an epic, yellow tinted one. Apple calling it revolutionary is certainly a stretch. It's the Apple equivalent of taking something that exists, and shoving a clock in it. Though sometimes minor improvements can round out a product.

It's funny how Apple's fans expect new and radical products every year. That has never been a part of the company's development cycle. They only completely refresh their stuff every couple of years. What gets released in between is an incremental update. That's what the iPad 3 is. It looks and feels identical to the iPad 2. What has changed is the inclusion of a new full HD display and a faster graphics chip.

The iPad 3 in all its glory

Retina Display: I am Furious Yellow

The new retina display is what everyone came here to see. Apple has doubled the resolution up from the old XGA format (1024x768) to beefy QXGA (2048x1536). So yes, when they say it has a million more pixels than HD, it's true. Because the screen is small, it has a high pixel density; 264 per inch compared to 132 in previous models. The difference is very noticeable. My old iPad has clearly visible pixelation and a screen door effect compared to the new screen. It's not something you notice until you place the two side by side.

The higher resolution makes text look a lot smoother, and thus easier on the eyes. Apps made for the retina display look fantastic, and full HD video almost isn't HD enough. This is what Apple fans have been clamoring for for a long time. At least since the first 1080p Android tabs came out.

I really do love the high resolution. I do not love the screen. Colour rendition on it is worse than previous iPads. Apple sources displays from two companies: Samsung and LG. The Samsung displays have a noticeable yellow tinge to them. I had to return my first iPad 3 because it had a faint yellow blotch off to one corner. When reading text on a white background, in other words all websites, it was distracting. So I brought it back and got another one. Same yellowing though fainter than previous, and even across the whole screen. I can live with that. However, it's not ideal. Especially when spending upwards of $700 on a device like I did. Since it cannot display true white, it's no good for serious photographers. LG displays reportedly don't have this problem. It's a QC issue that neither Apple nor Samsung have addressed. In fact, yellow displays have been a problem for many years. It goes back as far as the original Macbooks if I recall.

iPad 3 top, iPad 1 bottom. Notice the yellowing on the lower right
Whether or not the yellowing if a deal breaker really depends on how bad it is, and what you're doing. If it's blotchy, return it. If you do colour sensitive work, seek out Android alternatives or buy a laptop instead. Reportedly the yellow does go down as the chemicals in the display cure. This is true, but not completely.

The Guts, The Graphics, and the Ram

Apple finally did it. They finally put a full gigabyte of memory into an iPad. Hallelujah!  It really took too long to get to this point. Android tablets had it a full year before Apple did. Sure, iOS does manage memory far better than Google's robotic OS does. Still, you can't pull extra space out your backside. Finally we can open more than two browser tabs without it crashing, or constantly refreshing pages. Of course this memory is shared with the graphics chip. As far as I can tell, the iPad uses roughly 256mb for the OS and graphics.

To match the higher resolution display, graphics have been upped significantly. Double the resolution, double the GPU cores. It sports PowerVR's SGX543MP4 quad core graphics chip. The same one Sony uses for the PS Vita. This puts the iPad, at least technically, on par with the competition as a gaming device. Anybody who has played the NOVA or Infinity Blade series knows just how good games can look on this thing. Plus it can render them in glorious full HD. According to benchmarks, it blows nVidia's Tegra 3 out of the water when it comes to 3D. Very impressive considering nVidia is primarily a graphics company. How embarrassing for them.

Despite the boost in graphics, the CPU itself remains identical to the iPad 2. The same dual core, 1ghz A5. Apple calls it the A5X. The "X" basically means it's the one with the better GPU. Apps that don't rely on graphics will run the same on the iPad 3 as they did on the iPad 2. This doesn't feel like much of a real world upgrade. That Tegra 3 that was slower at graphics? It's quad core and performs quite a bit better at everyday tasks. Especially at CPU intensive jobs like photo and video editing. Two things Apple is really pushing with on iOS.

Unfortunately, Apple has traded off general performance to make the iPad into a game console. As far as I know, it lacks OpenCL/GPGPU support, so that graphics chip isn't really useful outside gaming and watching HD movies. Most users won't notice but power users will. Personally, I would have preferred a quad core CPU. Though that's likely when Apple releases the iPad 4, which will be a full refresh year if trends continue.

For storage, the iPad 3 comes in the same 16/32/64GB flavours as previous models. It still doesn't allow for expandable storage. I've pretty much given up hope that it ever will, at least not officially. So I opted for the biggest and thus most expensive model. I use it like a laptop anyway.$720 for 64gb is a lot, especially at a $200 premium over the base model. The most expensive standalone 64GB laptop SSD I could find was $130, and even that is too much. It's not an apples to apples comparison but still telling. Apple has a huge markup on these devices.

When it comes to storage, Apple should eliminate the 16GB model entirely. It's too small these days, especially with HD video recording now standard. Even 64GB can be constraining if you're a photo or video editor. I would love to see a 128GB model next year. Storage woes of course can be eliminated with a jailbreak and the purchase of the camera kit. Apps like iFile, available on Cydia, allow for external SD card storage.

Take my full HD photograph

I've never really got the concept of using tablets as a camera. It's like whipping out your old time Brownie or Super 8 to take a snapshot. They're just too big and clunky for that purpose. That hasn't stopped Apple from putting a 5 megapixel camera in it, that can also take 1080p video. It's the same one the iPhone 4S has. Does it take good photos? Well, that depends. It takes pictures as good s as the iPhone does. Video seems grainy though, even in full light. It's like someone forgot to turn the gain off.

The iPhone 4S
iPad 3

One curious thing I just noticed it the iPad doesn't have a flash. The iPhone does. It's not a good one but it does have it. Seems like an odd design choice. I can't even use my iPad as a $720 flash light.

New apps a ... few?

I'm not going to review iOS 5 here. This is just about the iPad 3, not the OS that was already widely available. New apps for it? There are none. It has the same default apps as the iPad 2 does. Apps have received small enhancements to work with the retina display, or take advantage improved camera and the beefier GPU. iOS 6 is around the corner and promises a lot of new stuff. For now, it's more of the same.

Odds and Sods: battery life and networking.

The new GPU consumes a lot more power. The iPad 3 runs noticeably hotter when you push it. Thus it requires a more juice to run it. The 42.5Wh battery is almost double the size of the iPad 2's 25Wh pack. Since the graphics chip is so hungry, it only gets the same 10hr battery life. I dream of an all-day tablet. One that could happily take me through an entire plane ride to Hong Kong and still have enough left to find a good restaurant and locate my hotel. That's still a long way off. With current tech, it just requires too many tradeoffs. The iPad 3 is already slightly larger than the iPad 2 as a result of it's larger battery. Apple wants to keep them thin and light, and the original iPad is a brick by comparison. Still, 10hrs is enough for most people, as long as you cool it on the games. In that case, the iPad gets the same battery life as the Vita does.

Thin, especially compared to the iPhone 3G
As for connectivity, we've seen a few notable changes. The iPad 3 has been upgraded to 4G LTE networking, provided you get the cellular model. That privilege comes with a price. It's a $130 premium over the WiFi models. Don't forget that you must buy a monthly data plan with it as well. Costs add up.

I suspect most people will opt for the WiFi model. You get the same 802.11n connection as previous iPads. Performance is nothing to write home about. WiFi on mobile devices always seems slower than it is on laptops and desktops. There is a reason for it that has to do with power limits, or something like that. New is Bluetooth 4.0 support. What does that do? Not much really. It features a new low energy mode, presumably for low bandwidth devices like keyboards and mice. Nothing really uses it right now.

Last and least, the iPad 3 has the same dock connector that every iDevice has. That's good since it's compatible with the same things. Rumour has it that Apple plans on ditching it for a new proprietary port. Guess you'll have to rebuy your dock, camera kit, and every other accessory once the iPad 4 rolls around. They must have wanted to pull a Sony. Seriously, just stick USB or Thunderbolt on it and be done with it.


The iPad 3 is a good inclusion to the iPad line. It's a solid piece of hardware, as one would expect from Apple. The Retina is gorgeous and it does more of the same, faster. However, it does have some notable flaws. It's still overpriced compared to feature rich Android alternatives. The yellowish screen and lack of external storage also grind my gears.

If you don't have an iPad, this is the only one to get. If you already have a previous model, should you upgrade? For owners of the original iPad, like myself, this upgrade is a no brainer. The first model runs like a molasses brick. The full gigabyte of memory is enough reason alone; because using 256mb is just painful. For iPad 2 users, consider this the iPad 2S. It's a little faster and looks a little better, but not really enough to justify plopping down five fat bills.

Score: 8 out of 10

What Works:
-Retina display makes text and video look gorgeous
-Faster GPU finally brings us near-console quality games
-Snappy at everyday tasks make this a must own for iPad 1 owners
-Beefier battery yet still thin and light, gives you 10hrs use
-High build quality
-LTE 4G cellular connectivity

What doesn't work:
-Yellowish tinge on models with Samsung manufactured displays
-Lack of external storage, internal getting too small
-Average battery life despite double sized battery
-Nothing new on the software front
-Camera quality just average, video camera grainy
-Still overpriced compared to Android models
-Would have preferred a quad core CPU

Title image courtesy of Tablet News

Expensive cables are a scam

By Mike on 10:37 pm

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I've talked about expensive cables before. It's something I keep needing to address. There's no way to sugar coat the truth here. They're a scam, plain and simple.

We've all been there before. You just bought a new HDTV and the salesman shows you a wall of $100+ HDMI cables. He claims they'll give you the best picture and sound on your new investment. There is a very small grain of truth to this. Better quality cables do produce better quality signals. These cables have a lower electrical resistance, which means signals pass through easier. However, this only comes into play for very long runs; 50 feet or more. It doesn't apply for the short runs in most home theatres. The $5 cable will look and sound as good as the $100 cable, guaranteed. Digital signals either work or they don't. There's no middle ground.

The same applies for analogue signals. There is a middle ground as the signal can deteriorate over the run. However, cheaper cables generally provide an identical audible signals as more expensive ones. Once again, higher end cables only make sense for very long runs. Far longer than what most home listeners would require. One particular company is selling a 1.5m run of 3.5mm male to male cables for $1,200. You can purchase 1000 foot spools of professional grade AV cable for this much. The same TV stations use for uncompressed HD camera streams. You're wasting your money on a brag item that's going to make no noticeable difference over the $5 radio shack cable. Please, just stop the madness.

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