Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic mini-review

Nokia 5530 XpressMusic is a slim, light and cheap Symbian smartphone. Jennifer have had this for the past four months and according to her, it is an excellent replacement to her cheap and cheerful Nokia 5310 XM. It has no 3G on board (not a huge issue to her), but it does have built-in WiFi.

The Good
- Cheap!
- High resolution screen (360x640 pixels) with good clarity outdoors.
- Slim and light (107g) modern design. It fits your palm perfectly. Easily the slimmest smartphone with a touchscreen I've ever used.
- Sync'able address book, calendar, task list and memos with Outlook.
- Incredibly good audio quality (with a proper headphone or IEM)
- microSD card slot is compatible with high capacity microSDHC - works with 16GB card, possibly 32GB, also hot-swappable.
- Industrial standard 3.5mm headphone.
- WiFi 802.11b/g, Quad-band GSM, Bluetooth 2.0 EDR+ (with A2DP), IrDA and USB 2.0 connectivity.
- 3.2MP camera with 30fps VGA video recording. The quality is similar to the Nokia E55, but with the added advantage of auto focus and macro focusing.
- Support for USB mass storage (MTP and UMS).
- Appealing and youthful design.
- Has an accelerometer for switching orientations, silencing calls and snoozing alarms.
- Whilst made of plastic, the build quality is excellent.
- Battery life is pretty good. It can last several days with moderate usage.
- I actually prefer the resistive screen technology used here, but I do know there are capacitive screen fanboys who would disagree.
- No crappy N97-like widget-based homescreen. As a widget hater, this is a huge positive in my books.
- Removable battery, duh.

The Average
- Series 60 5th Edition isn't as mature as S60v3.
- Battery life is average lasting 2-3 days per charge with light text, calls and music playback.
- Average processor speed, which is slower than my E55, but the same speed as the pricier N97/N97 Mini.
- Only 20+MB available RAM on boot. Not a disaster, but power users on a budget will be left wanting.
- A 4GB microSD card is included.

The Bad
- No front camera means no free video calling via Skype.
- Symbian^3 unlikely to be made available for this, if Nokia's track record is anything to go by.
- No built-in GPS, but you can't really argue at this price point.
- Firmware updates has been rare.

Camera samples:

f/2.8, ISO 224, 1/20 sec (default with flash)

f/2.8, ISO 239, 1/20 sec (macro mode)

f/2.8, ISO 276, 1/8 sec (night mode)

f/2.8, ISO 74, 1/500 sec (macro mode)

f/2.8, ISO 97, 1/1000 sec

f/2.8, ISO 97, 1/1000000 sec


The 5530 may seem like a 'my first smartphone' phone, but it is surprisingly versatile and works just as well for power users. Mind you this isn't her first smartphone (she had a HTC Magician once, and has plenty of experience with plenty of Palm and Sony Clie PDAs). If she is happy with it (and she is), I think Nokia succeeded. The 5530 XM is the perfect smartphone for people on the budget or who see little points in paying £150 for a smartphone. In fact she can do plenty of things on this (twitter, e-mail, gaming, music, videos etc.) that other more expensive rivals (including those by Nokia themselves) can do as well. A snip at £89.

The biggest issue with this is the lack of maturity with the Symbian S60 5th Edition platform. Whilst I am a huge fan of S60v3 (the UI on modern none-touchscreen Symbian phones), and quite like the UI on S60v5, it just isn't quite there yet. Yes I do know about the upcoming Symbian^3, but it is very unlikely that Nokia will make Symbian^3 available on the 5530. Their track records says so. Despite that there are plenty of third party applications for the platform and we've had no problems sourcing freewares to fill in the missing features that Nokia has failed to include.

The 5530 XpressMusic is a capable cheap smartphone platform with plenty of power for users to take advantage of. For £89 (the price we paid back in December) unlocked from the Carphone Warehouse, it is a bargain.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Metroid: Other M gameplay

Dear Wii developers (including you Nintendo): more games like this please. My dusty Wii (currently in storage) demands so.

Monday, March 29, 2010

US Christian terrorists charged

Or so the headline should have read, if the terrorists were Muslims that is. But apparently only Muslims can be called terrorists, where as Christians terrorists, like this so-called Hutaree and the Irish Republicans, are militias or at worst, dissidents.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Snowdonia trip

We were at Snowdonia for a couple of days. Walked up Moel Siabod on the first day and were rewarded with (almost) clear view of the Snowdon massif, the Glyderau and the Carneddau range. The walk was a quiet one (we only met one other walker later on) and we had the summit to ourself the whole half an hour we were up there (having lunch). The weather otherwise was pretty awful (60mph winds, 70mph gusts), which made it a pretty nerving experience when descending the mountain. The rain didn't help either.

Also did a couple of small walks around Betws-y-Coed, Beddgelert and Porthmadog the next day, where we had to hitch two separate rides (thanks!) in order to return to our hostel in Capel Curig. We were planning to head up Tryfan on the final day, but due to the weather we decided to just leave it until the next time we return.

The trip did expose how unfit I've allowed myself to get into since my Lewes to Eastbourne via the South Downs Way walk back in September. As spring is here, am really looking forward to more hillwalking excursions.

Nokia E55 gets v33?

According to AAS, a new firmware is available for the Nokia E55, taking it from v31 to v33. It is apparently "available widely for all unbranded handsets" - those are the words of AAS BTW. Which is obviously a stupid statement to make (have they checked?). There has been no firmware updates for my unlocked and unbranded UK E55, and I've checked using OTA (*#0000#) and also via Nokia Software Updater. In fact the more than a month old v31 isn't even available for my E55!

AAS needs to stop spouting nonsense and speculations as facts. Just because their review units are capable of receiving updates does not mean ours can. What does this lack of firmware updates for UK phones mean? Well it means Nokia UK are really made up by a bunch of truly incompetent people who hates the customers who feeds them.

But what this really and truly means is that my next Symbian smartphone may just be a Sony Ericsson.

23/03/2010 update:

Gosh, that was quick. NSU just picked up the v33 update, thus bypassing v31 altogether. I am downloading it as we speak (it is a massive 152.2MB in size). Ovi Maps 3.3 in ROM is going to be lovely.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Opera Mini 5 and Mobile 10 released

Opera has finally unleashed the release version of Opera Mobile 10 and Opera Mini 5 on Symbian, Windows Mobile and that not-really open source whatshisname. Opera Mini 5 is a Java application where websites will be 'cleaned up' and images compressed on the server side before being sent to the client (thus saving the user precious mobile bandwidth), where as the native Mobile 10 will crunch the data on the phone itself.

Speed is noticeably quicker on the new versions compared to the old Beta 2, in both rendering and UI navigation itself. The biggest issue I have is the lack of ability to delete Google as the default search engine. For all the wolf cries Opera has been making to the EC in forcing Microsoft to install a browser ballot on their desktop OS, I find that Opera are a bit hypocritical for not allowing me to easily switch the search engine.

Minor issue aside with the search engine, Opera Mini 5 and Mobile 10 are great alternative browsers for your smartphone. Go download now.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII extended impressions

As you know, I wasn't very impressed of Final Fantasy XIII when I first played it. Twenty hours in and things have improved somewhat. I still had to plough through about 15 hours of utter boredom as the story is blighted by petty talk, in-fighting and the lack of cohesive directions, but at least the game is slowly coming together.

The new Role system is similar to the old Job system. This allows the player to somewhat customise the characters through six roles: Commando, Ravager, Sentinel, Synergist, Saboteur and Medic. The actions the characters perform during battle will depend on the roles currently assigned to them, for example a Medic will heal where as a Synergists will buff and a Ravager will focus on using elemental offenses. The role of each character can be switched on the fly via the Paradigm Shifts system.

While the Paradigm System is a dumbed down version of Final Fantasy XII gambits, I am finding myself enjoying the new battle system, which works half way between the fantastic Active Dimension Battle of Final Fantasy XII and the old ATB series staple. Switching A.I. on the fly is still good fun but I do find the battles as a whole much much easier than the previous title - and I haven't even started grinding yet. Crystarium is a rejigged Final Fantasy XII Sphere Grid but in 3D. It is a clusterfuck system and it gives me a headache everytime I use it. It is a pathetic replacement to the more intuitive License Board.

Weapons and accessories can be upgraded using loot (spoils) gained during the course of the game. These can be sold or dismantled to gain new materials to be used as further upgrades. Because there is no traditional levelling up system in place, it is generally more important to spend more time levelling up the weapons and accessories.

Both me and my partner agree. We love the art direction, character design etc. of Final Fantasy XII more. If you are a Final Fantasy X fanboy/girl you will be happy with the art direction here. Visually, the game is disappointing. Frame rate is very consistent during the most important bits - the combat, so nothing to complain about here. But while it does contain more polygons and better textures, it just kinda looks like a 720p Final Fantasy X game, but with the added advantage of a free camera. The pre-rendered cutscenes are stunning, but then so were the ones in the previous titles.

The linearity isn't bothering me as much as I thought it would be. There are some nook and crannies to look for treasures, but that's about it. I like towns, but do not mind the lack of towns in here either. In any case the lack of exploration do annoy me somewhat, but then again the architecture design here is so awful I didn't feel like doing much exploration anyway even if given the chance...

Bar Lighting, all the main playable characters have really forgettable design and are annoying to boot. There are three kind of voice acting in this game: brilliant (Lightning), competent (Fang) and awful (the rest). Shame that Lightning only ever speaks once every millennium. The plot is convoluted mess, especially in the beginning. But the story is slowly and beginning to get a little bit more interesting as my party (spoilers!) found themself ditched on an ancient arc after getting their arse kicked by a pope who I can't even bother remembering his name (end spoilers!).

The composer is the same guy who composed the score for Final Fantasy X and Dirge of Cerberus. That pretty much tells you all you need to know (that the soundtrack is shit). I play mainly with the volume turn all the way down just not to disturb my partner and never miss it. In fact I was seriously tempted to play the soundtrack of Final Fantasy XII (scored by Hitoshi Sakimoto - the same composer to the excellent Valkyria Chronicles and Vagrant Story) whilst playing this. A Jpop mix - seriously? It works for Persona 3 because the tracks fits the game style and location, but not here.

I am beginning to feel that Final Fantasy XIII is last-gen game moonlighting as a current-gen game in that shiny Bluray disc. It just plays and feels like one (just like Final Fantasy X felt like a PSone game), albeit with upgraded graphics. Well historically it is, as development started out as one but it has been more than three years since the PS3 was released (we have had two sublime Uncharted games for goodness sake!).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII first impressions

So I got Final Fantasy XIII, much to my surprise (was a surprise gift). Have been playing for about an hour or so, so beware that this is just an initial first first impression (more like a hands-on).

In-game visuals isn't as impressive as all the hype has led me to believe. The characters are pretty darn poor, in design and their personality. The voice acting ranges from mediocre to downright cringe worthy. Gameplay wise, can't say I enjoy the separate battle screen but at least it isn't as bad as I thought it would be. It still ain't Final Fantasy XII though. Basically I can only control one party member (others are on auto, Persona 3-like) and so far all I do is press X for attack and occasionally on potions duty. I loved Persona 3, so this isn't a bad thing. It has been an easy first hour though (HP automatically refilled after every battle), such is Square Enix's desire to making it easier for the lowest common denominator.

Rather surprisingly Lightning has been the most likeable character in the game, in terms of her voice acting and character design. The rest are just so... well, unlikeable. Obviously with only one hour under my belt, I am sure that each character's back story will be examined (well, at least I hope so). I just wish their design weren't so... crappy. Sazh is one annoying guy who follows Lightning around, likely to be included as comic relief (he has a Chocobo pet). There's another typical Tetsuya Nomura playable character (called Snow - puke!) and is supported by a Blanka-like monkey, a girl who only wears underpants and is followed by a Jax-like (Naughty God) character (design wise anyway as he is a total coward). Square Enix better make Nomura take a break after this. Perhaps even swallow their pride and throw big money at Yasumi Matsuno whilst taking an ad on a big national paper apologising to the way they treated him.

I was initially reluctant to take much note the complaints regarding linearity. After all there has been plenty of A+ games in the past (Uncharted 2, God of War series, Mirror's Edge) that are linear including Final Fantasy ones. But it has just been a straight line - literally! I do hope things improve quickly, but various online reviews do indicate that I would need to play through about 20 hours of shit before hitting the good stuff. Fingers crossed they are right as I would be mighty pissed.

At any rate, after this unexpected procurement, I'll have to put on hold my plans for God of War III. Killing Zeus and sexing up Aphrodite will just have to wait for next month whilst I see what the fuss the first title in the Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy XIII​ world is all about.

Final Fantasy XIII is out today

Final Fantasy XIII is out today and if I have to be very honest, this is the first time ever I am not too bothered about getting a numbered Final Fantasy game.

I absolutely disliked Final Fantasy X and loved my time with XII (one of the best games I've ever played, IMO), and judging by the reviews I have read, XIII has everything I disliked about X, and dispenses of everything (from gameplay to art direction) that made Final Fantasy XII such an epic game. I am aware that I shouldn't prejudge but this is something many people can't help doing.

I still want to play it, and will likely do so in the next couple of months, but with God of War III coming out (and I haven't played the HD remake of I & II yet), Square Enix will just have to wait a bit longer before getting my money. It just isn't a priority any longer.

But if one of the supermarkets have it for cheap I may just get it today. ^_^

Anyway sorry for making you read this shit.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Heavy Rain Chronicles: The Taxidermist DLC review

The Taxidermist is the first of the Heavy Rain Chronicles downloadable 'episodes'. It comes bundled with the special edition version of Heavy Rain (HMV exclusive in the UK, probably pre-order bonus in other countries) and is rumoured to be made available on PSN later this week.

Each Heavy Rain Chronicles episodes will examine an event relating to one of the four main characters before the event of the main game. The Taxidermist stars Madison Paige, the journalist who is investigating someone whom she suspects as the Origami Killer. Spoilers warning!

The (only) setting of the game is a shabby house not too dissimilar to Ethan's post-Joshua era. There are five total endings to be found and each can be gained depending on the actions of Madison. The first time I played Madison accidentally broke one of the taxidermist's 'collection' which alerted him when he arrived home. This ultimately led to Madison being chased around the home before being killed. Or you can have Madison be a bit less reckless or clumsy whilst investigating before making her escape when the killer returns.

Those who has played Heavy Rain and has been hoping that The Taxidermist will focus on Madison's back story (for example the origin of her insomniac condition that has been mentioned plenty of times in the main game) will be disappointed. Alas perhaps some things are always meant to be left vague but again perhaps Quantic Dream is planning more Madison related DLC. The cynical person in me believes so.

As to whether The Taxidermist is worth the price of admission, I can't answer that as Sony has yet to release pricing details. The storyline isn't all that great and does not contribute in any way to the original story. In fact all five endings can easily be obtained in about an hour or two. Still The Taxidermist gameplay felt fresh compared to the main game. The stealth approach to gaining a few of the endings is something very different to the vanilla Heavy Rain game.

Personally I believe that it is worth no more than two quid (or about US$2.99) and only if you are a fan. It just felt more like a demo. Overall, a good add-on, but a very short one.