Xpress Yourself

Date Sun, September 28 2008

Third time’s not the charm but I really hoped it would be with my Nokia 5310 XpressMusic. In truth, I can’t give an accurate review of the phone itself because my provider, T-Mobile has customized it to their liking, with their software. I can only review the phone they gave me and as such, the review won’t necessarily apply to all Nokia 5310s. Because this is so closely related to the cell phone service, I will also be reviewing that but not yet.

To start, the Nokia 5310 is a slim little SIM-using, GSM phone that is very slick. With black keys, a dark grey exterior and several choices for colour accents including orange, red, blue, purple and silver, this phone is very pleasing to the eye.

One of its key features, as a member of the XpressMusic family, is the ability to listen to music transferred from your computer. It also comes complete with a 2.0 MP digital camera with which you can take pictures and record videos, radio, up to 30MB internal memory, convert application (currency, weight, etc), Bluetooth capabilities and a slot for Micro SD memory cards to store your music, pictures and videos. Typically standard features like WAP web browsing, text and multimedia features, voice dialing, ring tones, themes and application support also exist.

Software aside, the 5310 XpressMusic comes with its own USB cord for data transfer as well as Nokia’s microphone and ear bud headset and charger (of course). The phone also comes with a micro SD memory card of 1 GB which is easily replaceable if you fill it.

The Nokia 5310 both sounds and looks like a dream come true and it just may be. However, because of TMobile I am not able to use all of these features as I would like to and I believe performance is hindered by the software variant the company uses.

Still, there were definitely some features I came to enjoy. The sound quality on this phone is pretty decent and I enjoy listening to to the radio with the head phones. The headset works well with its button that can end calls or change radio stations and songs and makes it easy to multitask even though it’s not wireless.

What I like the most are the buttons for the music. The 5310 XpressMusic has 3 dedicated music buttons along the left side that serve to play/pause, and shift back or forward. When listening to the radio, these buttons change the station from a list of presets. This features works well, as it ought to considering it is a big selling point.

As a side note, I have yet to transfer music so I have only enjoyed these buttons for the radio. There is an option to automatically scan and add all stations so the phone will automatically pick up strong signals. Any stations that are not added can be added manually.

Now, on to the software variant that T-Mobile uses. This information may not apply to the Nokia 5310 in general.

I found the menu a little confusing at first and not as intuitive as I would have liked. Part of this is due, I believe, to having the T-zones in the menu so this does not reflect Nokia. Having T-zones as an application and being able to access the same exactly T-zones online, via the browser, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

However, what I didn’t like I was able to easily change. Users have options to change both the order and view of the menu. I changed my menu to display in tab form because I feel I get the most space usage. Users can set to grid or list view as well. Menu items can be ordered anyway the user chooses.

One thing I did immediately was to take off the My Faves display and replace it with navigational icons so that I can more quickly access things like my message inbox, radio and camera. The My Faves display allows users to quick add, edit and view information about their 5 Faves. I prefer to have quicker access to certain features, instead. If some of the features weren’t buried several menus deep, I might not do this. For instance, in order to access the camera, a user must press Menu > scroll the Fun & apps > Media and then finally select the camera. The radio is also located in the Media menu. It would be nice if both of these features, or at least the camera, had a dedicated button.

The menu also contains sub menus for logging (which are extensive), settings, music (on the internal drive or memory card), phonebook, fun & apps (which contains your gallery, games, applications, media, etc), messaging, IM & E-mail and T-zones (internet access including browser and bookmarks).

For the most part, it’s easy to use these features. I automatically went to settings and changed things like the security keyguard, call timer, and navigational shortcuts. One downfall I think this phone has, which is because of T-Mobile, is that the right soft key can only link to T-zones on the home screen, while all other keys can be cusotmize.

Another unfortunate limitation of the phone, because of T-Mobile, is that some features are not fully enabled. Third party applications are automatically blocked and although users can download ring tones and themes to use, they may not work.

My last gripe is that the reception is really touch and go. It’s not necessarily bad but it’s not generally good, either. Sitting still, the phone can range from 4 bars to none in just a few seconds and it’s quick to switch back and forth. I have had more than one call drop, as well. Unfortunately, it seems like this is more an issue with the phone itself than with the service.

Overall, the phone has been decent and most of the troubles I have had to deal with were because of T-Mobile. If you read about my frustrations and having to return the phone twice while I still wound up with a phone that did not correctly work, you can rest assured that this was also T-Mobile’s responsibility. However, they have been quick to exchange and try to help me with my issue even if they did not understand it.

I hope to write a review of my T-Mobile service after I have spent more time with them. In the mean time, I do really like my Nokia 5310 XpressMusic, I just wish all the software worked.

Punch punch kick!

Date Sat, September 27 2008

So, a while ago I considered getting some yoga DVDS to do at home considering how much I dislike exercising and even moreso, in public. I reconsidered the idea lately and thought that maybe, instead of yoga, I might try Tae Bo. I recall doing it in gym class in high school and although it was silly, it got your heart working. I think either idea is better than using a drug like Leptovox. Anyway, I was browsing Amazon and found that they have a lot of workout DVDs for pretty cheap so I think I will invest in a couple once I have some money.

If anyone has any specific DVD or trainer they like, let me know!

Life Just Got a Little Bit Easier

Date Fri, September 26 2008

Since moving, I’ve used a couple of products that have really been a life saved.

One of which is the Swiffer Duster. There are several pieces in this line, the regular duster and the one with the Extendable Handle, which is what I got. It extends up to 3 feet so it makes it easy to get those hard to reach places. But what makes the Swiffer Duster such an improvement over a regular feather duster or rag is that the dust cloths are made from the same lint-attracting material as other Swiffer products. Instead of just pushing around the dust, the Swiffer duster actually collects it and removes it from the surface.

With 2 refills (actually, I think mine had more), the Swiffer dusters themselves are easy to use. Shake them out to fluffy them up, slide them on the hand and you’re ready to go.

The nice thing about the extendable handle is that it pivots so you can set it an an angle to dust the top of something tall, like an entertainment center or perhaps even a ceiling fan.

I found these really do pick up dust well and make the job a breeze. If there’s 1 thing I’m not so fond about it’s that the refills are relatively flat, not round like many feather dusters, so there’s only 2 sides to use. However, Swiffer has a new 360 Duster that should do the trick for that.

Helpful Hint: When dusting with a dry duster, light candles. They will not only freshen up the room and add atmosphere but will also burn up any dust in the air.

The other is a pack of Medium sized hooks with Command Adhesive by 3M. It might sound silly that I would review something so small, so simply but it’s also so effective.

I bought a 6Pack of Medium Command Hooks which came with 12 adhesive strips so that you can reuse the hooks. This is perfect when you don’t have any air tools and don’t want to leave a mess.

Right now I’m using 3 of them in my cook/shoe closet to hang up my broom, Swiffer and the previously mentioned Swiffer Duster. Because I have no space in my pantry and no other kitchen closet, I had to shove these items in my coat closet. However, the floor was already full of shoes so I decided to “build up” instead.

Peel off the line on the adhesive strips, stick it to the hook, stick the hook on the wall and wait an hour. The medium sized hooks are meant to hold up to 3lbs but 3M makes hooks as small as mini and as large as jumbo as well as hooks with different shapes and even chrome hooks to add a little style.

So far, I’ve had no problems. The hooks stick wonderfully and my Swiffer Wet is probably over the 3lb limit (although the fluid bottle is not full).

When it comes time to take them down, all I need to do is push up on the hook and it will slide off, revealing the end of the adhesive tab. Removing them, which I have done before, is simply a matter of pulling the tab until it comes undone and your wall is free of damage and residue.

Helpful Hint: When organizing in a small space, build up rather than out.

Surprisingly Delicious!

Date Thu, September 25 2008

Sometimes, you see some sort of food product and, against your better judgment, decide to try it. Sometimes, those products are better than you imagined, surprisingly so!

One example of this are the precooked, microwaveable Compleats by Hormel. Although the idea of a complete meal sitting in a plastic tray on a shelf for God-knows-how-long in a store isn’t exactly appetizing, the strong flavour of some of their meals are.

I recently had the Beef Steak Tips which comes complete with mashed potatoes. Although a bit dubious, I know I’ve had other beef tips in gravy that I really enjoyed so I thought I’d give this product a try.

I’m glad I did because it was amazingly delicious. The meat and gravy were lick-your-plate-clean good and tasted just like fresh beef tips. It was exactly the taste I expected.

On the other hand, the potatoes weren’t as wonderful as freshly mashed potatoes but they were much better than anything you’d ever get out of a box.

However, it did cook evenly and even faster than the estimated 90 seconds. The sizing is also great (although some Americans might find it lacking ;)).

Overall, this product was a real eye opener and while there’s nothing like making a nice roast in your own home and having the smell permeate the air, this will more than do in a pinch or if you don’t have enough time to through together some Mexican recipes.

Also, just a side review. If you’ve seen Deli Creations by Oscar Mayer including sandwiches, wraps and the like and you thought they looked pretty good, they are! I personally like the Ham and Cheddar.

Variety, the Spice of Life?

Date Tue, September 23 2008

When writing my reviews here, I don’t like to get stuck reviewing too many similar products in a short time period so I try to mix it up: something electronic, something technology/internet related, something health and beauty related, so on and so forth. But does this enhance your viewing experience or take away from it?

Let me know!

My Nemesis

Date Mon, September 22 2008

That may be a little melodramatic but as I’m sure you’ve all noticed,. I’ve used a lot of products for acne treatment and prevention. While I don’t have the worst case around, I’d love to not have a case at all.

Of course, I’d rather not try a prescription product or one that is very pricey so I stick to drug store brands. So far, I prefer Clean & Clear and Clearasil but it seems that every time I really like a product, they stop making it or the store stops carrying it. Why is that?

For instance, I really liked Clearasil’s daily face wash (and the product line’s new look!) but was disappointed to find they didn’t carry it at the BX in Misawa. Furthermore, once I was able to look at a bigger store, I couldn’t find it. I was also confused ebcause the look had changed – and not for the better. So last night I picked up what I believe to be the equivalent in their new line of products and will be doing a review of that shortly.

Last one to the castle is a rotten egg

Date Sun, September 21 2008

Ah, the fun of racing. Of course, this time I’m talking about Mario Kart DS, probably my favourite Nintendo DS game. Sadly. I’ve only really played one other version and that was the one for the Nintendo 64. Luckily, I loved it so much that I only ever played another game or two on that system. Period. Also, luckily for me, the version on the DS has some of the tracks I grew to love. If you also fell in love with previous versions, you’ll find tracks from the SNES version and the GBA version, too.

The concept is simple, you play as Mario or one of the franchise characters and you race others. You hit item boxes to get items to help you on your way and make the game a little more exciting. Besides racing, you can do time trials, battle or missions (which seem to be common with Nintendo DS games).

To to the spirit of Mario Kart (one of the things I love most about this game), which is being pitted against your friends, you can play with others via 2 methods. The first method is called multiplayer and is with a friend (or 7!) in within range of your system. You can play with those who have the game (Normal) or those who do not (simple). Friends without the game can download a more limited version to their Nintendo DS for the time being. Of course, with the WiFI capabilities of the DS, you can also play with anyone across the globe as long as you have access to a compatible wireless network.

Besides that aspect, how is gameplay? I find it to be pretty fun even when it’s just single player.

Like previous versions, you can play Grand Prix which is divided into 4 Cups made up of 4 tracks to compete for bronze, silver or gold place. In this game, you can also get a rating of letters or stars. Letters A – D work like grades in school and stars – from 1 – 3 – are even better ratings above A. The Grands Prix are divided into classes based on speed (engine size), also like previous versions: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. In this version, you can also play the 150cc Mirror version which is a flipped (not backward) version of the tracks.

The game comes with several Grand Prix cups locked. By playing each of the Cups before it and earning the gold, you unlock the cups. Each cup can be unlocked in each of the engine classes.

The Grand Prix is also divided into two classes – Nitro and Retro. Nitro contains new tracks and Retro contains tracks from previous games.

If you’re not interested in playing a whole cup or want to play more than one, you can play Versus. This gameplay consists of track after track according to settings you choose which include engine class, kart difficulty, course order, rules (or lack there-of) and teams. You can play free for as long as you want and quit at any time. If you want to play to a certain score or a certain number of races, you set that in the rules.

To practice the runs, play time trial. Time trials have a new feature where you can send or relieve a “ghost,” that is a slightly transparent recording of an already completed time trial. You can see how you’re doing against your previous trials or those of a friend.

Like previous versions, you can play Battles. Mario Kart DS includes Balloon Battles although, there is a slight difference from older versions. Instead of starting with 3 balloons, you start with 5, only 1 of which is blown up. Using the microphone, you blow up the others up to 3 at a time. Once all your active balloons are popped by items and damage, you lose, even if you have balloons in reserve so you must always blow them up.

There’s also a new version of battle, Shine Runners. In these, you collect little stars called Shines. Every time you are damaged or hit with an item, you lose a shine. Periodically, those players with the fewest sines are eliminated until only the player with the most Shines still remains.

The newest addition is that of the missions. With 7 different levels containing 8 missions plus a boss stage, you have to complete different tasks such as driving through gates, collecting coins, collecting and using items on others or doing turbo boosts to earn a ranking of stars or letters (the same as cup rankings). Each stage earns a ranking and each level earn and overall ranking.

One of the features I like about this game is the ability to unlock things. Completing tasks or racing well offers rewards of extra characters or karts. Overall, there are 12 characters including classics like Luigi, Yoshi and Princess peach as well as let known faces like Princess Daisy, Dry Bones and ROB 64. There’s also a total of 36 karts to allow you more customization than previous versions.

If you’d like to customize it even more, there are options to edit your nickname and emblem which appear next to your character on on your kart, respectively.

Of course, being on a dual screen offers some new incentives as well. It allows for information to be displayed on its own screen and the overall playing image to be larger and more detailed. The Nintendo DS has pretty good graphics despite its small size so this is definitely a plus.

During races and battles, the top screen shows up close racing view while the lower one shows a map of the track and stats of the other racers. In settings modes, the actual settings show up on the touch screen where you can select them with additional information or images on the upper screen.

The one qualm I have about how Mario Kart DS is set up is that it does not fully take advantage of the innovative touch screen. Besides the title and selection screen, the touch screen is not even a factor in the game. Even during those times, the keys can be used as well.

Overall, I really enjoy this game. I love to play with my friends but it’s just as fun to play by myself. The Grand Prix provides exciting new runs as well as ones I love from older games. Even after unlocking all the different tracks and earning gold in all the cups, I can still keep myself busy by trying to improve my ranking for tracks, cups and missions.

The option to play with friends in my living room or across the world also adds variety to the game and although I’ve unlocked almost everything n the game, I still play it frequently. This is definitely a game whose bright colours and fun sounds will attract children of all ages. At the end of the Grands Prix, the first, second and third place winners drive up to a platform where they are crowned; I would definitely crown this game!