Through the Cracks: Tech Products I'm Not Reviewing

Through the Cracks: Tech Products I'm Not Reviewing

Apple iPhone 5S, Nike+ FuelBand SE and Call of Duty: Ghosts

This one is a bit hard to explain, but there are a handful of tech products I use regularly but will never review. The reasons differ from product to product, but it occurred to me this week that three of these products all share one thing in common.

There are two sets of article series I sort of always intended to start up but never got around to. One is something I think of as "28 Days Later," where I'd follow up on reviews some number of days later and let you know when things changed. Experience, after all, has a way of doing that, and of course products are sometimes improved too.

The second is something I think of as "Through the Cracks," or the "Non-Review," where there are actually tech products that I do own and even use regularly but don't review for whatever reason. In some ways, you can get a peek at this kind of thing in my "What I Use" posts—overdue for an update—but I could sort of see occasionally just posting about products I won't review. Not everything has to be a form review, after all.

So we'll see where this goes. For now, here are three apparently unrelated tech products that all have one thing in common. They're warmed-over retreads of a previous version of that product. And I sort of resent each for that.

Apple iPhone 5S

Update: I incorrectly wrote this as "iPhone 5C" originally. Sorry about that. --Paul

The Apple iPhone 5S is one of those review-proof products, that minor update to last year's product that Apple is so found of. Of course, it's also an iPhone, so it's not like it's poorly made. I bought this handset for two basic reasons: To keep with the mobile platforms that compete with what Microsoft is doing, and to monitor what Microsoft is doing on those platforms. And not because I ever thought for one second that I'd actually use it.

Do I like it? Honestly, aside from the build quality, which is excellent, not really. The screen is far too small for anyone adult-sized or without perfect vision, and for some reason Apple doesn't make a nice flip cover case, either like its Smart Cover or Smart Case, or like the flip covers you see on various Galaxy devices or on the Nexus 5. It's last year's leftovers, served as if it were new.

Except for one thing. There is one thing I really like about the iPhone 5, and it's a feature I'd like to see implemented across all smart phone handsets and tablets. Called Touch ID, this new sensor takes the place of the Home button from previous i-devices, and while it works the same as before while you're using the handset, it also lets you sign into the device, and for purchases, by scanning your fingerprint.

This is actually a pretty genius new feature and it doesn't get enough press, I think. I routinely configure my phones and tablets to use a PIN-type password, which is about 100 times more convenient than tapping in a lengthy alpha-numeric password. Well, Touch ID is about 100 times more convenient than a PIN. And once you've used it, it's hard to go back.

That said, I get the feeling Apple doesn't even trust this system since you still have to use a PIN—or your full password in the case of purchases—from time to time. That's silly.

Nike+ FuelBand SE

Last year, my wife and I got Nike+ FuelBands to monitor our daily activities. We both work at home, and while she's still thin and active and I'm, um, not, we figured this device would be a good way to remind us to prod ourselves to get up and move around more often. In that regard, the FuelBand sort of works, but when a firmware upgrade borked mine about 6 months ago I just gave up.

Flash forward to Fall 2013, and Nike has a "new" version of the FuelBand. Like the iPhone 5S described above, it's really just a warmed over version of the previous device, and not the thinner, lighter and more colorful overhaul my wife and I both believe they need. So I grabbed a new one to see what the differences are. There aren't many.

Most disappointingly, the FuelBand simply isn't an accurate measure of almost anything except "Nike Points," a made up activity metric. We've learned to ignore everything else it measures, because it's all bogus. But even Nike Points are misleading, because this wrist-based device over-measures for leisurely activities like walking and under-measures when you're doing something truly active, like pushing yourself on an elliptical trainer. One hour of neighborhood walking is almost enough for me to meet my arbitrary 2000 Nike Point goal. But if I kill myself on the trainer for 30 minutes, I've garnered maybe 300-400 points. This isn't right.

So I can't recommend this device to anyone, except for one thing: It really does help remind me to do more. Not through the on-device notifications, which are pointless and too easily missed, but because it's on your wrist and you tend to look at it. So I really do try to hit that 2000 point goal each day. And there is some value in that.

Sadly, the Nike+ Fuelband is also really expensive at about $170. I suspect that more accurate, more useful and more affordable activity trackers are on the way. My advice is to wait a bit. And get outside and move around while you're doing so.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

There was a time when I hoped I could save the world from the kiddie-write video game reviews that still plague this market, but since that's over, I've moved on. But I still play games quite often, mostly the first person shooter type, and mostly whatever Call of Duty game is newest. Right now, that game is Call of Duty: Ghosts, which I've actually played quite extensively on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. That's a bit unusual. Mostly because it's really not that great.

Call of Duty is an addiction, and the thing this game has in common with both of the other products cited above that I will not review is that it's basically just a steaming pile of something old served up like it was new, and at the highest price the market will allow. This game could have easily been packaged as a map pack for any previous title and it would have solved basically the same problems. It's just not that inventive.

The single player game is barely worth mentioning. I played it on Hardcore, which was stupid since I received no extra credit for that in the form of any Hardcore-specific achievements. It ended pretty quickly, and mercifully, since the post-World War II storylines that started with Modern Warfare are less engaging anyway. I just get through them.

Multiplayer, though. Oh my.

This game is so freaking complex, I just don't understand how anyone who hadn't been following along through Modern Warfare, World at War, Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops, Modern Warfare 3, and Black Ops 2 could ever possibly know what's going on. You have squad members, which have various loadouts that consist of primary and secondary weapons, lethal and tactical armaments, a varying number of perks, and three rewards in a strike package each. They prestige up, and there are challenges throughout the game in the form of gun camo, operations of many kinds, in-game objectives, and much, much more. It's really complex.

Too many of the levels are far too big, like size of Connecticut big. They're just not balanced, and I instantly quit now when several of them come up. The gameplay between those three consoles I cited, however, is identical, as are the graphics. Don't let anyone tell you the PS4 is better somehow than the Xbox One; it's not even better than the Xbox 360.

Ghosts is so bland, the only thing that keeps me going, literally, is that I get it so easily since I've been playing these games for years. But the grinding complexity, dulling sameness, and too-large multiplayer maps are causing me to rethinking things. I've got Battlefield 4 and I will be spending time with that game. My son, also a long-time COD gamer, has already made the switch. This, Activision, is how you lose people.

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