Friday, June 23, 2023

Review: OtterBox Defender ProXT


Rugged and sturdy, the OtterBox Defender ProXT feels solid enough to sit in a construction worker's holster. 

Like the suit of super-armor Batman dons when he takes on Superman, the case turns your otherwise mortal smartphone into an overconfident juggernaut that stares danger in the eye and chuckles.

Bearing military standard drop-testing the two-piece cover protects your chassis from all sides, with an unobtrusive ridge that keeps your phone from emerging cracked from a nasty face-planting while not taking up too much real estate in your pocket. 

While the case does add some heft to your phone, you get used to the change
quickly and can hardly bare to take the case off. Once encased, it feels as though you are tempting fate to handle the phone in its naked state.

I upgraded to the Defender ProXT from the stock iPhone 14 Pro Max case my phone came with, and feel the trade made for the textured, easily handlable grip is worth the sacrifices made in weight. I don't miss the slippery feel of the old phone, which caused many a drop to begin with.

Now as protected as the Caped Crusader in that awful movie that pitted him against the Man of Steel, my iPhone's superpower is now the knowledge that it won't crack, no matter the pressure I foist upon it.

OtterBox sent review unit.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Review: Motorola Razr+ in Viva Magenta

Bearing a name that's a blast from the early 2000s past with a design that seems ahead of 2023, the Motorola Razr+ is as alluring as it is flamboyant.

Boasting the unmistakable magic of a foldable screen heretofore only seen in the uber-elite likes of the Samsung Galaxy Fold or Google Pixel Fold, the slim, compact phone is so flashy in its radiant "Viva Magenta" color that it would seem to be a crime to cover it up in an obtuse case.

The foldability is more than a gimmick. In its admirably portable -- and screen-protecting -- folded-up Flex View format, it lets you check notifications, keep pace with the time and send out voice or text messages via its 3.6-inch display, all with the phone free-standing without the need of a tacked-on peripheral.

When open, the true majesty of its 6.9-inch wingspan of an internal display shines through. An excellent choice for streaming, demanding gaming apps and social media juggling, it's easy to imagine the Razr+ catching on as a counterculture work device for the whimsical commuter with a nostalgic bent. It's also an ideal purchase for a parent looking to get their child a jaw-dropping device for free, or at least a deep discount.

Released today on the T-Mobile network, the $999.99 device is available for free to new customers, as well as existing customers who add a line or trade in a device on Go5G Plus. It's also half off on lower tiers Go5G and Magenta with a device trade-in.

Powered by a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor, the Razr+ tiptoes along the cutting edge of performance, handling video and download needs on the silk-smooth T-Mobile 5G network. 

Its external, 32MP camera, buttressed with an 8MP quad pixel burst shot -- triggered by a palm gestture that triggers a rapidfire succession of four pictures -- can handle action shots, portraits and video needs with ease, and the 12Mp front-facing camera is rock-solid with selfies. That one also has a mirror mode that turns the device, while in Flex view-mode, into a makeup checker.

To point out the obvious, Flex View is also great for setting up shots on a timer, as well as viewing video without needing to prop up the phone.

Waving its wand to conjure magical, inventive qualities, the Razr+ is an imaginative solution to a variety of smartphone annoyances. The reinvention can't help but put a smile on your face that you'll want to capture in Flex Mode.

T-Mobile sent unit for review.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Early Game Review: 'Final Fantasy XVI'

"Final Fantasy" releases not only define each generation of gaming, they tend to set the standard of what's seen as possible for that generation's hardware, and point forward to what's lingering on the horizon in the fields of design and execution in the medium.

Each numbered entry -- save for the two insular MMOs -- in the franchise is a watershed event in the fabric of society. The dawn of "Final Fantasy XVI" is no different, and the ways it stretches and evolves say as much about the evolution of the JRPG as it does the franchise's tendency to invent, reinvent and recalibrate.

From the outset, a tremendous influence on action and realtime combat is apparent. The influences of the likes of "Devil May Cry" and "Resident Evil" have crept their way into the traditionally turn-based slugfests. Luckily for gamers who are more akin to the old way, there's a storytelling-focused mode you can opt for that won't task your dexterity and reflexes as much.

Heavily drawing on the literary tendencies of Frank Herbert and George R.R. Martin, the narrative is a sweeping tale of retribution, and sly political maneuvering amid a backdrop of simmering geopolitical strife.

The scope and majesty of the game is particularly impressive after last year's wobbly spinoff, "Stranger of Paradise"  and the upgraded PSP remake "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion." The new game falls more in line thematically with the classics offered in the "Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster" collection earlier this year.

The first mainline "Final Fantasy" game with an M rating, the story is characterized by brutal violence as well as adult language and themes. The tone feels like an assured, confident acknowledgment that much of the player base has grown up with the franchise, and is ready for a darker flavor of fantasy rather than family-friendly flights of fancy. 

The PlayStation 5 exclusive, due out Thursday, will no doubt be the system’s killer app for any remaining series diehards who had been holding out, especially now that the system is finally widely available nearly three years after release .

Bolstered with a rich, deep tapestry of characters -- a continually updated pause menu glossary of connections, definitions and observations helps you keep track of the evolving slate of power players -- "Final Fantasy XVI" feels like the launch of a franchise as much as it does a single game. It may well take multiple playthroughs and endgame exploration to fully appreciate all the nooks and crannies of this vast, towering saga.

Knocking to your knees with thunderous conflicts, gorgeous cinematics and a stirring score, "Final Fantasy XVI" feels like a resounding triumph that sits alongside the series' most seminal entries. There is little doubt that it represents the future of the JRPG, and shines as a shimmering reminder that the present of the genre is a magnificent reflection of its past.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Book Report: 'Dune'

Dune (Dune, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always feared taking on "Dune," because the book and its sequels all looked so thick and imposing on bookshelves. Enter Audible, which allows me to plow through any book, no matter how dense or massive.

Frank Herbert's magnum opus may be dense, but it also pulses with life as it unfurls its space opera over a dry, dilapidated desertscape. The pioneering 1965 sci-fi epic informed countless works in the genre, especially "Star Wars" and "A Song of Ice and Fire."

Herbert particularly excels at subtle world-building, sprinkling in intriguing context as he keeps the storytelling arcs surging.

The ultimate teen empowerment fantasy, the novel paints a tale of heroism set against a complex geopolitical infrastructure. Herbert's prose sucks you into the harsh realities of survival on the arid, giant worm-plagued planet, which he crafts as a character to stand alongside his protagonists.

The tale unfolds in something akin to a modern open-world video game format, with a series of missions and boss fights. The combat descriptions, filled with strategy, feints and dramatic undercurrents, pulse with the flair of old-school sports writing.

"Dune" is magnificent, and I am ashamed I took so long to get to it. Now, whether I have the guts to take on the parade of sequels is another matter.

View all my reviews


Thursday, June 08, 2023

Early Game Review: 'Speed Crew'

If you get a game called "Speed Crew," you might imagine the focus would be squarely on racing.

That's not the case, though, in this effort from developer Wild Fields. This is a pure, simple pit crew simulator, and the name of the game is resource management and deployment.

You and as many as three other players can grab your wrenches, jacks and spare tires, with the goal of getting the cars that roll in front of you back in top shape.

Dry and simple, the gameplay leaves much to be desired. There is a nagging, mobile game-style feel to the Switch title. There are also strange, incongruous design choices, such as the need to grab a new wrench for every tire that needs to be attached rather than use the same tool for all of the tires.

The story is something of a satire of the "Fast and Furious" franchise, with the protagonist taking the name "Dominion Torrento." Your put work helps your crew win several racing titles, with the setting evolving from the 1970s to the 2000s over 48 levels.

While there is some fleeting fun to be had here, the concept grows stale, and there's little payoff to the tedium.

If "Speed Crew" accomplishes anything, it's making you feel as though you're doing all the grunt work just so others can get the fame and glory. 

That feeling is the pits.

Publisher provided review code.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Review: Google Pixel 7a

 The Google Pixel 7a is for those who want just about all of the capabilities of one of the top-flight smartphones without the bulk or expense.

Like last year's Google Pixel 6a and Google Pixel 6 Pro, the setup includes a dynamic, 64MP camera system complete with the Magic Eraser feature, which lets you touch up photos by easily removing photobombers. 

While the camera isn't as great in low light, it takes solid pictures while zooming and captures speedy images on video. This is a device, powered by an upgraded Tensor G2 processor and 8GB of RAM, that will handle your social media needs with confidence.

A scaled-back version of the impressive Google Pixel 7 Pro, the $499 7a handles demands of gaming, apps and web surfing with ease, whether on WiFi or on T-Mobile's impressive 5G network. That's while rocking a crisp, 6.1-inch display with a 90Hz refresh rate with 1080x2400 resolution. It's scratch-resistant, and the device as a whole can handle water splashes and accidental drink spills and toilet dunks without missing a beat.

The feature set has been boosted from last year's model, adding wireless charging, which lets you plop your phone down on a charger without the hassle of a cord.

On the downside, the battery struggles to keep up, requiring a mid-day recharge if you're taxing its capabilities to the limit. The 128GB storage is adequate, but possible to fill if you're a heavy video taker.

Overall, the 7a is a sizable if underwhelming upgrade to the 6a. If you skipped last year's model, that makes the upgrade all the more appealing. The new device is also worth a look for Pixel 6 Pro users who would prefer a svelte option that can out-perform the phone they're used to.

Strong, svelte and dynamic, the 6a is the budget-friendly high-end smartphone option to beat as 2023 approaches the midpoint.

T-Mobile sent product for review.