Friday, November 19, 2010

...Kodak "Fair Priced Ink" Printers (ESP series printers)

Kodak ESP Printers
Quality: 5 of 5
Value: 5 of 5
Features: 5 of 5
Overall: 5 of 5
Buy Now from
ESP 5250 | ESP 7250 | Black Ink 10XL | Color Ink 10c
Anyone who owns an inkjet knows how terrible ink costs can get. Kodak attempts to solve this issue with their "fair priced ink" printers, the ESP series of printers. The problem is, often times with cheap ink, you get cheap results, and noone wants to spend a hundred dollars or more on a printer to find out the print quality is trash.

I purchased a Kodak ESP 7250 at the beginning of the year for school, hoping it performed at least as well as my Canon and Epson printers previously.

I was very surprised, because it not only met, but exceeded my expectations of a photo printer. One of the common problems with printers that include the print head directly on the ink cartridge (as HP printers) is that the print quality for every printer in the series is identical, and often times lower than the quality of printers that the print head is part of the printer itself (Canon, Epson) but the Kodak ESP printers do a really excellent job with the print head on their ink cartridges. The advantage to this, is that you get a new, clean print head with every ink cartridge, helping prevent long term issues like clogging.

This particular model also features a built in scanner and wifi connectivity, as well as a color display and several memory slots. The printer handles the memory slots very well, and has nice direct printing options if you own a camera but not a computer (rare as that is these days).

It has two paper trays, one for small photo sheets, and a full size tray for regular or photo paper. It also sports a built in duplexer for double-sided printing, very handy for reducing paper. Another neat feature is the printer's ability to detect specially coded Kodak papers and adjust the ink flow, drying time, and color correction to get the best results. This works with any Kodak papers that have the grey or yellow bars on the back.

The print quality on draft is as good as I've seen on normal with all of my previous printers. The printer comes with economy cartridges which didn't last very long, but for replacement ink cartridges I recommend buying the large size instead of the economy size, they'll last a good deal longer and are quite affordable, in the $10-$20 range for each black and color cartridges.

The wifi was fairly easy to set up, although putting in a wifi key takes a bit of time, and both the printer and scanner work well over wifi or USB. The only downside I found was that the scanner over wifi requires using Kodak's utility, while over USB any scanning software works fine.

All in all, I'm very happy with these new printers. While the ink isn't lasting quite as long as the pricier inks, they're much more affordable even after considering the couple extra cartridges a year you may need.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

...Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)
Visual: 5 of 5
Custom: 2 of 5
Realism: 5 of 5
Controls: 5 of 5
Overall: 4 of 5
Buy Now from
XBox 360 | PS3 | PC | Wii
Received my pre-order of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) today, and spent the entire morning and afternoon playing. This game lives up to the Need for Speed name and then some.

Although this is another game review, you'll notice that I'm using a different rating system. This is because I believe people look for different things in different game types.

I've been playing the Need for Speed games for a couple generations now, and this is definitely a rival for the most visually stunning, realistic and fastest I've played. The cars and terrain are rendered beautifully in photo-realistic detail with excellent visual effects and physics that match up well to everything that's going on.

The game truly feels fast, and while the ability to play as either the racers or the cops is inherent to the entire Hot Pursuit line, it really shines in this continuation of the series.

My only real complaint is the lack of vehicle customization. I understand it on the cops side, although I believe that could be done as well by allowing various styles to the paint jobs and various undercoats such as the Viper's dark green haze, but even the racers get almost no customization at all, a huge departure from other Need for Speed games. Basically, as a racer each vehicle has a set of factory colors to choose from and that's it. A few of the cars, like the Evo, are even missing a factory color or two.

The gamepad controls are solid, following the configuration of most other racer games and works well. The cars each handle uniquely and that translates into the gamepad feel as well. I really wish I could track down the official XBox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel since I play so many racers, but it seems Microsoft has discontinues it. Other 3rd party wheels have also been discontinued and are extremely difficult to hunt down, but I'd really like the official wheel due to various bugs reported in the 3rd party wheels.

The online Autolog feature is really nice for comparing stats and achievements with friends, as well as challenging them when you don't necessarily have time to be online at the same time. I didn't get to try the live multiplayer racing, so I'll end it here until I can find some more racers to join.

Overall, this game is a winner for racing fans. Both sides, cops and racers, have interesting and fun challenges.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

...Vanquish (Xbox 360, Demo)

Vanquish - Demo
Visual: 5 of 5
Story: 3 of 5
Controls: 2 of 5
Overall: 3 of 5
Buy Now from
XBox 360 | PS3
Alright, my first real game review, yay.

So, I downloaded the Demo of the XBox 360 title Vanquish and played through the tutorial and a bit of the game. In many ways the game is impressive, and in others it fell short pretty bad.

The game is visually beautiful, the model and textures look great and flow well together. The effects and sounds also work really well for the game, and the voice acting is reasonable, if a bit cheesy, considering it's just a game. The story starts off in a training room learning about your armor and weapons, which makes for a pretty nice tutorial that lets you get used to things without overwhelming you, and you're free to skip the tutorials and go straight to the game, which is always a plus.

The story itself is well put together, although there's complaints from the pre-release game reviewers that the game is very short; about 4hrs give or take. Personally, I don't mind short games as long as they're re-playability is high or they have good multiplayer. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test either of these with the demo.

The game has a feature that lets you slow down time with a burst of adrenaline. It's kind of corny, and worse, you practically have to rely on it to hit targets at the normal distances the game has enemies at. I'm not sure it would even work during multiplayer because it slows down everything in the game to give you time to aim and make minute adjustments.

The controls for this game are extremely difficult to get used to. They're very non-standard, and the positioning of the buttons doesn't match up well with what you're doing. There's many places where I was struggling to crouch, move, aim and shoot at the same time (a necessity in this game) because of the odd controls. Hopefully the full version of the game will have options for customizing this, or have customization patched in quickly to fix the issue.

Overall, the game is pretty interesting, and if you can get past the bad control scheme and aiming difficulty, it's actually pretty fun. But you'd be just as well served with more popular titles like the Call of Duty or the Halo series.

Monday, November 15, 2010


BRINK - Preview
Buy Now from
XBox 360 | PS3 | PC
Back in the day, I used to play a lot of FPS games. We're talking back when the original Doom was top of the line. I played pretty much every game id Software produced at the time.

But something happened starting with Quake 2, and the FPS games just stopped being fun for me. I think this was around the same time that the everyday non-geeks started really getting heavy into gaming. They stuck mainly with the FPS games and didn't spread out into the other styles, and they were good at it. It set new levels of gameplay that I had a hard time keeping up with at the time. But it was more than that, something about the games just weren't fun anymore even playing single player.

So, I spent a decade, give or take, playing other games and while I occasionally touched FPS, they still weren't really there for me yet.

Then came the Tactical FPS. A new style of FPS that focused more on thinking and strategy rather than just running in guns blazing. Battlefield, Call of Duty, Halo (especially Halo 3, ODST and Reach); games that mixed real tactics with a deeper story and helped you feel like you were really involved.

I was slow to join in these, but I did join, and they were fun. They were new and different and I really felt like I was getting better as the tutorials an even the levels themselves taught me new tactics I could use to best the AI and possibly other players.

A lot of this had to do with technological advances in the hardware the games were running on, allowing the game AIs to make more decisions, and allowing the game to support more tactical features without slowing it down.

But lately there's been a bit of a plateau, the games have stopped advancing. They try new things, sure; Vanquish for example is so overloaded with things that, along with it's poor aiming, it's just a monstrosity to even attempt to play. A case of too much, piled on with things that just don't help gameplay and don't make it interesting. The game is beautiful, it has a lot of interesting things, and even a decent storyline, but the controls are just too cumbersome.

In comes Brink, created by the development group Splash Damage.

Being released for PC, XBox 360, and PS3, this game promises to be a complete change from everything FPS has been so far. The game helps relieve a lot of the controls by making choices for you based on how you're moving and where. It will jump over things, climb walls, slide under things all automatically just by you looking at them while you move and press a single action button (at least that's how their videos make it sound). This frees up the rest of the controls for moving, aiming, and primary and secondary weapons, a very modest set used in many other successful titles.

The technology behind it all is called Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain or "SMART", most likely a backronym but fitting if it does everything they claim. SMART is the decision engine behind determining what to do based on your speed, location and obstacles. Impressive technology from everything Splash Damage is claiming.

But it's not the only tech joining Brink. Detailed motion capture is being used to help the game feels more real, along with a whole slew of weapon and other sound bites specially recorded just to give the game authenticity. Even their visual style is new, combining photorealism with exaggerated proportions that make it easy to make out fine details during fast paced action, while at the same time being almost lifelike.

One of the other new tech pieces is the blending of singleplayer and multiplayer allowing players to progress their character offline as well as online. This is combined with a mission system that changes and takes different directions for every character, allowing a truly unique experience for everyone that plays.

Since the game isn't out yet (due Q1 2011) I don't know if it will be everything they claim, but what I've seen so far is pretty impressive, and I certainly look forward to receiving my copy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

...Smart Phones

Being a gadet freak, I go through a lot of phones, and they're pretty much always smart phones. I've owned three different SideKicks, several Windows Mobile and several Android OS phones now. I've also researched various RIM, Symbian, iOS and PalmOS devices over the years.

So why smart phones?

Honestly, I rarely use my phone, I need it for business and emergencies, but I just don't like talking to people if I can text instead. I like the smart phones because of everything else they can do. They're better at texting than standard phones, and there's a huge selection of applications for accomplishing other tasks as well.

I used to own a Palm TX that I used for taking notes, tracking my car mileage, and managing my bank account. It was also handy for carrying documents around in digital form. At the time, there weren't many smart phone choices yet, but I eventually ended up with my first Sidekick.

SickKick's OS is pretty slick for light users, people that just want the social network and mini-games will enjoy this phone, but it's not real strong at anything else. It's just not designed for adult tasks.

Eventually I graduated up to Windows Mobile 6, where I was finally able to start using more business apps and was able to replace all of my Palm TX apps (except my universal remote control, darn them for not equipping smart phones with IR ;).

Windows Mobile was an excellent business platform, and did texting pretty nice as well. But, along with being a tech head, I'm also quite a bit of a gamer. I enjoy more than just mini-games, and honestly Windows Mobile couldn't even do them very well due to it's low end hardware and lack of graphics power.

Symbian and RIM were way too business oriented, and while both are quite strong at business, they weren't "fun" phones to own. RIM was especially prevalent with all the different BlackBerrys coming out on every telephone company imaginable, but Windows Mobile was keeping pace.

After a few Windows Mobile 6 phones, Apple had come out with iOS. And at first, this was great. Apple set a new bar, but unfortunately they made several major mistakes. No MMS, no copy/paste, and stuck on AT&T, who at the time thought a $750 deposit on top of the price of the phone and first month's bill, was a fair price. Needless to say, I passed on iOS because it really didn't offer enough above Windows Mobile to justify the cost.

Then comes the 3G networks, and with them, Android OS.Android OS was, and continues to be everything iOS wants to be but has yet to achieve. Android OS was fun, Android OS was business, and Android OS was social. But most importantly, Android OS is an open platform.Right off the bat, Android OS had everything iOS had and then some, it could even copy/paste, MMS, and was scheduled to launch on several major telecomm networks. Unfortunately, they still lacked enterprise support.

Of course, Apple had to respond, they fixed the missing features in iOS in an attempt to catch up to Android OS. But Android OS's open nature means it continued to evolve and grow, receiving speed, stability, and feature updates including enterprise support all faster than Apple has been able to keep up.

Here we are in the present day, and Apple is still playing the catch up game, as Android OS takes over more and more of the market. Apple releases its pseudo-tablet iPad and finally catches up to the 3G revolution; Android comes out with multiple pseudo-tablet chocies, an eBook reader, dozens of new 3G and 4G phones, and even dedicated GPS devices.

Then all of a sudden, FUMBLE! Apple pushes an embarrassingly broken phone to market. The iPhone 4G and it's broken antenna, video chat that only works on wifi, and nothing new from previous models. But, the raving Apple fans continue to buy it all up, refusing to admit that Apple's broken offering is anything less than perfection.

Honestly, I think the different OSes have their place. For open development, a fun phone with loads of power and customizability, go with Android OS. For business, especially enterprise, go with RIM (BlackBerry). For younger socialites, go with SideKick. And if you just have tons of money to blow on a brand name so you can look cool and don't care about the problems and draconian practices, go iOS.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

...This Blog

No really, I figure a great way to introduce myself, as well as to introduce what this blog is about, is to just jump in and talk about the blog itself.

I've never really been a big blog person; it feels a bit too much like writing a diary to me. But I always enjoy playing with gadgets, games, and basically anything tech related and then telling all my friends what I thought of them. I don't get very emotional or enthusiastic about many things, but technology has always been an exception. I'm just wired for tech I guess.

So it occurred to me, "Why not blogs too? They're tech, right?" and I could use the blog as an outlet to gush, fume, and spam people who actually want to know, instead of just annoying my friends and family.

Congrats, if you stick around, I get to annoy you with my gripes and praises instead *cackles maniacally*

*cough* Ahem, where was I? Oh right, blogs as technology...

So yeah, when you really think about it, blogs are technology. It's amazing how quickly they're grown and changed. Used to be, before they were actually named blogs, people would manually update their little homebrew website every day/week/month by adding in new pages, manually linking them to the main page, etc.

Eventually this led into more formal web applications, and then into social networks. That's right, MySpace, Facebook, and etc are really just blogs, albeit overloaded with non-bloggy features.

What's really interesting, is this trend has sort of gone backwards a bit too. Twitter, along with services like Blogger and Weebly go and take all the fluff back out, stripping the blog back down to its bare essentials.

So we've come full circle, personal websites became web logs, became blogs, became social networks, and then back to micro-blogs. Now on top of that we have video logs or vlogs, which merged with video sharing websites like YouTube and created the "YouTuber", people who run whole shows out of their bedroom, many successfully making a living out of merely sharing their thoughts with you, the viewer.

Props out to these personalities, inspirations like Ray William Johnson, MysteryGuitarMan, and even that annoying Fred guy (Lucas Cruikshank actually, and much as I hate the character, one cannot deny his success). Just by being themselves they've become successes, all with the help of blogs.