Tag Archives: android

Mind the Store

It would not be entirely unfair to paint me as an Android fanboy. But the word is loaded with negative connotations — perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am a fan of open standards.

While I like Apple products, their “we-know-best” attitude sometimes leaves me less than enthused. This is perhaps the reason that I have been sporting an Android-based phone for over two years — first a Motorola Droid X2, then a Samsung Galaxy S3, both through Verizon, (damn them, but that’s another story).

Over those two years I have probably spent over $100 in the Android Market, now known as the “Play Store”, much to my annoyance (the earlier name was far more apt, in my opinion). I love the ecosystem that allows a programmer to create something, sell it for a a dollar or two and still make a fortune.

There are, however, three glaring flaws in the Play Store that I have encountered — besides the name, of course — that need to be addressed:

1: You cannot mix credits and cash.

I recently received a credit from a developer as a “Thank-you” for helping to test their game. I was purchasing a $2.99 game and had $2.79 of that credit left. The obvious thing to do would be to use up the credit and charge the remainder to my card… but that is apparently too much to ask – the Play Store’s payment system does not allow “split-payment” purchases.

Mind The Store - Copy

2: A fifteen-minute refund window is way too short.

A play store purchase may be refunded within fifteen minutes. This makes sense for a quick-download, short-attention-span game like Quell or Cut the Rope, where a quarter of an hour is ample time to ensure that the program works properly on your device, but this is not the case for some “big” games that use a stub program to download gigabytes of data before the game can be played. By the time the download is complete, the refund windows is long gone. Solution: Let the developer decide on the length of the refund window.

Two hours later

More than two hours after purchasing the game and it *still* hasn’t finished loading…

3: You can no longer set an individual app to auto-update.

This used to be possible, but with recent updates to the play store, the only option is the global one, which is NOT what I want. Interestingly, the option is still there on my Nexus 7 tablet, but has disappeared from my phone.



“Revs” Reborn

Real Racing 3: A review

I am not much for racing games. Perhaps it is because most of them are either too realistic (i.e., I keep losing the race!) or not realistic enough, but on the other hand maybe it is simply because I love other genres (Flight Simulations, Space Strategy etc.) more. The last racing game I played — and still play, occasionally —  is “Pod Racer”, the Star Wars offering from some years ago (but is that really a racing game?). I have also occasionally dabbled in various flavors of “Need for Speed”, but never really got into it.

My introduction to the genre, however, goes all the way back to 1984, when I bought a BBC Model B Microcomputer. I remember the games that I played to death on this thing: Elite (the first “MegaGame” and mother of all Space sims), Phantom Combat (two-player head-to-head!) and Revs.

Revs was a Formula Three simulation. Not a game, it was a true simulation modeling the track layout of the Silverstone circuit, complete with bumps and hills — somehow packed into the “massive” 32 kilobytes of memory that was state-of-the-art way back in 1985. Featuring drivers with Pythonesque names like “Miles Behind”, “Max Throttle” and “Gloria Slap”, “Percy Veer”, “Hugh Jengine”, and “Johnny Turbo”, it is safe to say that I was addicted, even if I wasn’t particularly good at it.

Fast-forward twenty-eight years. I discovered Real Racing 3 and installed it on my Nexus 7. Installation is a time-consuming affair; the “Game” that you install from the Android Mark… er… Play Store is only a stub loader that downloads the full game, which weighs in at over a gigabyte, so make sure that you have enough room on your device before you start! The good news is that it is a “freemium” game – free to download and play, with In-App-Purchases (IAPs, which is how the publishers (Electronic Arts). For those of you who are passionately opposed to IAPs — i.e., cheapskates — I have to say that I have yet to spend a dime on this game. Yes, I am a cheapskate too…


Cars you have are listed in white. Cars you don’t are in gray.
Cars in red are in the shop….

Once loaded, you are presented with the main screen. This shows a collection of series, with the cars that are allowed to compete in each series. You start with enough cash to buy one of two cars – The Ford Focus RS or the Nissan Silvia (S15). You then race that car in a series (such as “Pure Stock Challenge”).

Series, Tiers and Races

Each series consists of over thirty races arranged as a series of “tiers” (usually fourteen). Each tier consists of one, two or three races. Most series have a list of cars (usually four) that can race in it.


Completing a race in the first three places gets you a trophy. Completing a tier unlocks a later tier, and gets you a bonus of gold coins. You also get bonus coins and R$ for completing 25%, 50% and 75% of a series, with a big bonus at 100%.

psc100 (2)

Each series contains one “Showcase” race for each of the cars that can compete in that series. Unlocking a Showcase for a car you do not yet own gives you a one-off opportunity to buy that car at 20% off.

Off to The Races

There are several different types of race: From the easiest to the most difficult they are:

  • Drag Race: No steering, no braking, just gear changes — just change gears each time the rev counter hits the red-line. The first couple of times it will be confusing, but once you get the hang of this it is easy.
  • Speed Record: Get the highest speed that you can in one complete lap.
  • Head To Head: One opponent, one lap, one objective – win. So why does the game show the cars side-by-side and then gives opponent a head start?
  • Speed Snap. You start a short distance from the finish line. Your job is to cross it going as fast as possible.
  • Endurance: You begin with sixty seconds on the clock and a track full of cars. Passing a car gives you ten seconds. Completing a lap gives you a time bonus. Drive as far as you can before you run out of time.
  • Autocross: You are timed along a section of track. Shortest time wins.
  • Hunter: Catch and pass the hunted car, who starts with a head start. The distance between you at the end of the lap is what counts – greatest distance wins.
  • Elimination: You start as the last of eight cars. Every ten seconds, the car in last place is eliminated. Your job: stay out of last place…
  • Cup: The commonest, and in my opinion, the most of irksome of all the race types. You start the race at the back of a pack of twenty-two cars (sixteen for a showcase). To win, you must fight your way to the front. This is either really fun or really frustrating, depending on your car and the track… and whether or not you are out in front.
On the Track


The Tracks

Races take place at real-world tracks at venues all over the world. Some venues have more than one track: For instance, as well as its famous Speedway, Indianapolis also has a road course. Here are a few of them:

  • Indianapolis Speedway: Go fast, turn left. Lather, rinse and repeat. The fastest and easiest track in the game, and the best to practice basic handling.
  • Mount Panorama: Up the mountain, down the mountain. Some interesting bends and a bee-yootiful long downhill straight that never fails to put a smile on my face.
  • Silverstone: Ah, what memories. The home of British Formula One racing, with wide, sweeping curves and some luvverly straights. Three different tracks, all a pleasure to drive.
  • Brands Hatch: A short track with lots of bends to test your cornering and one half-way decent straight.
  • Hockenheim: And then there’s the Germans. A technical, challenging track, with more bends than… a very bendy thing. Another venue with different tracks.
  • Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps: As Jeremy Clarkson might say: “The French. Why did it have to be the bloody French?” Except that it is in Belgium…
  • Melbourne: The track I love to hate. A downtown street course with lots of turns and switchbacks. Lots of fun — I particularly like putting an opponent into one of the barriers, but one mistake can send *you* into the barriers and cost you the lead, if not the race.

Ah So…

Money! Money! Money!

There are two forms of currency in the game: Cash (R$), and Gold. You get cash for completing a race, and you spend it repairing and upgrading your cars, or buying new ones. Prices of cars range from R$28,800 for a Nissan Silvia (S15) to a whopping R$2,210,500 for the Koenigsegg Agera R.

Gold coins are given for completing tiers and series, and gold can be spent in three ways: First, some cars can only be purchased for gold: the McLaren MP4-12C is a bargain at a mere 65 Gold — a real poor-man’s supercar. Second, some upgrades can only be purchased for gold. But the commonest use for gold is to use it shorten the wait times for maintenance and upgrades — the longer the delay, the more gold coins are required. I consider this to be a waste of coins — I have never done it (except once, when I hit the button by accident).

Other reviews have bitterly derided the freemium model in general and this particular implementation of it in particular, but I think they are being unfair. Think of it as a tax on impatience: if you have multiple cars, it is a simple thing to jump into another car and race it while the work is being done. And if you have only one car, you will have to learn a little patience until you buy a second car (you’ll be buying one anyway). Some maintenance can be delayed for a while, and if you time it right you can queue up a bunch of maintenance items at bedtime. As I mentioned earlier, I have not paid a dime to play this game, and at the time of writing I have thirteen cars and over three quarters of a million dollars in the bank. So quit whining already!

Assists: Driving a high-performance racing car is far from easy. The cars are twitchy and temperamental, and so are some of their drivers. Fortunately the game provides some relief in the forms of Steering Assistance, Braking Assistance and Traction Control. With all assists on, the car is docile and predictable, with few skids and little drama. Turn the assists off, though and you get much better performance, at the expense of a lot more work. You have to be intimately familiar with every bend of the track, entry, acceleration and exit points, and the best racing lines if you want to bring home the medals — and your car — in one piece.

So… what’s it like?

The graphics are, to put it bluntly, lovely. The road detail is enough to give a sense of “ground rush” when traveling at high speed. Cut a corner, and you will see your tire marks at that spot the next time you pass by.Your car rocks and rolls during extreme maneuvering. Each car sounds, feels and handles differently, and after driving a car for a while you get a feel for when the tyres are about to lose their grip. I can’t see how they could possibly improve in this department.

The game’s most-touted feature — “Time-Shifted Multiplayer” is, im my opinion, it’s Achilles’ Heel. The idea is sound enough; model the real-world performance of real-world players so you can compete against your friends. The problem is that you end up competing against experts who are well-nigh-unbeatable. These are folks who are extremely good at the game and drive with all assists off – and presumably have way too much time on their hands, and. This makes for an inherently unfair race without some kind of handicapping system. Fortunately there is a solution — play the game with network access switched off. This forces the game to load the default robodrivers. More about that later.

The driver modelling is one of the few area that needs improvement. Some of the cars are occasionally impossibly fast. For instance, you are driving a fully-upgraded car down a straight. Next to you is another model of the same car… and he is pulling away from you. I call this “what-the-hell-is-he-driving?” syndrome. Fortunately it does not happen often, and the “enemy” will usually slow down enough at the next corner for you to catch up, but this tells me that the driver models need tweaking. It is a minor nit; re-doing the same race is often enough to get you into the winner’s circle.

Repairs, Maintenance and Upgrades — Oh My!

At the end of each race, you will have the opportunity to repair, maintain and upgrade your vehicle. Repairs are cheap and immediate, and should always be done. Maintenance (Oil Changes, Tyre Replacements, suspension work, Engine Rebuilds and Brakes) should also be done when their performance starts to deteriorate, but these take time, depending on the amount of work required.  This can range from two minutes for an oil change on a low-end car to hours for an engine rebuild on a supercar. When you only have one car, this can be a pain… but when you have a bunch of cars in your garage, you can simply hop in another one and go racing while the mechanics do their thing with the magic spanners.

Because of the delay in performing maintenance, you may wish to delay it under certain circumstances. If, for instance,  there is a minor penalty to cornering and you are about to race on a track where cornering ability is not that important (like the Indianapolis Speedway), you might want to put it off. Or you might want to leave it until you can do several maintenance items at once.

My Cars

Upgrades are another matter entirely. They are both expensive and time-consuming to complete. It is a good idea to order your upgrades when you have finished playing for a while. Both repairs and upgrades can be completed immediately by spending gold. Strangely, while repairs on a car have to be done in a queue (in series), multiple cars can be worked on in parallel. This makes no sense — you either have a limited number of mechanics or not…

I have one bone to pick with the developers: Why in the name of all that it is holy did you insist on FaceBook as the *sole* vehicle for the social aspect of the game? I can only assume that FaceBook must have offered Electronic Arts a big pile of money to make FaceBook the *only* option for multiplayer. I would love to play this game against some real people, but creating a FaceBook account just to play a game is something I will not do.


The Poor Man’s Supercar

Driver Level: As well as cash, each completed race gives you “Fame” points. Get enough of these and your driver gains a level — and some Gold. Every fifth level you will also get a pithy little inspirational message.65The Good

  • Graphics
  • Realism
  • Fun!
  • Free!

The Bad

  • Too many similar cars! For instance, BMW has the 1 Series M Coupe (R$59,800), the Z4 M Coupe (R$62,900), the M3 Coupe (R$84,600), Z4 Sdrive35is (R$89,700), M3 GTS (R$118,700), M6 Coupe (R$ 127,700), Z4 GT3 (R$457,000) and M3 GT2 Alms (R$654,000). Porsche, with the 911 GT3 RS (R$172,700), 911 GT3 RS 4.0 (R$185950), 911 GT3 Cup (R$265,500), Carrera GT (R$449,800), 918 RSR Concept (G150) and 918 Spyder Concept (R$845,000) are similar offenders. This is why it is so important to know which cars you need, and which ones are just “Red Herrings” put in my the developers to get you to waste your money.
  • Driver models need tweaking. If you rear-end somebody, they take off and you slow down. But if they rear-end you, you slow down. And they pass you. Not clever.
  • Too many temptations to spend money on stuff you don’t need. This may be intentional.
  • No Track Layout, Maps, Practice laps, or guides to maximum speeds.
  • No qualifying laps — you always start in last place.
  • Some don’t like “Freemium”, but it doesn’t bother me.

The Ugly

  • FaceBook! UGH!

The Verdict:

I have not enjoyed a racing game this much in more than two decades. It is beautifully designed and horribly addictive. Unlike most racing games, it also teaches some life skills, such as patience (maintenance takes time, upgrades take more time and buying a car takes still more time to have it delivered) and budgeting (if you are impatient, you will run out of money real fast, at which point the game becomes a grind). The key to prosperity is thinking ahead and delaying immediate gratification; play your cards right and you should be able to buy every car (except your first) at a discount.

Root Explained

As anyone familiar with this blog knows, I have a Samsung Galaxy S3. And is it rooted. Before that, I had a Motorola Droid X2. And it was rooted.

I don’t make a big deal of it; I know that most people neither know nor care about rooting. However, sometimes it comes up in conversation, so I thought I would explain rooting and some if the commonest questions here.

What is rooting?
Rooting is enabling “Root Access” to the system areas of your phone’s operating system. It is the equivalent of running as “Administrator” in Windows.

Is Rooting the same as Jailbreaking?
Not exactly. While Jailbreaking may include rooting, it also includes altering your iDevice so that you can get your apps from sources other than Apple’s App Store. Apple do not want you to do this. Unlike Apple, Google have no problem with this: while Android devices are locked to The Android Market (I still cannot bring myself to call it the “Play Store” with a straight face), clearing a checkbox in your device settings (usually under “Developer Options”) will allow loading of apps from other sources (such as Amazon’s Appstore).

Is rooting insecure?
Only if you’re stupid. There is much talk about the potential for malware on a rooted system, as a badly-behaved app can do far more damage to a rooted system, but only if that app is explicitly granted root access. Unlike Windows Programs or Apple apps, every Android application has to specify what permissions it requires when you install it.


  A visual inspection is enough to identify any funny business — like a game that requires the ability to make calls, for instance — and you have the opportunity to refuse to install it.


And while you can configure apps to update automatically, if permissions change you have to manually upgrade. If an app tries to access functions that it isn’t supposed to have, Android will shut it down, and in exceptional cases, Google can remotely remove misbehaving apps. Also bear in mind that not every program needs root access — programs that want root access have to request it from you; you can grant it on a one-time or permanent basis.

Root Request

The bottom like is that as long as you are paying attention and thinking about what you are doing, you are fine.

Is rooting dangerous?
There is a small but distinct possibility that a botched attempt at rooting your phone will “brick” it, leaving you with an unusable phone and a hefty bill for its replacement. But that usually has more to do with your hardware supplier’s efforts to prevent you from rooting than with the rooting process itself. But there are plenty of resources out there to help you root with confidence — if you are skilled enough to install Windows on a PC’s Hard Drive, you probably have the necessary skills to root your device.

Doesn’t rooting void the warranty?
In theory, yes. In practice, “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Phone companies ted to discourage users from rooting, and they often trot out the “warranty void” line to scare users away. But most devices can be returned to “stock” (out the box, unrooted) configuration just as easily as they were rooted in the first place. So if you have to take your phone in for warranty service, simply return it to stock, and it will be difficult — if not impossible — for them to tell that it was ever rooted.

This is as it should be. In my opinion, rooting should not be a good reason to deny warranty coverage unless it was the rooting that caused the problem.

So why doesn’t my phone carrier/supplier want me to root?
In a word, money. Rooting diminishes your Carrier’s control – and profitability. So carriers will have a tendency to steer you toward purchasing their products and services over the (invariably better and often free) competition. Locking down the phone is an effective way to do this.

At the time of writing, my carrier just rolled out a system upgrade that fixes a few minor bug, adds a few “shovelware” features I neither need nor want, removed Google’s “universal search”… and adds a “Google Security Patch” that just happens to break root. Thanks but no thanks.

Should I root?
Generally, if your device does everything that you need, the answer is “no”. Rooting is not for everyone: You have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. You have to care about it enough to keep backups and do research. If you want to just use your phone for basic stuff and will buy what they are selling you without question, don’t bother rooting – stay with stock. Mind you, if stock is what you want, you probably need an iPhone…

So why root?
There are many things that you can only do if your device is rooted. For instance, on some devices, you cannot take a screenshot unless the device is rooted. Here are my reasons for rooting:

  • Backups! Titanium Backup can backup and restore your apps and data/ This comes in useful if a new version of an app does not work on your phone and you have to roll back to an earlier version. you can backup and restore individual apps and their data. This is particularly useful if you are moving a game to another phone and want to keep your settings and high score. As far as I can tell, the Android Mark… er… play store cannot do this.
  • Remove Camera Click: There are times that you may want to take a candid shot without your camera making a loud “Click!” to alert them of the fact. Phone companies will not generally allow this feature, but once your phone is rooted it is easy.
  • Remove bloatware/shovelware/crapware. My carrier (Verizon) loves to bundle “useful” (i.e. profitable) apps, such as VZ Navigator, Blockbuster, Slacker or City ID, to name but a few) into the phone that cannot be removed (left in place but rendered inoperative) or uninstalled… unless, of course,  you have rooted your phone.
  • Replace that garish vomit-and-epileptic-fit-inducing Verizon LTE boot animation with something a little more stylish (i.e., anything else).

There are many other reasons too root, but these are mine. As you can see, none of them represent criminal behavior, nefarious purposes or a clear and present danger to National Security.

Now you know.