Alex King
Thoughts on Nintendo Switch
OCTOBER 21, 2016

Today we finally got a peek at Nintendo's next console. Maybe unsurprisingly, many of the recent rumors proved to be correct, and as such, Nintendo Switch is a pretty radical new idea that's fun to talk about. Here's my initial take.


One More Blog Rewrite
AUGUST 7, 2016

In the spring of 2015 I moved my blog from Squarespace to a simple, cheap, static site that was pretty much pure HTML. It was initially a cathartic experience to exercise basic web layout muscles to recreate Squarespace’s design without its added bloat, and it gave me an easy template with which to write new blog posts for the next 16 months. However, adding a new blog post was just difficult enough that it started to become a pain, and if nothing else, I had to copy around a bunch of header and footer markup that I wished could be templated. It was time to modernize just a little bit.


Uncharted 4 Review
MAY 19, 2016

Note: This review contains some plot spoilers.

For as much as I adore Uncharted 4, there is a lot wrong with it.

As I worked my way through Uncharted 4’s campaign, that realization became more and more clear in my mind. The game marks the end of a wildly successful series created by Naughty Dog that quickly became one of the PlayStation 3’s trademark exclusive franchises. The series became known for its gorgeous and detailed visual design, its exceedingly entertaining characters, and its sharp gameplay mechanics. Uncharted 4 is a fitting end to a series that has given gamers so much. Unfortunately, it also appears to be a necessary end to the series, and perhaps even an overdue one.


Good News: El Capitan Runs Great on the 12-inch MacBook
JUNE 8, 2015

I am so pleased.

I've written a lot of content recently about the new MacBook: first positing that it would be a capable machine, then finding that it was indeed a mostly capable machine, and most recently discovering that at times, Windows 10 made it feel like an even more capable machine. I think that the most important observation I made is how the 2015 MacBook is surprisingly agile, but how the user interface transitions in OS X hold it back from feeling completely agile. There was a surprisingly large response to my recent article about running Windows 10 on the new MacBook. I think it resonated with people because it pointed out something that Mac users have felt for a while now: OS X Yosemite just isn’t as smooth as it should be.

As I hoped, Apple announced OS X El Capitan at WWDC 2015, a sort of “Snow Yosemite” release that focuses on user experience and performance. User experience and performance. That’s just what I wanted to hear.


Testing The 12-inch MacBook's Performance with Windows 10
MAY 13, 2015

Update 5/15/15: I've clarified some of my findings at the bottom of this post.

I've owned the 2015 MacBook for just over a month now. I've had a remarkably good time using it so far, and just yesterday I decided to upgrade my installation of Windows 8.1 to the Windows 10 Insider Preview. I had tried it out a couple months earlier through a virtual machine, and at the time I wasn't sure I wanted it as my main operating system. But after taking the plunge, I'm very happy to be using it. I wanted to record a few thoughts about it for others curious about the new OS, especially its usability and performance on this new hardware.


Thoughts on Microsoft Build 2015
APRIL 29, 2015

Wow. I just finished watching Microsoft's Build 2015 keynote, and I haven't walked away that impressed with a tech company's new technologies in a long time. Microsoft has been making a lot of great decisions in the past few years, from open sourcing .NET to their unwavering dedication to evolving and perfecting the Surface line. Today's keynote provided a ton of great information about new products, and I have never been more excited for the future of Microsoft. In roughly the order that they were covered in the keynote, I'm going to walk through some of the most important announcements made today.


MacBook: The Extended Review
APRIL 17, 2015

Note: This review has been updated to include more information about gaming performance on the MacBook, as the original review included an oversight. See the "Performance Remarks" section for details.

I did not place an order for the 2015 MacBook without apprehension. Early reviews were mixed, and the general consensus seemed to say that the machine wasn’t fit for a “power user” like I consider myself to be. I wrote a previous blog post about why I felt the opposite, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was taking a risk. That maybe, just maybe, the machine really wouldn’t be powerful enough for me. Or maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the power user I thought I was.


In Defense of the New MacBook and Intel Core M
MARCH 14, 2015

I've read countless impressions of Apple's new MacBook. Tech journalists seem to be impressed with the device, but the general tech-enthused public cannot get over the fact that Apple chose to put an Intel Core M processor inside, which on paper is a step down from the i5/i7 CPUs currently in the other MacBook models. I want to do my best here to explain why Apple made the right decision, and why it isn't nearly as big of a deal as people seem to think it is.


Why Smartwatches Are The Wrong Solution to the Right Problem

Apple is poised to announce its highly anticipated iWatch tomorrow. In the past year or two, we've seen several companies enter the wearable watch sector, including Samsung and LG. Perhaps most notably, Google announced and released Android Wear, a wearable-centric skin for its mobile OS that focused on legibility and usability for small screen sizes of various shapes. The Motorola Moto 360 came out just a few days ago, and many reviews peg it as the best smartwatch yet, with its circular display and excellent build quality. Equally, however, no review I've seen has pronounced it to be a truly game-changing, must-have gadget.

Many predict that Apple's iWatch will be truly revolutionary, though, rather than just an iPod nano-sized device that runs a gimped version of iOS. Rumors include possible deep integration with Apple's HealthKit for measuring various body metrics such as heart rate and step count. Above all, many predict that the design will be unlike anything the public has seen yet. Apple knows that if this is going to be a truly big product, it'll need to have such a minimal and practical design that owners won't mind wearing it on their wrist each day.

Needless to say, it's incredibly exciting. However, I am still unconvinced that smartwatches are necessary. They are certainly a cool gadget novelty, but by setting out to make life more convenient and data-driven, they seem to just get in the way.

At their core, smartwatches are screen extensions for smartphones. Most all of them encourage or require a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone to send and receive data. In the Pebble's case, smartwatches can be as basic as notification screens on the user's wrist. In more imaginative cases, smartwatches can have cameras protruding from one end (such as the Samsung Galaxy Wear) for taking on-the-go pictures. Many have tightly integrated voice control for getting simple information as quickly as possible. Some are introducing health monitors for things like heart rate.

I have not personally owned any smartwatch yet, so I can't truly say if the convenience is worth the asking price. But fundamentally, it seems like smartwatches are trying to solve the "quick access to information" problem by asking customers to pay $200-300 to have a small OLED screen on his or her wrist. It doesn't add up.

I have a watch that I really like wearing, and I would have to be significantly wooed by a feature of a smartwatch to cause me to 1) purchase it and 2) wear it in place of the watch I already own.

Biometrics will undoubtedly be an enormous industry as technology continues to improve. I would love to have rich graphs of my daily heart rate, step count, and other metrics. But after a week or two of understanding what a typical day was like, I'd cease to be entertained. I'd want to wear the device while I exercised. I cannot imagine Apple releasing an iWatch that would be characteristically beautiful, yet still wearable for exercising. I want to be able to wear something that keeps track of my body while I play sports. I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable doing that with the Moto 360.

It does sound extremely convenient for an Android Wear smartwatch user to speak into his or her wrist and say, "OK Google, call me an Uber car" and have it bring a car to that exact location. That is an excellent example of a small, practical app that a smartwatch could implement beautifully. However, what is to say that that type of functionality could not return to the smartphone? It may take a few additional seconds to reach into one's pocket, but couldn't modern voice control services like Siri, Google Now and Cortana be able to complete the same objective? If not, why couldn't apps such as Uber implement a "quick access" mode that provided simple options for someone trying to get something done as fast as possible?

I just can't imagine a scenario where a smartwatch could do something much better than a smartphone could. Smartwatches have incredible novelty, but they are no excuse for ignoring inefficient UI and app design. I want to see Google, Apple and Microsoft focus on making smartphones smarter. Making them more like we imagine what using the perfect smartwatch could be like.

iPhone 6 and iOS 8 will be released soon, too. iOS 8, among other features, brings the ability for 3rd party applications to utilize the fingerprint sensor on the home button. This means any app will soon be able to access sensitive data like credit card numbers without the user entering a password. Shouldn't I be able to take out my phone, hold my finger to the home button, ask Siri to call me a car, and have her go and do it for me, using securely stored payment information? Why wouldn't that be as good, or better, than any smartwatch we've seen?


Concert Review: Band of Horses and Sera Cahoone at the Somerville Theater
APRIL 29, 2014

Back in February, Band of Horses came to Somerville. The band, having steadily risen in fame since 2006's excellent Everything All The Time, recently completed an acoustic tour, eschewing their more traditional festival stages and arenas for smaller, more intimate venues. Like so many, I first heard Band of Horses on the radio with their ubiquitous single "The Funeral". It was and continues to be just an excellent indie rock song. "The Funeral" got big. Everything All The Time got great reviews. Band of Horses was on the scene. I was excited when it was announced they would be playing at Seattle's Labor Day Weekend music festival, Bumbershoot, in 2008. I still remember the show vividly, and it ranks highly on the list of the best shows I've ever seen.


Film Review: American Football
DECEMBER 18, 2013

I had the opportunity to watch LEVYFilm's American Football last night. Released a few months ago, the documentary had several sold-out screenings at the Cinerama in downtown Seattle, but unfortunately I was on the other coast and couldn't make it to any of them. Thankfully, the film was released on Blu-Ray and I was finally able to see the film I was so excited about for so long. The documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at the Seattle Sounders FC soccer team for roughly a season, had reached an almost mythical status in my imagination. Director Scott Levy had been sharing various clips and teasers on his website for months leading up to its eventual release. His camera work, his choice of musical score, his vision for the passion of the game and the characters that emerge from it, all of it excited me. And for more than just the obvious reason -- though I like to identify as a relatively passionate Sounders fan, I'm equally a fan of American soccer on the whole, and the growth of the sport in this country over the last few years. It seemed like he was trying to tell a story that was greater than just this team, and that was promising.


© 2015-2016 Alex King