Review: CableDrop

Earlier this week, I reviewed the Bluelounge‘s CableBox. It is an accessory that helps keep wires on your desk organized. Today, I will be reviewing Bluelounge‘s CableDrop. The accessory is meant for cables, but for an entire different purpose. On my desk, there are endless amount of USB cables and power cables! These wires become tangles behind my desk and where the space is needed most. Thankfully, CableDrop’s is an easy to use solution. CableDrop is a multipurpose cable clip for anywhere use.

CableDrop Top

I think, one of the largest benefit of the CableDrop is that they are tiny and fit anywhere from behind a desk, on a table edge, etc. Genius. Inserting cables into CableDrop is easy. It prevents your cables from falling to the ground every time you disconnect a device (ex: iPhone, iPad).

CableDrop

In addition, CableDrop is super simple to setup. It comes with a peel and stick backing with you stick wherever you want to. The only con is that no extra adhesive backings is provided. So, if you decide to change the placement of the CableDrop later, you’ll have to hope it sticks again or find an alternative.

CableDrop is  available in both bright and muted colors and are sold in packs of six. I would recommend this product to anyone who wants to clean up the wires on their desk.

Review: Bluelounge CableBox

When you have a lot of wires on and around your desk, it is painful to keep them organized. It is something I have always avoided doing, but thanks to Bluelounge’s CableBox there is an easy fix. Bluelounge has created a box called CableBoxthat allows you to easily store both power-strip, and excess wires that accompany it. Genius I tell you! That way, you can simply tie all the wires exiting through the box into a single, organized line of wire. In addition, the CableBox is beautiful.

CableBox

There are two versions of the CableBox. The CableBox and CableBox Mini. As you can guess, the Mini isn’t as big as the CableBox. CableBox is pretty huge measuring at 15.6 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 5.3 inches tall. Without a doubt, it was able to hold my large power-strip and swarm of cables. My setup isn’t large, but I do have a lot of wires, and they all easily work with this box. It is like magic!

CableBox wires

In conclusion, the CableBox is simple to setup and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking to get rid of the cable clutter on their desk. This is a fantastic way to hide all of your wires and make any desk look spectacular. $30 does seem pricy for a plastic box, however.

To The Moon: A Review

While it does seem like I go gaga over every video game I have ever played (there are notable exceptions such as Prototype; that was a lousy game) To The Moon evokes this strange warm feeling reserved for a wonderfully narrated book, and on occasion, a lovely artsy movie in which Jim Carrey plays a serious role. Yes, To The Moon reminds me strongly of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind more than, say, Memento (whose influence is also reminiscent in this video game) and I will tell you why.

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To The Moon is an example of how a video game does not necessarily need to be graphically impressive, or stylish, or violent or anything of that sort. It’s an essay on why video games must be considered an art form. It’s a story of a dying man, John, and his last wish. In the future technology to alter memories and experiences exists and two doctors, Dr. Neil Watts and Dr. Eva Rosaline who are alternatingly the player controlled characters work for a firm that grants dying men and women their last wishes. The two doctors traverse through the memory of every patient and at a particular moment initiate a key driving thought that changes their life (in their memories). Of course, none of this is real, but for a dying man it does not matter, for he is very happy to have lived through his dream.

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The problem with John is that he really does not know why he wishes to go to the moon. As Drs. Watts and Rosaline traverse through his memories in reverse (from an old man to a teenager), they find that there are no impulses to go to the moon except towards the end, and that too quite randomly. Interconnected through his entire memory is his wife, River, who suffers from a mental condition that is hinted-at but never quite explained throughout the game. This came off as letting the player fill details in as he or she sees fit, and not spoonfeeding the entire story.

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The gameplay itself is quite simple, with the player characters walking around and collecting small pieces of memories (visualized as colored orbs) that unlock a very strong memento that links to an earlier memory to which they can jump.   The memento needs to be prepared’, which is a simple tile-switching mini-game that is no more than a minor annoyance to further the story. Some small mini-games pop up here and there (with a tongue-in-cheek reference to both Plants vs. Zombies, because the musician involved in PvZ was also involved in the making of this game, as well as traditional Japanese RPGs) but for the main part, this is pretty much what the gameplay is like. In effect it allows you to immerse yourself into this game without any complicated schemes to optimizeyour gameplay.

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The characters of the story itself are marvelously written up, with the constant bickering between the geeky, unsentimental and boyish Dr. Neil Watts and the officious-yet-warm and forward thinking Dr. Eva Rosaline forming a hilarious and lovely backdrop to what is essentially a tragic story that will drive you to tears in many parts. The extremely strong narrative pace repeatedly made me laugh at the innocuous and geeky humor of Dr. Watts while Dr. Rosaline looks on with emotions ranging from severe disapproval to abject dismay at his actions.

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The story of John, however, was very well presented with some parts of his life akin to many things that we, normal people, might have felt.

To The Moon is a game of regret, love and dreams that is both unconditionally beautiful with its low-res graphics and at once heart-wrenching with its excellently crafted story. I implore you to play this, for this is the greatest video game I have played this year.

Gemini Rue: A Review

For me, any game that deals with memory and personality always has echoes of Planescape: Torment washing over it like a cool summer’s wave on a calm beach. It’s funny how a piece of art from 1999 keeps casting its shadow (visible or not) in many games of today, especially when it casts an invisible shadow over a game of a different genre set far in the future. Yet the lo-fi graphics on both the games form shimmering tendrils that are *known* to me.

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Gemini Rue is a lovingly crafted point n’ click adventure game from Wadjet Eye Studios that combines the brilliance of Blade Runner to the anxious urgency of Beneath a Steel Sky. It’s a throwback to the days of adventure games that one played for cleverly constructed puzzles as well as an immersive story that is both atmospheric and surreal at the same time.
And boy does Gemini Rue have atmosphere. Even with its pixelated stylized lo-fi graphics, the game oozes atmosphere right from the start. Baraccus’ dimly lit streets with flickering lights seem even more subdued under the constant rain that envelops the city, and the faintly heard refrain of a saxophone in the background only serves to enrich the fertile atmosphere and remind one of Blade Runner which no doubt served as an inspiration for this game. While I cannot say much about the story for even the most minor telling might spoilt the adventure, I can wax lyrical about the noir atmosphere that has been so effectively designed in the game.

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You play alternatively as Azriel Odin, an assassin-turned-policeman searching for his brother on the planet of Baraccus, and a patient designated Delta-Six on a mysterious testing facility where memory wipes and betrayals run amok. For most of the game you can switch between these two characters and complete their puzzles individually. As Azriel, you will engage against the semi-legitimate crime syndicate of the Boryokudan, (a reference no doubt to the Yakuza crime syndicate of Japan that is designated as boryokudan(violence group) by the Japanese police) who have the information on his brother, while Delta-Six trains with weapons and hatches plots for his escape from the facility. Later on you get to play other characters as well. The puzzles, for the most part, are quite simple; yet some of them are either rather mundane or something you would not think about until you replay it several times. Combat, as with many games of its kind, is rather silly and sometimes non-responsive. Thankfully combat is not very frequent in the game and the handy auto-save feature helps immensely in these cases. At some places the story does get a little oratorical and high-handed with its philosophical questions that relate memory, experience and consciousness. It’s a precarious perch, no doubt, from where the game sermons on you on these matters and at times does feel a little overdone. Nevertheless the story otherwise is magnificent and the voice acting is excellent for an indie game.

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The game is spectacular, and has brilliant references to other SciFi noir culture gems such as Blade Runner (with the give me a hard copyachievement) as well as cameos from Cowboy Bebop. This is a must-play for any adventure game fan as well as those who would like to sit back and relax on a rainy Saturday evening with a cup of hot coffee by their side. Buy it.

Bastion Review

I honestly did not know what I was getting into with Bastion, an indie game that came with a bucketload of recommendations and a folder full of evocative screenshots. I knew it was a highly recommended game, it was an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable title and that it was a hack-n-slash role playing game (RPG).

Nobody warned me about the haunting storyline and the beautiful soundtrack. Even if they did, I was too busy staring at the gorgeous screenshots to notice.

Bastion is, as mentioned before, an action RPG in which you play as the Kid a young silver-haired fellow who is as silent throughout the game as Gordon Freeman is in Half Life. The Kid wakes up at the end of a world-ending Calamity and seeks out the Bastion where he was told to go in times like these. There he finds out much and more about the Calamity and what he must do to repair the damage. However, the subtext of memory, remembrance and nostalgia is at times so subtle that it is invisible and at others, too jarring to be of any use. It is thus a good idea to re-play the game to understand a good chunk of the plot properly.

The Bastion

The Kid’s story is told by a kindly old narrator as you plod through the game. Each and every action of the kid is narrated dynamically by the narrator and the story itself is furthered by the narrator’s words. The world literally falls into place as the Kid progresses through the story, so much so that if you play this game without turning up the sound you are missing out.

The World of Caelondia

The music of the game complements the storyline and its redolently striking art style. In a world that has been shaken by an unknown Calamity every level is a shadow of its former self, yet as the Kid plods through the worlds, Bastion‘s music touches upon that level’s former beauty and shakes poignant chords in the player’s heart. In one level, I was completely mesmerized by a melancholy song to the extent that I stopped playing for a few minutes just to listen to that song. The tune lingered throughout my playthrough from that point onwards and I am sure it will stay in my mind much longer.

The gameplay is quite similar to other hack-n-slash games, with a variety of weapons to unlock. You can select your loadout (the weapon that you will use with the left click, the right click and a special weapon as well) before starting a mission, or sometimes during the mission itself. The levels themselves vary in difficulty and it is essential that you get used to a set of weapons and upgrade them as you play the game.

Getting hit!

The game is a treasure-trove for the 100%-ers (gamers who wish to do everything and find everything in a game) since there is way too much to do. You can finish a level in your own time, or go to a training level to earn trinkets and upgrade materials. There are achievements to unlock and level-hardening idols to worship. There is a lot to do in this game and it does not get boring too fast (however it does since after a point, it’s just mindless clicking. I still maintain that Diablo II mastered the art of keeping one entertained through hours of mouseclicks).

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I heartily recommend Bastion to any fan of action RPGs or indie games. It’s a surprisingly well-made game that will keep you entertained enough for at least two playthroughs, while the soundtrack will haunt your ears for a longer time.

New Adventure

MixTab Brings Flipboard Style News Discovery to the Mac [Review]

I’ve mentioned before that blogging can sometimes mean reading a lot of news. However, it’s always possible that you will miss a big story because you weren’t looking in the right place. That’s why I think it’s important to have more than one path to news. While my primary sources are always RSS feeds and direct press releases, I often find interesting topics for posts in other places.

One such place is MixTab, an app that was ported from iOS to the Mac. MixTab reminds me a lot of Flipboard, the extremely popular iPad app that lets you see news feeds, Twitter, and Facebook in a magazine style presentation. However, what makes MixTab pretty special is that it includes user generated tabs of news.

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The user experience of MixTab is pretty nice. It has a nice looking interface with a few customization options. It gives you the option to control which tabs you subscribe to, and even create some of your own. It also supports the full screen mode introduced in OS X Lion, which is a nice touch.

The one real downside I see to the current revision of the MixTab interface is the way it handles full screen mode. While it will become an independent desktop like other apps, it doesn’t scale the content up. Instead, it simply makes the background behind the content bigger. That’s kind of upsetting, but not a huge deal.

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The content that is presented in MixTab is out of their control. However, I wish they would work on a system to filter languages of posts and sources. I subscribe to several different Technology tabs, and many of them have international sources. However, I only speak English fluently, with some minor understanding of Spanish. I want to be able to control the language of my tabs.

Overall, I like MixTab. I feel like they have brought sometime good from iOS and made is work well on the Mac. If they fixed the two major issues I pointed out above, this would be a must-have app for me. As it stands, it’s only a nice addition to my arsenal. Sometimes, it takes more work than it should to use it effectively. I give it 3.5/5 stars. You can grab it for Free in the Mac App Store.

App: MixTab for Mac
Developer: MixTab Inc.
Price: Free
Score: 3.5/5 Stars

OS X Lion: A User’s Review

It was certainly a long time in coming. It was hyped to no end by Apple, who heralded it as a rethinking of the operating system. It takes the way we think about interacting with our machines and turns it inside out.Many have called it the death of the traditional computer. Most people just call it OS X Lion.

Lion was first announced to the world at WWDC in 2011. With it came the announcement of iCloud, Apple’s new cloud storage initiative, and iOS 5. While those two things won’t be available to the public until this fall, Lion launched on July 20. I upgraded that very day, and have spent the week exploring the newest version of Mac OS X.

With a piece of software this big, its hard to decide where to start a review. While the major pieces of the OS haven’t changed that much, Lion does introduce a number of new features. I am going to try and keep this review to something user friendly, avoiding most of the technical upgrades and changes. I will try to hit all of the features I think are real game changers.

The features I will be covering are:

  • The User Interface
  • Full Screen Apps
  • Multi-Touch Gestures
  • Launchpad
  • Mission Control
  • Auto-Save and Versions
  • Resume
  • Others, including Air Drop and Mail
  • (The Lack of) Rosetta
To read the review, simply click on the numbers 1-8 at the bottom of this post.

Moom: Make OS X’s Green Plus Button More Useful [Review]

As a recent convert from Windows to Mac, there are some aspects of OS X that seem counter intuitive. Some of them I love, like the simple application installation process. Others I down right hate. Specifically, I hate the native function of the Green Plus button on windows.

For my Windows readers, I will give you an idea of what I mean. In Windows, you have the ability to maximize a window using a simple mouse click. Then, if you decide that you don’t want that window to be so big anymore, you can click again and it shrinks back down. In OS X, the Green Plus button serves a similar function. It will make a window big enough to fit all its contents.

My issues with the Green Plus are pretty simple. First, I want the ability to take some apps full screen. Second, I would really like the be able to undo the size change as I see fit. It serves neither of these purposes. I have a solution however, and its an app called Moom.

Moom is aan  extremely  powerful app that extends the functionality of the Green Plus without taking away is original purpose. Moom solves most of my problems with window sizing in OS X, and gives me another feature I missed from Windows 7: Window Snapping.

If you use Windows 7, then you probably know by now that you can snap a window to an edge of your screen, and it will resize to take up exactly half. As a student, I used that feature all the time when writing papers. OS X contains no such feature, but Moom does.

To access any of Moom’s features, you simply hover your mouse pointer over the Green Plus. As you can see, there are pictures to help you understand what functions are available. To fit the window to the contents (original Green Plus), simply click the button itself.  Moom also gives you a full set of keyboard controls, and even a grid mode. You can select any or all of the features you want through the application preferences.

As far as I am concerned, Moom is the best 5 dollars I have spent on my Mac. It gives me features that I wished OS X had built in, and it does it in a non-obtrusive way. I recommend that you head over to the Mac App Store and buy it right now.

App Name: Moom by Many Tricks
Price: $4.99 in the Mac App Store
Score: 5/5, Techie Buzz Approved

 

BlueGriffon: A Cross-Platform Open Source WYSIWYG HTML Editor [Review]

The issue that most people have with creating their own website is that they don’t know how to do it. They can figure out how to get a host, a domain, and even a .com if they want it. Where they run into trouble is the part of the process where you take a design and make it into HTML (the backbone of a lot of websites.) If that is what is holding you back, then fret no more. BlueGriffon, a free Open Source WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor based on the Firefox rendering engine, is here to help.

I don’t think that its important for me to take you through the steps of implementing a design using BlueGriffon. What I am going to do for this review is let you know what I think are the biggest strengths and short comings of the software. All screenshots will be from the Mac OS X version of the software, but there are clients available for Windows and Linux as well.

What BlueGriffon Does Right

I think its best to start with what BlueGriffon gets right. In my time playing with it and testing it out, I found myself loving the ability to manipulate my images and text and have code written for me. While I have some experience writing in HTML, I sometimes find parts of it cumbersome, like arranging images. This is one of the best things about BlueGriffon, and any WYSIWYG editor. You can move things around, and the code automatically updates to reflect the changes.

One of the biggest plusses for BlueGriffon is the range of HTML that it can support. Not only does it support the more basic HTML 4 version of the standard language, but it also supports HTML 5. HTML 5 has become very popular among developers, and is considered the gold standard at the moment. One major reason for this being such a big deal is Apple’s iOS, which supports HTML 5, but not Flash, which HTML 5 is sort of designed to replace.

BlueGriffon HTML EditorBlueGriffon has also found a great price point (FREE!) for an editor of this caliber. While the stock set of features is a little bare for my professional needs, which we will talk about later, it would be perfect for an amateur just looking to set up a simple webpage. On top of being great for amateurs, its one of the first free cross-platform editors of its kind. That has a special place in my heart because, while I write and work on a Mac, a large part of my development and web design is done on a Windows machine.

What BlueGriffon Gets Wrong

BlueGriffon Add-on only

As I said above, BlueGriffon doesn’t come with all the features I look for in a web development toolkit out of the box. These features are available, but they cost money. One of the things I really need is an advanced CSS editor, which BlueGriffon offers as an ‘add-on’ for around $15 USD, or 9.99 Euros. Another add-on that I wish came with the suite is the FTP uploader. While i understand the reasoning behind selling these more advanced features as add-ons, it is sad to see them not be made free like the main program.

Another issue that I have with BlueGriffon is its lack of support for other coding languages. While I championed its offering of HTML 5, I have to shame it by saying that all it really offers is HTML and CSS. Some of the things I need to write or implement are done in JavaScript or even PHP. Neither of these are natively supported by BlueGriffon.

Final Verdict On BlueGriffon

BlueGriffon presents its self as the “next-generation Web Editor.” While I agree that it has some fo the best potential and features of any free web editor I have come across, it doesn’t exactly live up to its name. If you need to do simple HTML work, or if you are looking to write in HTML 5, then I would check out BlueGriffon. However, if you are an advanced user, then you will probably need to buy some add-ons.

It is important to note that, even with all the add-ons, BlueGriffon is one of the most affordable web editing suites around. If you are int he market for a web editor, I recommend you check out BlueGriffon. It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and the download itself is Free.

Final Rating: 4/5, for a freemium model for HTML  editors.

Samsung Galaxy S II Review–SLIM, SEXY and FAST!

The Motorola Droid was the most popular Android phone in 2009. The Droid along with Verizon’s DROID campaign played a very major role in Android’s popularity. In 2010, the Samsung Galaxy S was the de-facto Android handset. The phone sold in excess of 10 million handsets within 7 months of its launch. The handset helped Android in gaining market share outside the U.S.

When Samsung announced the Galaxy S II at MWC this year, the expectations from the handset were pretty high. Everyone hoped that Samsung had solved the issues which plagued the original Galaxy S poor GPS performance and the lag issue.

The Samsung Galaxy S II has a huge task on its shoulder, meet the popularity of its original brother and also emerge the top-dog in this dual core race with HTC Sensation and LG Optimus 2X.

Read our review to find out whether the Samsung Galaxy S II lives up to the expectations or not.

Specs of Samsung Galaxy S II :

  • 4.27-inch Super-AMOLED+ screen with WVGA (800×480) resolution
  • 1.2GHz Dual-core Exynos 4210 processor
  • ARM-Mali 400 GPU
  • 1GB RAM, 16GB/32GB on-board storage
  • 8MP camera with Auto-Focus, LED Flash
  • 2MP Front Facing Camera
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0 HS, Wi-Fi Direct, HSDPA/HSUPA, USB O-T-G, MHL port, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, GPS with A-GPS, Proximity Sensor

Build Quality and Screen

Right out of the box, Galaxy S II will surprise you with its extremely light weight, slim waistline and the big screen. The handset weighs only 113gms, and is one of the slimmest Android handsets, measuring only 8.49mm.

The phone is constructed with plastic, like the original Galaxy S. However, the handset feels a hell lot better when held in hand, when compared to the original Galaxy S. Samsung also re-designed the back cover on the Galaxy S II so as to make it pleasant to hold and scratch proof. However, the back cover is extremely thin. However, I am pleased to say that the back cover won’t break so easily, even if you twist it.

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The top of the handset sports a 3.5mm audio jack, while the bottom houses the MHL or microUSB port. The microUSB port on the Galaxy S II can output videos at 1080p, when an MHL adapter is plugged in. The power button is situated on the right side, while the volume button is on the left side of the phone.

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Unlike most other Android handsets, the Samsung Galaxy S II sports only 3 buttons Menu, Home and Back, in the same order. Like its predecessor, the Menu and Back buttons are capacitive while the Home button is a physical one.

The build quality of the Galaxy S II is a HUGE improvement over the Galaxy S. The phone might not have a premium look or feel to it, but neither does it have a cheap build quality feeling.

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The handset sports a 4.27-inch Super-AMOLED+ screen with WVGA (800×480) resolution. Even though the SGS II sports a bigger screen than the Galaxy S (4-inch), it has a much sharper screen. This is because the Super-AMOLED+ screen has twice the sub-pixels, when compared to the Super-AMOLED screen on SGS.

The original Super-AMOLED screen has a PenTile Matrix display, while the Super-AMOLED+ screen has a RBG pixel arrangement. This is a major reason why the Galaxy S II has a bigger display than its predecessor. Excluding all the geeky part, the SAMOLED+ screen on the SGS II is absolutely brilliant. The contrast, viewing angles, and brightness are all top-notch. Sunlight legibility is decent as well.