Ouya unboxing and first impressions

Posted on May 28th, 2013 by Mark Stanley
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Ouya First ImpressionsIn August 2012 I became one of many backers (63,416 to be exact) of the Ouya project on Kickstarter – a hugely successful fund raising project to build and ship an affordable Android based game console for the living room. In fact it was so successful they raised >$8m via Kickstarter and went on to raise another $15m in VC funding. I signed up, paid my $99 (plus some additional costs for delivery to Europe) on the promise of a console and one controller if/when they managed to build it. That day came yesterday – my Ouya arrived on my doorstep in Dublin, Ireland and after my very kind wife handed over an additional EUR20 to DHL for the customs fees, it was officially mine. Not sure how many others arrived in Ireland yesterday (May 27th 2013 – you can let me know in the comments) but I like to think that I was one of the first to get one here. The following are my high level thoughts on the unboxing and first impressions of the hardware and software. Note this is not an in-depth review – I’ll leave that to the experts – but hopefully a useful post on the first impressions from an end user.

Packaging
This is no Apple product but then this cost just $99 and the packaging reflects this. It reminded me very much of the style and quality of packaging that my Google Nexus 10 came in – matt black cardboard. Functional, reasonable quality – gets the job done. I liked the ‘Thank you for believing’ sticker in the box – a nice touch.

Build quality
The console and the controller are very nicely built. They feels like a solid, expensive product. Nothing flimsy or cheap about it at all. There was some protective film around the polished plastic bits to avoid scratching during transit, the parts were all packed nice and securely and it arrived in perfect condition all the way from Hong Kong. Very nicely done.

What’s in the box
This I was impressed and pleasantly surprised by. Along with the console and controller there is a manual, the power adapter, two AA batteries for the controller (Duracell – not some cheap and nasty brand you often get with big brand electronics like remote controls), and a HDMI cable (often excluded when buying other consoles and peripherals). In other words, other than your TV and a WiFi internet connection, everything you need to get started – no messing around looking for batteries or cables. My first puzzle was to figure out where to put those nice Duracell batteries. There is no obvious battery compartment in the controller – the type you usually find on the back of a remote control with the little pull-tab. After some head-scratching and unsuccessful references to the manual in my typical RTFM fashion, I figured it out – the two front faceplates of the controller detach to reveal battery compartments. Not very obvious, but nicely designed and engineered and when you think about it, the perfect place to put batteries in order to help them balance the overall feel of the controller. Nice work here, but a reference to this in the manual would help for those a little slow like me! Overall, a great package.

The Manual
On the subject of the manual, it’s got to be about 30 pages long. However all but one of those pages is made up of technical and legal mumbo jumbo. There is one page of instructions which are very high level and unspecific. Other than the battery challenge this was ok for me, but when it comes to selling this console via retail channels I expect Ouya will need to provide a lot more detail on the setup process. Work to do here.

Getting Started
So now it was time to get this puppy fired up and see what it could do. Plug in the power, HDMI cable and power up both the console and the controller and we were away. First impressions – this software is nicely designed and I get an encouraging ‘OUYA’ tone as the machine boots up (in no time). Next was pairing the controller to the console which worked first time, and it was then down to joining my WiFi network. Here’s where things slowed down a little. Figuring out how to use CAPS, go forward and back through the input boxes and submit took a little time – probably no more or less than any console but I came across a few little usability bugs at this stage which also slowed me down. Ultimately I gave up on the WiFi connection and connected an Ethernet cable to the back of the console and went with the wired option. This was more down to my impatience than anything but there are a few little bugs to fix here. Once connected to the internet the console looked for updates, downloaded, rebooted and installed them with some cute progress messages as it went – took about 3 or 4 minutes in total. We were then ready to login.

When prompted to login I realised I had forgotten my username and password to referred back to my email to dig out my username and guessed my password. I eventually got logged in, but again I feel that this is where some people will need more help from the manual. Once logged in I was in what was clearly the main menu with options for Play, Discover, Make and Manage. Of course all I wanted to do at this stage was Play, so I went there to find nothing – no preloaded games or content. That led me to Discover where the options were a little less clear in Check It, Staff Picks, Fresh, Favs, Genres and Sandbox. Some games appeared in a series of thumbnail images to the right but after some clicking in and out of different menu options, they became blank thumbnails (another bug) which later returned to being images. I downloaded a few games and tried them out.

The Download, Install and Play process
To download a game you Discover it, download it (this can happen in the background though I encountered more weirdness when downloading multiple games at the same time) and you must then install it separately through the Play menu where the game will automatically now be listed. This is a little clunky since as users intention in downloading a game is surely to also install it, so would be good to see these steps combined into one in the future. For now, both need to be done but it’s a straightforward process and only takes a few minutes to get playing a game. I only tried free games – I noticed an area to enter credit card details and I wasn’t going there!

The gameplay experience
One of the games I downloaded was Flashout 3D – a Wipeout clone widely available on iOS and Android. The gameplay and smoothness was great and reminded me of the original Playstation Wipeout title. The graphics are obviously not up to PS3 / XBox standard, but again we’re talking about what is effectively a $99 Android phone connected to your TV here. Overall a fun and smooth gameplay experience. There aren’t a lot of titles available today so looking forward to seeing this build out over time.

The controller
The controller is a critical part of any game console, and Ouya have done a pretty good job here. Its connected wirelessly over Bluetooth and this pairing process works simply and … well … ‘just works’. The balance and comfort of the controller in the hand is bang-on. The analog joysticks and buttons are well positioned and have a good feel to them as you play. The shoulder buttons work but don’t have that same quality feel to them – they have a glossy finish to them, feel light and protrude from the controller which overall impacts the quality. The ‘D-Pad’ feels a little ‘sticky’ but since I won’t be using this much I’m not too bothered. In summary a strong controller with a few little niggles.

Overall impressions
I’ve cast a very critical eye over this product and there are some minor flaws in both the hardware and the software here. I expect the software to improve quickly over time, and no doubt the hardware will come in refreshed formats also but in the end I keep coming back to the fast that this is a $100 v1 Android based living room console, and for that it’s hard to fault. It’s a very well designed, quickly developed and FUN device that I would recommend any console fan or games enthusiast considers purchasing. Clearly this is not a comprehensive review and summarised my main thoughts having spent a total of one hour setting up and playing my Ouya, but hopefully it’s of use to those considering buying one. Would love to get your thoughts and feedback in the comments.

Dublin GAA Club Map

Posted on April 16th, 2013 by Mark Stanley
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As I attend more and more GAA club games in Dublin for my wife, my son and now my daughter I find my self continually searching for new club locations. Some are new to me, some I’ve been to before but can’t remember the exact location. GAA club websites are mixed in their quality and I find myself reverting to Google Maps / Apple Maps to find where I’m going. As I find new clubs I’ve been adding them to a Google Map which I have embedded below for your viewing pleasure. I’ve opened the map up for public collaboration in the hope that others will contribute the locations of their clubs – making this a reference point for clubs across the county. If you find this useful, please link to it from your website or post a link to your social media channels. Thanks!


View Gaa Clubs – Dublin in a larger map

Google Nexus 10 Review

Posted on January 5th, 2013 by Mark Stanley
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I recently purchased a Google Nexus 10 tablet. I was in the market for a new tablet since my last one was the original iPad and it has begun to feel very slow, doesn’t have any camera and is not eligible for the upgrade to iOS6. I was pretty well bought into the whole iOS world – between my work and personal equipment I own a MacBook air, two Mac Pro’s, an iPhone, an Apple TV, an Airport Express, two iPods and the aforementioned iPad – and that’s just counting what I own today – I’ve been through several iterations of many of these devices. However several years ago I owned a HTC Desire Android phone and really liked it so an Android tablet was a definite option – especially since all I’ve read recently indicated that Android was really leading the mobile OS pack, and the hardware was getting better and better with each release. The only thing I felt I would really lose was AirPlay compatibility – I use AirPlay on a daily basis to stream audio from my iDevices to a set of powered speakers in my kitchen connected through an AirPort Express. Having mulled all the options (probably a little too much) I finally decided to go with the Nexus 10. I liked the idea of having a different perspective on the tablet offerings today, and generally don’t like the idea of ‘vendor lockin’ despite being a somewhat willing victim of it. The following are my thoughts on the device having used it for approx 48 hours in a personal capacity.

Google Nexus 10

Google Nexus 10

Buying a Nexus 10 in Ireland
First off, let’s talk about the options when it comes to buying a Nexus 10 since I live in Ireland and the Nexus 10 has not been launched here, this is pertinent to my story. Not having been officially launcher here, the Nexus 10 cannot be purchased directly from Google in Ireland. The Nexus 10 has however been officially launched in the UK, France and other European countries, and it can be bought from there but the cheapest place to get one is in the US so I opted to buy one via eBay. The tablet cost $650 for the 32GB version, and shipping was $60 via FedEx – delivered in 48hrs from the US. So $710 all in or €551 once converted to Euro. I was pretty happy with that price. The 32gb WiFi iPad would set me back €609 in Ireland by comparison. The Nexus 10 costs €499 in France, so there’s a good chance I could have had it for slightly cheaper had I bought it from a European e-tailer. But I was impatient, maybe a little hasty and in the end went with the expensive shipping from the US vs going with a unit from France or somewhere else closer to me. Worth researching but ultimately you won’t save too much in the new market.

Unboxing experience
The packaging was really nice – not quite to the same standard as the legendary apple packaging but as close as matters for what in the end is a box you will likely discard. The tablet comes wrapped in a screen protector and rear film to prevent scratches during delivery. Also in the box is a micro USB cable, an adapter to the cable to charge via a mains outlet (as US one as per above), a manual and the Nexus 10 itself. The tablet came approx 60% charged so it was ready to use right out of the box – nice for impatient people like me ;) As I already have a Google account, it took me 2mins to follow the setup wizard, connect to a WiFi network, login via my Google account and be up and running. I spent another few hours installing apps, configuring my widgets, customising the tablet to my preferences and generally familiarising myself with how to use it. Rather than reading the paper manual I downloaded the PDF version of the Google Nexus 10 user manual and used it to figure out a few things such as how to setup user accounts (see commentary on this feature below), but overall learning how to use the device was very intuitive and easy.

Call outs
One big advantage Android has over iOS on a tablet is the idea of user accounts – this is a new feature that comes with Android 4.2 ‘JellyBean’. In a family environment a tablet is a device that is typically shared. In my case, my iPad is used by my wife, my three kids and myself. The problem with this is that once you unlock an iPad, the experience is the same for everyone. Documents are shared, the apps are the same, preference and app logins are the same for every user. Android has this solved via user accounts – you can create accounts for several users, and each user has their own login, profile, apps, downloads, and preferences that are unique to them – much in the same way as they would on Windows, OSX etc. This is a significant advantage for anyone wishing to share their tablet amongst several others and it’s really elegantly (and simply) implemented. I also really like the idea of widgets. I’m used to these in the OSX Dashboard world, and it’s nice to be able to have more than just icons in your launcher (ala iOS).

In many of the reviews I read of this tablet before I purchased it, there was mention of a couple of disappointing sides to this device – the first, and most immediately obvious being the low quality plasticky case. I was not as disappointed by the quality as I had expected – maybe because I was forewarned about this from reading these reviews. Sure, the case quality is not up to the same standards as Apples but it still feels like a quality device, and the back has a better grip when placed directly on a desk. Not a concern for me. The other disappointment raised in reviews I read (one in particular on ZDNet) was the poor microphone quality. I can’t speak to this one as in the time I’ve had it, I have not yet tested the microphone though I’ll be doing a Google+ Hangout or a Skype in the near future and will update the post based on my experience here.

Apps
Overall, I could download all of the apps I most frequently use on my iPad for the Android platform via the Play Store. Sure there are lots of apps that are particular to each platform, but I couldn’t find any that were essential to me that I couldn’t either download the Android version of, or find a workable alternative to. As will be familiar to any Android user, there’s the ability to give each app individual permissions to update itself which is better than the manual process via iOS. Another huge advantage is that when you connect an Android device to your computer, you can directly access the filesystem to upload files. This means you can store media such as music, video and photos for later playback rather than being held hostage by the likes of iTunes. VLC is available in Beta on Android, though I found it to play smoothly without hiccup despite the warnings that it was beta software and crashes should be expected. The only real downside I saw on the app side is that many of the apps seem designed for phones rather than tablets (at least at this stage) and in these cases, those apps only work in portrait orientation. Not a huge issue and something that I am sure will develop over time as developers make their apps tablet friendly when more Android tablets are sold, but worth mentioning. Oh, and in some cases (notably the Facebook the TweetDeck apps for Android) they are considerably more basic, and frankly ugly on Android than on iOS.

In summary, I love my new tablet. There are some Pro’s and Con’s to it as a platform and hardware choice, but I wasn’t really expecting a slam-dunk here. Overall I found the Nexus 10 to be a very strong contender among the latest tablet devices available today (January 2013). It’s really interesting to see the differences between the different mobile platforms – both on the hardware and software sides. One thing I believe strongly is that the fierce competition in this space only means positive things for consumers – as one platform makes a significant step forward, the other is automatically in catchup mode and that is driving innovation and bringing new devices, apps and features to the market at an incredible pace. Whether you choose iOS or Android, and the many hardware decisions on the Android platform you can assume that you are benefiting from all the platform innovation going on. Of course I don’t mention Windows here – primarily because I don’t have any experience with the Windows Mobile (or Windows 8) solutions, but clearly that is an important player in the mix. The downside is that without doubt I will be replacing my Nexus 10 with the latest gadget before too long, but that’s a luxury I hope to be able to afford.

To wrap up, in short – some Pro’s and Con’s of the Nexus 10 (not exhaustive, but important from my own perspective) – from the context of a comparison with the latest iPad from Apple.

Pros

  • Lighter, bigger screen, higher screen resolution, more powerful, better cameras, thinner, better battery life and cheaper than the equivalent iPad (32GB WiFi).
  • User account switching – huge plus for those sharing their tablet – families, schools, small businesses etc.
  • A more advanced mobile OS.

Cons

  • Max 32gb (no card expansion as with other Android based tablets)
  • No 3/4g option. WiFi only (iPad offers both, as do some Android based tablets)
  • Occasional instability (I’ve seen at least 6 crashes/random reboots in 48hrs use)
  • Slow charging via micro usb – another issue identified by ZDNet in their review.

*** UPDATE *** Having read about the random reboots a bit more, I came across this great article explaining some of the background and the next steps.

Incredible lack of customer support from fiverr – @fiverrhq

Posted on July 16th, 2012 by Mark Stanley
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I recently visited fiverr.com for a cheap service I was looking to purchase knowing that there was a good chance someone would be offering it, and looking forward to making my second purchase on the site – my first one was way back in March 2010. For those who haven’t heard of fiverr, they describe […]

Video: Sideview

Posted on June 5th, 2012 by Mark Stanley
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Here’s a little video I shot on a train ride I recently took from the west coast of Ireland back to Dublin. Shot using my iPhone4 and the cool app SocialCam. Let me know what you think in the comments. The track is ‘Glass Jar’ by Gang Gang Dance.

Recommended reading via Amazon Store

Posted on September 30th, 2011 by Mark Stanley
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I’ve been busy doing some leadership development courses recently, reading books and listening to audio books on management topics. Over the last few weeks I’ve received lots of recommended reading which I’ve put together in a small amazon.co.uk store on the website here. I intend to read each one of these books one by one […]