March 31, 2010

RSS feeds for our new Yahoo! News tech blog goes live; the iPad cometh

Hello all. Just a quick update: We finally nailed down those RSS and "My Yahoo!" feeds for our new tech blog on Yahoo! News. Here's how to subscribe:

  • For my (soon-to-be-renamed) "Gadget Hound" blog posts only, click here.
  • For Christopher Null's blog only, click here.
  • For both of our posts combined, click here.

We're also expecting to get a redesigned banner and better blogging tools (hallelujah!) in the next few months, so stay tuned on that front.

Last but not least, get ready for my hands-on review of the iPad, which (fingers crossed) should be arriving at my doorstep via UPS this Saturday. I'll be posting my initial hands-on impressions sometime Saturday afternoon, followed by an in-depth review early next week. Keep your eyes peeled.

March 22, 2010

My first (new) Yahoo! Tech blog posts are live

Yep, we're back on the air. Click here for the details on the upcoming Kindle app for the iPad, or here to read up on the new Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus for AT&T (which, if you ask me, probably won't be enough to revive Palm's flagging fortunes). Later today: my hands-on impressions of Sony's PlayStation Move motion controller (the launch titles look so-so, but the possibilities are enticing). And don't forget, you can access our new tech blog right here: http://news.yahoo.com/technology/blog.

March 19, 2010

Our new Yahoo! News tech blog is live, posting begins (hopefully) next week

Hello all. Just got the word that Chris and I will begin posting again starting next week. You'll find our posts on the brand-new blog at Yahoo! News Technology, right here. For now, there are only a couple of old posts listed, neither of which were written by us; consider them placeholders until Chris and I get up to speed, hopefully starting Monday.

So, what about an RSS feed? Unfortunately. I don't have an answer on that yet; the existing Yahoo! News Technology feed seems to list every single tech story on Yahoo! News, rather than just the posts on the tech blog. With any luck, we'll have the RSS situation figured out soon; in the meantime, however, I'll post links to my latest posts here on my personal blog, so make sure to check back for updates.

In any case, get ready for our triumphant return next week, starting with my hands-on with Sony's new PlayStation Move motion controller (which I'm slated to try Monday morning, bright and early). See you then.

The URL again:
http://news.yahoo.com/technology/blog

What I'm playing this week: "Final Fantasy XIII"

I'll just come out and say it: the latest edition of "Final Fantasy" is simply the most gorgeous game I've ever played. Yes, it's relentlessly linear, at least for the first 20 hours or so. Sure, the characters are about as deep as those you'd find in a Saturday morning cartoon. But "Final Fantasy XIII"'s layered battle system is addicting, and the graphics—from the moment-to-moment gameplay to the big cinematic cut scenes—are often staggering to behold.

Full disclosure...I've only played a couple other previous "Final Fantasy" games, both for the PSP: "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII" and "Dissidia: Final Fantasy," so I came to "XIII" with little or no preconceptions to how the game would actually play.

Early reviews have slammed the new "Fantasy" for being too "linear"—just one "room" after another of monsters to slay, over and over, with no chance to wander through towns, chat with party members, or alter the plot in any meaningful way. And indeed, after grinding through about 25 hours of FFXIII, I can attest that all those criticisms are spot-on. Unlike the open worlds of "Dragon Age: Origins," "Mass Effect," "Fallout 3," and previous "Final Fantasies" (or so I understand, anyway), "Final Fantasy XIII" is pretty much an "on rails" experience (or at least it is in the early going).

So why am I having so much fun, then? Well, if Final Fantasy XIII really is nothing more than a series of battles, it helps that the actual combat is challenging and addictive. In the early going, you're not doing much besides hitting the "X" button (on the PS3; for the Xbox 360 version, it's "A"), but as you progress, the game piles on more layers of complexity. Characters can be developed in different roles, such as "Commando" (your garden-variety warrior), "Synergist" (someone who casts spells on allies to enhance their abilities), "Sabateur" (a spellcaster who hinders opponents), "Sentinel" (a high hit-point character who soaks up attacks), "Medic," and so on. You then set up sets of roles that suit specific combat scenarios—like "War & Peace," with a Commando who attacks and a Medic who heals—and you can "shift" your combat "Paradigms" on the fly. Indeed, "Paradigm Shifts" make up the core of the FFXIII combat system, and shifting paradigms at just the right moment can make you or break you, especially when it comes to the game's fearsome bosses.

The plot of Final Fantasy XIII is...well, pretty nuts, and I'm only managing to follow it about 50 percent of the time. (Mild spoilers ahead, so beware.) Something about a war between Cocoon and Pulse, with the inhabitants of Cocoon being deathly afraid of beings called the Pulse l'Cie (who are from Pulse, natch), and that fear leads to the Purge, a "relocation" of Cocoonites that turns into something akin to a slaughter. Our heroes—the gruff, determined Lightning, the blond, muscled Snow, the wise-cracking Sazr, the naive Hope, and the relentlessly chipper Vanille—start the game trying to defend Cocoon from the Purge, but then they all become l'Cie (I'm not entirely clear on how that happens) and end up being hunted themselves.

And so begins a long, straight-as-an-arrow journey through various dungeons, spaceships, and forests, battling one enemy after another. But while it sounds like a chore, I actually had a blast, mainly because the world of Final Fantasy XIII is truly something to behold. Quite simply, I've never played a game that looks this stunning. On the PlayStation 3, the visuals are near-perfect, with little or no jaggies and no screen-tearing whatsoever, gobs of detail, and plenty of big, wide-open spaces that make you want to stop and gape (which I've often done). The regular gameplay in FFXIII looks as good as the cut-scenes in most games, and XIII's big cinematics are simply jaw-dropping; a daylight attack on the inhabitants of Cocoon by a fleet of shimmering silver spaceships that swoop down from a brilliant blue sky rivals the best CGI in any movie you'll see in a theater.

So yes..."Final Fantasy XIII" can (at least in the first 20-or-so hours) be accurately described as an RPG-on-rails, but if you ask me, this is one exhilarating roller-coaster ride. My understanding is that the game does open up about 25 hours in, and that's about where I am in the game now, so I'll have more thoughts on that soon.

Anyone else playing "Final Fantasy XIII"? Love it, hate or, or "meh"? And what are you playing this weekend?

March 17, 2010

Yahoo! Tech update: Still circling the airport

Hey folks: Many of you have been asking when Chris and I will start blogging again, this time for Yahoo! News. Short answer: soon. Long answer: There's still some behind-the-scenes technical work to be done, given that Yahoo! News uses a completely different publishing system than Yahoo! Tech did. With any luck, we'll be up and running again next week—and once that happens, I'll post the links right here. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, feel free to post a question or comment about tech right here and I'll get back to you ... as soon as I take my next "Final Fantasy XIII" break, that is.

Image credit: Flickr (matt.hintsa)

March 16, 2010

Report: No 3D Blu-ray of "Avatar" in 2010

So, 2010 might be the year of 3D TV, but it's starting to sound like the one movie everyone wants to see in 3D won't arrive in stores until next year, at the earliest. The L.A. Times "Hero Complex" blog is reporting that Fox will, indeed, release "Avatar" on Blu-ray this spring—on Earth Day, April 22, to be exact.

But don't expect a disc loaded with extras; indeed, this will be a bare-bones release, the Times says, with little more than the movie itself and a "relatively simple menu function," while a beefier multi-disc BD release will hit in the fall. That sounds an awful lot like another case of double-dipping to me (that is, luring die-hard movie fans to buy a disc twice by releasing a bare-bones version months before the full "special edition"), but "Avatar" producer Jon Landau assures the Times that no, the moviemakers merely wanted to "exploit every bit of disc space for the top-of-the-line audio and video presentation of the film." Riiiight.

Anyway, here's the bigger question: Will the Blu-ray of "Avatar" be in 3D? Nope, according to the Times article, and in fact, "reports that the 3-D version will be released later this year are wrong." Uh...say what? Isn't "Avatar" the movie that got everyone into 3D (well, the latest wave of 3D, anyway) in the first place? Well, yeah; apparently, however, James Cameron wants to wait until the "nascent [3D TV] marketplace catches up."

That news will come as a major disappointment to anyone who rushed out to get a brand-new 3D TV in the hopes of reliving the full Pandora experience in their living rooms...and indeed, I bet the big 3D TV manufacturers (who had surely been planning to use the 3D BD of "Avatar" as a sales peg) are pretty crushed, too. Somehow, getting a new 3D TV to watch the full glory of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" isn't quite as enticing as the prospect of seeing all those blue people in 3D again.

So, question for you: Bummed that we won't get a 3D Blu-ray of "Avatar" this year, or were you planning on waiting to get a new 3D TV anyway?

Related:
'Avatar' will hit Blu-ray and DVD on Earth Day, April 22 [L.A. Times]

March 15, 2010

Analyst: Apple took about 152,000 iPad pre-orders in three days

That's the word from tech blogger and analyst Daniel Tello (via Fortune's Apple 2.0 blog), who arrived at his guesstimate by tracking the order numbers of iPad pre-order customers. The lion's share—about 120,000— apparently came on Friday, due to "pure overexcited fanboism" (as Tello put it), with demand ebbing on Saturday and Sunday to "only" about a thousand pre-orders an hour.

So, an estimated 152,000 iPads sold in three days...is that good or bad? Well, that figure (assuming it's accurate, of course; Apple has yet to announce any numbers of its own) pales in comparison to the million iPhone 3GSs that were sold during its first weekend of release. On the other hand, the iPad is a whole new product, not a revamp like the iPhone 3Gs, and let's not forget that Apple's long-awaited tablet won't even arrive in stores until April 3.

In any case, if Tello's estimates hold up, Apple might manage to sell more than a million iPads after about two weeks on the market, a feat that (as Engadget notes) would trump the performance of the original iPhone back in 2007. It's also worth noting that Wall Street (according to AppleInsider) was fully expecting Apple to sell 1 million iPads ... in a year, that is, rather than just a few weeks.

Personally, I'm starting to notice interest in the iPad heating up significantly after that first big wave of disappointment. Sure, I was among the many who was initially bummed out that the iPad wasn't mind-blowingly new; now that I've had a chance to think about the possibilities, however (portrait-oriented Web browsing, great magazine and newspaper apps, jumbo-sized video, and a whole new class of games), I'm starting to see ways to fit the iPad into my digital life. Something tells me way may see lines on launch day after all. (And yes, I went ahead and pre-ordered the iPad for myself—the 64GB version, to be exact.)

March 12, 2010

Palm fire sale: Resellers offer Pre Plus for just $29, and they're giving away the Pixi Plus


Barely seven weeks ago, Verizon Wireless debuted the revamped Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus for $149 and $99 each (with two-year service contracts). Today, you can snap up the Pre Plus with contract for a song—a mere $29—or the Pixi for the low price of nothin', if you know where to look.

Note: The following prices were accurate as of Friday morning, March 12 and are subject to change, practically on a minute-to-minute basis.

PreCentral.net found the Palm Pre Plus for Verizon at online wireless reseller Wirefly.com for just $39 after an instant rebate and with a two-year contract, a full $100 off the original $149 asking price, while the Pixi Plus, which once sold for $99 with service, is selling for free.

I went ahead and checked out another wireless reseller, LetsTalk.com, and found the Pre Plus selling for an even steeper discount: just $29 free with a two-year Verizon contract, or a whopping $120 off the original price. And as with Wirefly, LetsTalk is giving the Pixi Plus away, so long as you sign a two-year Verizon contract. (Full disclosure: I have a close friend who works at LetsTalk, though no one at the company pitched this story to me.)

The Palm fire sale is also on at Amazon, which like Wirefly is selling the Pre Plus on Verizon for $39 with two years of service (I should just go ahead and say that all the prices mentioned here involve a two-year wireless contract), while the Pixi Plus is going for a penny.

Even the official Verizon Wireless site is advertising discounts for the Pre Plus, which it's selling for $79 with service (and no more need to mail in for a rebate, either), while it's offering the Pixi Plus for $29. Just a day or so after I did my initial research, Verizon jacked up the prices again; the Pre Plus is now $149, as before, while the Pixi Plus is $79.

Want the Pre or the Pixi for Sprint? Well, you'll have to pay a little more, despite the fact that Sprint's Pre has less storage than the Pre Plus on Verizon (just 8GB versus 16GB) while the Sprint Pixi lacks the Pixi Plus's Wi-Fi abilities.

The cheapest price I could find for the Sprint Pre was $79 with two-years of service on LetsTalk and Amazon, with Wirefly selling the original Sprint Pre for $99. Sprint itself is still charging $149 for the Pre, and that's only after a $100 mail-in rebate. Meanwhile, the Sprint Pixi is $19 free on LetsTalk, and $24 on Wirefly and Amazon.

The price slashing comes a couple of weeks after Palm revealed that sales for the Pre and the Pixi were disappointingly sluggish, and that the legendary smartphone maker will miss revenue targets by a sizable margin this quarter. Indeed, at least one analyst thinks Palm has just a little over a year's worth of cash left in its war chest.

Related:
3rd party sites drop Verizon Palm Pre Plus to $39.99 [PreCentral.net]

Yahoo! Tech goes dark, but Gadget Hound, Business Guy live on

Yep, it finally happened; sometime early this morning, Yahoo! Tech went dark, along with thousands of our posts and god knows how many comments. We knew it was coming, but still...it's a bit of a shock to see the site you've been working on for more than three years up and vanish.

But yes, Chris and I will be soon be back, still blogging about tech for Y!; I'm re-posting my (now disappeared) farewell post here, including details on what happens next.

Well, this is it—my last post here on Yahoo! Tech. But don't worry: As we told you before, our site may be going away, but Chris and I aren't going anywhere.
Today, March 11, is the day that our old Yahoo! Tech website is slated to close down. Within a few days or so, we'll be back to blogging about tech, this time on Yahoo! News. Initially, our posts will be going up one at a time, but Chris and I will eventually have a dedicated Tech blog on the News site, just like before.
And in fact, Tech on Yahoo! News will be better than ever. For instance: not only will we still have comments on the new site, they'll actually work ... on a consistent basis, even. No more "Sorry! Your post failed" errors. I swear.
We'll also get the ability to post video and polls, something that just about anyone with a WordPress blog has been able to do since, oh, 2003 or so. Hey—we may be slow, but we get there.
So personally, I'm excited about the move, but there is a little packing that needs to be done.
There are a few technical details that need to be sorted out before our firsts posts on News go up. And while we'll eventually be getting our own (new) RSS feeds and Yahoo! e-mail alert signups, that's probably not going to happen right away.
For now, the best way to follow the Gadget Hound will be via my Twitter feed, or you can check for updates on my personal blog. Or, you can always e-mail me at ytech_patterson@yahoo.com.
In the meantime, I'm sad to say that when the old Yahoo! Tech goes offline today, all of our 4,500-plus old posts will vanish, as well. (They still exist in a database on a Yahoo! server somewhere, and may be republished on News at some point.)
So yeah ... it's a strange day. It's never fun to see a site you worked on go dark.
Thanks again to Chris and the whole Yahoo! Tech team ... and most importantly, to you, the readers (and tireless commenters). You're the ones who give (gave!) this site life, and I hope to see all of you at our new home.
Cheers, 
Ben
Image credit: Flickr, Kyle Slattery  (great photo, by the way)

March 06, 2010

To iPad or not to iPad?

On April 3, the long-awaited iPad will finally arrive in stores, starting at $499 for the Wi-Fi-only 16GB version. But is it worth the cash, given that (at first glance, anyway) it appears to be little more than a jumbo-sized iPhone?

I've decided to go ahead and order one (Apple will begin taking pre-orders on March 12) because...well, I'm a gadget blogger, and that's what I do. But I've got serious reservations about the iPad. There's no multitasking. No built-in camera. No Flash support. No real UI innovation. Existing iPhone apps run in windowed mode or via (crude) line doubling.

On the other hand ... surfing the Web on the iPad will probably be a cool experience, especially when holding the tablet in "portrait" orientation. TV shows and movies should look great on the iPad's 9.7-inch display. The iPad could make for an excellent digital newspaper/magazine platform (although I've yet to see a truly eye-popping demo of an iPad magazine app). And it could be a great gaming device, once gaming developers starting churning out games made specifically for the iPad's larger display.

In any case, I plan on cranking out a review as soon as I get my hands on one of these bad boys. Once that's done, however, I'll have to face another issue: Keep the iPad, or get a refund (minus the 10-percent restocking fee)? That, to my mind, will be the acid test.