Your Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017 roundup

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Samsung announced a new Galaxy Tab S3 tablet, controller for their Gear VR headset and a new stylus but really all anyone gives a shit about is its tease for the new Galaxy S8 phone, which will be launching in New York on March 29th. Instead of announcing the S8 at MWC, they’ll do their best to control the message and exposure by spending millions on their own event.

Nokia has risen from the dead. The iconic mobile phone brand that is now nothing more than a licensed name to another Finnish company, HMD Global, is launching three Android handsets. The best thing about them, they’re running a pure instance of Android Nougat. No third party apps or BS UI changes as well as receiving regular security updates. Win!

Riding the Nokia train, they announced that their recent acquisition, digital health manufacturer Withings, will be rebranded under the Nokia moniker by this (Australian) winter.

Lenovo, also in the business of making phones under iconic brand names announced their new Moto G5 and G5 Plus phones. Both running a bare bones install Nougat they’ll begin shipping in March their backplates branded with that big “M”. Sadly though, neither include NFC however the smaller G5 does have a removable battery if that’s what you’re really after.

If removable batteries are your thing than you can skip over LG now. The experiment that was “modular design” with last year’s G5 is completely gone. The new LG G6 is a return to sanity for the brand – in my opinion – with an increased screen size and resolution, stretching it vertically (2880 x 1440) and reducing it’s bezels even further to almost non-existant. I’m not sure it’s a rival for the upcoming S8 but it’s got a much better chance now.

To round off what is somewhat of a Walking Dead episode-cum-MWC BlackBerry decided to make an appearance with their new KeyOne handset, of course manufactured under licence to someone else, in this case: TCL. The new KeyOne has a physical keyboard, as is iconic to the BlackBerry brand, and like it’s failed predecessor the Priv, is touch sensitive for gesture controls and assignable shortcuts to open particular apps and other cool things. The physical keyboard does of course eat into screen real estate (1620 x 1080) however you’re really buying this for the keyboard and not watching YouTube all day long.

Other notable mentions; Motorola announced a bunch of gadgets under the Moto Mod brand, one of which adds Amazon’s Alexa to your phone, a really stupid nostalgic Nokia 3310 was shown off and Huwaei introduced the new P9 & P10 phones.

March (gaming) madness

There is a gluttony of amazing “triple  A” titles heading our way this March. Too many in fact! I don’t have any idea how I’m going to be able to get through one of these let alone all of them.

If you’re like me and living a time-poor lifestyle then perhaps you’ll only be able to pick out one. To help you decide here’s a run-down on all the major releases and my thoughts after having hands on at E3, PAX or other events along the way. Continue reading

Hands on with the Nintendo Switch

Today I was lucky enough to be invited to a special event in Melbourne that allowed me to have hands-on time with the brand new Nintendo Switch console. Coinciding with the event, Nintendo broadcast a press conference which confirmed the Switch’s release date to be March 3rd where it will be sold in Australia for an RRP of $469.95.

The launch version of the Switch is available in two options, both for the same price, only differing in colour. The standard version we’d all seen at this point, a dark, grey, almost black and the newly announced version in which the Joy-Con controllers will come in neon blue and red instead.

When you buy a Switch this coming March in the box you’ll receive the main console itself (duh!) one set of Joy-Con controllers (left & right), a Joy-Con grip (which you clip them into whilst in docked mode), a Nintendo Switch dock (which plugs into your TV via HDMI & charges/powers the console) and a couple of Joy-Con wrist straps people wont use and likely launch the controller through the TV by accident one day.

That’s great and all but is the Switch actually any good I hear you screaming! To which I reply… yaaaaaarrrsssss-maaaaaaaaybe? shrug

Nintendo Switch red/blue

 

The console itself is impressive. Its ability to dock and un-dock into a handheld device works incredibly well. You can literally lift the Switch out of its dock at any point, slide in your left and right Joy-Con controllers to it and you’re picking up exactly where you left off. Transitioning back is just as easy and takes seconds in either direction.

The moving of the Joy-Con controllers is really the only awkward part. On the back of both the console and the Joy-Con grip are small buttons that release the Joy-Cons and allow them to slide off. They can be a pain to get to but I guess if you’re doing it enough you’d get used to it.

Interesting this is the same way you associate your controllers to a console. By sliding a new set onto the side of the console you’re pairing them to it. This was demonstrated to me a few times as some of the titles on display used four Joy-Cons and needed repairing with a blanket of wireless interference caused by having forty odd consoles in a room.

Nintendo Switch docked

 

 

Sadly it’s this early on the technical side of the Switch beings to let it down. Transitioning maybe easy but your handheld experience is already weakened by the Switch’s 6.2″ screen that in handheld mode lowers its resolution down to 720p instead of it’s conventional docked output of 1080p.

Battery life has been something everyone’s been very keen to know more about and it’s something that will, it seems, forever remain a mystery somewhat. Whilst in handheld mode Nintendo have advised that it could last up to six full hours, however whilst playing more intensive titles this will lower due to a larger power draw on the system’s custom Nvidia Tegra brains. The new Zelda for instance is likely to run for a mere three hours whilst in handheld mode halving the estimated maximum.

Nintendo Switch Zelda docked

Thankfully Nintendo have chosen to use the new USB-C connector on the Switch to allow the console to be charged whilst on the go meaning that it doesn’t always require its custom dock to do so. This is the first time that Nintendo has ever used a standard charging port on any of their consoles, handheld or otherwise.

The Joy-Con controllers feel surprisingly good. Obviously they’re better when in their Joy-Con dock their small version is fine when you’re using a game made specifically for them but they’re kind of ridiculous to use a a full controller alone. The one down side to them (whilst docked) in comparison to your DualShock controller is their triggers. They feel like more of a straight button rather than trigger and I’m not even sure if they have levels of depression like on a standard controller. They’re also very small and the L1/R1 buttons are tiny, so small I didn’t even realise they were there at all until I inspected the controller closely. Also for some strange reason instead of calling them L2 & R2 Nintendo are calling them ZL & ZR, I don’t know why, I didn’t ask and yes it’s dumb.

Nintendo Switch dog

The Joy-Con controllers also have independent rumble features that are pretty remarkable for such small devices. Nintendo are saying the rumble or “advanced HD rumble” as they call it, is so advance you could “for example, feel the vibration of individual ice cubes colliding inside a glass”. Cool? The right Joy-Con also has an IR Motion Camera that can do fancy things like detect how far things are from it and potentially scan an object but we’ll just have to wait and see  how used that feature is.

Mario Cart 8 on Nintendo Switch

The Switch Pro Controller, which is a seperate purchase, feels much more like your traditional console controller. It’s buttons and sticks mimic the XB1 controller’s layout yet feel completely inferior in almost every way. I’m not sure I’d bother with buying it myself, perhaps if it meant I could leave the Joy-Con’s always attached to the console, even whilst docked and then use the Pro that way but for my mind the Joy-Con’s and their dock grip served the purpose well enough to not bother with what feels like a cheap aftermarket controller for your PS4.

The Switch will be the first Nintendo console to release without a Mario game. It’s big drawcard will be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was playable at the event. People have been waiting for this for a very, very long time now and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed once it’s finally in their hands! The game is gorgeous and has a very Studio Ghibli feel to it however I wonder if it’s aesthetic is  still a result of the console’s limitations hardware wise and of course the games compatibility with Nintendo’s most recent failure the Wii-U.

1-2-Switch

The only other launch title is 1-2-Switch. Think Mario Party but way more boring. It’s like a collection of useless mini-games that feel more like a technical demo for the Joy-Con controllers than a real game.

They did have other titles on display at the event such as Splatoon 2, ARMS and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but those will all be coming out later in the year. Of course the major absentee both from launch and being playable at the event is Super Mario Odyssey which was only shown as a trailer.

Splatoon 2

The Switch is an interesting move for Nintendo. It muddies their product waters a little in allowing their main console be completely portable yet has a battery life so low that it can’t compete against it’s portable DS brother. The Switch also continues to remain underpowered and technically inferior to major platform competitors like PlayStation and Xbox yet that has never bothered the Nintendo faithful before. It does lead them back to the same problem of 3rd party publishers ignoring their platform and despite having a Skyrim to come that means nothing if more don’t continue to follow. Something made more than difficult due to it’s specs and thus the vicious circle continues.

Not a Nintendo fan-boy there’s nothing compelling me to spend the money straight away at launch. I can hold off until later in the year when Mario appears and perhaps even until Christmas 2017 when the price will inevitably fall. We should also know by that time if anyone else is truly onboard and if the Switch can become more than a device that’s put away until Nintendo release their next first party title like both the Wii and the Wii-U became.

Nintendo Switch handheld

Stories from a CES Virgin: Exploring Tech West

This is the first CES that I (or anyone from Reckoner) has ever attended. The show, as I’m sure you know, is ridiculously large and instead of even beginning to remotely try and cover it all I’ve decided to write a series of shorter pieces based around what it’s like attending the show for the first time. I’m calling the series Stories from a CES Virgin and you can find all of them here.

Tech West is a hot mess of show floor, meeting rooms and restaurants taken over by brands to showcase their latest products. Spread across The Venetian, Sands and Wynn hotels it covers a huge ground base that extends to the lofty accommodation floors of The Venetian’s towers.

tech-west Continue reading

Stories from a CES Virgin: A day on some of the show floor

This is the first CES that I (or anyone from Reckoner) has ever attended. The show, as I’m sure you know, is ridiculously large and instead of even beginning to remotely try and cover it all I’ve decided to write a series of shorter pieces based around what it’s like attending the show for the first time. I’m calling the series Stories from a CES Virgin and you can find all of them here.

CES is huge. I don’t think there’s any other way for me to put into words just how fucking amazingly overwhelming it is to roam around the Las Vegas Convention Centre (LVCC) for eight hours and come out only seeing two of the three halls that exhibited and that the LVCC is only one of the three “official” areas of CES, called “Tech East”. It’s ridiculous.

tech-east Continue reading

Stories from a CES Virgin: Digital Experience showcase

This is the first CES that I (or anyone from Reckoner) has ever attended. The show, as I’m sure you know, is ridiculously large and instead of even beginning to remotely try and cover it all I’ve decided to write a series of shorter pieces based around what it’s like attending the show for the first time. I’m calling the series Stories from a CES Virgin and you can find all of them here.

Digital Experience (or Pepcom as pretty much everyone calls it) is another showcase, very similar to yesterday’s CES Unveiled but at a different location and with better food. Continue reading

Stories from a CES Virgin: The keynotes

This is the first CES that I (or anyone from Reckoner) has ever attended. The show, as I’m sure you know, is ridiculously large and instead of even beginning to remotely try and cover it all I’ve decided to write a series of shorter pieces based around what it’s like attending the show for the first time. I’m calling the series Stories from a CES Virgin and you can find all of them here.

Falling victim to the same conference stretching that I’ve seen at E3 over the past few years we now head into the second day of events that take place before the official start of the show on Thursday.

Intel, Samsung, Nvidia, LG, Sony, Faraday Future and others all held keynotes today. It’s crazy and there’s no way one person, or even a small team of people can attend and cover them all extensively. This is why, on the advice of someone fare more smarter and experienced with CES keynotes, I chose to go to none of them. Continue reading