Monthly Archives: October 2015

Retro – Review: Halo 3

The final instalment of the original story arc was always going to have to be something special and it delivered. Personally I have found memories of the games release in 2007 as a friend and I hooked the Xbox 360 up to my dad’s projector and surround sound system. The hours of gaming that followed as we ran through the campaign on heroic always comes to mind any time I play the game. So what made Halo 3 almost the perfect shooter…

Game play

Like Halo 2 the major format of game play remains largely unchanged from the original but adds a couple of new elements. The inclusion of “support weapons” made it easier to take down large groups of Brutes or vehicles. Extra firepower comes at a price as caring the two handed weapons prevents you from using grenades and slows movement. Limited ammo in “support weapons” means that you can’t hang on to them forever which prevents the game from getting easy.

The other major addition to overall game play was the introduction of deployable equipment which includes grave lifts, energy drains and different shields among other things. These items can be picked up and swapped like weapons depending on your tactics. This new feature is helpful in campaign but really comes into its own during multiplayer due to the faster pace. While some equipment is clearly more useful then others it does provide players with more opportunity to change their strategy which for me has always been important to the success of Halo.

Multiplayer

Along with the general game play additions Halo 3 introduced a couple of new multiplayer features which allowed it to capitalise on the strength of Halo 2. The most revolutionary element of the game is the introduction of Forge a personalised multiplayer map system which allows players to change the location of vehicles, weapons and items. Historically I haven’t been a massive online gamer and have only briefly tested this out but I can definitely see its appeal.  Considering this It’s not surprising that 343 have promised to add Forge to Halo 5 with an update.

Personally, my favourite multiplayer option has always been cooperative normally on a split screen. Halo 3 unlike most games didn’t ignore this method of gaming as it introduced online cooperative for the first time and to capitalise on players’ competitive nature this included a points rank system. This feature provided a lot of potential which is set to be recognised in Halo 5 as players all had original characters; Master Chief, The Arbiter and two elites. Unfortunately, in Halo 3 game play is the same for all characters which is where Halo 5 will take the next step.

Storyline & Setting

The main campaign starts from where Halo 2 unceremoniously left fans hanging and picks up the story with Truth’s forces occupying part of earth. The first part of the game sees the Chief hook up with some old friends to regroup before moving to attack. At first it’s a bit odd playing through Halo without Cortana’s usual commentary but we are constantly reminded of her presence due to some quick flashes.

Despite your best efforts the Chief can’t stop Truth from reaching the Ark but before he can follow the The Flood crash High Charity into the remains of the city. Thankfully this gives the Chief the opportunity to keep a promise and save Cortana before traveling through the portal to stop Truth and The Flood.

Unlike Halo 2 the campaign is hugely satisfying as it incorporates customary Halo twists where the Chief finds himself temporally allied with different enemies and more importantly an ending. The storyline even works on character development with the forming of a friendship of sorts with the Arbiter and a clear progression of the relationship between Cortana and the Chief which becomes central to Halo 4. In the main storyline Halo 3 even gives homage to the original which gets the nostalgia really flowing and is a real payoff for diehard fans.

Overall

Halo 3 is the most complete game in the series as it continues to develop game play in small ways while retaining the formula that has made the series a success. In addition, it builds on the strengths of Halo 2 while clearly making an effort to improve open it’s weakness through a well developed central storyline. If this is the way the world ends, I’m cool with it.

Game play: 9.5

Multiplayer: 9

Storyline: 10

Overall: 9.5/10

Jono

Retro-Review: Halo 2

After the success of Halo it was only a matter of time before Microsoft and Bungie released a sequel. The wait was infuriating! Catching glimpses and news in gaming mags just made me more impatient. Thankfully with a 2004 release it wasn’t really that long and boy did it deliver. Before getting stuck in it’s worth noting that a sequel is unusual in shooters as most successfully franchises like Call of Duty don’t have any continuing storyline which is more often seen in action RPG’s like Mass Effect, making Halo a unique oddity.

Game play:

Unsurprisingly Halo 2 was never going to deviate too far from the “golden trinity” of it’s predecessor but it did make a few noticeable improvements to the formula. Most notably was the addition of dual wielding at the expense of grenades and mêlée attacks. Like the two weapon restrictions introduced with Halo: Combat Evolved this meant that players had to think strategically about there load out based on enemies and terrain. My personal favourite combination has always been the plasma rifle and SMG which helps bring down shields while also having a good balance of ammo. Duel wield was the most obvious omissions from the original so it was a really welcomed addition and unsurprisingly has become a mainstay of the franchise since.

Earth bound and duel wielding the Master Chief in Halo 2

The second major addition was the ability to hijack enemy vehicles. Not only did this open up a new range of tactics in campaign to deal with wraths but it was also a great feature for multiplayer. I no longer even need a shotgun to take out a ghost, I’ll just kill them with their own. One other element here that probably goes unnoticed is the increased vulnerability of vehicles especially the Scorpion which meant that players needed to act quickly to preserve their asset rather then laughing at the army of Ghosts providing a futile light show.

Of course Halo 2 also introduces new enemies, weapons  and vehicles all of which have an impact on overall game play. Whether it is the Semi Automatic Battle Rifle or the Carbine the introduction of these mid-ranged weapons definitely had an impact on my load out. I always try to have at least one since they compensate for the rarity of a Sniper Rifle and are easier to use in close quarters. At the same time what might initially seem like just an expansion of the Covenant and a means of adding variety to game play, the introduction of the Brutes, ended up being a key plot point that impacts the rest of the saga.

Multiplayer:

This is where Halo 2 really distinguishes  itself from the original as it introduces online multiplayer via Xbox Live for the first time. Hardly the first online shooter experience one of the games largest developments was the revolutionised playlist method of match making. This combined with a skill matching system meant players could quickly find games and weren’t put off by long wait times. Matches themselves used a variety of regular formats like slayer, king of the Hill and capture the flag but online play adds that little extra difficulty as you can’t see your opponents screen. This coupled with the style of Halo’s game play meant that matches are often very intense especially on smaller maps with grenades flying everywhere. Considering this I’m not surprised that Halo 2 remained the most popular game on Xbox live until the release of Gears of War in 2006.

Storyline & Setting:

A sequel was always going to challenge developers to build on the original while trying to broaden the Halo universe in a way that engaged fans. Towards this end the game introduces us to the Arbiter, the Covenant commander embarrassed by the Master Chief’s destruction of halo. These alternating missions does make it easy to include more detail about the Covenant’s hierarchy and beliefs which are central to the overall plot as it explains their fascination with the rings. Playing as the Arbiter is jarring at first as the first stage seems to jump backwards from the Master Chiefs defence of earth.

This improves once the Covenant fleet arrives at the newly discovered Halo ring just in time to witnesses  the Master Chief’s defeat of the Prophet Regret. ‘The Library’ in Halo 2 brings back a few memories but the overall design demonstrates that developers have learnt from the original as the stage is far less repetitive and offers more variety of game play. Experiencing the conflict from both sides does raise an interesting problem, what happens when the two protagonists meet?

Like the original, Halo 2 solves the problem by tipping the Halo universe on its head. The introduction of the Gravemind refutes any previously held beliefs about the Flood as a simply unintelligent parasite and is the catalyst for a temporary alliance. Stemming from this and the Prophets betrayal the outbreak of civil war between the Elites and the rest of the Covenant sets up the games climax and the progression of the plot for Halo 3.

Unfortunately, these plot twists does mean the campaign has an unfinished cliff-hanger which left me really unsatisfied the first time I clocked it on heroic back in 2004. Combined with the length this made me just wanting more. Not necessarily a bad strategy for developers already working on the a third title but it does noticeable detract from the overall experience especially when back then I was primarily a solo gamer.

Final thoughts

A quick mention goes to the audio team which also didn’t rest on their achievements as the addition of electric guitar to the main theme worked wonders. Anytime the action is a bout to kick up a notch the heavier theme kicks into gear and helps getting the adrenaline pumping. In fact since Halo 2 the iconic riff always comes to mind when I think of the Halo series rather then the earlier version.

Halo 2 delivers everything I expect from a sequel with improved game play and a broadening of the Halo universe. Additionally, Bungie showed their willingness to continue to innovative with the introduction of online multiplayer which has become the centre piece of the Halo franchise since. The only real criticism I have of Halo 2 is the length and conclusion of the campaign but after a few years and the ability to jump straight into Halo 3 I’ve gotten over the sour taste.

Game play: 9.5/10

Multiplayer:  9.5/10

Campaign: 8/10

Overall: 9/10

Check out my look at Halo: Combat Evolved or stay tuned over the next few days for my take on Halo 3.

Cheers,

Jono.

Retro – Review: Halo – Combat Evolved

Less than 10 days out from the release of Halo 5: Guardians I thought it was the perfect time to look back on each chapter of the Master Chief’s journey so far, starting with the game that started it all way back in 2001. Back then after a Nintendo 64 I was tossing up between a PS2 or jumping on board Microsoft’s new Xbox. Not invested in any PlayStation titles due to my previous experience with the N64 Halo was one thing that helped me reach a decision, one I have never regretted. This is all easy to say but what has made Halo, one of the most successful franchises in gaming and allowed it to revolutionise the first person shooter?

Gameplay

In the late 90’s the first person shooter was dominated by Rare’s Goldeneye and Perfect Dark with an overflowing bag of weapons with multiple firing modes, duel wield and different level objectives. Halo was a departure from this formula as for the first time it introduced a two weapon cap on players which means you had to think about your load out, ammo and the terrain. The addition of grenades and mêlée attacks without holstering your weapon enhanced the speed of combat making it more intense than other shooters at the time. This combination, Bungie’s “golden trilogy” is a large part of Halo’s success as it added strategy to the well-established run and gun experience.

Halo never just relied on the traditional FPS format however as after the first stage the straightforward “The Pillar of Autumn” players are quickly introduced to more open environments with a range of more complex objectives. Once the Chief crashes on the ring the game takes on a whole new life with the addition of a range of vehicles from Warthogs to Banshee’s. Not only does this continue to add diversity to the campaign but vehicles have become a key element of the multiplayer experience. I will never forget taking out a guy in a Scorpion with a shotgun and then repeating it with his brother in a Ghost, priceless.

This diversity is definitely a highlight of the first part of the game whether it’s the covert start to “The Truth and Reconciliation” or the playful beach combing of the “The Silent Cartographer” the game just draws players in with the combination of elements. Unfortunately, the only criticism I have is that some of the later maps just can’t keep this up and become a little to repetitive. In part this is because you are in fact back tracking at times through the same environment while fighting the Flood. Even so Halo’s game play developed a winning formula which has now redefined the way gamers approach first person shooters since the old Rare days.

Storyline & Setting

Being the first entrant into the Halo universe the game needed to introduce gamers to the Covenant, the UNSC and their ongoing conflict without trying to bore us with long explanations. The opening sequence with Captain Keyes does this really well as we know that humanity is at war against a more advanced Alien species and the ship you are on has been trying to escape. Aside from this you are introduced to Cortana and set out to kill some Covenant while trying to escape the besieged Pillar of Autumn.

During game play Cortana is actually able to build your knowledge of the Halo universe whether it is through intercepted Covenant communications about the ring, an analysis of the artificial weather or simply warning the Chief of incoming ‘Hunters’. This is extremely well-done as Cortana’s dialog works within the context of the game to assist the Chief yet teachers the player almost subconsciously to be able to recognise different types of enemies or build their knowledge of the wider backstory. It is through this ongoing communication that we first learn that Halo holds some form of religious significance for the Covenant as this is never mentioned in any of the games cinematics which like the opening tell you enough while avoiding explorations by focusing on the development of plot.

It doesn’t take long before the universe you thought you were getting to know gets thrown upside down with introduction of the Flood. Quickly you find yourself trying to work out this new enemy without Cortana who is temporarily replaced by 343 Guilty Spark thanks to a well-planned series of events that find you a companion who is in a position to give the same style of hints about this new enemy. Lesser games and even poor quality movies would just say that Cortana has hacked a console to find the information rather than providing 343 Guilty Spark to fulfil the role in “The Library”. The monitors betrayal and the revelation of Halo’s true purpose is the final twist that sets up the games conclusion as you fight your way through the Flood, Covenant and the installations drones to destroy the ring.

The main plot is engaging and has always been successful at drawing gamers in to the Halo universe but it is the cultures and history it alludes to that has allowed the franchise to build over the next decade. A mention of the destruction of Reach has grown into its own game and numerous books while the Forerunners are currently being explored in the latest additions to the Master Chiefs story. All of this is ultimately the result of the world presented to us in this original master piece.

Audio

Normally, I wouldn’t comment on the sound of a game as while it is perhaps the most important element that allows gamers to leave their living room and become engrossed in another world it is never usually that memorable. Again this is where Halo is unique like the James Bond theme or the opening to TV shows the score is cemented in our minds and can conjure memories of playing the game. I cannot think of another game with a similar effect and its testament to the strength of the composition to inspire a sense of wonder.

Since 2001 Halo has rightly been recognised as one of the greatest games ever made as it revolutionised the genre and gave fans such a rich world to explore. It is definitely responsible for the success of the original Xbox and Microsoft’s continued presence in the console business. Personally, what still sets Halo apart for me is the well-crafted and non-predictable storyline which is something absence from most shooters.

Gameplay 9/10

Storyline 10/10

Audio 9/10

Overall 9.5/10

Check back in a few days as I take a look at Halo 2,

Jono

Believe the Hype: Star Wars Battlefront

The gaming news of the week has been the release of the Star Wars Battlefront Beta and the opportunity for Star Wars geeks like me to jump in to our favourite galaxy far, far away before the November 17.  Despite a busy week I managed to squeeze in a quick half hour or so to test it out, so here are my first impressions.

If you haven’t been excited by Battlefront it’s time to believe the hype. Game play follows a similar style to the Battlefront 2 one the original Xbox and PS2 with a few new features and a welcome upgrade in graphics. The biggest change is the first person format which is now standard except for hero’s. Moving away from the third person game play makes it harder for players to see their surroundings and makes online multiplayer more intense as blaster fire rapidly comes from everywhere. This is obvious playing walker assault with the 20/20 format of this iconic moment in the Star Wars universe becoming a rush of adrenaline with enemies closing in quick it takes a few goes to really get the hang of it. Despite my first few deaths coming in quick succession the intensity of the experience had me ready to spend hours building my skills, if only I had the time.

The beta also provides access to a sample of the games survival mode based on everyone’s favourite dust bowl, Tatooine. As you can see from clip below it’s a pretty simple format with enemies coming in waves in increasing difficulty. Limited in the beta to 6 waves the full version will test gamers with 15 waves of enemies which I can’t even fathom at the moment because while the first wave was pretty easy by wave six your fighting an AT-ST and a squad of Stormtroopers. Along with single player, survival can be played in co-op but only having tested it out briefly by myself I’m not sure how well the difficulty scales if at all to accommodate the second player which is something l’ll test out in more detail with the full version. This little clip below gives me the opportunity to talk about one of the other major developments, the addition of power ups. Including portable shields, vehicle torrents, jet packs or a variety of hand held weapons like grenade launchers it definitely makes the game more interesting as not only does it change the way you take on enemies but especially in multiplayer games it will be a race to the little blue emblems. There’s more to talk about but this is just a taste of what Battlefront has to offer so I’m not going into to much detail.

Overall I’ve definitely seen enough to pick my copy up on the 17th of November which to be honest was already the case when it was announced due to my experience with Battlefront 2 and my obsession with Star Wars. Even so from my experience I think Battlefront will actually appeal to people who aren’t necessary fans of the film due to the intensity of the Game play especially in multiplayer. Make sure to check back in November for my full review.

May the force be with you,

Jono.

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 2

It’s been nearly 3 years since Microsoft first released the Surface Pro to champion it’s new look OS Windows 8 and it was meet by ridicule, scepticism and projected failure, who can forget Apple’s fridge and toaster analogy. The tech media was a bit more reserved with most pleased at the overall performance but critical of the poor battery life, weight and extra cost for the type/touch cover. Then came the $900 million write down for the Surface RT and many were ready to forget about the potential of its more powerful younger brother. Not one to follow trends I was never really a fan of early tablets due to their inability to run any of the software I used on a daily basis so I jumped on board once Microsoft changed their strategy in Australian and released it through retail stores. Ever since then I have never regretted a second as for the last few years it has been my major computing device alongside my desktop, I even convinced my Dad, Girlfriend and some random at Harvey Norman to buy one. Sure the battery life still sucks but the pen input was a revelation for teaching whether taking notes or modelling annotation skills while it also allowed me to keep my excel student planner close at hand. This is all ancient history but it’s worth remembering the humble beginnings of the Surface Line as the idea has always remains the same, a tablet that could replace your laptop, we just needed technology to catch up before it became a reality with the Surface Pro 3. The new design increased the screen size but made the tablet lighter and more streamed line with improved battery life yet still a significant power boost. Finally, people started taking notice from students to enterprise Surface Pro become the ultimate hybrid device and turns into a neat $1b profit making machine. That’s enough for the industry to take notice and even Apple was quick to try and copy this new formula in the iPad Pro but without the silver bullet, a desktop experience. So this brings us to today and the 4th generation.

Surface Pro 4

As it was expected the latest version of Microsoft’s innovative hybrid was all about refinement. The slate boasts a slightly larger 12.3″ screen with an impressive 267 ppi and Microsoft’s new PixelSense technology to take advantage of o.4mm thick cover screen to bring improved contrast. For the most part the SP4 keeps the same dimensions as the SP3 to maintain backwards compatibility with existing accessorises. Even so the tablet is a little bit thinner and lighter while still maintaining all the necessary ports. The main improvement is under the hood with Intel’s 6th generation Skylake processors giving a significant power boost that really put the spring in Panos Panay’s step as he could brag about a 30% increase and a 50% advantage over the MacBook Air. It was hard to remove the smile from his face as he joked about the fridge and toaster analogy or alluded to competitors making tablets with larger screens.

To read an in depth comparison between the SP3 and 4 click here.

It wasn’t just the tablet itself that got an upgrade as the new Type Cover offers an improved typing experience with an island style layout and increased depth similar to what is found on most laptops. A new glass trackpad offers five touch points and should provide a smooth experience while an optional finger print scanner will give SP3 users with access to Windows Hello. Likewise, the Pen has been given the once over as well increasing to 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity to further push the boundaries between computer experience and writing on paper. In addition, the top of the pen acts as an eraser something normally, associated with a pencil, which adapts to applications while still providing a quick launch button for OneNote and Cortana. If that wasn’t enough Microsoft have also introduced a range of colours and interchangeable tips so uses can adapt their experience. Finally, Microsoft has gone back to the original design of the Surface Pen by providing a magnet dock on the side of the tablet, at least this time it doesn’t cover the charging port.

Overall the SP4 is a noticeable improvement and gives fans what they wanted faster performance and a more elegant user experience. It has definitely been worth holding off upgrading if only for the boost from the 6th generation Skylake processor. In terms of the competition the iPad Pro can’t measure up as it still lacks the proper experience to replace your Laptop and for the price is an expensive secondary device. Meanwhile the MacBook Air which Panay admits is a great product has an outdated processor and lacks the same convertible experience. However, Apple is not the only copycat trying to capitalise on the Surface design with other PC makers implementing kickstands, removable keyboards and pen input in an effort to keep up but the SP4 which just raised the bar again. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks with Microsoft’s major OEM’S also hosting device announcements if they can follow the standard that’s just been set.

Stacking up against the competition: MacBook Air or iPad Pro

Surface Book

Microsoft’s big surprise came with only the slightest gossip in the lead up to the event with rumours of a Laptop or a larger Surface but no specs, renders or patients. The Laptop is elegantly designed with a unique look due to the visible gap between the keyboard and screen. The way this comes together reminds me of an empty folder and fits well with the name. The soon to be iconic hinge is where the Surface Book’s design really captures everyone’s attention. It runs out like a carpet to extend the base and give the device balance while the contrast between the magnesium and aluminium gives it a distinct shine that catches the eye. You might think that it’s a bit sad that the tech world has gone into overload over a fulcrum hinge but it truly is a master stroke of engineering. It solves the ever present weight distribution problem with this type of device and allows the two parts to meet perfectly to give the unique shape.

Check out Mashable’s inside with Panay and design chief Ralf Groene about the development of Microsoft’s first Laptop.

Beyond the design the Surface Book boost a 3000 x 2000 13.5″ PixelSense display which means it shares the same 267ppi as the SP4, more than the retina display found on the MacBook Pro. At the entry level the laptop packs a 6th generation i5 processor and 8GB of RAM but at the top end it is a beast which is why Microsoft has labelled it the ultimate laptop. The addition of a dedicated NVidia GPU makes it easily beat out the competition available in comparable form factors and will allow professionals and gamers to render complex 3D imaging more familiar to desktop PC’s and larger laptops. In addition, the ability to upgrade to an i7 and 16GB of RAM makes the top end configuration an expensive yet enticing proposition. Like the Surface Pro’s new type cover the keyboard has been carefully engineered to provide the best typing experience possible. Running Windows 10 the Surface Book performs as you would expect any high powered PC being able to easily run demanding applications like the Adobe suite with no troubles.

It wasn’t all specs however as Microsoft engaged in its own brand of theatre with Panay directing his audience to re-watch the opening promo in order to give us one more thing …

The screen detaches and it becomes a full Surface tablet, surprise. Just at that moment Panay must have been on cloud nine as the crowed whooped and gave a standing ovation. After all he says this is Surface, this is innovation. Now some people might be thinking what’s the big deal there have been 2 in 1 devices that have a detachable keyboard since Windows 8. If you watch the demo its clear Surface Book is different as it is first and for most a laptop and the muscle wire mechanism is nearly as well conceived as the hinge. Relying on a metal that contracts when placed under current it secures the two sections so that Panay is confident waving the laptop around by the screen. Personally the other similar form factors I have played with in stores seem flimsy and didn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence so this is a big change.

Practically the Surface Book provides three possible uses the laptop, tablet or “clipboard” and the canvas. All provide uses with different possibilities to be productive. The “clipboard” is not marketed as a standalone tablet but a portable extension that could be removed when you need to show something to a few colleagues to pass around or take a work through the factory. In addition thanks to the hinge (Simpsons moment of the rod) the screen is able to reverse and lay down over the keyboard to provide a tilted experience for writing and drawing which has access to the GPU and 8 hours of battery life stored in the base. This flexibility alone regardless of any power advantage provides a clear source of difference from the competition which shouldn’t be ignored.

By the end of Microsoft’s event it was clear that they have stopped following with HoloLens, Surface Pro and Surface Book their ready to return to the lead. The company not only has built serious momentum this year through a series of announcements including backwards compatibility for the Xbox One but they now have a confident swagger brought about by a clear vision thanks to Satya Nadella. Unfortunately, this has left me with an annoying problem, which do I purchase they Pro 4 or the Surface Book. Price might have a lot to do with it as here in Australia it seems that the major tech companies feel like we should pay more meaning the top end Surface Book comes in at $4100 while the i7 SP4 is a bit more affordable at $2700. If only money grew on trees and I could get both.

Check out the full Surface announcement here.

cheers,
Jono

 

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 1

Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises.  In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant.  So lets break it down …

Microsoft Band 2

The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory,  personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.

New and improved the Band 2

HoloLens

By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience.  The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool,  robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.

Lumia 950 and 950XL

Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization,  USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.

Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices.  Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately,  most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.

I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only  for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace.  Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.

Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads.  Both realising the importance of getting  their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.

I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.

Till then,

Jono