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The Generalist - A little bit of this, a little bit of that...

XCom: Enemy Within Review

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I haven't finished a play through yet, but I'm hooked. I play on Classic / Ironman and had a bad round resulting in my whole A team getting wiped. It only went downhill from there as my B team completed the next mission, but with only one survivor. Soon I was buying squaddies in bulk just to send to their deaths. But, that's how it goes sometimes in XCOM and I'm now on my second attempt.

Tactically, the most interesting thing about the expansion is the introduction of a new resource, Meld. It seems to be that two crates of this exist on most missions, the crates have a time limit though. So to get this resource I'm finding myself having to move quicker and take more chances. The upgrades you get with Meld are worth the risk, but I find that it gets harder and harder to retrieve as the enemies get tougher. It doesn't seem like you ever need Meld to complete the game, but the implants and MEC Troopers you can build with it are a significant advantage.

I find the game much less repetitive with the add-on. Not only are there many more maps, I haven't repeated any yet, but there are more missions types. I don't feel like I'm constantly running the same three missions types over and over (Abduction/Terror/Ship). Now I've got different goals like defending an objective, or hacking an objective. Besides adding more alien enemy types, there's a human enemy faction which is equipped similar to your own troops. Suddenly each mission is something new. There are also more unique missions which have been more challenging than the normal missions, but are fun diversions.

Story-wise, the main campaign seems to be the same, but with extra storylines added in. This isn't a whole new campaign; the new story arcs are woven into the original campaign. The intro movie was even the same with the exception of a new quote at the beginning.

I haven't gotten through all the new content yet, but I'm already satisfied with this purchase. It's the same game I've been enjoying, but with more options, more upgrades, and more content. If you enjoyed XCom: Enemy Unknown, I highly recommend XCom: Enemy Within. It's available now for XBox 360, PS3, and PC.

 

The Windows 8.1 Start Button (Close Enough)

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The biggest complaint about Windows 8 is the missing Start Button. Yes, the Metro / Modern / Win8 menu is almost the same, but there isn't a good reason from the end user's perspective to not allow for the old menu. Just give us an option so our desktop computer can look like it used to. With Windows 8.1 it's kind of back.

When Microsoft announced the return of the Start Button most people were probably imagining the return of the Start Menu (which is what we really wanted). Left clicking on this new Start Button or hitting the Windows key takes you back to the Modern UI, not exactly what we were looking for. Right-clicking on it brings up a list of useful functions (including shutdown/restart/hibernate). While this is a far cry from the original Start Menu we wanted there are two functions of Windows 8.1 that actually make this much closer than it first appears.

The first is that now when you are on the Modern UI and type a search, everything is searched by default. You no longer have to click between Apps, Files, and Settings depending on what you're doing. This makes the old workflow of hitting the Windows key and typing the name of the app actually function well. While it's still jarring as the whole interface changes on you temporarily, you can make it less painful now by having the start screen share the background with your desktop.

The second one is the Windows Key + S combination. This gives you a Search box that defaults to searching everywhere. So if you want to launch Word press Windows Key + S, type Word, and press Enter. This is actually what I use the Start Menu for in Windows 7. If you're a OneNote user you may notice this is the same shortcut used for taking screen clippings. It seems the OneNote shortcut was moved to Windows Key + Shift + S. As I said, it's close enough for me, although I do find it disappointing that Microsoft either won't give back the one thing people are asking for, or just doesn't understand.

 

Review of the Logitech M325 Wireless Mouse (with Unifying Receiver)

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I bought this mouse a couple months ago for use with my Samsung Series 7 Slate. I was originally looking for a Bluetooth mouse so I wouldn't need to plug in a receiver, but I couldn't find one that looked like a good option. I want something a little smaller than standard, with a power switch and ideally I'd like it to match the devices I use it with. I finally tried the Logitech M325 with a Unifying Receiver.

The unifying receiver is small and works well. I've had no trouble with it and can leave it in my S7S unless I need to use the one USB port for something else. It almost never comes up, but is a minor annoyance. On the other hand, when I remove the receiver, I can use pen or touch input temporarily. I have found an advantage to using the receiver. If I decide to use my laptop or my wife's laptop and need a mouse, I can just move the receiver from my S7S or my desktop PC and use the devices that are already paired with it. The pairing follows the receiver, not the computer. I use a Logitech keyboard and mouse with a Unifying receiver on my gaming system at home since it's attached to my television. Sometimes I borrow the mouse to use with a laptop by just moving the receiver. I don't generally use that mouse for shooters though. I'll write up my gaming setup in a future article.

I haven't had to change the battery yet, and there is a power switch to turn off the mouse so it doesn't keep waking my tablet every time my bag moves. The mouse uses a standard AA battery and the battery compartment has a slot for storing the receiver so you don't lose it if you need to keep it out of your tablet or laptop for a while.

It works on every surface for me so far, but not well on glass. When on glass the mouse pointer still moves, just sluggishly. Using a piece of paper or a notebook fixes this. Otherwise, I've had no trouble using the mouse on the train, on a couch, at a desk, or in bed. It's never bounced off the table or even moved on its own much when on the train. I use a mouse on the train because it can be difficult to touch the screen accurately when you and the table are bouncing around. I don't have nearly as many misses with the mouse.

The mouse is a little smaller than standard, but that's what I want for a travel mouse. The mouse wheel is the smooth scrolling type, being a gamer I prefer the clicky type. I don't use this mouse for serious gaming, so it isn't a deal breaker. The mouse wheel can also be pressed left or right although I don't use these presses. The only thing that might make me trade in this mouse is how loud the button clicks are. If I'm on the train and using the mouse a lot (maybe playing a little Faster Than Light, maybe) I probably annoy the nearby passengers a bit with the constant clicks.

Most importantly, the mouse just works. Every time I turn on the switch it makes an instant connection to my tablet. I never have to mess with drivers or reboot, or turn it off and on. It just connects and goes. If something happened to my Logitech M325, I would have no problems replacing it with an identical mouse. You can find these as low as $15 on Amazon.

 

Review of the Logitech K810 Bluetooth Keyboard

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I'm typing this review on a train using the Logitech K810 Keyboard. I'm really happy with this purchase. I was using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard previously, but it just wasn't working out.

Pairing the keyboard to all my devices was quick and easy. Hit the connect button on the bottom, choose one of the three hot keys and the device is ready to pair. You may be asked to type in a number on the keyboard and hit enter. One of the great features of this keyboard is the ability to pair it with multiple devices. Pressing one of the hotkeys (located on F1 to F3) switches the keyboard to that device. When switching, it seems to take about two seconds to connect to my Windows 8 tablet (a Samsung Series 7 Slate) or iPad4. Each of the Bluetooth keys has an indicator over it to show the pairing status. I couldn't get it to pair with my HTC Titan 2 Windows 7.8 phone. It says the device is unsupported. I'm not counting that against the keyboard though since it's probably the phone in this case, and I don't have a use for the keyboard on my phone anyway. I was just trying to pair it since both devices were handy.

This is a small chiclet style keyboard. I don't really like keyboards of this style, but see them as a necessary when mobile. However, the quality of this keyboard is pretty good. The spacing of the keys matches my full size keyboard, and the buttons feel durable. I type pretty hard sometimes and these keys don't feel like they're going to pop off or get crushed. For programming, I miss my Home and End keys. The F1 keys default to the special functions. To actually hit F1 you need to hold FN. This is adjustable in Windows using the matching SetPoint software which will also allow you to see the battery level. I've set it so pressing the function keys does the normal action in Windows. That way my hot keys for Visual Studio are the same on my desktop as my tablet.

As far as batteries go, I've been using this keyboard for four months now and have only charged it once (recently) since the initial charge. The battery is built in and the keyboard charges using one of standard small USB connections, the same one as many cell phones. There is a power switch on the side so I don't have to worry about the keys getting pressed and waking up my various devices in my bag.

I haven't lost key presses with this keyboard like I have with other wireless keyboards. If I don't press anything for some time, then start to type, there seems to be a very short delay before the key is registered on my computer, it always goes through though. That's important because otherwise I end up having to go back and correct missing letters frequently.

I haven't had much use for the backlight. This keyboard has a backlight. It's adjustable. Seems plenty good.

This keyboard looks great and feels sturdy. It stays in place on the table on the train. The finish and size match nicely with my Series 7 Slate. I would recommend this keyboard over the one Samsung sells for the device.

The mouse in the picture is a Logitech M325. I wanted a Bluetooth mouse, but was having trouble finding one that had a power switch, was the right size, and happened to match my keyboard and tablet. So I opted for this one which uses a small USB Unifying Receiver.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 September 2013 21:35
 

Review of the HTC Titan 2 on TMobile

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Sadly, the HTC Titan 2 hasn't been released for TMobile yet. I've purchased the AT&T version and am using that on TMobile. It's a great phone, but unfortunately missing a couple features when put on TMobile.

The HTC Titan 2 is a great phone. I chose this one in particular because of the camera. I have three kids so there are many spur of the moment picture taking opportunities. Carrying a camera around isn't always convenient. The Titan 2 isn't going to replace a high end camera, but I've been really surprised how good the pictures it takes are. Like all Windows 7.5 phones, this HTC Titan 2 has a dedicated camera button. Like a digital camera, half a press starts the camera focusing, and a full press takes the picture. When the phone is locked, holding the button down all the way for about two seconds opens up the camera app so you can start taking pictures immediately. The phone remains secure, only photos taken during this session can be viewed. My favorite feature of this camera though (an unexpected one) is that tapping something on camera's screen will cause the camera to focus on it and take a photo. I've found that this gives me really good results. I'm a horrible photographer though, so that fact that my phone is better at it than me isn't really surprising. I also like that the phone can automatically back up my photos to SkyDrive when I have data connectivity.

With the brightness maximized I've found that the screen is easily viewable in daylight. I'm liking the Windows Phone 7.5 OS, but I won't go into too many specifics here about Windows Phones. There's plenty to read already on the internet. Android phones, iPhones, and Windows phones are all great devices. I'm going to say that currently Windows Phone has the best interface. Like all three options you'll occasionally find a feature you expected to be missing, but the biggest drawback right now is the lack of apps. There just isn't the variety yet. I do find that the variety and quality of the games available is impressive though.

What I'm missing is fast internet. Currently I'm only getting 2G speed. This works for me since I don't stream videos. I mostly use the data for email and a little web browsing so it works well enough for me. You also can't MMS with the Titan 2 on TMobile (no texting pictures). I find this more annoying, but can still send files over email. I also miss the built in navigation of an Android phone.

 
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