How Valve Could Make Half-Life 3 Right Now

Gamers have been getting conflicting reports about Half-Life 3 recently. First an anonymous source told us that neither Half-Life 3 nor Half-Life 2: Episode 3 were in development, had never been in development, and would never be in development. Then Gabe Newell himself told us the opposite, but only in the vaguest of ways.

Long story short: Half-Life 3 is probably not going to be coming out any time soon. Gamers have known this for a while, but not getting a definite answer from Newell is still disheartening.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If Valve really wanted to deliver a conclusion to the story of a cross-dimensional alien takeover stretching 20 years, they could do so tomorrow. You wouldn’t have to play dystopic alternatives to Half-Life while you wait for the final installment.

What’s Going on With Half-Life 3?

First, let’s sort a few things out. In January 2017 it was reported that an unnamed Valve insider had stated that:

There is no such thing as Half-Life 3. Valve has never announced a Half-Life 3. The closest they’ve come is after Half-Life 2, they said there would be three episodes.

At this stage, we continue to wait for Half-Life 2: Episode 3, which would hopefully bring an end to the story after Freeman and Alyx escaped to the White Forest.

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But the same insider — whose words were recorded in 2015 but have been unable to be verified, hence the delay in their release — says this probably isn’t going to happen either.

The idea of delivering a third episode of Half-Life 2, that’s dead. There’s no universe where that will happen.

Citing unrealistic expectations and the reception to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the source basically indicates that Valve don’t want to talk about Half-Life 3 at all, lest it upset their apple cart. Ultimately, it’s up to Valve to make the decision, to plot and script and design and code the game. It’s a lot of work — and they’ve got other titles to worry about.

But Valve Says…

However, later the same month, Gabe Newell did an AMA on Reddit, where he responded directly to some of these allegations. One poster was bold enough to ask him all of the questions we had in one post (quote trimmed for space):

What is the status of Half-Life 3/Half-Life 2: Episode 3? Is Valve still working on any fully-fledged single player games? An unidentified anonymous source at Valve has said that Half-Life 3 has been cancelled. Is that source legitimate?

The number 3 must not be said. Yes. I personally believe all unidentified anonymous sources on the internet.

Most other questions in the AMA were met with similarly terse and/or evasive responses. When asked about the possibility of a “new IP” that takes place in the Half-Life universe, Newell responded simply, “Yep.”

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That’s not a definite “No” but it’s not a “Yes, we’re making a Half-Life game,” either. So, if they don’t want to make the final part of Half-Life as a game, what options do Valve have? Quite a few, actually!

A Half-Life 3 Graphic Novel

The sensible choice for a low-budget approach with the potential for critical acclaim is a Half-Life 3 graphic novel, or limited run of monthlies. In this format, characters and relationships can be explored, and likenesses accurately portrayed without worrying about casting a Gordon Freeman or Alyx Vance lookalike.

Better still, there’s the potential that any visual effects can be realized without budgetary constraints. They might be on paper (although there are various ways to read digital comics) but this could work really well. And just to give it the dark ending Half Life 3 (or Episode 3) deserves, how about Gordon Freeman finally releasing humanity from the Combine’s grip, but trapped in a perpetual cycle of freeing Earth in every world line?

You can get an idea of how this might pan out by taking a look at A Place in the West, a fan-made digital comic set in the Half-Life universe, available free on Steam.

An Animated Half-Life 3 Series

Thanks to Pixar, animation has a far greater reputation than it once did. Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels have taken this a step further, providing intelligent action adventures for kids and adults to fill in the gaps between the prequel movies and original trilogies.

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Image Credit: Rob Obsidian via Flickr

Other shows have followed suit. The most recent Transformers animated series, for example, offers an enhanced approach to storytelling more in keeping with the comics.

Like graphic novels, an animated approach to the Half-Life universe wouldn’t be hampered too much by budget. After all, the games are essentially CGI animations anyway. An animated series would be the natural successor, perhaps starting from the original Black Mesa incident and providing the viewer with a whole host of other characters that Freeman doesn’t meet in the game until much later in the action.

Give Half-Life 3 a Big Finish in Audio

Like animation, audio dramas have had a renaissance in recent years, thanks in no small part to Big Finish. Launched in 1999, the company managed to win the licence to Doctor Who while the show was off-air and unloved (these days you can watch Doctor Who online!) and managed to attract former stars and companions, top writers and an audience. Almost 20 years later they still have the licence, and have extended their range beyond the worlds of Doctor Who.

The Half-Life series needs finishing off, so what better approach than audio? Over the years, many great sci-fi franchises have had the audio treatment. Beyond Doctor Who, there’s classic BBC stablemate Blake’s 7, Stargate SG-1, Sherlock Holmes,Terry Nation’s Survivors (see trailer) and Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. These shows have all been given new life beyond their TV and literary universes, with character exploration, strong narrative and developments of the various canons.

Why couldn’t the same happen to Half-Life 3? Best of all, there is literally no budget ceiling (beyond hiring the talent) with audio. Any professional audio drama producers could handle Half-Life and give it the conclusion it deserves.

The Man in the Half-Life 3 Castle

Stick it on TV! Half-Life 2 and its sequels have a sullen protagonist, an attractive and intelligent female lead, a father figure and a working class “wing man”. Steeped in dystopic tropes, urban decay, and distrust, it’s basically a combination of Gotham, The Man in the High Castle, and Stargate SG-1 set in Europe.

Amazon or Netflix (we’ll let you decide which one is best) would eat this concept up as a TV show, and potentially bring the story full circle (while potentially adding a few extra years to the storyline along the way) with a strong conclusion and significant heroic death/ascension for Gordon Freeman.

In fact, I’m struggling to understand why this hasn’t happened yet. Right now, television is crying out for watchable serials with engaging characters and new situations. They’re all here in Half-Life 2, and desperate to find closure to their story in Half-Life 3.

A Half-Life Movie to Finish the Story

A lot of movies end up as video games. While the traffic has gone in the other direction (Doom, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, etc.) there’s yet to be a genuine smash-hit in this area. A Half-Life movie could change this, and there is one in development.

In 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams was questioned about a joint project with Valve to develop movie versions of Half-Life and Portal.

…They’re in development and we’ve got writers, and we’re working on both those stories. But nothing that would be an exciting update.

While we don’t know what a movie might look like, there’s a strong chance that it would look something like this:

The problem, of course, is “development hell”. According to Den of Geek, there are currently 57 video game-inspired movies in development. Movies can end up in this limbo state for years, even decades, and often the opportunity is lost, as interest wanes. Given Abrams and Valve first got together on the Half-Life/Portal movie projects in 2013 and there has been no announcements since, it would seem likely that things have moved on, perhaps for both parties.

Which Half-Life Do You Want to See?

So, a movie, a graphic novel, a live-action TV show, a cartoon or an audio series: Half-Life 3 can become a reality. It’s about time we learned about the fates of the characters we came to love, for one final appearance.

Perhaps Gordon and Alyx lived out their lives in the White Forest? Perhaps the insurgency was quashed by the Combine? Either way, we’ll never find out, unless there’s a new game, or Valve takes one of these options.

Which would you prefer? If you like Portal better — Gabe Newell shares your opinion — here are a few similar games you can play while you wait to see if they ever make a Portal 3.

Tell us what you want to see next from Valve in the comments!

Evozbabymonitor: Baby Monitoring App For Iphone

EvozBabyMonitor aims to be a promising app for busy parents. If you are away from your baby and worried about how they may be doing, you can listen remotely to your baby using another iOS device with the Evoz app. Most interestingly, the app sends you an email or an alert if the baby cries.

You can also collect real time data on how your baby sleeps and compare it to other babies. Sound quality is good and on the free version of the app you can listen for 30 minutes every day. Upgrade to premium to remove the 30 minute restriction. Customize your app by uploading a picture of your baby. You can turn the monitoring off whenever you want and view a log of all the alerts that have been sent to you.

baby monitoring app

Features:

  • Monitor your baby on your iPhone.
  • Listen to your baby and get an alert if baby cries.
  • Listen for upto 30 minutes each day.

Download EvozBabyMonitor from iTunes

4 Reasons The Wii U Will Fail [opinion]

4 Reasons The Wii U Will Fail [Opinion] Wii U Logo1While there is no sign yet of a PS4 or Xbox 720 (not likely to be the real names when they do finally arrive), we do have one next-generation games console on the horizon to look forward to. Or dread. Depending on your point of view. That console is the Wii U, it’s the follow-up to the Wii (as if the name hadn’t already given you a major clue), and it’s from Nintendo.

The Wii U may succeed or it may fail. There are several reasons to argue for and against Nintendo’s new hardware. And I am personally very torn on how the Wii U will fare in these tough economic times when gamers want real value from their purchases. It may be that the world ignores Nintendo on this occasion. It has certainly happened before. Hence we have two articles, one arguing the case for and one arguing the case against.

Wii U

4 Reasons The Wii U Will Fail [Opinion] Wii U Console

E3 2011 saw Nintendo officially announce the Wii U to an expectant public. Actually, that’s a lie. Very few outside the industry could have cared less. The original Wii found its biggest audience in amongst the mainstream casual gamers who are unlikely to have heard of the Wii U even now. Still, those of us who spend our days watching these kinds of announcements saw a new breed of Wii with added tablet controllers unveiled.

Part of me thinks Nintendo’s latest console will be a huge failure, undoing all the good work (and hefty profits) Nintendo began with the original Wii. Below are four reasons I think the Wii U will fail…

1. Same Old, Same Old

4 Reasons The Wii U Will Fail [Opinion] Super Mario

Nintendo has built its reputation on a particular set of characters and the worlds they inhabit. I’m thinking Mario, Zelda, Kirby, Samus Aran, etc. This leads to brand awareness and loyalty to some degree: if you want to play the latest Zelda game then you need to own the latest Nintendo console. However, that only works if the games bring something fresh and innovative to the table.

The Wii U is so similar to the original Wii – just with enhanced graphics and a new controller – that it’s hard to see these tentpole games even approaching being groundbreaking. It then becomes a case of: if you want to play the latest Zelda game, don’t bother, as it’s exactly the same as the last one. You might as well keep your Wii and pick up all the last-gen games on the cheap.

2. Tablet Control System

4 Reasons The Wii U Will Fail [Opinion] Wii U Controllers

The selling point of the Wii U is supposedly going to be the new tablet controller. These are essentially handheld games consoles in their own right which also sync up with whatever game you’re playing on the TV. They contain many of the same elements as the Wii Remote, also offering motion control. Although I’m not sure I’d want to be swinging that hefty thing around my front room.

Something just feels a little off about the whole idea of a tablet control system. For starters it’s as though Nintendo saw how popular the iPad was and thought, “We want a piece of that action.”  There is also the obvious expense involved in buying more tablet controllers than the measly one supposedly shipping with the console. To put it bluntly, I remain unconvinced.

I should add a caveat that I didn’t think the original Wii Remote would ever take off, and look what happened in that instance.

3. Casuals Won’t Upgrade

4 Reasons The Wii U Will Fail [Opinion] Casual Gamers

That right there is your typical Wii gamer. Or I could have used a picture of a grandma (any grandma) instead. The point is the Wii didn’t sell to hardcore gamers who want the latest and greatest console, it sold to casual gamers who are happy to play once a month when they have a family get-together. While this mainstream appeal did a world of good for sales of the original Wii, it may spell trouble for the Wii U.

Your average family who bought a Wii after hearing such great things about it is not going to rush out and buy a Wii U. Not at launch, and probably not for a few years after launch either. If the Wii they once cherished is now sitting forgotten on a shelf getting dusty then they will likely never buy a games console again, and certainly not one that offers only an incremental improvement over its predecessor.

4. It’s Nintendo!

4 Reasons The Wii U Will Fail [Opinion] Nintendo Logo 2

The Wii U will fail because it’s Nintendo. Plain and simple. The Japanese gaming giant appeals to a particular niche of gamer. The Wii has been a phenomenal success, but until that console you have to go back to the SNES or Super Famicom for a Nintendo console which truly dominated the market.

Games console manufacturers rarely have two huge successes in a row, and I’m doubtful whether Nintendo will be able to break that trend. And all eyes will be on what Sony and Microsoft are conjuring up for the next-gen while Nintendo is preparing to launch the Wii U.

Conclusions

Obviously this is just half the story, and there are also four reasons I think the Wii U will succeed.

After you have read both sides of the argument, please let me know what you think in the comments section below. I’d love to know what the general consensus is on what Nintendo has revealed to this point. I suspect some aspects of the Wii U will change between now and its release. But we can make a fair judgment already. And as we’re gamers, I am sure we will do just that.

Image Credits: Ryan T, Pop Culture Geek, Qfamily, Ian Muttoo

How To Easily Change App Icons To Any Image On Mac

Many apps have beautiful icons nowadays. Looking at my own dock, I’m surprisingly pleased by the app icons for Postbox, Spotify, Chrome, MacDown, FocusWriter, Discord, iBooks, and Xamarin Studio.

And then there are a handful of other apps that are ruining the simplistic beauty of my dock with their outdated and/or clashing icon designs.

One of the nice things about Mac is how easy it is to change any app’s icon to any image that you want. Other OSes let you do this too, of course, but Mac is special in how intuitive the process is and how few hoops you need to jump through.

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Basically, take any image and open it in Preview. Once opened, click-and-drag your mouse to select the portion of the image that you want as the icon. (Hint: Hold Shift to keep the selection a square!) With the icon selected, go to Edit > Copy (or Command + C) to copy the image to your clipboard.

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Now open Finder and navigate to your Applications folder. Right-click on the app you want to change and select Get Info in the menu. At the very top, click on the app’s current icon — once clicked, it will have a blue ring around it. Now hit Command + V to paste your image as the new icon.

Done!

Want to learn a few more tricks? Check out these Finder tips for new Mac users and these nifty tips for Preview. I also recommend these Spotlight tips for true Mac efficiency.

Did this help? Let us know if you have any questions. Also, if you come across an awesome icon set, please share with us below!

How Do Your Devices Learn To Talk To You?

One of the coolest advances in technology is the ability to have our devices talk to us. Technology like Siri Do More With Siri Using The New iOS 7 Siri Commands If you find yourself fumbling with your iPhone to make a simple phone call, launch an app, set a reminder or wake-up alarm then you’re probably not using Siri enough. Read More , Google Now 6 Google Now Features That Will Change How You Search You may already be using Google Now on your Android device, but are you getting all that you can out of it? Knowing about these small features can make a big difference. Read More , and Cortana Get Cortana & More By Upgrading To Windows Phone 8.1 The Windows Phone update delivers a digital assistant, fast connectivity toggles, improved camera and greater support for a wider selection of apps. Find out how you can get it! Read More have given us the ability to interact with our devices in a way we never thought possible, and it really does feel like we’re living in the future as we’ve seen it in science fiction.

Have you ever stopped to think about how all of this cool technology works? How are smart devices able to not only listen to us, but actually learn from the things we say? It seems like magic, but it’s actually just some really powerful technology at work. Check out the infographic below for a breakdown of how your devices are able to learn to talk to you.

Via West Interactive

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Zte Blade S6 Review And Competition

With a 64-bit processor, Android 5.0 Lollipop, nice front and rear cameras, the ZTE Blade S6 is a great deal at less than $250. It’s clearly an iPhone 6 copy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in terms of design.

In the budget smartphone race, it manages to cram a lot of specs into a low-priced device, but it’s definitely not perfect. Let’s take a look at this budget Chinese smartphone.

At the end of the review, we’ll be giving it away to one lucky reader.

Specs

  • CPU: Octo-core 64-bit 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
  • GPU: 550MHz Adreno 405
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 16GB
  • Cameras: 13MP rear-facing, 5MP front-facing (Both wide angle)
  • Size: 144mm x 70.7mm x 7.7mm (5.67in x 2.78in x 0.30in)
  • Weight: 134g (4.73oz)
  • Screen: 5.0″ IPS LCD 720px x 1280px
  • Expansion: microSD card slot
  • Battery: 2,400mAH
  • Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, 2G GSM (850/1700/1900), 3G UMTS (900/2100), 4G LTE (Bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 20)
  • Operating System: Android Lollipop 5.0
  • Extra Features: Dual-SIM, Motion Controls, FM Radio

The ZTE Blade S6 is available to purchase through GeekBuying.com for just under $250 and you can get $20 off using the promo code “20ZTES6”.

Hardware & Design

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The simplest way to explain the physical design of the ZTE Blade S6 is to imagine a plastic iPhone 6. ZTE really didn’t make any attempt to hide the fact that this is a blatant copy of Apple’s design.

A unibody plastic back wraps the entire device in a shiny silver. It has a 5″ screen with curved glass at the very edges for a smooth feeling when swiping out to or in from the edges (though that’s pretty much nullified if you put a big case on it).

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Along the bottom, there’s an obvious circular button in the center for the Home button, but there are two other hidden buttons on either side. To the left of the Home button is the Options button, and to the right is a Back button (those these can be swapped in the settings). It’s unfortunate that they went for an Options button rather than a Recents (multitasking) button, but you can still access the Recents by holding down the Options key, just as you can access Google Now by holding down the Home key.

The Options and Back keys are invisible until you press them, at which point they glow blue. It should be noted that the three capacitive keys glow blue whenever you have a notification or are charging the device. That’s actually a pretty cool alternative to an LED, but it’s not customizable, and if you charge your phone while you sleep, it will be brightly glowing blue on your bedside table. Ironically, they also glow constantly once you pass 15% battery to tell you that you’re low on battery.

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The power button and volume rocker are on the right side of the device, the headphone jack is up top, the microSD card slot and nanoSIM slot (that’s right, not a microSIM) are along the left, and the microUSB charging port is along the bottom. Due to the unibody build, you need a small pin to pop out the microSD or nanoSIM. Additionally, those two slots don’t line up quite flush with the device, giving it an unpolished feel along the left side.

As far as plastic bodies go, this one isn’t great. It looks nice, but it has quite a bit of squeak when you grip it in certain places. The plus side, however, is that it doesn’t collect fingerprints at all.

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There’s a tiny speaker along the back with a small bump next to it to keep it elevated when resting on a table, but it’s extremely quiet and tinny sounding.

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Overall, it’s not going to be winning any design awards, but it is a sleek and iPhone-esque device (so much so that several people mistook it for an iPhone as I was using it).

User Interface

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ZTE’s Android skin is called MiFavor 3.0, and it screams iOS. The icons are colorful and rounded, and you can swipe up from the bottom to customize it. There is no app drawer like with stock Android; instead, all your apps are out on the home screen like in iOS. You can sort them into groups, of course, and it’s a pretty good experience.

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Aside from that, though, you’re mostly getting a stock Lollipop 5.0 experience. The lock screen shows notifications and allows quick access to the phone and camera apps. One annoying aspect is that because it’s a dual-SIM device, if you only use one SIM, it will constantly display a “NO SIM” message at the top for the second slot.

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Overall, it’s a pretty nice experience. If you don’t like the iOS-style home screen, you could always download an alternative launcher.

Lastly, there are the motion controls. I found them more a hindrance than anything and ended up keeping them off, but maybe others out there would like them. Air gesture allows you to play music by holding the volume down button and waving your phone in a V or O shape. You can also silence calls by moving your hand over the screen or turn on the flashlight by shaking your device.

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Several others exist under the motions tab like flip to mute, quickly activating the camera by holding the volume button and raising it horizontally, and a few others. It feels like the same type of gimmicky stuff that Samsung tries to cram into their Galaxy S line.

Bloatware

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There are lots of extra bits of software loaded onto this device, but the good news is that they’re mostly either useful or can be uninstalled. There’s a Task Manager app that reveals information about your CPU, RAM, and storage.

There’s also a Clean Master app that allows you to clean out junk files and bulk uninstall apps. It has the ability to “boost your memory,” but as we’ve discussed before, RAM boosters and task killers tend to do more harm than good.

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The basic built-in apps like Notepad and Calendar have rather, ugly skeuomorphic designs, but there are much better options out there for those kinds of tasks anyway.

Other preloaded apps include: UC Mini, AliveShare, Mi-POP, Backup, WPS Office, Camera360, Chaatz, and Navigate. Most of these are available on the Play Store anyway, but Mi-POP is pretty unique, and it allows you to have an onscreen home or back button for easier one-handed use.

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AliveShare works pretty well if you have another user download the app. It can be used to locally send videos and pictures, play multiplayer games, or transfer phone data (all without using your 3G/4G data plan).

Thankfully most, like UC Mini and Chaatz, can be uninstalled, which is a bonus for anyone who has had to deal with bloatware.

Cameras

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The Blade S6 is equipped with a 13MP wide-angle rear-facing camera, while the front has a 5MP wide-angle camera. Both take pretty good photos, in my opinion — and the camera interface is actually decent.

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For 16×9 photos, the max resolution you’re going to get is 9MP on the back and 4MP on the front, but it’s still worthy of some praise. And in my testing, I felt like both cameras had significantly better low light performance than other smartphones I’ve used. That could be helped along by the f/2.0 aperture on the back and f/2.2 aperture on the front.

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The camera interface has a simple mode (indicated by the red circle on the left) and an expert mode, which allows for tinkering with the ISO, white balance, and all of that.

In the rainbow settings icon (why rainbow? We may never know), you’ll find options for different shooting modes including a “beauty mode” for your selfies and a “straighten mode” for photographing text or documents.

Battery Life

Overall, one of the biggest weaknesses of this device is the battery life. With only a 2,400mAh battery, it was barely able to make it through a full day with regular usage. Under heavy usage, it wouldn’t make it anywhere near that (and that was only on 2G, mind you, as we’ll discuss later).

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I never got more than about 3 hours of screen time, as the phone seemed to drain pretty quickly even when I wasn’t using it. That being said, this is about average in the realm of smartphones, so I wouldn’t call it bad battery life — it just won’t exceed anyone’s expectations.

Performance

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Before I got started, I thought there was no way that the Snapdragon 615 in this device could compare with the Snapdragon 801 in my OnePlus One (a device that has its own unique pros and cons). I was wrong.

I rarely encountered lag when using the Blade S6. Moving between screens, switching apps, and playing games — none of that ever introduced lag, even with apps updating in the background. I was more than impressed. Using the device was a quick and fluid experience, and I found myself reaching for this phone more often because of that.

The most noticeable bit of lag I encountered on a regular basis was the delay between hitting the power button and the screen turning on. It’s a tiny delay, but it’s enough that you have to wait an instant before the device is functional. Considering how often most people turn on their screens, it could get annoying.

My only other complaint would be that the phone could get quite warm while multitasking, but again that’s a problem on most phones. With a 64-bit processor, it is at least future-proofed for apps that will support the additional processing power.

Data & Support

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Here’s the biggest caveat of all: as an imported device, the ZTE Blade S6 has very specific 3G and 4G bands, and therefore can only get 2G speeds in the United States. Internationally, you should check with your wireless carrier to see if they’re compatible with UMTS 900Mhz and 2100Mhz bands for 3G, or the FDD-LTE bands 1, 3, 7, 8, or 20 for 4G LTE speeds.

This wasn’t much of a problem for me since I’m connected to Wi-Fi 90% of the time, but not even being able to access 3G really makes this phone unappealing to the American market.

To add to that, when the phone arrived, I thought it might be compatible with 3G, and I contacted ZTE support to understand if it could get 3G speeds. I was told over the phone that my model, the Blade S6, did not exist in their database, so they gave me an email address to send my question to. I did. I heard back later and was told to contact AT&T. So I went to an AT&T store and was told that the phone isn’t compatible with their 3G network.

Long story short: don’t expect 3G or 4G in the US, and ZTE support isn’t the best in my experience.

Should You Buy It?

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Despite the squeaky plastic back, the low-quality rear-facing speaker, and the slightly less than average battery life, I actually really enjoyed using this phone. It’s light and responsive and just a joy to use. If you’ve got a charger nearby most of the time and don’t mind a plastic phone with mediocre speakers, it’s certainly worth the $250. And not to mention, it’s only $250 unlocked!

But the biggest downside here is really the limited 3G and 4G bands, which is disappointing because it’s such a tiny issue that really affects what countries you can use this phone in. Because of that, we really can’t recommend this phone for the American market.

Our verdict of the ZTE Blade S6:
Buy it. If you’re in a country and have a carrier that supports the correct 3G and 4G bands for this device, it’s a great deal at $250. You get the fluid, responsive experience of much more expensive phones for a fraction of the cost, all wrapped into a nice iPhone-like package. The real concessions are in battery life and speaker quality, but they’re basically average for a smartphone.
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ZTE Blade S6 Competition

Send your products to be reviewed. Contact James Bruce for further details.

8 Mac Os X Annoyances (yes, They Exist!) Resolved

Mac computers are the very model of simplicity and usability. When you plug one in and try to do something, it just works.

There’s no need to mess around with anything. Everything is in it’s right place and works just as you would expect it to. Except when it doesn’t just work. Yes, you read that right. OS X come with those little quirks, those small annoyances, just like every other operating systems.

Whether the features introduced in Mac OS X Lion have you on edge, or you recently switched from Windows, sometimes you won’t find a setting where you’d expect it — or worse, you may not find it at all. Below are some of these issues, completely resolved!

1. Finding Downloaded Files

If you’re unable to find your downloaded files, open Finder and select the Go menu from your menu bar. Right away, you’ll see a shortcut to the Downloads folder. However, we can also put a shortcut in the sidebar of Finder for easier access. Select Go -> Home, and drag the Downloads folder onto the favorites section of your Finder sidebar.

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You may want your Downloads to be accessible through your Documents or Desktop folder. Rather than changing the default download location in every single web browser and download client, just create an alias (like a Windows shortcut) to your Downloads folder in these locations. Hold the Option and Command keys while dragging the Downloads folder to another location to create an alias.

2. Disable Autoloading Applications

Are you annoyed by an application starting unprompted during launch? Open System Preferences and go to the Users & Groups preferences pane. Select your account from the left hand side column, and go to Login Items. Listed here are all the applications that are set to start after logging into your computer.

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There are two ways to deal with annoying applications in this list. Check the box next to the application to automatically hide it from view. This allows the application to launch but won’t be displayed as a window after you log in. Alternatively, delete an application from this list to prevent it from starting.

3. Files Opening With the Wrong Application

Are your files not opening in your application of choice by default? There are two ways to fix that. First, right-click the file and select Open With -> Other. A Finder dialog will pop up, allowing you to select an application to open the file with. At the bottom of the dialog, tick off the checkbox “always open with” to use the selected application as the default choice for the file type.

os x annoyances

Alternatively, right-click the file and select Get Info, or press the Command + I to launch the info panel shown in the screenshot above. Here, you can select the application to open this type of file. Press the Change All button below to apply the change system-wide.

4. Not Enough Screen Real-Estate

Not enough room for all your applications? Your workflow feeling a bit cramped? Mac OS X comes with built-in support for multiple desktops, but it’s a feature that can be a bit hard to find on your own. You can view the open spaces in Mission Control, which can be opened by using three fingers to slide upward using the multi-touch interface, or by pressing Option and the upwards arrow.

os x annoyances

You can add a new single-application space by clicking the arrows icon in the top right corner of a supporting application. This opens the application full-screen in a space separate from your desktop.

To create more than one desktop (as in the screenshot above), open Mission Control and hover your mouse over the top right corner of the screen. Click the faded desktop icon that appears to create a new desktop space. Drag windows across different spaces by dragging them against screen borders, or using drag-and-drop in mission control.

5. Tap-To-Click & Reversed Scrolling

The biggest annoyance of any Windows user that tries to use my laptop is either the missing tap-to-click interface, or the reversed scrolling. Luckily, both can be adjusted in the preferences.

To enable tap-to-click, open System Preferences and go to the Trackpad preferences pane. In the first tab, Point & Click, toggle the first checkbox to enable or disable clicking by tapping the trackpad with one finger, as it works in more recent Windows versions.

Dragging with two fingers over your trackpad either scrolls by dragging the page with you – also called natural scrolling – or by dragging the scroll bar with you. You can toggle natural (reversed) scrolling in the second tab, Scroll & Zoom.

6. Auto Brightness Adjustments

Mac OS X uses your webcam to sample the lighting of the room you’re in and automatically adjust the brightness of your screen. Although this is one of my favorite features, I can imagine it being annoying if you’ve got inconsistent lighting.

os x annoying

To turn off the automatic screen brightness adjustments, open System Preferences and go to the Displays preferences pane. Select your computer screen and, under the Display tab, toggle the box below the brightness slider.

7. Applications Resuming After Restart

Some apps are able to resume their application state after being quit and reopened. This can be quite annoying if you want quit the application every once in a while to wipe the slate clean.

os x annoying

You can circumvent the process by quitting the application a different way. Open the application’s drop-down menu, and hold the Option key. The lowermost option will change from a standard Quit to “Quit and Close All Windows”.

8. System Resuming After Restart

Recent iterations of Mac OS X come with the ability to restore the state of your system after restarting your computer (or after a crash). This includes opening the same files and applications. Similar to the above, this can be annoying if you restarted your computer to clean up your overly populated desktop and free some memory.

mac os x annoyances

Using the Apple drop-down menu, select Restart. You can uncheck the box next to “Reopen windows when logging back in” if you want a clean restart. Just don’t forget to re-enable it if you want to take advantage of the resuming capabilities of Mac OS X under normal circumstances.

What are your main Mac OS X annoyances, and what did you do to solve it? Let us know in the comments section below the article!

Image credit: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How To Force An Update On Your Windows Phone

force windows phone updateWhen it was first released in October 2010, Windows Phone was a new mobile platform that looked and felt great, but wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders. Despite the then current state of the smartphone market, the decision was made to release a mobile operating system that was missing a few key features and APIs.

Subsequent updates have overcome these shortcomings, but if your Windows Phone hasn’t been blessed with the NoDo or Mango updates as yet, then you’re clearly missing out on some excellent functionality, such as Xbox Live multiplayer gaming and copy and paste (to name but two).

Depending upon where in the world you’re situated, your Windows Phone may or may not be able to download these updates. However don’t worry – there is a way of forcing the update to install on your phone.

How Updates Are Distributed

Updates for Windows Phone are created by the development team at Microsoft, before being distributed to the device manufacturers. At this stage device-specific bugs should be detected and resolved, before the handsets – by HTC, Nokia, LG, Samsung, Dell and others – are shipped to the relevant networks for further testing with branded software.

After testing is completed and signed off, the updates are then distributed from Microsoft through the Zune desktop software. This manages the update, creating a backup of the Windows Phone and downloading the new version of the software.

It seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? The problem some users face, however, is that although the updates are supposedly distributed in a logical fashion on a network-by-network basis, some devices seem to be overlooked. This might be due to a number of factors, such as not regularly checking for updates or having update detection disabled.

The Standard Update Procedure

To begin updating your Windows Phone under normal circumstances, you would need to open the Settings > Phone Update screen to check if there are any updates available. Alternatively, connect your phone to your PC and when the Zune desktop client opens, find your way to Settings > Phone > Update.

force windows phone update

The next step would then be to click the Update Phone button in order to proceed. At this stage a backup of your phone’s data is taken, before the update is downloaded and applied. Any problems with the upgrade can be addressed later – if the update fails then the earlier version and your user data can be restored.

Forcing The Update

So what process is required for updating your Windows Phone when the update isn’t detected?

The first thing you must do is check that there is indeed an update due. This is best done by either checking with your mobile carrier/network or using Microsoft’s own Windows Phone webpages.

force update on windows phone

Once this has been done and you have confirmed that there should indeed be an update distributed to your phone, double check that the update isn’t already installed. This is important as new devices should ship with the most recent version of Windows Phone. You can check this by opening Settings > About > More Information, and cross reference the version number with the details listed in the link above.

When you’re happy that it is time to force the update, you must do so by following these steps:

  1. Make sure your phone is connected to your computer, and that the Zune software is running.
  2. Go to Settings > Phone > Update and as the check is made, immediately disconnect your computer from the Internet/local network.
  3. Wait a minute or so, and notification of an update should appear in Zune.
  4. Reconnect your computer to the Internet and proceed to update your phone, following the instructions displayed by the Zune software.

force windows phone update

This process can be repeated if the only update added is an interim one; the big updates naturally include the most features.

Is Forcing the Update Safe?

As you can see, forcing an update isn’t dangerous to the device. Microsoft’s updates for Windows Phone are distributed on a network-by-network basis from Microsoft’s own servers, following the initial build and testing that takes place by the networks.

What this basically means is that you can bypass the waiting game and force the update, safe in the knowledge that the update is legitimate and suitable for your device and the network that you will be using it on.

Let us know in the comments if you have had any experience of forcing an update on your Windows phone and if so, how it went.

Four More Superb Games From The Raspberry Pi Store!

Over the past few months I’ve produced many articles about the Raspberry Pi. These can be quite time-intensive, especially when things don’t always work out well – it’s the nature of this job that you can run into problems developing tutorials.

At times like these, I tend to drift towards video games, and recently I’ve discovered that more and more titles are available for the Raspberry Pi.

If you thought gaming on the Raspberry Pi was limited to setting up emulators with RetroPie or watching other gamers on YouTube (perhaps via the RaspBMC media centre solution) then prepare to be surprised.

While you won’t find Halo running on the Raspberry Pi you’ll certainly find some fascinating gaming alternatives.

Gaming on the Raspberry Pi

It is perhaps unsurprising that gaming on the Raspberry Pi is exploding, with more and more titles finding their way into the Store every week at present.

Leading the way was a selection of polished games covering a variety of genres. We’ve previously looked at FreeCiv, the Raspberry Pi version of Minecraft, OpenTTD and The Little Crane That Could, four excellent examples of games for this small computer.

Although more independently produced titles are being listed in the Pi Store, there are four more top titles – including an excellent FPS – which you shouldn’t miss if you want a truly rich gaming experience from the Raspberry Pi.

Iridium Rising

Four More Superb Games from the Raspberry Pi Store! muo rpigames2 iridium

Space combat games are few and far between on established platforms, but Iridium Rising brings real-time multiplayer battles in the heavens to the Raspberry Pi absolutely free. Developed by a team working in their spare time, this game is under continual development, but despite the occasional bugs it is certainly worth installing.

Placing you in the middle of a battle for supremacy between the Eltan and Xilari space-faring races, Iridium Rising can be played against or alongside friends and other human players as well as the AI, and features impressive 3D graphics that have been optimized for the Raspberry Pi.

The Abandoned Farmhouse Adventure

Four More Superb Games from the Raspberry Pi Store! muo rpigames2 farmhouse

If you ever pored over a keyboard in the 1980s well into the small hours typing the code for a computer game into your 8-bit home computer from a magazine, the chances are that you were attempting to program a text-based adventure.

These games – essentially RPGs in which the computer plays the role of gamemaster – were hugely popular in a time when graphics couldn’t quite cut the mustard. However as time progressed, and the point and click graphical adventure was born, text-based adventures soon fell into a specialist niche.

The pioneering spirit of the home computers of the 1970s and 1980s is evoked by the Raspberry Pi (see my interview with the device’s lead developer Eben Upton to see why) so it makes sense that a text based game should be found in the Pi Store. That The Abandoned Farmhouse Adventure is no longer the only text adventure illustrates why this is a great genre and one that is well-represented in this title.

Open Arena

Four More Superb Games from the Raspberry Pi Store! muo rpigames2 arena

While the text based adventure might be considered a genre of classic computing, the FPS is no doubt a genre of the modern era of gaming (although it has been with us for over 20 years!).

Over the years there have been many great titles, from Doom to Half Life 2, Bioshock and Halo. The Quake series was particularly popular, and Open Arena is a free software clone of the online multiplayer release Quake III Arena, ported to Raspberry Pi.

Although the Internet multiplayer option with this version is sadly unusable, the game still supports LAN gaming, and the ability to connect to a local game server.

Other than this shortcoming, Open Arena is a must-have title for any gamer with a Raspberry Pi.

Powder

Four More Superb Games from the Raspberry Pi Store! muo rpigames2 powder

Beginning life on the Gameboy Advance, Powder is a classic-style top-down dungeon crawler, pitting you against hordes of monsters with only your wits, your weapon and your magic about you.

Tactical thinking is important when it comes to attack and defence, as well as quick thinking – dungeons are created randomly, and death is permanent so there are no second chances here!

Weapons and armor can be equipped, spells can be cast to defeat enemies and the whole thing plays like those retro dungeon games of the past. Hey, retro gaming without an emulator – sounds good, doesn’t it?

Raspberry Pi: A Sweet New Marketplace?

The titles featured here have been chosen based on quality and playability. They’re notable in that they all attempt separate game genres and are available from the Raspberry Pi Store.

Four More Superb Games from the Raspberry Pi Store! muo rpigames2 pistore

However in recent weeks the Pi Store has been filling up with more games – not all of which are free (although they are competitively priced). Could it be that the Pi is the home for a brand new generation of game developers, inspired by the computer’s usability and the provision of development tools?

It’s too early to say at the moment, but the new games that have been added recently are particularly enticing. If you’re interested in building a career in gaming, getting started with the Raspberry Pi might be a good path to take.

Conclusion

Open Arena is particularly impressive, Iridium Rising has all the qualities of a great space sim and Powder looks as though it walked off a 1980s arcade coin op. Meanwhile The Abandoned Farmhouse Adventure expertly recalls the wonderful text adventures – proto RPGs – of the 1970s and 1980s 8-bit gaming era.

It might not be capable of tremendous AI, complex paths and awesome 3D graphics, but the Raspberry Pi can now be described as a gaming platform.

The titles listed above, and the possibility that this is a potentially exciting new platform for game developers (perhaps as a testing ground for mobile or browser-based apps), makes the prospect of playing games on the Raspberry Pi far more interesting than installing an emulator and running a 30 year old platformer.