Gadget Review: Nexus 10

Hi out there to everyone in Readerland! If you've been following the blog for a bit, you might recall that every three months my life gets consumed by a battle with an Elder Hydra. Ok, so the hydra is figurative but the net effect is the same: long hours spent hacking away at an entity that just...won't...die. This particular iteration of the recurrent battle is especially heinous, mostly for reasons I won't bore you with, but also a couple of legitimately awesome reasons that I'll share in my next post. Speaking of which, the next installment of this here blog will be published in a couple of weeks rather than exactly a week from now. Why? You'll find out soon enough, I promise. I also promise that the blog will resume a regular posting schedule immediately after the break. So just hold tight after today.

Though my conflict with the hydra has taken up most of my time these past couple of weeks, I've not been left completely in the dark with regard to Geekdom. The wide array of interactive options and press coverage provided me with a much-needed escape from the winter doldrums and brought me a live feed of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) out in warm, sunny Las Vegas. That spectrum of show and participant feedback was particularly helpful in navigating the torrent of company updates and product announcements that flood out of the show every year. Unfortunately, also in keeping with CES tradition, a considerable percentage of the novel items that made their debut at the event are barely past the prototype stage and won't be available for you or I to purchase anytime soon. Is it awesome to catch a glimpse of what the future may hold? Sure thing. Isn't it also a bit of a tease to have such things paraded about, only to be told they're years away from actually being sold? Very yes. 

Alternately stymied and excited, I wanted to share the details of a new gadget that's actually available for purchase: the Nexus 10. Released to the market at the tail end of 2012, the Nexus was to be Google's (made by Samsung) rebuttal to Apple's iPad 4 and Amazon's Kindle Fire/Fire HD. Is this salvo into the increasingly competitive tablet marketplace a solid one? The answer is a resounding yes.

For quite some time, the debate had been, "Do we get a tablet or a laptop?" Both offered same desired features: high levels of portability, a plethora of mobile entertainment options, and all the means to remain connected with family and friends. The laptop ostensibly offered more traditional computing (full versions of PC games and word processing capabilities) while the tablet wove all the features of a smart phone into the conveniences of an e-reader. The latter gave me pause; wouldn't a tablet then just be a larger version of my Android phone? While the Nexus does perform many of the same functions as a smart phone, the features it offers that go above and beyond that ground my cynical suspicions underfoot. The following points detail just how the Nexus 10 went about doing so.

Product Specs: The Nexus 10 boasts a 10.1 inch (25.65 cm) screen with a 2560 x 1600 resolution, a measure that tops even the iPad 4. It runs on the Android Jelly Bean 4.2 OS, has a 1.7GHz Exynos 5 (Cortex A-15) dual-core processor, Mali T604 graphics chip, and 2GB of RAM. It's bigger than many tablets currently available, so it will feel quite large if you're presently using a Kindle, iPad mini, or a Nexus 7. Despite the size, the tablet is hardly bulky and weighs in at only 1.39 pounds (630 grams). The actual chassis of the tablet is surprisingly pleasant to hold, offering significant friction against the hand that allows the user to feel entirely comfortable holding the device.

Audio/Video: The speakers on the Nexus are on the margins and the back of the tablet, as is typical of many Samsung offerings. The audio quality emanating from said speakers is decent, but not superb. A pair of headphones easily smoothes out any auditory roughness. The Nexus also features a 5 megapixel back-facing and a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera, which allows for everything from photo snapping to video chatting and recording. The microphone on the device is remarkably sensitive and could certainly be used to capture even highly nuanced songs or other audio.

Media/Apps:  The Nexus aptly handles video from Netflix, the Amazon Prime library, and Hulu/YouTube. Any hiccups I experienced while watching episodes of Archer or Futurama were almost exclusively due to internet connectivity blips rather than the Nexus. The picture clarity was amazing and there was no distortion, regardless of the viewing angle. The available apps are largely the same as those available on any Android phone with the sole exception of the Amazon suite of applications, which was a bit disappointing. Note: the Kindle app does work on the Nexus, so you can use it as an e-reader. Unsurprisingly, all other Amazon apps will not function on the Nexus, because, of course, its not a Fire HD. There are a considerable number of available games, nearly all of which benefit from the large, high definition screen.  A select number of applications are considerably better on a tablet (Pinterest, TED, Bloomberg, YouTube, and, of course, the Google suite of apps) than they are on a phone or even a desktop; only a few apps were markedly worse (Facebook).

General Utility: The most pleasant surprise I encountered (and continue to encounter) with the Nexus 10 is just its sheer functionality. It should be noted here that I'm a heavy user of all things Google (Gmail, G+, blogger, Google calendar, Google drive, etc) so having all those features that I already utilize in a highly accessible locale is uber handy. If you're similarly ensnared in Google's far-reaching web then you'll almost certainly love its aggregator/summary function which synchs all of the above applications into a single feed. Example: opening the aggregator will present you with a snapshot for your day. It will present you with all your appointments, important events to keep in mind (like birthdays), have a running countdown to much-anticipated events, provide you with the weather forecast, craft a synopsis of what your friends are up to, create a reading list of recent posts from blogs you follow, and track any inbound packages in real time. It's essentially what Facebook desperately wishes it was. Any of the above can be activated and interacted with by voice commands, which work decently (about 65% accuracy, 90% precision and 10% unintentional hilarity). The keyboard is also extremely viable. Is it like a physical keyboard? No. Is it light-years better than what you'd find on a phone? Definitely.  Lastly, the battery life is respectable. It requires charging overnight most nights, but easily lasts through the day without issue, even after heavy use. You can go 2.5-3 days at a time without recharging with light to moderate use. 

Other perks: The Nexus 10 is one of the very few devices presently on the market that does not require the owner/user to link the tablet to an existing account with a wireless provider. There are no data plans attached. Seriously. This is not another iteration of the nonsense Amazon tried to pull with the Fire HD that claimed no data plan was required, then buried the truth that one would be necessary after a year of use in the extra fine print. However, no data plan means that the tablet is not 3G/4G capable in its own right and is entirely reliant on nearby wireless hubs. Keep this in mind if you're in a rural area or otherwise receive spotty wireless. Once the Nexus gets connected it's lightening fast, but will waver and shut down all web based functions the moment it's taken clear of a hub. Like all android devices, all background settings, interfaces, and applications are managed entirely by the user. You have complete freedom to make your experience with the Nexus anything and everything you want it to be. The Nexus also allows for the creation of multiple "profiles" for individual users in a household, which allow each user their own UI and privacy controls.

Cons: Like all new technology, the Nexus is not without its flaws. The screen itself is extremely sensitive and can often lend itself to "misclicks" (we haven't taken off the protective plastic covering and still occasionally get this). Additionally, the OS is prone to freezing and/or crashing every now and again (basically locking up entirely, then rebooting after about 30 seconds).  In the past month or so our Nexus has crashed about 4-5 times. No data has been lost nor any critical functions disrupted, but it can be irksome. The dimensions of the device sometimes do not align with the intended resolution of a given app, which can distort the overall image. Also, though the tablet has a USB port, it is meant to interact with the charger rather than act as a gateway for USB capable devices. It was a bit disappointing to not be able to link the Nexus to an external hard drive, but there are workarounds available to facilitate the transfer of data. Lastly, Flash does not yet work on the Nexus, but this may be remedied in the future.

In all, an excellent bit of hardware and a promising offering by Google/Samsung. It's definitely worth your consideration if you're in the market for a tablet and/or use the Google suite extensively. 

Alright, well with that I am off.  See you all in a couple of weeks!
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Upcoming Awesomeness in 2013!

Ah, a new calendar year. The whole notion of a fresh twelve months rife with potential is generally awesome, but often given little note beyond inquiries as to whether or not you've made any resolutions. For the past two weeks you've been bombarded with "Top Ten" lists both nerdy and muggle alike describing everything from comics to games to the words and phrases that appeared most in a given search engine. Don't get me wrong, those recaps can often be a lot of fun, either as fodder for future "I should go see/do that" lists or just pure reflective amusement, but, beyond that, you've got a whole lot of stuff that already transpired and perhaps a nagging sense that you missed out on something.

With this in mind, I wanted to compose a list of nerdy brilliance that we can expect in the year ahead. Let's give nostalgia its due and then start looking forward to something! 2012 was a truly blockbuster year for Geekdom in just about every arena so it stands to reason that last year is going to be a hard act to follow. Fortunately, the pipeline of nearly every geeky industry is chock-full of would-be goodies. For facility's sake, I've subdivided the list by media type. Also, this list is limited to those projects that have a definitive release date attached to them. Anything with a debut scheduled for "sometime in 2013" or something equally vague can be featured when it decides to get its act together and give us a more concrete date.

Nerdy properties broke out in a colossal way in 2012 and one of the single most powerful agents for this new phase of the Nerdaissance were well-executed, widely received movies. A single twelve month period brought us John Carter, the Hunger Games, Cabin in the Woods, the Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey amongst quite a few equally geeky, but less illustrious releases . If only we could distill the brilliance that brought this about and see that it's included in the daily intake of the professionals who are/will be undertaking similar projects in the future.
The dominant theme of 2013 is the sequel/spinoff and, while that may seem to have been the case every year for the past five or so, it's going to be particularly endemic to this one. Furthermore, those entries onto the 2013 cinematic docket that aren't successor volumes in a beloved series are themselves potential foundation for major franchises. The stakes are extremely high, as is the corresponding prospect for disappointment. So it is with the guarded blend of both hope and cynicism that many of us know all too well that I present the 2013 candidates for your hard-earned ticket money. (Disclaimer: the below are release dates for the US/Canada, debut dates in other countries may vary)

January: John Dies at the End
            Yes, this movie was technically available for completely legal download starting on the     27th of last month, but it's coming to brick-and-mortar theatres on January 25th. This tale
            of a covert alien invasion conducted under the premise of a psychedelic new street drug
            promises an excellent viewing experience, a chance to support independent filmmaking,
            and Paul Giamatti.

February: The Sorcerer and the White Snake
            Originally released approximately a year and a half ago in China, this latest work of Jet
            Li is finally coming stateside. Based on a Chinese legend, the film centers around a
            young physician who falls in love with a beautiful woman. Of course, just the guy's luck
            that the woman is an ancient snake demon in disguise. Cue Mr. Li to bust up some demon
            skulls in what the actor called the most challenging role he's done to date.

Billionaire, genius, playboy: Robert Downey Jr.
May: Iron Man 3, Star Trek: Into Darkness
       For those of us chomping at the Marvel bit after 2012's the Avengers, we fortunately have not one, but two releases in 2013 to tide us over. Entry number 1 thereof is the third instance of Robert Downey Junior reminding us just why he truly is Tony Stark. Add to this another rendezvous with Captain Kirk and company (had to include Picard above 
to provide equal treatment for both captains), which I gushed a bit about in last week's post. 

June: Man of Steel, World War Z, Kick Ass 2
     Here's where things might start to get uncomfy in geekdom. We have a film from DC, who has fallen so anguishingly far behind Marvel in just about every conceivable way and now, without Christopher Nolan and Batman, desperately needs to step up. Is Man of Steel going to answer that call? Concurrently, we'll get the film adaptation of Max
            Brooks' beloved and harrowing account of a post-zombie apocalypse Earth. I'd feel better
            about this movie if it didn't recently undergo a marathon post-production sequence that
            included reshooting most of the film. We'll have to see if those extensive extra tweaks
            were worthwhile. Finally, we'll get Kick Ass 2 which maybe, just maybe, will be a bit
            more faithful to the source material than its predecessor. Hey, a girl can hope.

July: Despicable Me 2, Pacific Rim, the Wolverine, Oblivion
            The summer popcorn movie season switches to high gear in July. We'll be treated to
            various alien villainy, gargantuan aliens and the equally titanic mechs deployed to
            combat them, and a pair of anti-heros (both castoffs searching for's a
            mutant and the other is Tom Cruise).

August: Elysium
            In a not-so-distant future the wealthy reside in an idyllic space station while the
            rest of humanity languishes on a ruined Earth. Matt Damon aims to balance out the
            socio-economic scales and change the course of human civilization. No pressure.

October: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
            Seven years after our first grayscale glimpse we cross paths again with the grittiest
            inhabitant's of Frank Miller's Basin City.      

November:  Ender's Game, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Thor: The Dark World
            This month gives us two adaptation's of bestselling novels and our second inoculation       against Avengers fever (since 'more cowbell' seems ineffective). The production stills
            alone for both Ender's Game and Catching Fire have been impressive. If these films can
            remain on schedule we could be in for one of the best Thanksgivings in recent memory.    

December: The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug
            My thoughts on the first installment of the Hobbit trilogy can be found here. Given that
            the majority of the non-battlefield related plot takes place in the middle third of the actual
            book, perhaps we'll see an improvement in the second entry of the series.

Much of the literary landscape for 2013 is still being shaped as the post-production efforts associated with a book allow for a greater degree of freedom than, say, those required for making a film.  Interestingly enough, the trend of sequel/spinoff seems to have extended beyond cinema. As it stands at present, this year should highlight at least two new works by Stephen King: the throwback carnivale 'whodunit' Joyland and Dr. Sleep, a sequel to 1977's the Shining (due out in June and September respectively). Bonus: King is releasing the final chapter in the Dark Tower: Gunslinger series next week!

If all goes according to plan, we may actually get something from George R.R. Martin by October. If you read that sentence over exuding every ounce of skepticism your being could muster you'd be justified, as said release is not the Winds of Winter, lamentably enough. Fret not though, as the upcoming release, A World of Ice and Fire, may be a morsel to help get us through these lean times. A World of Ice and Fire is more akin to an overly involved coffee table book than anything else we've seen from Martin to date. Filled with maps, 'artifacts' from Westeros, and snippets of folklore, the book is meant to broaden our understanding of what it's like to live in Essos or the Seven Kingdoms. At this point, anything that proves that Martin is, in fact, still writing gives me unspeakable comfort.

PC/Video Games
The last quarter of 2012 was riddled with frustrations for both gamers and developers alike as title after title met with delays. Fortunately that wait is mostly over and 2013 gets to boast a very impressive pipeline as a result. I attempted to temper my bias towards PC gaming with the below so my apologies if the listings are a bit skewed in terms of available platforms.

Aliens: Colonial Marines (February 12th) - for Xbox360, Playstation 3, and PC
Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm (March 12th) - for PC
Gears of War: Judgment (March 19th) - for Xbox360
Bioshock Infinite (March 26th) - for Xbox360, Playstation 3, and PC
Star Wars 1313 (December 31st) - for PC
Elder Scrolls Online (December 31st) - for PC
Injustice: Gods Among Us (December 31st) - For Playstation 3, Xbox360, and Wii U

TV has arguably paced alongside movies as the media vehicle of choice for nerdy properties within the past three years and 2013 looks to continue this trend.

Archer, Season 4 - January 17th
Venture Brothers - It's been over two years since we've had any run-ins with our favorite super scientist, his now-mortal sons and/or the Guild of Calamitous Intent; a span of time that would cause angst to all but the most weathered fan of George R.R. Martin. Fortunately, there's a lot of overlap in the fan bases and most Venteroos are frothing at the news that we will be getting Season 5 this year (possibly as early as this month)! Ancillary appendages crossed that we'll be bopping along with the theme song sooner rather than later.
The Walking Dead, Season 3: Part 2 - February 10
Game of Thrones, Season 3 - March 31 

Board Games/RPGs
After months of anticipation, we'll  finally get our hands on some of the games that were up for demoing during some of last year's convention season, namely Gen Con. Rather than rehash all the gaming goodness from a few months ago, I'll just list out when you can sample the games for yourself.

Fantasy Flight Games: Android - Netrunner the Card Game and associated expansions (January 2013
FFG is also slated to release expansions for Talisman (though, sadly not the Warhammer 40K incarnation Relic), Warhammer: Invasion, A Game of Thrones LCG, Blood Bowl, Rogue Trader, Call of Cthulu, and Dust Tactics during the first quarter of 2013. 

Mayfair Games: Catan: Explorers and Pirates (April 8, 2013)

Z-Man Games: Robinson Crusoe:Adventure on Cursed Island (March 2013)

Asmadi Games: Consequential. After some developmental enhancements in the tail end of 2012, Consequential is set to make its global debut at PAX East 2013.

And all that goodness is just to start! Grab some friends (and potentially your dice) and get ready for what could be a seriously sock-rocking year!
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