Game review: Super Hexagon requires your full attention and brain capacity

Many of the best video games are immersive. They pull us in, disconnect our brains from the real world, and let us pretend, at least for a while, that we are wizards, superheroes, or Italian plumbers.

Some game-makers achieve this effect by using fancy graphics or creating expansive, complex environments. Others, like Terry Cavanagh (who also created the excellent VVVVVV), skip all the fluff and just go straight to work rewiring your brain.

Cavanagh’s new game, Super Hexagon, forcefully pulls you from the real world by requiring your full attention and brain capacity.

Super Hexagon

Gameplay

The premise of Super Hexagon is simple; so simple, in fact, that it’s difficult to categorize. Cavanagh has labeled it as an action game, but that doesn’t really seem to fit. It’s more of a twitch-maze-dungeon-runner.

Your mission is to avoid the walls of a moving, hexagon-shaped maze. Success is measured by how long you survive. Sounds simple, right? Just watch the game trailer:

When you first start playing, it seems impossible. My first attempt lasted only 2.26 seconds. The next several attempts weren’t much better. After days of playing, I’m finally up to 25 seconds on Hard mode, the lowest difficulty level.

Acknowledging that the game isn’t easy seems to be Cavanagh extending an olive branch to gamer egos. Easy, Medium, and Hard modes have been replaced with Hard, Harder, & Hardest (Hexagon, Hexagoner, & Hexagonest respectively). Three increased difficulty modes are available via unlocks.

There is a balance to the difficulty. Super Hexagon is tuned to allow for small improvements that help you feel that you are getting better versus just bashing your head against a wall. I also found that the less I thought about my moves and tried to anticipate incoming walls, the better I performed.

This is where the immersion part comes in. While playing around the 10 second mark, I usually start to feel a sort of twich-zen clear out my mind. It’s a really odd feeling that reminds me a lot of my days playing Quake 3 Team Arena, when I’d hit “the zone” that unlocked seemingly inhuman speed and accuracy by filtering out everything but the dot of my scope and players’ heads.

An excellent chiptune soundtrack helps round out the immersive effect and matches the game perfectly.

Availability & pricing

Super Hexagon is available on iOS devices for $2.99 through the App Store. PC and Mac versions are in the works with a possible Android port.

Final thoughts

“In my day, video games were hard. They required skill. They required chutzpah. They required finely-tuned reflexes and hand-eye coordination. You kids, with your plants and your zombies and your fancy hats – you don’t know games. You’re too soft.”

– Me, as I hit “Try Again” for the thousandth time.

Tablets and your pre-schooler: Is it a good idea?

While writing here at Techerator I plan on covering a lot of tops related to the Mac and iOS. After all, that is what I know when it comes to technology. Part of those articles will include a series about iOS apps for the preschooler and toddler. Basically these articles will be recommending apps that have been a hit in my house. However, before I get to those articles I wanted to write an article about the benefits (and downsides) of letting your preschooler use a tablet or phone or similar device.

Tablets for kids are popping up all over the place. There is the Leapfrog LeapPad (now in its second-generation version). There is a new kids-only tablet from Toys “R” Us. Tablets are hitting the kids market and hitting it fast.

There will be many people out there that will say a kid should go nowhere near a tablet device. There are also many people out there who say a young child should not be watching television (don’t get me started on this one). I disagree on both counts. In moderation, and with parent supervision,using a tablet can be educational for a young child – not to mention fun.

There are apps that teach writing, reading, and arithmetic. There are apps that teach patterns and spacial reasoning. There are apps for the artist child. In many cases these apps are reinforcing what a child will be learning in school. In other cases the app might be teaching the child something new and giving him/her a head start.

My son loves playing games that are based on his favorite characters like Dinosaur Train and Clifford the Big Red Dog or Team Umizoomi.  We also read books on the iPad and there are a lot of fantastic interactive book apps out there. Through these apps he is having fun learning. He is also learning how to type and learning how to use a tablet device, which I think will be the future in schools over laptops (but that is another story).

Don’t get me wrong, too much use of a tablet is not good. In fact we limit usage heavily in my house. My son is on the iPad no more than 20 minutes per week. I also don’t let him play any apps except the educational games (some are based on characters and others are not).

The bottom line is that there is definitely a place for tablets and preschoolers, and if you monitor a child’s usage it can be a great learning tool.

App review: Calmighty is a well-designed iOS calendar app that integrates with Facebook

Calendar apps have become a must-have download in today’s fast paced digital society. Making the move from a paper calendar to a digital one might seem like a daunting task if you are unsure of which calendar app to choose. There are millions of productivity apps in the Apple app store but if you are looking for a download that will help manage your events in an efficient and stylish way then Calmighty may be the iOS app for you.

Calmighty is a gorgeous calendar app that is well designed, easy to use and integrates with Facebook. The app has a clock interface that offers its users a new and unique way to view your daily calendar of events. The interface is set up like a traditional clock with an hour hand moving from one to twelve, and as you drag the hand through each hour of the day it will show you what events you have scheduled.

Calmighty will also show your scheduled events the old-fashioned way in the monthly calendar view or even as a daily or monthly list—choose whichever view is best for you.

The app connects your built-in iOS calendar to Calmighty for a seamless integration between both your calendars. The app also integrates with Facebook and will automatically sync your events from the social media site straight to your calendar. The Facebook integration is an excellent feature to have and makes managing your digital schedule so much easier. For those readers who use social media as a way to manage events, Calmighty will be a welcomed new app.

The design on the app is one of the best features. It is simply beautiful and stunning. Calmighty is easy to use and makes inputting events a quick and simple process – unlike other calendar apps that make the process difficult and complicated. This is an app where the user can immediately see that the developers put extra thought in the design of the interface. I have never been a fan of digital calendars as I have found them too complicated and cumbersome at times, but Calmighty has converted me to the digital calendar team, and quite frankly I don’t know how I ever survived without one.

Overall, I thought Calmighty was an excellent calendar app that bridges the gap between your digital events that may be spread across multiple calendars. There are probably many fantastic calendar downloads in the Apple app store but Calmighty does such an efficient job of organizing your digital events that there is no need to look further in your calendar app search.

Cost: Free download

Rating: 8/10

The iPad mini to battle it out with full tablets like iPad 2 and the Android-powered Nexus 7

Finally, the iPad mini is here. As its name suggests, it is slightly smaller than the regular iPad though its 7.9 inches still compares favorably with something like the Nexus 7. Its ultra slim design easily makes up for the big surface area that gives it a lean profile, and a surprisingly hefty feel on the hands which puts it at a better place against its rivals.

Apple did a fine job with the iPad mini as was the case with the iPhone 5, further widening the gap between Apple and its competitors. The $329 gadget boasts of a sharp display which is OK compared to its predecessor and successors, the 3rd and 4th generation full size iPads.

The device is powered by an A5 CPU, which raises concern since the chip is actually two generations old. However, there should be no worries at all since current iPad software, iOS 6, runs smoothly on the device. This might be because the device has a fewer number of pixels to manipulate on its 1024 by 768, 7.9-inch display.

Comparing the iPad mini to the full-sized iPad 2 shows no real big difference in performance. Applications run just as snappily as they do on the full-sized counterpart. It’s screen resolution is the same as that of the flagship iPad 2 and sports a resolution standing at a quarter that of the iPad 2.

When compared to other Android tablets, specifically the Nexus 7 which carries the future of the Android tablets, the first aspect to pinpoint is the fact that the Nexus is an economical tablet making it cheaper than the iPad mini. In reality though, the iPad mini has more screen space real estate than the Nexus which is also able to deliver more crisp images, thanks to its 216ppi screen in comparison to the mini’s 162ppi. Apple has also maintained the 10-hour battery life on the new mini.

Though the detailed specification list of the iPad mini is not yet out, we would be right to conclude that the gadget derives its strength from the way it pairs up its hardware and undoubtedly matches the power of the second-generation iPad. When compared to the Android flagship tablet, the iPad mini does not fair badly and may be a real competitor to the Nexus 7.

Ask Techerator: Can I copy photos from my iPad to an external hard drive?

As the popularity of Apple’s mobile devices like the iPad continues to increase, consumers are looking at ways to replace their personal computers for an iPad. This frequently raises a question: Is there a way to connect an external drive to the iPad to transfer photos?

The short answer is no you cannot directly connect an external drive to your iPad; however, I have listed some alternatives below.

Option 1: Syncing to computer

The easiest way to store photos from iPad to external drive is to transfer the files to your computer first. Before setting up syncing, make sure the latest version of iTunes is downloaded. You can change your sync options at any time.

How to sync via USB

  1. Connect the iOS device to your computer using a USB cable.
  2. For Mac users select iPhoto, on the left hand side you should see the iPad listed under device. To Import select the photos and select import.
  3.  On a Windows PC the autoplay window will pop up when the iPad is plugged in. Click “Import Pictures and Videos using Windows”. Select Import.
A few other ways to transfer photos to PC is by using iCloud or Dropbox.

Once all photos have been synced to your PC you can then plug-in your external hard drive to copy them over.

Option 2: Connecting to external hard drive

As mentioned above there is no direct connection between the iPad and external drive. However, currently on the market there are a few wi-fi drives that can be used in conjunction with the iPad.

Kingston Wi-Drive

Image Credit: Kingston

As an external hard drive, the Kingston Wi-Drive supports both PCs and Macs and iPad’s out of the box, but its performance is about the same as a USB flash drive. The downfall is that it is about $60 for only 32 GB of storage.

Access to the drive is done over the 802.11 g/n protocol, just like your typical home wireless hub and can be shared with 2 people. This device is a great way to add storage to your iPad, but with the small amount of storage it is not a great long-term storage option.

Seagate GoFlex Satellite

If you are looking to transfer our photos from iPad to eternal drive without using a PC, then the Seagate GoFlex Satellite  is the best option. It has a built-in wireless-N access point (with a 150 ft range), to which up to three wireless devices can connect.

For the best experience you will need to download the iPad app Go Flex Media. The app can also download selected content from the GoFlex Satellite drive onto the iPad so that you can access them without having to use the drive, or when the drive is out of battery. The downloaded content can only be played and viewed via the GoFlex Media app, it can’t be integrated into the iPad’s library.

Image Credit: Seagate

The GoFlex comes with 500GB of storage space for about $160, which is more expensive than the Kingston drive, but offers a substantial more storage space.

Conclusion

While you cannot directly attach an external drive to the iPad to copy photos, you do have a few options to perform this task. If you have a better method of getting photos over to an external drive feel free to leave a comment below!

How to identify planes and planets with your mobile phone

Last Saturday found our family sitting outside on a warm evening, relaxing after a barbecue. The sky was so clear that we were able to clearly make out two contrails and the shape of an aircraft. This was way above our heads and clearly not a plane using the local airport.

While my relatives discussed its likely route and estimated its height, I quietly took out my iPhone. I felt sure I had heard of an app that could tell you about planes overhead. Leaving them to their discussion, I asked Google.

Plane Finder AR for iOS

Within a couple of minutes, I had used the 3G network to download Plane Finder AR.

I tapped on the app, pointed my iPhone’s camera at the plane and within seconds I knew that the plane was en route from London Heathrow to Morocco. I also knew its flight number and its height (which turned out to be within 1000 feet of my grandfather’s estimate).

Plane Finder on iPhone
Plane Finder on iPhone

Sometimes technology can leave you speechless and this was one of those times. I spent quite a while looking out for planes after that. Every time, just pointing the app at the aircraft told me its origin, destination and various other information.

Thinking about it, the combination of publicly available flight information, a compass and a reliable GPS is probably all that it took to make this app, but that’s really not the point. There was nobody at that barbecue that wasn’t truly amazed by what it could do.

SkySafari for iOS and Android

Looking at planes isn’t the only reason I have found to point my iPhone at the sky.

We are lucky enough to live in an area with very little light pollution. On a clear night, we have a superb view of the stars. As a result, SkySafari was one of the first apps I downloaded for the iPhone (it is also available for Android).

Sky Safari uses GPS to overlay a map of the solar system when your mobile phone is pointed at the sky, making it easy to identify individual stars and planets. It’s then possible to drill down to specific information about each of them.

SkySafari gets a little technical. I know nothing about astronomy, so some of the information at my fingertips is a mystery to me. However, it is great when someone points and says “I think that’s Venus,” and I can whip out the iPhone and confirm it!

Another great feature of SkySafari is its “SkyWeek” functionality that informs you about significant events in the sky such as eclipses and other phenomena. For those keen to learn about astronomy, this information is a great starting point.

Although neither of these sky-based apps are things I use daily, they are fascinating demonstrations of the things that smartphones can do. Two of our Saturday night party members have now ordered iPhones – not because they are great phones, not because they are good for browsing the Web and not because they are fantastic media players.

They’ve ordered them because they can point them at planes and see where they’re going.

Inside Apple’s USB Power Adapters

If you own an iPhone, you most likely are in possession of Apple’s 5W USB power adapter, a great little contraption that charges your iPhone via a wall outlet using your normal USB cable. From the face of it, it’s a fairly elementary device. It simply takes alternating current from the wall and turns it into five watts of five volt power.

However, according to Ken Shirriff (who recently tore open one of these power adapters), the circuitry is “surprisingly complex and innovative.”

Shirriff conducted an exhaustive analysis of the 5W iPhone charger and posted about it on his blog. He found out some pretty amazing things about Apple’s tiny USB wall charger. For those that are knowledgeable about circuitry and the like, you’ll find Shirriff’s writeup to be both extremely informative and interesting (with circuit diagrams drawn out even), but for those who just want to know why the damn thing costs a whopping $30, Shirriff has this to say:

Apple’s power adapter is clearly a high-quality power supply designed to produce carefully filtered power. Apple has obviously gone to extra effort to reduce EMI interference, probably to keep the charger from interfering with the touchscreen. When I opened the charger up, I expected to find a standard design, but I’ve compared the charger to the Samsung charger and several other high-quality industry designs, and Apple goes beyond these designs in several ways.”

Some of the ways that Apple went above and beyond are apparent when looking at the small details. Apple used “super-strong AC prongs,” as well as a “complex over-temperature / over-voltage shutdown circuit.” Overall, Shirriff says that Apple’s 5W USB power adapter packs an impressive amount of complexity into such a small space.

However, Shirriff notes that even though Apple’s 5W USB power adapter is higher quality than most other USB adapters, that doesn’t mean that the $30 price tag is necessarily worth it. He says that Apple’s USB charger probably only uses about a dollar more on parts than other, less-expensive chargers that cost $6-$10. So essentially, Apple is making a huge profit off of each power adapter that they sell.

Image Credit: Alan Levine

iPad 2 price drops to $399, thanks to the new iPad

If you happened to be online at all on March 7th, then it was inevitable that you learned about Apple’s new iPad. Yes, it’s called “the new iPad” (not iPad 3 or iPad HD). It comes with some great features: Retina Display, the new A5X chip with quad-core graphics, 4G LTE capability, and a new 5-megapixel camera. It’s also priced at the same $499 that the two previous iPad generations started at. However, Apple will still sell the new iPad’s predecessor, the iPad 2, but they’re lowering its starting price to a very-tempting $399.

With a price tag like that, it’s easy to forget about the newest iPad and begin thinking about possibly buying an iPad 2, especially when refurbished and used models will be even cheaper. Sure, it doesn’t have the new features like the Retina Display or the A5X chip, but the iPad 2 is still an amazing device.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and I always ogle over new devices that come out, but I’m simply not an early adopter and I don’t need — nor can I afford — the latest and greatest. Whenever I get a new device, it’s usually something that’s been on the market for about a year. I got the Droid Incredible (my first smartphone) seven months after it’s release, and I only paid $50 for it after I renewed my contract. This past February, I upgraded to the HTC ThunderBolt after it was already on the market for a year. I ended up snagging a perfectly working used model off-contract for $140, compared to the $750 that I would’ve paid if I got it brand new.

I even still have the first-gen iPad (which I bought used for $340 after the iPad 2 release) and I’m extremely happy with it — I have no need (or want) to upgrade to the new iPad.

I feel that I’m saving myself tons of money by choosing to upgrade to “new” devices later than most other people. And knowing that I can get an official Apple-refurbished iPad 2 for only $350 (and used models on eBay for possibly cheaper) is symphony music to my ears.

The New iPad: Everything You Need to Know

Just iPadMost of the rumors posted in our recent iPad 3 post came true today when the new iPad was unveiled. Of course, there were a few things we all got wrong. Like the name for instance. But we all had it right where it counted. Welcome to the future of iPad.

Dropping the Number System

Despite numerous guesses at the name for the newest Apple tablet (the 2S, 3, or HD), they decided to simplify the naming system and just call it the “iPad”. It’s simple, clean, and I really like it. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Apple doesn’t number their MacBooks or iMacs do they? So removing the numbers from the iPad makes Apple’s various product lines seem even more in sync. Here’s hoping they extend this treatment to the iPhone lineup because numbers aren’t so cute once the years start adding up. The iPhone 11S doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

The Retina Display

Tech blogs everywhere (at least those lucky enough to get their hands on the device) are positively blown away by the new screen. Laptop Magazine said they “could sum up the visual experience in a word: whoa.” and Engadget said that the new iPad’s screen “is something that really needs to be ogled to truly appreciate.”

It looks like the screen lived up the hype and though it may have slightly less ppi (at 264, resulting in 3.1 million pixels on one screen) than the required 300, Apple is still calling it a Retina Display. The title of Retina Display still counts because when held at a normal distance (15 inches), the pixels are not visible. The resolution is as expected (2048 x 1536) and they say it has 44 percent more saturation than their previous IPS technology. And if the reactions around the web are to be believed, then new iPad really needs to be seen in person.

Camera Upgrade

My dreams of an HD front-facing camera have been dashed, though I am the first to admit that they were too good to be true. Instead, the new iPad features a new camera around back. Basically the same set up as the iPhone 4s, but with 5MP instead of 8. But it’s still rocking the 5-element lens, side-illuminated sensor, and infrared filter.

And that’s not all. The new camera is capable of recording video in 1080p HD at 30 fps. Apple has included temporal noise reduction that detects which pixels are actually moving and then using that information to decide what is noise and what is actual detail. Translation: Videos will look much clearer.

Brand New Guts

The new iPad is equipped with, not an A6 chip, but an A5x chip. Regardless of the name, the A5X still comes with a quad-core graphics module. Apple says the new chip has four times the graphics performance and twice the speed of a Tegra 3.

Faster Data Speeds

We all knew it was coming and now it’s official. 4G LTE connectivity will be supported, giving the user data speeds estimated at 21 Mbps on HSPA+ networks, all the way up to 73Mbps on LTE connections. And now I’m drooling… No. More. Waiting. The device will also be able to connect to GSM, UTMS, and CDMA networks.

More Memory

No actual confirmation on whether or not the new iPad has more RAM onboard, but it is pretty obvious that it would need some extra juice to power all those pixels.

Odds and Ends

The product dimensions remain virtually unchanged, measuring a mere 0.03 inches thicker than the iPad 2 and weighing in at 1.5 pounds.

Apple says battery life will stay at the beloved 10 hours.

The release date for the US, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia will be March 15.

Prices are set at $499 for 16GB, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. Nothing shocking there. LTE capabilities will cost you $629, $729, and $829 respectively.

All in all, I am pretty excited about the newest iPad. I can’t wait to put my greasy fingers all over that Retina Display and abuse that LTE speed. Maybe I will round it all out with a few hours of Infinity Blade II. I guess it’s time to make another trip to the Apple store!

Valve Releases Steam Mobile App for Android and iOS

Steam, Valve’s powerhouse digital distribution service for PC and Mac, is finally making its way to mobile devices. Don’t get too excited yet, though, they aren’t selling any mobile specific games. Instead, the Steam mobile app acts as a much-needed mobile portal for the multitude of services Steam offers.

Getting logged in is as simple as you’d expect, and Steam mobile even has support for Steam’s relatively recent Steam Guard account protection. Whenever you try to log into Steam on a new device Valve sends an e-mail containing a one time activation code to the address they have on file. You can’t log in without first entering that code. It adds an appreciated level of security for a service that many users have sunk hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars into.

Instead of trying to navigate Steam’s desktop-minded website on your phone you can now access Steam’s most useful features with an interface that has mobile devices in mind. Chat with your friends, check out active deals, or browse Steam’s entire catalog, all from your phone. You can even buy games directly from the app. If you don’t mind the extra icon in the status bar Steam will run in the background, making you available for chat no matter where you are (this service can be disabled in the Settings menu, where you can also set your preferences for receiving chat messages).

The Steam mobile app had a short closed beta period, but is now available for everyone who wants it. Get it for free from the official store for your preferred platform.