At one of the local shopping malls last week, I saw some incredible – and very large – fairy displays the mall had commissioned for the holidays. I imagined this was because the holidays are a magical time and fairies are pretty magical in their own right. Last night, I spent some time with a fairy of my own, FlutterBye.
What Is FlutterBye?
My first thought when I saw this toy was, “Another remote control toy… Cool!” But There’s no remote control here, at least not how you’re thinking. The fairy flies in the same way a helicopter or quad-copter might, with a kind of propeller except that she is the propeller. For the most part, she will fly on her own and without guidance she will eventually crash down. The control comes from your use of sensors on underneath FlutterBye that can tell how close your hand is. She will attempt to hover inches above your hand, but will wander off horizontally. Check out the review video below for a demo and a better idea of how she works.
When I get toys in the mail to review, I joke with friends about how horrible it is that I have to go play with all these toys. In this case, I wasn’t dreading it, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d enjoy FlutterBye. After some initial doubt (see below), I found myself having a lot of fun with it and forgetting I was reviewing it.
I also found the battery life to be pretty amazing. With a remote controlled helicopter, I often get about six to eight minutes of flying time on a charge. Here, I was well into about 15 minutes with no sign of slowing. And while I’m comparing her to a helicopter, she turned out to be tougher as well. Crashing her a lot of times before getting the flying down, I left no sign of damage anywhere on her. She’s one tough fairy.
Something that wasn’t immediately apparent to me was the risk of long hair and propellers. Though I hadn’t thought of it, it’s worth mentioning although the use of a pony tail and and not headbanging to FlutterBye are probably sufficient precautions. Having that fast propeller hit your hand is another story, though, so you’ll want to heed the advice in the user guide and grab FlutterBye close to the ankles when recovering her mid-flight.
Control eluded me at first, but it wasn’t like with R/C aerials that require practice. This was more about learning. Once I learned how to control her height and became more comfortable with when to grab her feet to regain control, all was well.
Retailing for about $28, she’s priced well to fit under nearly any tree this Christmas and well worth the cost, which is probably why it made the Amazon Hot Holiday List, among other things. While the box indicates FlutterBye is a toy suited for children aged five and up, I would think this would be a great toy for girls seven to twelve or so.
RC Helicopters are cool, but I’ve always thought quad-copters are even cooler. The use of four rotors makes them fast, stable, and easier to manipulate mid-air. Still, I never got around to buying one. Then the Air Hogs Helix X4 Stunt showed up in the mail. As one of Wal-Mart’s Top 20 Chosen by Kids, I was excited to dive right in.
Usability and Control
With 4 ducted fans and gyro stabilization, the Helix X4 was really easy to get (and keep) in the air, even for a first-timer like myself. I’ve had a few RC helicopters and this was a lot more fun. While a helicopter requires constant attention in the air, the X4 was a little more self-sustaining and as a result, I crashed it far fewer times. The controls are easy to use and understand though not immediately intuitive. By this, I mean that you should always read the manual first. The thing that caught me off guard was how it isn’t ready to fly until it’s really ready. The X4 indicates via its lights when it is stable for launch and then you can get to the fun. The benefit is that it will always have a clean lift-off.
Features and Stunts
Other than the launch procedure, the lights on the front of this quad-copter will also flash orange if the battery is getting low and red when it’s time to land and re-charge. This is a step up from other quad-copters that just drop out of the sky when the batteries are done. Below is a list of other features of the Helix X4:
2.4GHz radio control
Incredibly crash-resistant materials
Charges from remote or using USB cable (included)
Did I mention stunts
Durability and Design
Let’s talk about the durability for a second. I’m super extra nervous-guy careful about my electronics, especially the ones that fly. The problem is, once it’s in the air, there’s not a lot you can do when it crashes. I’ve crashed my share of flying gadgets and much of my X4 flight time was in a cramped office, so I crashed this one even more. The difference this time is that the fans are protected by ducts as an extension of the quad-copter’s body.
The design, to me, is secondary, but also wasn’t lacking. There’s really not a lot of room to make one quad-copter look substantially better than others in it’s class, but the right colors and a little aerodynamics make all the difference.
The controller had a good weight to it and felt right in my hands. It also had features I liked such as the smooth stick control and right-hand placement of the stunt button and control as well as the handle, which was a nice touch. Unfortunately, the few fake controls that are built onto the controller but don’t do anything seemed out of place and the batteries didn’t seem to stay put very securely – although neither impeded performance in any way.
Helix X4 Stunt Video
With anything as fun as this, I try to include a little video with the review, so here you go!
With the suggested price of $79.99, the Helix X4 Stunt is might be a little more spendy than some of the lesser quad-copters, but it has the features to back it up. If you have limited skills and want to wow friends with some stunts, wrap your hands around one of these and you’ll be set.
At the risk of losing some of my geek cred, I must admit that I’m not a big gamer. I love to code and, well, there’s just not enough hours in the day. Still, I couldn’t help but get excited about the possibility of a sleek, small, open-sourced gaming console that runs on Android when I saw OUYA on Kickstarter. My pre-retail OUYA arrived on Friday, just in time for a weekend of testing.
A Console For The People
Starting at $99 for the system and one controller, OUYA promised many things:
– Open Source
– Sleek, user-guided console and controller design
– Lots of games
– Developer support
– Change the gaming industry
Before my console arrived, some of the delivery was obvious. The OUYA team dedicated time to answering questions and working on valuable partnerships. Additionally, the controller design was guided, in part, by suggestions from the community. While the console was being built, OUYA held a contest in which developers submitted game prototypes and the community voted on their favorites. Though they were just prototypes, my review of the submitted games was the first time by excitement for this new console ebbed. Most of the games were not console-worthy and only a few stood out as ones I thought showed some promise. I reminded myself that these were prototypes from indie developers who had a short time frame to develop in and bottled up some of my apprehension.
As a funder in the Kickstarter campaign, one of the perks was getting the console before it hits store shelves in June. The closer June got, the more I wondered if it would ever arrive. Of course, I was in the last batch to be shipped, but it eventually turned up on my doorstep.
Unboxing And Setup
The unboxing of my OUYA has been bitter-sweet. The recipe for the worlds first open source gaming console seems to consist of excitement, anticipation, caution, a bit of doubt, disappointment, and frustration. Below is the unboxing video which includes some game play.
After getting everything out of the box, I headed for the setup instructions. A few simple instructions covered the basic – and I mean BASIC – setup: Plug things in, turn on, follow on-screen instructions. Great. Easy peezy, I thought, but then I looked at the controller. I had two AA batteries per controller, but no obvious battery panel, no screws to unscrew, and mostly no instructions. I took a chance and lightly tried to pry the top cover off of a controller. Sure enough, the left side popped off and there was a battery slot – for one battery. A quick check revealed the right side hiding a battery compartment as well. Where everything else was designed to be so simple and intuitive, I wondered by the battery installation had to be a puzzle.
Once I had everything plugged in and booted up, getting connected to the internet was just awful. The first time I tried, it connected and even downloaded updates. Then it immediately dropped my wireless connection. After several attempts to reconnect, I looked to the support site for help where I found that many others were experiencing the same connection problems. After trying suggestions to remove the case, factory reset, reboot my router, etc., I finally gave in and dragged a monitor and my OUYA upstairs to the wireless router and plugged it directly in. With just a little more prodding, the wireless magically started working again and has been fine throughout the house. Waiting months to play with this thing only to have to battle another hour or two to get it to work is certainly not ideal.
Features And Game Play
Let’s talk a little more about the features. For starters, this is a $99 console. I think the last time I spent this little on a console was when I got my Nintendo. More diminutive than the price is the console, itself. OUYA stands at 3x3x3 inches and packs in a Tegra3 quad-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8GB of internal flash storage, ethernet and wifi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth LE 4.0. It connects to your TV via HDMI with up to 1080p support, and also has a USB 2.0 and micro-USB port (for development). The controller is wireless and includes the familiar four surface buttons, two analog sticks, one d-pad, and two left and two right trigger buttons. At the top center of the controller is a touch pad to control an on-screen cursor.
Game play feels good and the controller is comfortable. The OUYA console is equipped with an internal fan but can still warm up some when in use. OUYA carries about 135 games, but I’ve only tried a handful based on what was featured or a “Staff Pick”. If the four games I’ve spent time with thus far, Final Fantasy III was my least favorite. After all the bragging about bringing a recognized title to this console, the game left me bored. Conversely, Chrono Blade – whose developers can also brag about their work on Grand Theft Auto – has been a non-stop action game with smooth play and combo moves that take me back to the first time I played Street Fighter. Honorable mentions go out to Beast Boxing Turbo and Flashout 3D for providing engaging game play and notable quality.
While I’m on the topic of quality, even Chrono Blade’s graphics – while the most impressive I saw on OUYA – couldn’t stop me from wondering if this $99 console will ever show signs of the level of graphics found on an XBOX 360 or PS3. While open source means virtually no barrier to entry for developers, it also means that most of the games currently available lack the production quality found in other consoles. Hopefully time will cure this. In the meantime, the silver lining to this cloud is that OUYA embraces share-ware style gaming. You can download any game (or a demo in some cases) and if you like it, you can buy it right from your system. If you don’t like it, simply delete it and try the next one. While other consoles offer an option to get games online, OUYA’s games are all online.
Open Source And The ODK
The OUYA runs on Android, which makes it easy to fulfill one of its key goals, to be open source. Typically, a game developer would need to spend five or six figures to develop for a Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo console. The cost to get started developing an OUYA game is $0. This is a double-edged sword for developers. On one hand, it means a ton of games and no walls keeping creative new developers out. On the other hand, there will be a lot of junk games to sift through to find the good ones.
I’m no game developer, but I have been wanting to take a stab at some Android development. Even though OUYA is designed as a game console, it has the potential for a lot more with the ability to create all forms of apps for it. Sadly, I’ll have to wait until OUYA fixes their ODK (OUYA Developer Kit) link so I can download it.
It’s still a bit early to be sure, but I think OUYA has a promising future, providing they can work out the kinks. The wireless connection problems were especially concerning. I