Tuesday, 18 February 2014

SwiftKey Note Review - and Top Tip!

SwiftKey logo copyright, SwiftKey
Summary: SwiftKey Note is an iOS app for quickly getting notes into Evernote via predictive typing. What they don't tell you is that you can get your notes out of Evernote too.

Slow Note To China

As much as I love Evernote (and I do), one of my frustrations with it is how slow it is to write notes from my iPod Touch.
I don't have an iPhone, so I take my Touch with me wherever I go and if I think of an idea or need to jot something down, then I would naturally want to do it in Evernote.
However, it takes Evernote such a long time to open, then synchronise my notes, then add new new note and finally allow me to actually start typing that I'm sometimes left hanging.

To be fair, Evernote recently updated their synchronisation engine with some massive performance improvements, but I'm still left with an app that displays the loading "splash" screen - a bright green background with a white elephant silhouette - for far too long.

Previously, I have managed to get round this by using the built in iOS/iCloud Notes app, which opens almost immediately and allows me to get typing.
If I really needed to keep and categorise those notes, then I would copy and paste them into Evernote later.

This works fine for short notes, but what if I want to write longer notes?
I'm thinking specifically about the text of my blog articles, which are easy to update from a desktop PC, but not so easy to add to from my iPod.

Enter the Dragon

Enter SwiftKey Note, an application for iOS which appears to kill two birds with one stone.
The app itself is deceptively simple, giving you access to your Evernote notes, notebooks and tags, with a replacement text editing and keyboard screen.

It's the sister of a similar app that SwiftKey has for the Android phone, although "Note" doesn't have the same bells and whistles as its sibling yet.
It starts up quickly and after authorising the app to access your Evernote account, lets you add a new note and get typing extremely quickly.

Predictive typing in action
Nonetheless, speedy typing alone is not enough to get me to move from Evernote over to another application, particularly when they are installed on the same machine.
But SwiftKey has another ace up its sleeve: as you type, it tries to predict what you want to write and displays 3 words in the area between the keyboard and the text (see right).
Simply select the one you want and the program puts that word in the right place, so you can carry on typing.

The app is intelligent enough to place spaces and punctuation in the right locations and is supposed to get better at guessing what your next words will be, the more you use it.
In addition, when it links to your Evernote account, it analyses the text in your existing notes, so that should place me at an advantage with nearly 3000 notes in my account.

Return To Sender

I have only just started using it in the last week, so I can't promise amazing results as yet.
However, I can report that it is already learning and on a few occasions has successfully predicted 2 words in a row - that means 2 taps to write 2 words, where it would have been a tap for each letter before.

The downside to all this, as an iOS user, is that SwiftKey Note only works with one app at the moment.
While it taps into Evernote, there is no integration with the built in Apple apps, such as Notes or Mail, or any other apps for that matter.

This is in stark contrast to SwiftKey's Android app "Keyboard", which I understand will work with any 3rd party application.
One can only hope that they will update Note to mimic Keyboard - and that they do it soon.

There is obviously much promise here, but not much indication as to where it will lead.
I will update this article later to let you know how things go!

Top Tip

In the meantime, one oddity I have found with SwiftKey Note is that it is easy to get a note into Evernote from SwiftKey (just add a note in SwitKey and will magically be there when you next sync Evernote), but it's not so obvious how it can work the other way around.
Even the help text doesn't explain it, or at least, I couldn't find anything that told me.

The answer lies in the tagging that is used in both SwiftKey and Evernote.
When you first open up SwiftKey, it grabs all your existing Evernote tags and notebooks, so you can add them to new notes that you create.
If you watch closely, you will also see that any new notes you add are also given the tag "SwiftKey" automatically (see Screenshot, below).
SwiftKey Note adds "SwiftKey" tag to all notes

It turns out that this this is all we need to do: just go into Evernote on any device, add the "SwiftKey" tag to any notes you are interested in and then sync.
After that, go back into SwiftKey Note, sync it by swiping down on your screen and voila, the tagged notes will appear in all their glory, ready for you to wreak havoc.

You can get SwiftKey Note from the App Store.

Do you have a top tip for SwiftKey Note or Evernote?
Let us know in the comments.
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Friday, 24 January 2014

Squidoo Stories: I'm The Video Game Rockstar!

Summary: Squidoo has invited some of their members to be Contributors in a number of niche areas - and I'm one of them!

We Blog

In a previous article, I discussed the merits of writing on Squidoo, versus your own blog and came to the conclusion that it is worth doing both.
Well, now I have even more reason to continue with that policy.

One of the problems of writing a blog is that you are pretty much on your own.
You write articles about the things which interest you and hope that readers will come and well, read what you've written.
If you've written something really interesting then your readers may even participate by leaving a comment.
This is great, because all of a sudden, what started as a monologue becomes a conversation.
However, it does take time and a lot of effort to get to that point and there is no-one there to tell you if you are doing it right or not.

Squidoo You?

Squidoo is different because it is a website created by writers for the community of writers and since it has been around for a while, it already attracts a large audience.
I have been writing on Squidoo for just over a year and am at the stage where I am earning a few dollars here and there.
In that short time, I have become a "Giant Squid" - a trusted member of the Squidoo community - and have over 35 articles to my name.

More importantly, I have made friends with a number of other writers from all sorts of backgrounds who I can ask to critique my work, discuss the latest Squidoo developments with, and so on.
I have been able to take the lessons I have learned and apply them back to my blog and other writing.
In short, I'm loving being on Squidoo and would recommend it to anyone.

Super Niche
See my reviews on Squidoo...

But wait - there's more!
Squidoo HQ (the team that run the site) recently announced a new program where Giant Squids can become contributors to a specific niche areas.

The idea is that the Contributors will become leaders in the Squidoo community within their niche area.
They will build up and promote their niche with articles and reviews and create opportunities and challenges for others to join in too.

There are all kinds of niches, everything from Country music and knitting to "Spot on UK".
And I'm now the "Video Game Rockstar" contributor!

I'm planning on covering as many aspects of games and gaming as I can over the coming weeks and months.
I'm an Xbox 360 man myself, but will endeavour to give fair coverage to all platforms, from Playstation to PC to Steam box.

If you are at all interested in video games, then check out my page "I'm The Video Games Rockstar Contributor"
If you would like to write a review, then why not join Squidoo here (just click the "Join Us" button at the top of the page - it's free) and then try out penning an answer to my challenge Review Cut Price Video Games?

I'm an official Squidoo contributorHave you written an article on Squidoo yet?
Do you want to join the Video Games community on Squidoo?
Then let me know by leaving a comment below.
Update: now it's even easier to take part in the Squidoo community - just click "Join Me" in the image to the right!

Photo credit: all photos mine and you can see them over on my Video Game Rockstar page too!
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Friday, 3 January 2014

How To Reset "Furthest Page Read" On Kindle

Summary: you can keep your reading position synchronised across all your Kindle connected devices, even when re-reading a book you have read before. 

Mark My Words

If you have a Kindle device (and even if you don't), you may have been curious about the ability for it to remember your place on multiple machines - an automatic electronic bookmark, if you will

This works very well the first time you read through a book. I have started books on my Kindle, read little bits from my iPod, after syncing it over the wifi at home, and occasionally read some from my desktop PC, via a browser window.

Each time, my progress has transferred perfectly from one place to another and the only thing I had to do was make sure  my device was synced once more before opening the book up again.

Even when I have forgotten to sync manually, there have been several times when I have opened the book, only to be reminded that I had read a little bit further and would I like to go to the "furthest page read"? Well, yes I would, thank you very much! How kind of you.

Photo Credit: My Fire by KCXD

Read It Again, Sam

The problems start when I want to re-read a book that I have previously finished. I have a couple of books which I like so much that I want to read them again ...and again. And in this situation, it seems like the system suddenly falls apart - at least, that is how it appears at first.

Once or twice I've been offered to "move to the furthest read location", only to find  myself at the very end of the book and then struggled to get back to where I was before.

Looking on the Kindle itself, there is nothing in the menus that allows you to set it back to the start (as though you have downloaded it for the first time).

Mr Fix It

However, there is a fix for this and you can find it on the Amazon website. Hopefully, Amazon will see fit to include this option directly on the Kindle device by upgrading the software at some point in the future.

in the meantime, you can reset your progress, by following these simple steps:
  1. Sign in and go to "your account" on Amazon and find the "manage your Kindle" area. 
  2. Find the book within your list in the Kindle library.
  3. On the right hand side you will see a button next to the book, labelled "action".
  4. Hover over the action button and you will see some options. Select "clear furthest page read..." (see screenshot below).
  5. Next go to the place where you most recently read from that book (most often, this will be on the Kindle device itself). Open the book, check you are in the right place, and then synchronise.
  6. That's it! Try opening the same book from somewhere else, such as your web browser, and it should open in the same place.
Clear furthest page read

Now you can enjoy your book - again!

Have an opinion? Did this work/not work for you?
Then let us know in the comments.
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Friday, 25 October 2013

The Best Thing About Evernote 5 - Review

Evernote (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
SummaryEvernote version 5 is now available for Windows and hidden amongst a long list of new features and tweaks, has been given a much needed performance hike.

Evernote 5 Scores Big

If you go to the Evernote website and have a good long look at all the new features they have introduced in version 5, you'll likely be impressed with what they've packed in.

They've changed the whole look and feel of the application, they've added smarter shortcuts, updated the note editor and improved the ease with which you can access your notes via a cleaner and more logical sidebar.

You can now "slice and dice" your saved notes more easily by notebooks, tags and even locations where you made the note.
And if you've had enough of that, you can just click the "Notes" icon to see all your notes in one long list.

Search is easier than ever with several improvements, including a list of recent searches and quick access to searches you saved for a rainy day, right there in the search bar.

If you want the full run down, have a look at their infographic 100 Reasons To Love Evernote For Windows

Flat And Trendy

In common with the current trend (see Microsoft's Windows 8 and Apple's iOS7 if you want to know who to blame), Evernote 5 introduces a "modern" flat look to the screen.

Personally, I'm not a massive fan of the idea of flat icons on our screens. Why did we spend all that time and effort making things look all 3 dimensional over the past X many years, only to change it all back?

It just seems to be change for changes sake, but now that I have it in front of me, I've been surprised: I'm actually very happy with what the team at Evernote have done.

It all seems so much easier to read and easier to find what I want out of my copious notes.
Dare I say it, it looks almost elegant?

Strong Performer

However, once you've upgraded and got past the new look and the all those improvements across nearly every aspect of the application, I think you'll also be impressed by its performance.

Back in June I received an e-mail from the Evernote team celebrating their 5th Anniversary.
It said that out of their current 65,000,000 users (yes, you read that right), I was one of the earliest to sign up - number 482,522 which made me laugh.
Nowhere else but in the software world would being the 482 thousandth user be considered to "one of the first"!

I see myself as a low to moderate user of the service and have accumulated approximately 2,700 notes over that time - I know there are users who have well over 10,000 notes stored in their accounts.
I also have a large number of notebooks. I try to reorganise them every so often, but I can't seem to reduce their number that much.

Similarly, at one point I went through a phase of attaching multiple tags to all my notes.
This was an attempt to categorise everything in my life, before I found out how good the search function was.

I also tend to download the PDF manuals to every electronic gadget in my home.
And yes, I get a little bit OCD with this stuff.

Loadsa' Stuff

My point is that I have lots of notes, in lots of notebooks, with lots of tags.
While I don't use all the features of Evernote, I think I have given it a decent run for its money over the years and pushed it pretty hard.

Up until now, the result has been that Evernote sometimes took a while to open on my PC (I have it installed at home and work) and sometimes was slow to respond.
I would create a new note and have to wait while it sat and thought about it before I could actually type in the editor, or I would change back to the Evernote window from another application and find that it would fail to respond for several seconds.

I put up with this because Evernote has otherwise always been so easy to use.
Once or twice I came across competitors and tried them our for a little while, but each time, they seemed to lack something and I always returned.

Smooth Operator

All that has changed with version 5.
It starts up and shuts down quickly, it synchronises quickly and the search, ah, the search is wonderful. Finding old hidden away things has just become a joy again.

It gives me one more reason to return to the program and use it as the digital repository of my life.
This may even be the best time to reorganise those notebooks once more.

In conclusion, I'm genuinely surprised that they haven't advertised performance as a feature.
It makes all the other features 'just work' as they were intended and makes everything so much more productive.

There's only thing I would now ask of the team:
Make the apps on other platforms (particularly iOS) respond as well as the Windows application and I will become an Evernote evangelist overnight.

*Update January 2014*
It seems that Evernote Sync is now 4x faster, according to their blog.
Apparently, the team has been working quietly on the server side for the past few months and the latest changes are now live across the whole network.
I just tried it out on my iPod Touch and the sync does indeed appear to be faster, which in turn means that Evernote itself is quicker to respond after I open it (individual notes that have just synced seem to be faster opening too).

There will be further changes over the next few months as they update the client side apps to make it even quicker.
All I can say to them is, "well done" and I look forward to Evernote being even better than before.
Now what was I saying about becoming an Evernote evangelist???
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Monday, 2 September 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Blu-Ray Release Date

Star Trek Into Darkness Released Today!

Yes, that's right, Star Trek Into Darkness is out today (2nd September 2013) in the UK, on Blu-ray and DVD.
My copy is already winging its way towards me because I pre-ordered it with some Birthday money, yay!
Sorry US folks, you have to wait a little while longer, until September 10th for your copy - but you can still pre-order it!

This is a prime example of what I blogged about recently with regard to The Hobbit and the timing of DVD release dates.
Star Trek was in cinemas from May this year and we are now (just!) into September.
That's barely 4 months from cinema to disk!

In a similar vein, Tony Stark's latest outing, Iron Man 3 appeared in cinemas in April and is also due for disk release on September 9th, just days after Stark Trek (see what I did there?).

This seems to confirm my speculations about the pressure online sales are posing to the Blu-ray and DVD market.
You can read those speculations here.

*Update: You can now read my Into Darkness movie review on Squidoo.*

- Or you can simply shrug your shoulders and go and buy the movies right here:
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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

TopCashBack Or Nectar? - A Comparison

Bargaining Power

We all love to get a good bargain.

Getting a good deal on a product or service gives us a warm fuzzy feeling every time, but what about going one better than that and earn something extra while we spend?

Most of us are familiar with loyalty schemes from our favourite supermarket or department store but more and more of these schemes are going online.
This article will compare two such services in the UK, Nectar and TopCashBack.

We'll discuss the differences between them to see which gives you the best return on your purchases.
Along the way, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of each system to help you choose which to use, and when.

Scheming For Your Money - Rewards Or Cash Back?

Nectar and TopCashBack represent the two types of scheme that are commonly available in the internet shopping mall.
Nectar is a loyalty or "Rewards" scheme; while TopCashBack is a "Cash Back" scheme.
What's the difference?

A Rewards scheme is usually based on a points system.
This allows the operator to vary how much 1 point is worth, although you will often see double (or even triple) points promotions on specific products or stores.
You earn points as you spend money in the store/website and can then use those points to get money off later purchases, typically in discreet "lumps".
For example, Nectar allows you to spend points in intervals of £2.50 which means you could get £2.50 or £5 off a purchase, but not £1 or £2.70

Image representing PayPal as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
A Cash Back scheme pays you in cold hard cash, although you can choose to convert your cash into vouchers/coupons for specific stores, sometimes with a bonus attached.
TopCashBack will give you cash (funnily enough!) which you can choose to have paid directly to your bank account via PayPal.
Alternatively, you can convert the cash to voucher codes for use on sites like Amazon and you will get a small "top up" to the amount as a reward for doing so.

We will now summarise the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Nectar Summary

nectar "royal wedding" spin off advert
nectar "royal wedding" spin off advert (Photo credit: osde8info)


  • Simple system to get the hang of
  • The home page for your Nectar account always shows you clearly how many points you have and how much they are worth
  • Points are credited to your account quickly (usually within a day or two)
  • Points can be earned from various online stores, as well as in-store at Sainsburys
  • Points on purchases are guaranteed, as long as you click through to the merchant from the Nectar website
  • Able to earn and spend points in "real world" stores (although limited number)


  • It's generally unintuitive turning money into points (and vice versa) in your head
  • It's not always easy to work out where your points came from
  • Points rewards are generally quite low compared to the products you are buying (often equivalent to less than a 2.5 - 5% 'discount')
  • Rewards are generally lower than the equivalent Cash Back offer at TopCashBack
  • Points can only be spent in certain stores and often not the same stores that gave you points in the first place
  • Points can no longer be earned through Amazon purchases, as of 2013

TopCashBack Summary


  • Usually higher payouts compared to equivalent Nectar offers (unless there is a double/triple point offer on Nectar)
  • Clearly states up front what percentage of your purchase you'll get back as cash
  • Can get cash paid directly into your bank account via PayPal
  • Can get cash converted into Amazon (or other store) vouchers
  • Can get coupon codes for certain retailers, giving you a discount in addition to cash back
  • Reviews of merchants available, showing which ones are reliable with purchases and cash back claims
  • Can sometimes get cash back for free (e.g. on insurance quotes, albeit limited number of times)


  • More complex system to get your head round
  • Takes longer to get your cash back, sometimes several weeks, or even months
  • No guarantees that you will receive cashback
  • Need to double check individual merchant reviews to ensure they are reliable with cash back claims
  • Can earn and spend cash back online only

The Experience

So how does this work out in practice?
Here are my observations, based on our own 'real-life' usage.

Pure Nectar

We've been using Nectar since it started up - several years now, I think - and have been very pleased with it.
The fact that you get a loyalty card and can also use it online is a definite bonus and I think I have only had to query points allocations once or twice in all that time.

In order to get the points from online purchases, you *must* remember to login to the Nectar home page first and then click through to the retailer.
With that in mind, we have it set as our home page so it's easier to get into the habit.
Official policy is that if you don't click through from Nectar then they cannot give you the points, although I should point out that I once forgot and was given the benefit of the doubt on that occasion after I emailed them.

In practice, we have two or three retailers that we click through to via Nectar on a regular basis. We most often spend our points at Argos.

Overall: Nectar just works and usually works well.
It feels safe and reliable and you can spend your points at Argos and Sainsburys on the High Street (which I like).

And More Cash

I haven't been using TopCashBack for as long as Nectar, just for 6 months or so, but I am very impressed with the service so far.

When I signed up, the service was advertised as completely free and always would be.
This is still the case, but there is now an option to have a "TopCashBack Plus" account, which you will automatically be asked to join for a trial period.
The idea of this is that you get a higher percentage of cash back as a bonus and additional rewards, in exchange for a small fee (£5 per year, taken from your cashback earnings, not your bank account).
I have joined the trial and it seems to be working ok so far.

TopCashBack is similar to Nectar for online purchases, in that you *must* go to their website first and then click through to the retailer in order to get any cashback.
When you do this, it will open a new tab in your browser.
If you have any doubt about things, you can flip back to the first tab and should see a message saying that your click through has been tracked.

It may just be me, but I find the TopCashBack website much easier to find my way around, despite their 'system' being slightly more complex than Nectar.
You can search for a specific item or a particular retailer and it always shows you the one you looked for, plus one or more alternatives in the same category.
This means you can shop around a lot more for the item you want, or for your preferred supplier.
There also seem to be a lot more retailers here than on Nectar.

On the other hand, it is worth reading the rules and reviews carefully next to each retailer.
Some retailers give additional hoops for you to jump through or conditions on the purchase.
For example, I recently looked on there for my home insurance deal for this year and found an option to get cash back on a quote via an online comparison site.
The rules here were that you would get cash back just for having the quote, but if you actually went through and bought a policy via that quote, then you wouldn't!

In a couple of cases, there has actually been a page stating that you won't get any cashback from that retailer, Amazon being the chief culprit on this.
I wonder if they previously provided cash back but stopped doing so at the same time they stopped allowing Nectar points to be used.

The reviews often give feedback on how reliable a retailer is in providing the cash back, so are a good place to check out a retailer you haven't used before.
Each retailer has an estimated time for how long it may take for you to actually receive your cash.
I have found that on the whole this is a reasonably accurate indicator, but have also come across the odd case where it has strayed outside the ETA by a week or two.

Overall: I have earned over £30 cash through TopCashBack in a fairly short space of time.
Some of this is listed as "outstanding" and is still being tracked through the system, but I have already been spending some of it to lighten my Amazon wish list.

I have also had some great bargains.
The best one was where I booked a car service:
TopCashBack had a voucher code which I used for the supplier, when there was already a cheaper price for booking the service online from the retailer's website.
This meant that I got the service for a substantial discount (I can't remember exactly, but it was in the region of £60 off) and still got £10 cash back afterwards.


Why not use both?
You can probably gather by now that I like TopCashBack a lot.
However, both Nectar and TopCashBack are great services and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend both to you.
If you are shopping online and are using one of their retailers, then it makes sense to click through from one or other of their websites.
Since Nectar is more immediate and reliable in their points 'payout', they probably have the edge in many cases, but there are fewer ways to spend them.
TopCashBack feels riskier somehow but generally gives greater rewards, unless there is a bonus points deal on Nectar.

With that in mind, I now check both sites to see if the purchase is relevant to them and click through from the one I want to use.
I then double check the click through has been confirmed with the originating website, before continuing on with my shopping.

Useful Links

If you are interested in joining either of these schemes, then follow these links!*

Have you used TopCashBack or Nectar?
What was your experience with it?
Let us know by leaving a comment!

*Disclosure: The above TopCashBack link and banner are referral links that may earn me extra cash back if you click through and then decide to join and use the service on a regular basis.
I am not associated with TopCashBack in any way, other than being a member.
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Friday, 28 June 2013

Will You Get A New Playstation Or An Xbox?

xbox-one-ps4 (Photo credit: NewGameNetwork)

Coup D'etat

Both Sony and Microsoft have made their opening moves in the battle for the next generation of gaming.
In the Playstation 4 versus Xbox One showdown at the E3 Convention, Sony made a real coup with their traditional stance on used/pre-owned games.
Will that be enough to sway gamers over to their camp, or is there more to this story?

Talking 'Bout My Generation

I have been a gamer for around 30 years and I have been an Xbox gamer since the early days on the original Xbox (funny, I can't call it "Xbox 1" any more, for fear of confusion!).
Previous to that, I had struggled for years trying to get my PC working with games.
I felt continual frustration with new games exceeding my hardware specs and upgrades exceeding the size of my wallet!

So I bought an Xbox and it was a real revelation to me:
Pop in the disk and it works.
Pop in another disk and it also works, and so on.

I moved on from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360 and this trend continued.
No need to worry about hardware and a simple on or off button when I needed it.
This is important when you have a family and don't have time for faffing about.

The only hiccups I had were with the infamous red ring of death (got a free replacement due to the extended warranty) and 2 games where the disk wouldn't load (which were replaced from the shop and then worked fine).

Making Kinections

English: Kinect sensor and Xbox 360 as shown a...
English: Kinect sensor and Xbox 360 as shown at the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I even got a Kinect and have enjoyed the games in that.
I don't have a huge living room, but I have got it working and it's not as bad as I keep hearing around the 'net.
My only disappointment with Kinect is that they haven't done more with it in the time that it has been available before Kinect 2.0 comes out on the Xbox One.

That said, I love the concept of Kinect, and Kinect 2.0 looks potentially very exciting indeed.
I want to see more of everything: more Kinect only games and much more "hardcore" games enhanced in all kinds of ways by Kinect.

I'm Not An Xbox Fanboy, Honest!

So you can gather from the above that I like the Xbox and Xbox 360.
However, I can't say that I am a loyal Microsoft customer, or that I am an "Xbox Fanboy".
As things stand at the moment, I would have no compunction in defecting to Sony, or even to change to another form of gaming.
(Or maybe I will just stick with my 'legacy' system - but that's a subject for another time.)

The chief reason is Xbox Live.

I love the fact that my console is connected to Live and that my games get updated pretty much automatically.
I quite like the fact that I can view trailers and download game demos when I want to.
I don't play multiplayer games and don't have a 'Gold' subscription, because it costs money on top of what I have already spent on the console.

Now I know what some people are thinking: that a Gold subscription works out at a tiny amount each month.
Yes that's true, but with a limited budget to spend on games, the price gives me a simple choice:
  • playing online for a limited time
  • buying a complete new game I can keep
The latter wins out every time.

Something More Important Than Gold

An example of an xbox 360 case mod
An example of an xbox 360 case mod (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
But there's something even more important to me.
It's the fact that there is functionality hidden behind the Gold subscription that is free elsewhere or that I would effectively pay twice for!

Take the example of Netflix or Love Film.
I like the idea of using my Xbox as a multi-media device, where I can surf the web and stream or download movies.
(In fact, this is exactly how Microsoft are positioning the Xbox One, in a bid to take over your entire living room.)
However, those services already have a subscription fee, so why do I have to pay for Xbox Live Gold before I can access Netflix, which I may have already paid for?

Worse than that is the internet browsing.
I can happily browse the net for free from my PC, iPod, my wife's iPad and even my Panasonic Blu-Ray Recorder (albeit in a 'walled garden' kind of way).
Give me one good reason I should pay for the same service on the Xbox.

Sadly, it seems that more and more over time, Xbox Live Gold is becoming the only way to get full use out of the system.

The Deal Breaker?

With Microsoft pitching the Xbox One at £80 more than the Playstation 4, I have been given serious pause for thought.

I would love to see what Kinect 2.0 can do, but can I really justify spending that much on a console?
Yes, I know that Kinect is a big inclusion and they have to reflect that in the hardware costs.
But what will happen with Xbox Live Gold?
Will Microsoft still insist that I pay a subscription for Gold, when I have already paid for the hardware?
To my mind, Microsoft needs to choose whether to:
  1. ask more for the hardware and then charge less for Live (or even better, make it free), or
  2. subsidise the hardware to match Sony, or at least get very close to it.
The ideal scenario for me would be the latter option and if Microsoft still charge for Gold service, that it is limited to multiplayer online gaming.

The used games issue would have been a deal breaker for me and many other gamers, but they appear to have fixed that particular problem now.
However, there is still plenty of time for them to make or break the deal with their Live service as well.
Which way will they jump?

What would your solution be and what do you think Microsoft will really do?
Have your say in the comments!

Well, both the consoles are here (for those who pre-ordered them anyway) and both are looking great in terms of the machines themselves.
The initial games line-up isn't that inspiring IMO - just the same old, same old, with updated graphics, as far as I can see.
Both seem to have lots of potential, but Microsoft appear to be going down the route I feared with their Live service.
These days, there is so much more at stake: it's not just the machines and the games, it's all the other integrations (and their cost) that will make or break the experience.
So ...I will continue to withhold judgement until we see what developers - and reviewers - make of it all!

If you are really keen and want to pre-order your next gen machine, or you're just curious to see what all the fuss is about, then look no further than these Amazon links:

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