iPhone 3G Impressions

After a bit over a week spent unlearning eight years of bad phone habits – like having to press buttons to do things – I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what the iPhone 3G is all about. It’s far from perfect and thankfully all of my issues can be fixed in firmware updates, but overall it’s a fantastic device and I love it. Here are my observations and suggestions.

First, a few criticisms and suggestions for the thousands of daily visits I get from Apple’s iPhone team:

Expand the Bluetooth functions. I understand the need to lock down certain aspects of the hardware, but why can’t I send files to and from it over Bluetooth to use the phone as a portable drive? Almost every phone on the market allows that and they have nowhere near 16GB or storage. Also: I can understand the battery concerns of syncing iTunes, but being able to sync my contacts and calendars wirelessly would be nice.

Let me use my own ringtones. Kindly allowing me to pay extra to turn one of a selection of songs on iTunes into a tone is frankly rubbish. Yes, it’s cheaper than the £3 extortion that some official services provide, but very rarely will I have a song as a ringtone that’s ever likely to be on iTunes, and other phones let me stick any old MP3 on there. And what about when the tone I want isn’t actually music, like the codec sound from MGS? Don’t assume that I’m pirating a song for the purposes of a ringtone. Thankfully there’s iToner to avoid this problem, but I shouldn’t need a third-party app to give me such basic functionality.

Interface standardisation? Apple is usually good about creating interface guidelines and it’s a major reason why OS X is so nice to use, but why aren’t the built-in apps on my iPhone uniform? Why is the button to compose a new email in the bottom-right, but the one to compose a new text message is in the top-right? Why can I turn the phone and type on a landscape keyboard for when I occasionally need to enter text on a web page while email has no support for landscape orientation? Just be consistent.

Give me options for how my contacts work. I like the Address Book integration, and the ability to pick someone’s name and have all their contact information – home phone, work phone, mobile, email addresses, etc – available with one tap. However, why doesn’t searching for ‘dad’ bring up my dad’s details when his nickname field is filled in as ‘Dad’? And why does a call from home not just say ‘Home’ – it’s the home number on my personal Address Book entry, after all – rather than ‘Home to Olly Dean and three others’? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Let me charge from my USB hub. I have a hub plugged into the back of my 360, which powers several devices like my HDMI switch. You’d think, given that the iPhone is generally charged over USB, that I could charge it from that without having to leave my laptop on or go hunting for hen’s teeth a free power socket, but no. I’m not entirely sure why, either. Even if it’s slower than sucking the full power from an active computer, at least let me do it. I don’t care if it takes all night rather than an hour, because I’m not using it overnight.

And now, with that out the way, let the gushing begin… Continue reading iPhone 3G Impressions

E3 2008 Conference Review

Same format as last year, but with added bitter fanboy tears. In chronological order:

  • Microsoft – I wasn’t blown away, to be honest. Seeing live gameplay of Resident Evil 5 was initially my highlight, in the same way that the Call of Duty 4 was a gem in a pile of (mostly) shit last year. Gears 2 and Fable II both look good and are certain purchases that it’s nice to have dates for, but things like avatars do nothing for me and the occasional cool feature and probable gem do not a great conference make. No Alan Wake (the new Duke Nukem Forever?), no big new IP announcements, a new interface that I’m not convinced about. Just the warm feeling from the fact that there was no motion controller announcement… yet.
    But then Square dropped the bomb. As last words go, FFXIII on 360 put most of Steve Jobs’ infamous “and one more thing” reveals to shame. Not even a rumbling of this news before the show, which is remarkable in itself, and it dealt a big blow to Sony early on. With the possible exception of Gran Turismo, this has been Sony’s trump card since FFVII in 1997, and it was the one third-party PS3 exclusive that I thought untouchable. Make no mistake; that announcement was huge.
    It doesn’t change the fact that the rest of it was relatively lacklustre, but it feels like it was all a ruse to lead up to that. For the biggest E3 megaton – something that I thought was becoming a lost art – since “five hundred and ninety-nine US dollars”, this one gets a…
  • Nintendo – If you ever need reason why so many hardcore gamers seem to have abandoned Nintendo to focus on the fight for second place, this is why. Last year’s Wii Fit reveal was a disappointment and in that respect this at least had something that vaguely interests me in Animal Crossing, but it’s still basically the same thing as Nintendo brought out on N64, GameCube, and DS. It might have more online functions, but all I’m going to be thinking about is how much better it could be done on Live and PSN.
    Add another mini-game compilation, another peripheral, and, in Wii Music, one of the most pathetic ideas I’ve ever seen (I can’t help but think of the musical chairs game in The Simpsons when Bart was put into the remedial class). Someone summed it up for me on a forum post when they said: “At least now that Nintendo has show that it hates hardcore gamers we won’t have to pretend to like the Wii any more.”
    Thanks for the good times back in the day, Nintendo, but I’ll take an insular industry that makes games that I enjoy over this popular tripe.
  • Sony – Sony really didn’t deviate too much from what was largely a successful formula last year. The embarrassing Home jokes were gone, and no baffling cameo from Chewbacca, and we just got games. It deserves credit for making the most entertaining Powerpoint presentation in history. LittleBigPlanet can make anything interesting.
    On the games front, Resistance 2 looked good but early, and while stuff like God of War III and MAG sound promising, didn’t Sony learn anything about showing CG trailers a couple of years ago? When your big reveals are CG and your lead game is one that pretty much everyone who cares enough to watch a conference has finished at least once since it came out a month ago, it doesn’t make it look like there’s a lot of content.

This E3 will go down in history for the Final Fantasy XIII announcement, which put the Microsoft conference ahead on entertainment value alone. Other than that, very disappointing in my opinion. No big new game announcements (so far), no proper price drops or anything, and the bitter taste in my mouth that the mainstream press is going to be fawning over Nintendo finding a way to charge you to play air guitar.

From My iPhone

Sorry if this is a bit succinct, but I’m posting from my shiny new iPhone 3G and this is a bit more fiddly than your usual QWERTY keyboard.

The activation issues are as bad as people are saying (three hours later and I’m still not completely up and running), but it certainly is a lovely little machine. Photos and proper impressions in a few days when I’ve had a play and am on a proper computer.

Mandatory Installs Must Die

Remember those halcyon days console gaming was the easy option? You plugged it into the TV and into the mains, popped the cart – or disc, latterly – into the top, and hit the power button. None of the hardware incompatibilities, patches, or faffing around that PC gaming required.

Now, though, you can add networking to the mix, which isn’t yet necessarily as simple as it perhaps ought to be, and, of course, the minefield that is connecting your new device to an HDTV. Still, those have given us benefits for those who can do a bit of research, and even the dreaded patching is done automatically and quickly (mostly), meaning that a bug is no longer either something to deal with or wait for the second pressing.

But unfortunately, the one thing that I always hated about PC gaming has made the jump: installs. What started as a worrying but quick (Resistance, with its 220MB install) or optional process, taken through the promised land of Uncharted, which managed lush graphics with barely a load and no install, has now almost become the standard, and I HATE IT. Continue reading Mandatory Installs Must Die