Review of the Wii-U

Wii-UAfter a few days of playing with the Wii-U (once I managed to pry it out of the hands of my 14-year-old) I thought I’d post my thoughts.  An HD Nintendo console has been overdue for quite some time, so it’s a relief to finally see them catching up (somewhat) to the “big boys”–PS3 and X-Box 360–though new consoles from both of those companies are now in the works as well.  But Nintendo reminds me a lot of Apple in the way they evolve.  They’re slower in movement, but over time they do get it right for their particular audience.  Anyway, the Wii-U is an excellent replacement for the Wii.  I am very relieved to see that we can still play our old Wii games on it, so we can get rid of the old thing completely.  It was a pain to have to bring the TV down to a standard definition video image to use the Wii.  Now everything can remain in full 1080p HD.

The Wii-U comes with a huge “GamePad” controller, which is much like a small tablet combined with a Wii controller.  It has a decent-sized touchscreen–at least it’s bigger than the Nintendo DS screen–and feels very comfortable in the hands.  It’s nice and light, with nice finger grooves in the right places underneath and a stick on both the left and right sides.  Many games allow their gameplay to run on either the Gamepad screen or the TV screen, and some allow both simultaneously.  Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to all games–and doesn’t apply to the old Wii games at all–but hopefully this will change in the near future with an update.  Being able to play on just the gamepad–even if you can only go up to 40 feet away from the console–is HUGE for our household.  To Kevin, it means being able to still play the console games he wants when he has time, while we can still watch the TV shows we want.  If Nintendo adds this feature into the classic Wii software, I think this feature alone could justify its price for a lot of families!

The good ole “Mii” universe is alive and well on the Wii-U, and there are always hundreds, if not thousands, of other users visiting our system and posting comments about all of the games.  We even see posts from others as we finish levels of some of the games, and I’m always wondering if the comments are actually directed toward OUR game or just generic comments… Can other users watch our gameplay?? Can we watch theirs?? I haven’t found this out yet.

For the old Wii games, there’s a “Wii” option provided as a separate app, which takes you to the classic “Wii Menu” and provides the exact same interface as the old Wii system.  In fact, you have to put down the Gamepad and pick up a standard Wii controller to play any of the Wii games and use the Wii menu interface.  We did the “Wii system transfer” before completely taking our old Wii out of service, and that was pretty flawless, once we got it going.  This was a lengthy process though, probably because we had accumulated a lot of game save data, Mii’s, and games from the Wii Store over the years.  The process is fully animated once you start it, and kind of plays out like a little cartoon, with “Pikmin” characters (from what Kevin says they are) carrying your data through the old Wii systems, out to a rocket ship and loading them up for the transfer.  One little pikmin character almost gets left behind, ala “E.T”, but they realize it before blastoff, and re-open the ship’s bay door and let him in at the last second.  Once the data is saved to your SD card, the ship takes off and your’re ready to insert it into the Wii-U, switch to that system and continue the process where the ship then lands and the pikmin unload the data into the new system and setup the icons.  It’s an amusing little cartoon, but pretty monotonous if you have a lot of data like we did.

The Wii-U also has “TVii”, which I originally thought would be a streaming TV service from Nintendo, but unfortunately it’s not.  All it is, is a “remote” for your existing TV and cable box.  You select your TV remote by answering a few simple questions based on whether the TV responds to the signals the Wii-U sends, and it sets up the remote for it.  This is definitely the simplest “universal remote control” setup I’ve ever seen, by far.  Totally painless.  Then it does the same for your cable box and cable provider.  Once that’s done you can completely control your cable box and TV with just the GamePad, replacing your two remotes.  Unfortunately, WE have much more than that to control, including our stereo, PS3, X-Box, etc., and the Wii-U doesn’t go any further than the two devices.  If someone could just make a 15-device universal remote app for the Wii-U, I’d gladly pay for it…that would be bliss!

Other apps included with the Wii-U are Netflix and HuluPlus, which both work great.  I’m currently using both services and comparing them.  Using the Wii-U interface, Netflix easily outshines HuluPlus, in my opinion.  In the Netflix app the interface on the Gamepad screen matches the TV interface, so you can use either one to select a movie or TV show and watch it on either the TV or the GamePad. Excellent!  But in HuluPlus on the GamePad, it only shows you the currently-selected option, very large, in the middle of the GamePad screen.  You have to look at the TV to scroll and select what you’re looking for.  Unless you memorize the layout of the menus, you can’t use just the GamePad to find a movie or TV show to watch, so it’s rather limited.  I’m guessing Hulu will fix this in an update though.  In comparing the Netflix and Hulu services themselves, it’s pretty much a draw.  They both offer little of the same content.  They seem to each have their own contracts for the content they offer, and both have good solid YV series offerings and movies.  It’s a tough split.  One minus on Hulu is the fact that its TV shows include “limited commercial interruptions” throughout its TV shows.  Sometimes this seems like a bit much, with hour-long TV shows sometimes having numerous 3-commercial breaks.  And there’s no fast-forwarding through the commercials either–you’re stuck with them.  I did find, several times, when I did several fast-forwards and rewinds to rewatch a part of an episode, that it can get confused and then lets you fast-forward through commercials, but then thinks a later section of the actual TV show is the commercial block!  Then later it seemed to realize it was messed up, and when I went to fast-forward or rewind the show it reset it back to the beginning again.  Pretty irritating, but it didn’t happen often and I couldn’t repeat the glitch at will.  Most of the time it worked fine.  Both Netflix and HuluPlus also have an autoplay feature for TV series playing, so you can seamlessly watch a series without manually having to start each episode.  But since HuluPlus has a commercial block before every episode and after, you have to site through a huge block of commercials (usually 6) between each episode.  A big PLUS with Hulu, however, is with current TV series playing.  Hulu gives you the current episodes of TV shows, while Netflix only provides you with previous seasons, only releasing new seasons of a show long after the next season is airing or long after the series is completed.  I guess you have to weigh the value of this with whether you watch a lot of currently-airing series’ or not.  Both services are $7.99 a month, so it makes me wonder if Hulu is worth it for all the ads when Netflix is ad-free.  But, like I said, there are enough differences between the two services to warrant having both of them, for those who can afford it and are avid movie and TV buffs.

But back to the Wii-U: The Wii-U store currently offers a very small selection, but that’s just because it’s new.  They haven’t added any of the classic Wii games to the store yet, so only Wii-U games are there at the moment.  When they finally get the games from the old Wii store into the new one, there will be a much better selection.  And it’d be even more awesome if they also add all of their classic “boxed” Wii games as digital downloads as well!  They would certainly make a fortune, especially on those hard-to-find classics.  I know they can do it–they already offer most of their new “boxed” Wii-U games as digital downloads, and the classic Wii games are much smaller in size, I’m sure.

We played a bit of Mario & Nintendoland for the Wii-U as well as a couple of the new downloadable Wii-U games that were on sale this week in the Wii-U store, and what does Kevin come back to the most?…. wait for it…. a cheap download called “Little Inferno”!  This game is just plain “WRONG”.  It teaches kids how to burn their toys.  It’s aimed at older teens, obviously, and always warns you not to play with fire, but it provides you with a safe environment to do so, allowing you to burn everything from all kinds of toys imaginable, to batteries, to a school bus full of screaming children, or an angry elf (yes, Jay–an Angry Elf) who has a belt of dynamite strapped around his waist.  It’s totally wrong, but I must admit it’s very addicting to but everything and see the way each item responds to a flame.  How this game got past the Nintendo approval process I have no idea–I guess it’s a good test of the parental controls on the Wii-U–you can block your kids from playing it if you want.  But, if they gotta play with fire, I guess doing it on the Wii-U is tons better than anywhere else!

I think Nintento has a great start here.  As long as they get busy with updating and keeping on top of the issues in a timely manner, this will turn out to be an awesome Wii system.  The GamePad features alone can make it almost as useful as a full tablet, if they make the right improvements.  We’ll see what happens.

Rick and Sandy made the paper…and other treats

Rick and Sandy in Kenosha News - 12/22/12Wow, Christmas is getting close.  The holiday cheer is here.  Three nice things just from this morning: Rick and Sandy made the paper (see photo–click it to see it full-size in a new window), then, when I went to Flickr to upload it, Flickr presented me with a gift of 3 free months of Flickr Pro–that’s a whopping $6.00 more in my pocket… then when I went to Facebook to catch up on family and friends I found that Jelly Bean was released today for my Galaxy SIII!  I hit the trifecta today!

DSub opens my eyes

Today I discovered a weird convergence of the two big issues I posted previously.  It started when I discovered DSub, an Android Subsonic client that ROCKS!  The regular Android Subsonic client–called simply “Subsonic” was decent, but lacked some crucial features and functionality that made me lean more toward Audiogalaxy when they were both excellent streaming music server options.  DSub is (and looks a lot like) the Subsonic client on steroids!  It’s open-source, so I’m guessing it’s the same client at it’s base, just customized to be much better.  It’s like the “full version” of the Android Subsonic client!  It costs $1.99, but it’s well worth it!  Anyway, one of the big features of this app that just punched me in the face and woke me up today, is an option in its settings called “Temporary loss of focus”.  It has 4 options under it: “Always Pause”, “Pause and lower volume when requested”, “Always lower volume”, and “Do Nothing”.  I didn’t realize what this weird function was until I clicked on it and saw these 4 options…. then it hit me–THIS is the feature than an audio-heavy app needs, to know what to do when another sound plays on the Android device!

So now I was on a mission.  I set it to “Always Pause”, threw on my winter coat, and hopped in the car for a ride around the neighborhood.  I turned setup Google Navigation to take me to work, started up my DSub music, then drove around the neighborhood while Google Navigation kept interrupting my song to give me directions.  It was FLAWLESS!  DSub paused every time when the Navigation started talking, and all is right with my (Android) world again!  So next I started up an Audible book and drove around some more… Bummer.  Audible isn’t working that way, and keeps playing now, blending the two voices of the book and the navigation into something very confusing (and potentially dangerous if I were relying on actual directions while driving).  So I came back home and send a support e-mail to Audible.  They responded very quickly to another question I had previously, so I am anxiously awaiting their response to this one.  Here’s what I wrote:

I listen to my audible books heavily on my Android phone during my daily commute, along with Google Navigation. I’ve been having a problem recently, however: The audible application no longer pauses when Google Navigation speaks–they both talk at once, which can sometimes make me miss a turn or direction unless I’m constantly watching the GPS directions on the screen.

After some research on the web, and finding other apps that still work ok and pause for the navigation, I have realized that it might be something that has changed in the Audible app.

I also found this explanation on Audible regarding a slightly different issue:

“We have received reports from users of the Audible for Android application, that the Audible application pauses at random. Upon further investigation, we have found that other applications may ‘steal’ the audio focus for no apparent reason when running in the background. The Audible for Android application respects audio focus requests to pause or stop playback. At the current time, the only means of resolution is to uninstall the offending application from your phone.”

To me, it seems like the Audible application used to respect the audio focus change, but now it no longer does. Can I get this ability back? Maybe if I uninstall and reinstall the app?? Or was something actually removed in the app so that it will no longer auto-pause like it used to?

Please let me know if there’s anything I, or Audible, can do to resolve this issue. I’m afraid I would no longer be able to safely listen to audiobooks in my car (with Audible) if this can’t be fixed, and I’d have to seek another alternative.

Thank you.

That’s it.  I’m pretty sure they took this ability out of their app, but we’ll see if there might be a way to correct it’s behavior and make it work.  It worked properly ever since I first subscribed to Audible and started listening to books in the car.  I’ll post the response I get.

UPDATE: 

Wow, Audible is quick. About an hour after sending that support message to them this evening, they responded. They gave me a $10 coupon for my trouble, apologized, and said there’s an update for the app, and I need to completely uninstall, delete the Audible folder, then install the updated version. So I did all of this, but was unable to completely remove the application, since it came pre-installed on my phone. I could only uninstall the updates. So I did that much and deleted the folder. Then ran Audible, signed in and downloaded a book. I played the book, then started Google Navigation. Sure enough, it worked great by pausing the book when driving directions were spoken, then resumed the book again right after. Next I installed the latest update from the app store and did it again. Crap! It went back to having the issue again by completely ignoring the driving directions and playing the book right through them. Back to the drawing board!

This definitely proves it’s something in the updated versions though, so it helps. I e-mailed support again, as a reply, so they have the entire history of the issue. I asked that, if they don’t want to have the auto-pause feature due to a lot of users having the “random pausing issue” they talk about on their help page, why not add it as an option that the user can toggle in the app’s settings? I’ll let you know what they say.

For now though, I’m back to listening to my books in the car–I just can’t update my Audible App beyond the version that came with my phone.

App Crap

What’s with all of the Android app issues all of a sudden?? First, Google Navigation–the absolute best (and totally free) navigation app available for Android–pretty much threw in the towel recently by removing the ability to control the voice volume for the navigation while integrating a very natural and human-sounding internal speech engine.  Now, whenever I use it I can’t hear any of the navigation announcements because my music volume is apparently louder than the new voice engine!  And since the eliminated the separate volume control for the navigation, there’s no way to control it!  Turning down the volume turns down both the Navigation volume as well as the music, so I end up having to choose a no-music (or audiobook) drive or a music-only drive without navigation at all.  Unacceptable, Google!!  I’m trying to work with Waze right now, which has made some big improvements lately, from what I’m seeing.  It does pretty good navigation and includes “crowdsourcing” features, constantly including traffic, accident and other updates instantly as you drive, from all of the “Wazers”.  You even earn points for everything to report in the app, to increase your Waze score and earn better ranks.  It has it’s issues, doesn’t look as “Pro” as Google Navigation, and the voice navigation is a bit muffled…but at least it has a separate voice navigation VOLUME CONTROL!!! Are you listening, Google?!?!?!? It works ok for me for now, until something better comes along (or Google fixes theirs).

Then today I find out that Dropbox acquired Audiogalaxy!!  Now Audiogalaxy isn’t accepting any new accounts, and their “Mixes” subscription service is ending on 12/31/12.  Yikes!! They go on to say “previous users with accounts can continue to stream their music collections”… but for how long?!?!  Audiogalaxy is the best Android music streaming server I have ever found, and nothing compares to it!! I sure hope they eventually decide to keep streaming and start accepting new accounts again, even if it becomes branded as a Dropbox Music Streaming app–as long as they DON’T start requiring everyone to upload their music collection to Dropbox though–THAT would suck!  I have such a huge collection of music, it would cost me quite a bit of money each month for a dropbox account big enough to hold my entire music collection.  Hmmph.  Time to start looking for something better anyway, I guess.

Happy Holidaze

The season is getting pretty busy.  Yesterday we finished up cleaning and emptying the final bit of stuff left at the old house, and we’re finally fully out of it.  The bank is finally making some headway, and we’re moving forward.  Today Sandy and I did some shopping during the Packers/Bears game.  It was the perfect time for it, since all of the area’s football fans were busy watching the game.  No lines, no waiting.  Afterward, Kevin, Socks and I took a walk with a twist: Matt recommended an app called “Zombies, Run!“, so we tried it out.  You play it like an audiobook while you walk and/or run, and the story unfolds as you progress.  You also collect items during your walk, and when you get back home, in the game you “return to base” and apply the items to your compound and level up the various sections of it, like the hospital, your housing, and the armory.

It’s a neat game, and encourages you to walk more.  In fact, I think today’s walk was one of my longest in  awhile at just over 1.5 miles.  At one point, walking on the sidewalk next to Towerline Park, Kevin picked up 4 different items together, all at once.  I didn’t get them, so I stopped and went back to where he said he picked them up… Sure enough, I also picked up the 4 extra items!  That doesn’t seem to work all of the time, but did work once, so there might just be something to it.  We’ll see as we move forward in the game.  The object is to build up your base to defend against the zombie hordes  I think.  As you walk, a story unfolds as you try to reach different destinations, like a hospital for supplies, etc., and hordes of zombies chase you at various times.  You can hear them coming as they approach, and as you walk for run from them, their distance increases until you lose them again.  It keeps you occupied, like reading a good audiobook.  We’ll see how it works out.

Just one week till Christmas–wow, that’s soon.  I hope everyone has a great holiday season!  Thanks for visiting!