Friday, June 30, 2017

"Baby Driver" Review

For my written review, click here.

HTC U11 Review

HTC has struggled to keep pace with Samsung and Apple -- usually playing catch-up on significant tech specs -- but that changes with the U11.

Introducing new tactile functionality along with an elegant two-sided glass form factor and shimmering 5.5-inch, 2K resolution display, this smartphone vies to be the center of attention rather than a wallflower.

Exemplary battery life -- intense use after a full work day will not deplete your power bar -- a staggeringly impressive 16/12 megapixel camera set and impressive multitasking and processing speeds make the U11 tough to put down.

The most intriguing new feature is the squeeze input. Rather than hunt for buttons, you squeeze the phone to launch the camera app and snap pics. While the functionality initially seems incongruous, it quickly becomes second nature, even going to the point of making it feel archaic to go back to another device and snap pics the traditional way.

If you dig the squeeze input, you can take a deep dive and set other apps for squeeze activation. If it doesn't work for you, you can ignore it and rely on the preset inputs.

The Pixel-style Google assistant fills the Siri/Bixby roll well -- riding high on a Snapdragon 835 processor -- and the dust-resistant surface keeps you from having to wipe it clean.

Most importantly, the U11 just feels right. Engineered for responsiveness, ease of use and an appealing ergonomical feel, this gem of a device puts HTC into the unfamiliar -- for the past few years -- spot at the head of the pack in the ever-evolving smartphone arms race.

While there's nothing here to make iPhone or Galaxy die-hards give up their cult-like devotion, fence-sitters looking to upgrade should give this one a long, hard look -- and not be shocked if it's love at first sight.

HTC provided a device for review.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Report: People Who Eat Darkness

Parry goes beyond nuts and bolts journalism to tear the cover off his murder story and dive deeply into the sociopolitical context and disturbing subculture that spawned Joji Obara's kidnapping and killing of Lucie Blackman.

Recounting a case he covered extensively for a British newspaper, Parry exposes the seductive repression of the hostess bar circuit that Obara used to hunt his prey and Blackman clung to as a means to use her charm and looks to get by in a foreign land. Shoving aside constraints of reporter neutrality, he shares the yearnings and frustrations of him and Blackman's family as the staggered Japanese justice system strains to shackle the monster.

Fascinatingly told and free of cliches or lazy true crime crutches, Parry creates a true masterwork that endures as the magnum opus of Blackman case coverage and sets a shining example for not only authors, but reporters, to follow.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Injustice 2: Ultimate Edition" Review

As excellent as "Injustice 2" was, the base game is sadly incomplete. Significant characters that appeared in the story mode were seemingly held back as paid DLC or to trick out the Ultimate Edition.

Shell out an extra $40 for the tricked-out edition of the spectacular D.C. universe fighting game and you get nine DLC fighters that significantly flesh out the roster of pugilists. Red Hood, Starfire, Sub-Zero and Tamaran are included, with the others yet to be announced.

You also get premiere skins, which give existing characters alternate voices and dialogue, as well as shader packs that trick out their gear in the manner of alternate jerseys in pro sports.

Oddly, Darkseid is not included in the package, and remains a pre-order exclusive. If you failed to order the game before release, expect to cough up $6 for the hilariously overpowered -- and arguably most fun -- fighter on the roster.

Whether the premium cost is worth all the additional characters depends on how much time you plan to invest in the versus mode, but there's little question that you need the add-on to complete the full game. Cheapskates can hold out hope that a version of the game with all DLC will eventually come along at a discount, as it did for the previous game in the series.

The publisher provided a review code.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Report: "The Prestige"

Christopher Nolan's flawed movie surpassed the strange, winding book, which takes an intriguing premise, strangles it to death midway through, then keeps on trucking long past when the curtain should have dropped on the plot.

The tale of rival magicians, told through dueling, conflicting journal entries found by their descendants, is at its best when it explores the psyches of the leads, pacing the escalation of the conflict from contentious professional conflict to blood feud and onward to mutually-destructive obsession.

Priest falters once he has to spill the secrets of each magician's special trick that they are hiding from one another. His explanation is a bizarre, supernatural copout that forces the story to wander off into the woods, never to return. Misdirection turns into directionlessness, and the story stops rather than ends.

The format, period detail and character voices are exquisite, but the botched execution fails to coalesce the moving parts into the masterpiece it could have been. The end result is a head-scratching magic trick that baffles rather than dazzles.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

LG X Venture Review

No matter how fast your phone's processor is or how tricked-out its apps are, it's worthless once you inevitably drop it and spiderweb the screen. Cases and screen protectors can help guard against the danger, but they can add bulk and mess with the look and form factor of your sexy device.

The LG X seeks to take the need for a case away, emphasizing toughness and endurance above all else. Built for those who like to live a life of hiking, mountain biking, DIY projects and kids running around with it, the Venture packs a tough casing, a shatter and water-resistant display and a beast of a battery. While the specs and benchmarking may not be quite up to the most cutting edge of competitors, the AT&T-exclusive device does give you all you need to thrive and survive in 2017 and beyond.

Built to compete with the Samsung S8 Active, even the software suite is designed for outdoorsy folks. The Outdoor Essentials app bundles a barometer, fitness tracker, compass and flashlight -- making it easy for campers to scrounge up what they need with minimal hassle. There's even a Glove Mode that allows the screen to sense your interactions while bundled up from the cold.

The Snapdragon 435 processor won't win many speed tests, but the 16mp rear camera and 5mp selfie cam will keep you cranking out adventurous Instagram posts. But even the underpowered processor and smallish display come with a purpose. The device is powered by a monstrous 4,100mAh battery, and the loaner unit lasted through two days of frequent use without needing a charge.

Sticking with micro USB charging rather than upgrading to USB C like most new Android phones comes with positives and negatives. The good news is that you won't have to replace your chargers, but the downside is you're stuck with slower recharging speeds and the annoyance of having to have the input lined up just right.

Overall, the LG X Venture is a solid pickup for those whose lives are tough on their phones, but offers little for the tech-savvy upgrader looking for the hottest new thing. It's meant to be brought on adventures rather than cooped up indoors.

LG provided a device for review.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Report: "Through the Looking Glass"

More artistic and less trippy and disturbing than the original, this feels like a commerce-driven cash-in. It's also an excuse for Carroll to wedge in some spectacular poems that otherwise would have been tough to publish. He abandons many of the twisted themes he tangled with in the original in favor of lighthearted whimsy. He generated some iconic characters here, including a definitive Humpty Dumpty, doofus twins Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum and the icy White Queen. This is, overall, the more accessible and better-written of the two Alice books, but less imaginative and safer.