THINKERBIT DARK MODE

Surface Pro 4 vs iPad mini 2 scrolling smoothness

Here's an example of a little detail you'd hardly ever find mentioned in a traditional product review.

The device on the left is a Surface Pro 4 with this website open in the Edge browser. On the right is an iPad mini 2 with the same page in Safari. My fingers are off camera, but I'm slowly sliding up on each display as if I were reading the article casually.

Notice the jitter on the Surface Pro 4. My guess is that either Microsoft's touch driver is wonky (not surprising) or maybe the digitizer itself is less precise, but the 2-year-old iPad mini is perfectly smooth by comparison. It's still possible to read while slowly scrolling on the Surface of course, but the experience is just... suckier.

This slight suck is something that many people would just adapt their behavior to, probably unconsciously. They'd just scroll faster and less frequently, or scroll in large chunks. The difference isn't as obvious as Android vs iOS a few years ago, but it's still an unnecessary quirk that makes using the Surface as a tablet less pleasant.

I never ended up publishing my review of the Surface Pro 4, but even putting the terrible driver issues and lack of apps aside, there are so many similar annoyances (like stylus lag) that I'd be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone looking to replace an iPad. Microsoft might fix Windows' bigger issues within the next year or two, but I have a feeling that little details like these will continue to suck for much longer.

My Typing Speed

In 2011 I was surprised to find out that my typing speed on a flat touchscreen wasn't much slower than my speed on a traditional keyboard. For science's sake, I've been recording my typing speed on various devices ever since.

My 2011-2014 tests were conducted using the TapTyping iOS app. Everything since then has been done with the popular AOEU typing speed test website (which also has a great histogram of typing speed data). TapTyping's inclusion of words like "thou" and weird character names from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea often tripped up iOS' autocorrect, so I switched.

My method is pretty consistent - comfortable position, no distractions, not tired, and no do-overs unless errors start to snowball.

I'll continue to update this article roughly once a year with whatever devices I'm using at the time.

2011 (October)

57 wpm - iPhone 4
60 wpm - iPad 2
71 wpm - Apple Wireless Keyboard

2012 (April)

63 wpm - iPhone 5
75 wpm - iPad 2
82 wpm - Apple Wireless Keyboard

2013 (April)

63 wpm - iPhone 5

2014 (November)

72 wpm - iPhone 5

2015 (September)

73 wpm - iPhone 6 Plus
80 wpm - iPad 2
91 wpm - Apple Wireless Keyboard

2016 (April)

72 wpm - iPhone 6 Plus
80 wpm - iPad mini 2
79 wpm - Surface Pro 4
93 wpm - Apple Magic Keyboard

VR headset launch trailers

Here's the launch trailer for the Oculus Rift (careful of the volume):

Loud music paired with a deluge of brief game clips from a first-person perspective. To the layperson who's only barely familiar with VR, it's inscrutable. It doesn't convey what VR actually feels like, and it over-emphasizes the headset (and dinosaur cliché).

Now here's SteamVR / HTC Vive's launch video:

It's longer, sure, but it's far more enjoyable to watch and explains everything from the setup process to the safety grid while gradually building up excitement.

Using a green screen was extremely smart, and so was using realistic groups of relatable people. The experience and fun of VR is emphasized instead of the goofy-looking hardware, and it concludes with people enjoying their new headsets at home. I can easily see segments of this video become ads on TV, and blow peoples' minds.

This is how you sell VR.

How to temporarily remove iOS home screen animations

The coolest new iOS tweak since iOS 8's screen dimmer. Via vista980622 on reddit.

  1. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > AssistiveTouch and turn AssistiveTouch on
  2. Go to your home screen and drag the AssistiveTouch icon to the bottom-right corner of the screen
  3. Swipe down to show Spotlight search, and swipe up when the AssistiveTouch icon finishes moving above the keyboard. You don't need to lift your finger. Do this a bunch of times until Spotlight becomes noticeably faster.
  4. Open an app and the opening animation should be gone. If not, repeat step 3.
  5. Disable AssistiveTouch to hide the icon.

Animations will resume when you reboot, but until then things should feel a bit faster. The official alternative is to use Accessibility > Reduce Motion, but that still adds a few milliseconds of blur animation to every action.

Firewatch

firewatch-sunset

Firewatch is a beautiful, engaging vignette of a summer relationship between a man avoiding his future and a woman dodging her past in the vast wilderness of a 1989 Wyoming.

It plays like an interactive version of the movie her, but replaces loneliness and futuristic technology with isolation and a pair of two-way radios. It evokes joy, fear, melancholy, disappointment, and peace within the player entirely via ambiance and conversation. The characters and the world feel real.

Although Firewatch could have had a novel-length plot with greater exploration and additional story arcs, Campo Santo deliberately chose to keep their first game short, focused, and engrossing. Gamers may balk at the 3-4 hour runtime and $20 price tag, but both the price and the time commitment are just right for the 20-to-30-year-olds this game would appeal most to. It's an experience best enjoyed in one sitting, while disconnected from the outside world.

I enjoyed playing Firewatch thoroughly, although your experience may vary on lower-end PCs or the PS4 (for the moment). Some reviewers and players find the ending to be disappointing, but to me it feels complete. It feels realistic, honest, and fully closed.

That said, I can't help but wish that Firewatch's story did move into deeper, bolder territory. I would've liked to learn even more about these two characters while star-gazing, or holed up during a storm. The characters feel so human that we want to learn more about them, listen to their thoughts and struggles, and think about life together with them. Firewatch offers a peek at what a her-like game could be, but is forced to move in a different direction to complete its story in time. I would love to play something bigger.

firewatch-tower

And that, perhaps, is the best reason to buy this game, and for its full $20 price; to support a new developer that's pushing narrative storytelling forward in the right direction - Campo Santo, and Panic. Firewatch is proof that Campo Santo could make the game I/we want; a "game of the year" candidate that nudges gaming in a direction away from the massive triple-A shooters that dominate the industry. I'm excited to think about what they could do with more time, money, and new technology like VR.

Firewatch, for what it is, what it evokes, and what it supports, is worth your $20.