Nintendo Switch: Week One Review

Let’s talk about the Nintendo Switch!

DISCLAIMER: The following are my impressions of the console and its launch software after one week; all items discussed were purchased with my own funds, and no one has reviewed this content prior to posting, nor am I being compensated directly by Nintendo or any game publishers for any of this content. All views expressed are my own.

Starting with the hardware itself, I think it is an impressively well-executed product in terms of hardware design. Nintendo has managed to build a system that feels natural as both a portable and a home console, functioning in both modes better than I expected. Despite some concerns with the ergonomics – and most adults will likely have the same reaction when you see how small the Joy-cons are – the Switch doesn’t feel all that bad in-hand. I can use it longer than my PS Vita or DS without any hand cramping when in tablet mode. The ability to use the built-in kickstand and included controller dock helps, as I find that more comfortable for longer play; for use in this mode, the built-in speakers are quite good, while the charger port location on the bottom of the device is unfortunate. The whole docking/undocking experience is pretty great, both with the system itself and the controllers. They nailed that aspect, right down to the “click” sound that the system makes when you slot the Joy-cons in place.

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Android Apps on Chrome OS – Early Impressions and Takeaways

The Chrome OS and Android Convergence

The announcement that Android applications were coming to Chrome OS in 2016 has generated a significant amount of excitement, both in the tech press and with existing Chromebook owners. People have been speculating for years that there would be a so-called convergence between Android – Google’s mobile phone and tablet OS – and Chrome OS, Google’s desktop and laptop OS.

By leveraging the massive library of applications in the Google Play store, merging Android and Chrome OS together would significantly change the Chromebook landscape, adding a wealth of productivity and entertainment options into the Chrome OS world. This would especially benefit Chromebooks that were operating offline, where Chrome OS has much more limited functionality due to its reliance on web apps. It might also solve some of the challenges Google has in the consumer space, such as difficulty with certain types of files (like PDFs), with printing, and an absence of entertainment options, particularly while offline and with regard to games.

At least, that’s been the general line of thinking, and one that I’ve mostly shared. If I were able to install games like Minecraft and apps like MS Word and Amazon’s Kindle app, that would make my Chromebook much closer to a full-fledged laptop, truly eliminating my need for a Windows laptop or Android tablet. This is even more true if Limelight game streaming, PDF apps, audiobook apps, retro game emulation, and easier Printing functionality all come into play.

Obviously, there are many varied reasons why one might be excited to have Android apps on their Chrome OS device. Owners of the Chromebook Pixel 2015, Acer R11, and Asus C100P “Flip” get the first crack at Android apps on a Chromebook.

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Acer Chromebook 14 Review: Close to Perfection

When I first started writing about Chromebooks two years ago, any new hardware release was noteworthy, but today that’s no longer the case. There are dozens of Chromebooks now available, running the spectrum from $149 budget ARM-based machines to high-end showpieces like the Google Pixel that cost $999 and up. There’s much less excitement about a new Chromebook release as a general rule, so OEMs need something new and different if they want to create buzz in the consumer market.

Last year, Asus and Dell were successful at this. Both released Chromebooks featuring high quality industrial design and IPS displays: the C100P “Flip” and Chromebook 13, respectively. The Flip featured a hybrid design with an IPS touchscreen display and aluminum body at a very competitive price, while the Dell features high-grade materials like a magnesium alloy case, an etched glass trackpad, a 1080p IPS display, and a backlit keyboard.

Both of these Chromebooks carried substantial excitement to their release into the market, and they’re both excellent and successful products. That said, neither is what I would consider an ideal consumer Chromebook. The Flip is powered by a budget ARM processor, the Rockchip 3288, and while it has decent performance, it isn’t even as fast as older budget Chromebooks like the Acer C720; furthermore, at only 10″ it has a cramped keyboard that isn’t ideal for long-term use. Alternatively, the Dell 13 is a fantastic traditional Chromebook that gives consumers basically everything they want from a performance and build quality perspective, that comes at a cost: $399 and up. That price point is going to be above and beyond what many consumers want to pay for a Chromebook, which many people still consider a secondary or back-up laptop.

The default “best” Chromebook at the $300 price point right now is, in my opinion, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015 edition. That Chromebook has a gorgeous 1080p IPS display paired with excellent performance from a 5th generation Intel processor, 4 GB of RAM, a backlit keyboard, and powerful speakers. Unfortunately, it also has mediocre battery life, and is a plastic device that suffers from build quality and longevity concerns. Other options at this price point from HP, Lenovo, Acer, and others present a mix of disappointments: larger units that offer less portability, ARM or Intel Bay Trail processors, TN display panels, budget build materials, or some combination of these.

It is this softness at the $300 price point that makes the Acer Chromebook 14 such an exciting product, as it checks off a critical list of five items that have never been seen in a $300 Chromebook before.

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Dell Chromebook 13: Upgrading the M.2 SSD

The Dell Chromebook 13 has finally started to receive discounts, and has periodically been available as a refurbished model through Dell’s online outlet store. This is great news, as the Dell 13 is arguably the best Chromebook release of 2015: click here to read my full review.

I was fortunate enough to grab one of the refurbished $279 Dell Chromebook 13’s with the Intel Core i3 5005U and 4 GB of RAM, which are also on sale new for $429.00 as of this writing. This version has even better performance than the already impressive 3205U Celeron version, while retaining the 1080p IPS display and fantastic build quality.

The Intel Core i3 processor is arguably overkill for a Chromebook, but is an excellent performer in various Linux distributions. Utilizing Crouton – which you can read about here – you can expand the capability of your Chromebook, provided you have sufficient local storage. While this version of the Dell Chromebook 13 only has 16 GB of local storage, the included M.2 42mm SSD can be easily upgraded in a few easy steps!

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Asus Vivobook E200HA Review – Finally, Budget Windows 10 Done Right!

The Asus Vivobook E200HA is a new budget-friendly Windows laptop, replacing the the aging X205TA in the Asus lineup. That device was one of the better sub-$200 Windows 8 laptops when it came out, and featured Windows 8.1, an Intel Atom 3735F processor, 32 GB of eMMC storage, 2 GB RAM, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and a 1366×768 display.

The new Vivobook E200HA ships with Windows 10 installed, and features an upgraded processor: the new Cherry Trail generation x5-Z8300. This is the same processor from the Intel Compute Stick 2016, and is in the same chip generation – but a slower version – as the processor in the Microsoft Surface 3.

Taking the best parts of the X205TA and upgrading the OS, keyboard, trackpad, and graphics processing capability, the new Vivobook E200HA is a compelling budget device from Asus.

Read on for more details about this devices strengths and weaknesses.

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Intel Compute Stick 2016 Review – Proof of Concept for Stick PCs

2015 was the year that HDMI “stick” PCs  moved from the periphery of the market to the mainstream. Intel’s Compute Stick, released for $159.99, had the most buzz of these new Windows PCs, combining a tiny form factor with the power of the Intel brand name.

Unfortunately, it suffered from WiFi and Bluetooth issues, and had just a single USB port. Without reliable access to WiFi and Bluetooth, it couldn’t function effectively as a streaming device, and using a USB hub as a workaround to the single, lonely USB port somewhat defeats the purpose of a tiny form-factor PC that can hide behind a TV or monitor.

For 2016, Intel has a new lineup of Compute Stick PCs hitting the market, kicking off with the February release of a lower-end model, packing an Intel x5-Z8300 processor. Does this version address the issues from last year’s model?

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Retro Review: Asus Transformer Book T100 2014

Tech reviews are all about the latest devices and new releases, but how do these devices hold up over time? How are consumers supposed to determine which devices are worthy of consideration for purchase as a refurbished or used unit?

These are the questions I attempt to answer in my Retro Review series, featuring commonly available laptops and tablets that are worth considering for purchase a year or more after their release date.

Today’s Retro Review: The Asus Transformer Book T100-TAM (2014)

What is it?

The Asus Transformer Book line launched in late 2013, featuring a 2-in-1 hybrid design, and attempted to offer the convenience of a tablet with the functionality of a laptop running Windows 8.1. It featured an Intel Atom processor, a 1366×768 IPS touchscreen display, and an all-plastic body design. An updated version has been released annually since that time, as the initial one was a commercial success for Asus.

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Downwell Review: A Leap of Faith Worth Taking (PC, iOS, Android)

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As Downwell begins, you find yourself in control of a nondescript white humanoid, lounging in a state of relaxation.

Perhaps he’s lying on the bench, or sitting against a tree, or perched, legs dangling over the edge of a well. Press a button and he jumps to life. You can hang around at the top of the well as long as you’d like, but you’ll find there’s nothing to do, nothing with which you can interact.

Downwell never explicitly tells you, “Jump into the well to begin the game” but you know that’s what you have to do. I hope it’s a leap of faith you’ll take, because Downwell is one of the best – and most unappreciated – games of 2015.
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Review: Acer Chromebook R11 including Crouton

The Acer R11 Chromebook is a product with something of an identity crisis. It doesn’t have premium build quality, like the Asus C100P Chromebook Flip. It also isn’t packing impressive performance and hardware at the expense of its build quality, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015.

Made up mostly of white plastic, with a thick, flat design, and packing Intel’s new, but relatively low-end N3150 Celeron processor, the Acer R11 isn’t going to win any awards for design or performance.

I’m really selling you on this Chromebook so far, I know.

While it is true that the Acer R11 is not be the fastest or best-looking Chromebook, there’s also no other Chromebook on the market with the R11’s combination of characteristics. With its 360 degree display featuring an IPS touchscreen, 32 GB of local storage standard, and a quad-core Intel Bramwell processor, the R11 gets many things right despite a first impression that is mediocre at best.

In fact, after using it for a few weeks as my primary laptop, I think this is one of the best Chromebooks available for a wide percentage of the consumer market… or, it will be, once the price drops a bit.

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Budget Desktop Battle: Kangaroo PC vs Chromebit vs Remix Mini

Today’s smartphones and tablets are powered by processors that may be small, but are powerful enough to run full desktop operating systems. This isn’t just a marketing claim, as manufacturers are making desktop computers using mobile processors and components. These devices combine the low cost and tiny footprint of these mobile processors with traditional desktop operating systems and capabilities, allowing for miniature computers that are exceptionally portable.

In this article I will compare three PCs that are all available for below $100, featuring three different operating systems: Windows 10, Android, and Chrome OS. Each has a unique form factor, resulting in varying strengths, weaknesses, and features. These small PCs are a great way to turn a TV with an extra HDMI port into a full-fledged computer, and offer both productivity and entertainment options.

Read on to find out more about these three new micro PCs:

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