Rugby 15 review

Standard

This is a golden age of sports games. Electronic Arts and 2K, among others, churn out iterative titles every summer, make a quick buck and can get away with it because these titles are really rather good.

Rugby union doesn’t tend to get the same treatment. Since 2007, many fans have been clinging on to EA’s last title, Rugby 08, which was itself no more than a re-skinned Rugby 06. It wasn’t exceptional by any means, but ‘fans’ grew to love its glitches, disrespect for the rules and overpowered Irish centres.

HB Studios, EA’s contracted studio, brought the sport to the next generation in 2011, cashing in on the World Cup hype with, you guessed it, a shinier Rugby 08. Sidhe had a crack with a pair of Rugby Challenge titles which proved scarce and new players found it difficult to adapt to the perplexing controls, yet I found it far superior once you adapted. Still far from perfect, but closer than beforehand.

When news broke early last year that HB would be bringing a new Bigben-published title, Rugby 15, to market, I was tentatively excited. Yes, it would likely be Rugby 06 for the fourth time, but licensed sides and blanket release on major consoles would surely make up for it.

I became highly suspicious the month of release came and, with nary a gameplay video, the game was delayed in the UK (until its release on these shores today). So, like any rational person, I splashed out €45 to get it imported from France a few months ago. All in the name of journalism, of course, my dear reader. I would do anything for you. Even this.

Sadly for my wallet, it’s atrocious. Playing my first game against a longtime nemesis and worthy competitor at rugby games old and new, we both unleashed fits of laughter when the game kicked off.

Animations are deranged and woefully few. Controls are deranged, with the right trigger responsible for passes in all directions. Even the licenses have been mangled, with Irish lynchpin Jonny Sexton carrying a lower overall rating than unknown Harlequins benchwarmers.

Rugby 15’s defining moment came in a clash between Toulon and Clermont Auvergne. Whilst pitying my opponent and clinging onto what little desire I maintained to survive, I crossed the try line and intentionally flicked the ball wide to winger Julien Malzieu, standing off the pitch, who then leapt back across the line, grounding the ball at my command. Correctly, the game awarded Toulon a 22 metre dropout, but not before awarding Malzieu’s Clermont the 5 most invalid points they’ll ever collect, virtual or not.

If you care for the sport of rugby or its video game realisations one iota, please avoid this game. Just pick up a copy of Rugby Challenge 2 and get to grips with its quirks. For now, I’m stuck trying to figure out how to recoup my Euros.

Rugby 15 is released today in the UK. It is awful.

Apple iPhone 5s review

Screen Shot 2013-12-28 at 12.45.49
Standard

I’m sure that you all know by now that Apple has announced their latest addition to their smartphone lineup – the iPhone 5s. As ever with Apple, there has been a lot of hype surrounding this launch, and that has resulted in the fact that some of the sites that have reviewed it haven’t really understood what the phone is about, or what it is trying to be. Some put it down for its “bad” specifications. Others fawned over the device just because it was sent down by the Apple gods from above.. Even though I’m pretty late with this review, hopefully I’ll be able to give my thoughts on the device, and while doing that tell you what this device is really about. Continue reading

Flappy Bird or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bird

Flappy Bird
Standard

Mobile gaming is a wonderful thing. While it once took a 10 tonne console to escape to another world, where one would typically find a selection of guns, aliens and Italian plumbers, we can now use conveniently portable devices to take us away from our troubles instead. Or allow green pipes to cause even more.

Flappy Bird was the latest avian title to land in our pockets and find surprisingly astronomical success, with a deceptively simple premise and mechanics. A single tap performs a single flap of the wings of a small bird that looks like Kirby with Jay-Z’s lips which, although officially nameless, I affectionately call Flapster.

But why did a game made by a Vietnamese indie developer in a few evenings after work that launched in May 2013 become the most popular mobile game of 2014? The answer lies deep within the struggles of our lives.

Mario uses his raw plumbing tekkers to open wormholes and transcend dimensions with green pipes, but Flappy Bird and its nameless protagonist present a whole new facade to these former allies. He’s not a trained worker. He’s a bird. Pipes are enemies, and serve solely to crush his hopes and dreams with a brutal splat. Should our friend succeed and pass beyond the blockade, life throws up yet another challenge before his eventual death.

Attaching no name or back story to the bird lets us project our own emotions and struggles onto its journey. Life, like Flappy Bird, is not fair. To stand any chance of reaching double figures and cross the obstacles in our paths, we must stay focused and tap carefully. Yes, we may fly face-first into a pipe now and then, but we won’t give up. We will keep tapping. Tapping towards freedom.

Now, as creator Dong Nguyen, with $50k a day in his pocket, withdraws the app from stores and himself from the limelight, lil’ Flapster flies off into the sunset (via a few green pipes, naturally). All we have left are fond memories of the winter of the bird, who taught us it was alright to fail, as long as we got straight back up to seek the bing, and the hours we lost in our quest for a high five.

Nokia Lumia 720 audio review

Standard

WP_20130818 2

Earlier this week, I published my extensive review of Nokia’s Lumia 720. If you haven’t read and watched it already, I’d sincerely recommend that you check it out, but today I’m bringing a new option of consuming our written word to the table. Alex, the lovely robot found within iTunes on Mac OS X, has made an audio version of my post which sounds remarkably good for one of these text-to-speech things. The concept of audio reviews is something I’ve been considering for a while now, so if you think it’s worth us continuing (even if we have to replace Alex with a human or alternative robot voice) give us a shout in the comments or on Twitter.

Right click and save this link to download, and you can subscribe (and rate and review the podcast) using iTunes! Don’t fancy iTunes or use a different podcatcher? Here’s our RSS link!

If you have any feedback, questions or comments, tweet us or send us an email to podcast@digixav.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Nokia Lumia 720 review

Lumia 720 review
Standard

For years, Nokia has known that the best way to expand market share is to saturate every corner of it with a device. After an initial launch of just two devices in late 2011, Lumia devices are now available at seemingly every price point from £99 to £499, and one of the latest devices to join the range, the Lumia 720, sits firmly in the middle of this vast expanse, priced at around £249 unlocked. It follows on from the Lumia 710, which I reviewed last year and felt was a bargain considering its low price and high quality, but the 720 faces fierce competition from a sea of Android-powered handsets including diminutive versions of the top-selling flagships from HTC and Samsung. As such, is this mid-range combination of Windows Phone 8 and Nokia’s trademark hardware design worth your attention? Read on to find out.

Continue reading

Microsoft Surface RT review

Standard

IMG_20130124_212237

Last June, a mysterious event invite came out of Microsoft’s Washington HQ. Unlike pretty much every other tech launch in the last two years, we hadn’t seen any major leaks beforehand, although rumours of the launch being for a tablet with Windows 8 (or, according to Mat Honan, a #MSFTaaaaaablet). What the company ultimately unveiled was the Surface, its first piece of Windows-based hardware, in both RT and Pro flavours, the latter of which still hasn’t made it to the UK. In a brave experiment, I have spent the last couple of months using the RT model as my primary computer, and it’s definitely been turning heads. Has this been for good reasons, though? Read on to find out. Continue reading

LG Nexus 4 review

Nexus 4 Hero
Standard

Nexus 4

Like the inevitable tick-tock of a clock, Google, in partnership with LG, released the fourth Nexus phone late last year. On a day inundated with news on Hurricane Sandy, they managed to send the technology community into overdrive and rain on Microsoft’s parade by introducing a flagship smartphone for just £239.99 unlocked. Despite the shambolic release that occurred through Google’s own Play Store, there is no phone out there that appears to provide this kind of value for money. Google has taken a huge gamble with this device by selling it through its own channels with next to no profit margin, but has it paid off by making the best Android phone out there? Read on to find out.

Hardware

This phone is beautiful. There are no other words to describe it. It is right up there with the iPhone 5 and One X in terms of hardware design and build quality, which is a massive achievement considering the price point. The unadorned glass façade gently curves down to meet the plastic frame which, when flipped over, reveals a gently shimmering micro-etched glass back. Sure, it was a poor design choice in terms of durability, but it looks great. The front is graced with a small speaker grill and a front facing camera. It also features a hidden notification light centred on the bottom bezel – which is very clear and bright. It’s also RGB, meaning it can be programmed to be any colour with apps such as Light Flow. Aside from the volume rocker and power button, the only keys you’ll see here are on-screen, keeping with the pattern started by 2011’s Galaxy Nexus and continued throughout many other post-Ice Cream Sandwich devices and, while not without their critics, I love them. It’s simplicity done extremely well.

Nexus 4 Back

The screen is a 4.7” WXGA (1280 x 768) IPS affair, but some of it is taken up by software buttons. The screen is also up there with the best, using the same in-cell technology the iPhone 5 made a big deal about which, seeing as both panels come from LG, makes perfect sense. The colours and vibrancy are great, although still trail behind AMOLED in certain aspects. The Nexus 4 feels solid in the hand, but also feels very slippery due to the glass back and curve, and I therefore highly recommend getting a case for it, no matter how difficult it is to cover up the beautiful exterior. Another slight problem is the chrome band surrounding the front. While it is done very well, it does have the tendency to scratch or dent. The buttons are made of the same material. They have a nice travel, and feel solid, but they are quite slippery – a recurring theme with the hardware on this phone. However, in spite of all of these flaws, this is easily one of the best designed Android phones ever.

Nexus 4 Base

Inside, the Nexus 4 sits perched upon the top of 2012’s internal hardware. It has a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro with an Adreno 320 GPU, coupled with 2GB of RAM giving you a blazing fast phone, although the upcoming flagships like the HTC One and Galaxy S IV should easily eclipse it. Benchmark scores demonstrate this, although these should be taken with a pinch of salt, as our testing shows that the US variant of the Galaxy S III (with dual-core S4 chip) obtains a higher Quadrant score than the quad-core S4 Pro-powered Nexus 4, suggesting that this benchmark has not been properly optimised for Android 4.2 yet.

Benchmarks

Device Chipset Quadrant AnTuTu NenaMark2
LG Nexus 4 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro (Quad) 4694 17561 59.6 fps
Samsung Galaxy S III (US) 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 (Dual) 5325 7373 48.7 fps
HTC One X+ 1.7GHz Tegra 3 (Quad) 7652 13546 57.0 fps
HTC One X (Intl.) 1.5GHz Tegra 3 (Quad) 4602 9795 54.7 fps
Asus Nexus 7 1.3GHz Tegra 3 (Quad) 3734 10426 55.3 fps

Software

This phone is running pure, unadulterated Android and is all the better for it. Untouched by manufactures, this allows the end user to experience and enjoy Android as Google intended, which is of course one of the major selling points of this phone. A positive knock-on effect of this is that it should receive timely updates to Android, currently on version 4.2.2. This is why the Galaxy Nexus remained a great phone throughout it’s lifespan – and why the Nexus 4 will be the same. It’s a safer choice than a Samsung or HTC phone, which may or may not be updated to the latest version of Android.

Nexus 4 Corner

Android 4.2 is the best version of Android yet, and it looks great on the hardware of the Nexus 4. I’m not going to do a full review of the software as it’s still the Jelly Bean that we know and love from I/O 2012, but I’ll go over a few of the new features, such as lock-screen widgets. Combined with the ever-growing number of third party apps that support this functionality, this is amazing. My favourite use case is to see my to do list and edit it all from my lock screen. This is joined by gesture typing (a Swype-esque keyboard), Photo Sphere (StreetView-esque 360 degree panoramas) and Miracast streaming to make the latest point upgrade of the dessert-flavoured OS.

Nexus 4 Camera

What does this all mean to you? Basically, you get a rock solid, lightning fast version of Android. This is easily on par with the iPhone, if not smoother thanks to Project Butter. It also blends in with all the apps that follow the Holo design guidelines (unlike the One X). I realise I must sound like a fanboy when I say this, but honestly it’s true. There are still places where Android lags behind iOS, but those places are few and far between. I’m genuinely excited to see what Android 5.0 will bring.

Camera, Battery and Radios

As many reviews have stated before, and more will state after, the Nexus 4 camera is simply average. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but not amazing. I would put it about on par with the iPhone 4S in terms of picture quality, and slightly worse than that for colour reproduction. Rather than telling you, it’s better for me to show you. There is a full gallery of sample shots on the way to be added to this review later.

Nexus 4 Sample Shot Can

Again, the same goes for battery life. It is average, and maybe even slightly below. The Nexus 4 lasts about 10 hours on a charge, but with screen on time fluctuating wildly depending on usage and the ROM. My highest is about 4.5 hours and the lowest is about 1.5 hours. Not great, but with a bit of careful usage here and there it will get you through the day. I’ll also update this review with screenshots of a few charge cycles. I’m not entirely sure why the battery life is so sub-par considering it is a non-LTE phone with a 2100mAh battery, but I assume that the internals or apps are draining it.

The radios in the Nexus have been very good, definitely better than the One X I reviewed last year. WiFi reception has been pretty good, reaching 3 bars out of 4 in my room. This is pretty good for a smartphone as my room has brick walls, and 3G reception has been pretty good too. One major thing that the phone has been bashed for is the lack of 4G LTE capability, but if you are in the UK then that shouldn’t be a problem until much later when 4G is widespread, unless you are an EE customer.

Conclusion

Nexus 4 Conclusion

The Nexus 4 is easily the best phone in its price bracket and, in most ways, it is definitely the best phone on the market. However, is it the phone that you should buy? The HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S IV are both lurking just days away, and I say if you are buying a phone to last 3 or 4 years, this probably isn’t the phone to buy due to the crack-prone glass back and lack of LTE. If you are buying a phone to last 1 year (or even 2), then this is your phone. The promise of prompt Android updates ably aided by the swift internals will keep you ticking by nicely. Sure, in 2 years it might not be the best-specced phone, but it will remain the yardstick for Android in 2013. Why? Because it’s a Nexus, and this is how Android phones should be done.