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Josh Smith

Josh has been interested in video gaming and technology since the early 80's. Growing up in Maine has proven difficult, but he's found ways to gain access to hardware and software not typically seen in rural parts of the country. Now living near the coast, Josh is happily married with two young children and is teaching them the ways of the Force. Unfortunately, it's the Dark Side.

Help stop the invasion with Tower Defense classic Defense Grid 2

Six years ago Hidden Path Entertainment released Defense Grid: The Awakening on Xbox 360 to deafening applause from tower defense fans. Now, with the era of the newest generation of Microsoft’s gaming console, the Xbox One, Hidden Path is at it again. This time they’ve released the sequel, Defense Grid 2, on Playstation 4, Steam (Windows), and Xbox One all at the same time. Whichever your platform of choice, you can enjoy arguably the best tower defense game in recent years.

For those expecting only updated visuals, new aliens, and new maps,  you’ll be disappointed. While that’s all included, there’s so much more included that makes the game feel like a legitimate sequel. Game modes, multiplayer, and other goodies riddle the game and increase the replayability exponentially.

Again an unnecessary implement, Hidden Path should be commended for including a story that offers witty banter between your character, a human, and the AI that accompanies you. This time around though, you’re not simply interacting with your trusty AI that helped the first time the aliens invaded. Now you’ve got six different AI, each with their own special ability. Instead of relying on the Orbital Laser to destroy a swath of aliens, now you can overcharge your towers for more damage, increase resources, or teleport your precious cores to safety, just to name a few. Each AI also has a unique voice and personality and interact with each other throughout the game.

For each map, of which there are 20 (21 if you count the tutorial), there are nine separate game modes after you play the story mission, each with different rules to modify your challenge. All-in-all, that’s 200 different missions for players to complete, not to mention four difficulties (Easy through Elite), and different AI abilities. That’s a lot of gameplay.

Tower building has been simplified, though. No more do you have to worry about enemies flying onto the maps to steal your cores, instead every alien you face is a part of a ground invasion. Because of that, you’ve got access to only ten different towers to build and upgrade, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The customization comes in the form of Tower Augments, small modifications that you can make depending on the enemies you see on the map. Some augments cause more damage to shielded enemies, some focus on the biggest threat, and so on. The issue is that there is no rhyme or reason to unlocking tower augments and seem to come at random and aren’t always the most useful.

The biggest issue with the single player, campaign and alternate game modes, is the difficulty. Defense Grid veterans will stroll in expecting to be able easily guide aliens along set paths on the open maps, and should know how to set towers on the maps that provide a set path for the aliens straightaway. And for half of the campaign, you’ll get the results you expect. In quick order though, you’ll find yourself somehow viciously overmatched and, in order to earn those gold medals, will be forced to turn down the difficulty. On Easy though, the aliens are far too easy, which creates an enormous difficulty gap between the settings.

Wonderfully, multiplayer has been introduced to the game in both competitive and co-op capacity, with couch co-op being added in as well. In co-op mode, each player is given different sections of the map to set their own towers on, requiring teamwork to try and bottleneck enemies. Competitive multiplayer is very interesting, with each player playing asymmetrically on their own map. As an enemy dies on your map, it’s transported to the same spot on the enemies map, and vice versa. That means even the most astute Defense Grid 2 players may run into trouble in online games, and no game runs too long.

It would have been easy for Hidden Path Entertainment to get complacent and release an updated version of the first game, but thankfully they didn’t. Defense Grid 2 feels new, but still gives the gameplay that we grew to love six years ago. It plays noticeably better on PS4 than on Xbox One, but the difference in quality and load time is the difference between great and exceptional. At $25.00, the game is worth every penny.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10

Diablo 3 Ultimate Edition improves on an already great title

With more than 250 hours in the Xbox 360 and PC versions, I thought I knew what to expect from the Xbox One version of Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition, but thankfully I was wrong. Originally launched on PC in May 2012, then on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in September 2013, the game had evolved in a way that made playing it twice worthwhile. The game was entertaining and appealed to fans of the series, though it lacked depth of end game content.

Until now.

The Ultimate Evil Edition features a new playable character for you to familiarize yourself with, as well as a whole new act and dozens of new items. The question was whether the content added would be enough to justify another playthrough. With the updates that have been made to the game overall, the answer is a resounding, “YES!”

The new character, The Crusader, is reminiscent of the Paladin from Diablo 2, which appeals to past players. The fact that the Crusader is also a hybrid class, focusing on massive damage at range or melee, and acting as a tank class, absorbing massive amounts of damage, appeals to you current players. It’s a character you want in your party for every adventure.

To complement the new character, Act V was also introduced, which is another piece reminiscent of Diablo 2, which shipped with four acts and then added a fifth via an expansion pack. This time instead of facing one of the prime evils from Hell, you’ll face off against Mathael, Death himself. The new act is hands down the most difficult area that to explore, with enemies, mini-bosses and Mathael at the end being some of the hardest battles I’ve faced in my time throughout the game.

Once you’ve finished the campaign, it’s only the start of your adventure. Previously we were left to tedious adventures into Whimseyshire and “ring runs,” trying for a series items and boss fights that ultimately lead to a high level, craftable ring. This time around there’s an enormous number of options, including those mentioned above.

Adventure mode is the newest option for you to enjoy, with Bounties listed that require you to clear a specific area, kill a Champion, or complete an event. There are five bounties per act and you can jump between them at will, though it’s in your interest to finish the bounties in one area before moving on. Complete your five bounties and you’re presented with a Horadric Cache, which has the ability to drop a legendary item that exists nowhere except in the cache itself.

Additionally, you’ll earn Rift Shards which can be used to open hell rifts. Inside the hell rift you’ll work towards filling a meter that grows based on the number of enemies you kill. Fill it and eventually the “Rift Boss” shows up. This badass enemy can take some work to put down, but potentially can lead to more great item drops.

Of the hundreds of hours I’ve poured into Diablo III, it’s not until the Ultimate Evil Edition does it feel like a complete game, and it’s still not entirely done. Patches and content are schedule to be added, making this a wonderful buy, as all the original content is still available. If you’re looking to get lost in a dark world that has its own beauty, play it on Xbox One in 1080p, because you wont regret it.

Overall Score: 10 out of 10

Magic 2015 finally introduces digital deck building, releases another solid title

In the annual release of the digital card game of the same name, Magic the Gathering 2015 is showing off some new elements, spotlighting their new story, and — as always — boasting some breathtaking art. Because you don’t need to have a friend nearby to enjoy the digital version of the game, Magic 2015’s online play has become popular. Historically players have been confined to creating custom decks from a preset number of cards, allowing only certain decks to be made. This year, thankfully, players have more freedom.

For the single player campaign, again there’s a linear progression, moving from enemy-to-enemy, each with their own specifically built deck. Overall they’re fairly weak, with only the final fight of each area, a Planeswalker, holding any real challenge. Even then, if you maintain and upgrade your own individual deck, you should have no problem moving through the story easily.

The exception is the final battle, where you face off against corrupted Planeswalker Garruk. Dealing with his green deck, mostly minions, isn’t necessarily difficult. The rub here is that Garruk becomes more corrupted after you defeat him once, meaning you have to battle him — and his new green/black deck — a second time. Lose or restart that battle and you’re back to square one, having to start the first battle over again.

It’s extremely frustrating.

Even with booster packs you get after each battle, each with random cards inside to help toward your deck building, you’ll have a tough time with Garruk to finish the campaign. Playing online is far more forgiving, particularly if you’re up against someone who can’t build a deck. There are options to autocomplete your deck too, if you’d rather focus on just a few cards and let the AI fill in the gaps, a feature returning from last year.

And while, year after year, I’ve crowed about having the ability to create a 100% custom deck, the experience still feels a little empty. That’s because one of the best social experiences, card trading, is still absent. I love the ability to craft my own decks, and thankfully boosters are only $1.99 each, but to complete the circle of giving players what they want, trading needs to be introduced.

The interface is new this year as well, opting toward a more noir look with lots of black and white. The battlefield itself is animated during combat, but not in a way that draws your attention away from the cards you’ve played, at least not for long. It’s enough of a change that the game feels different, which is important if you’ve been buying the game every year. You feel like you’re getting something new, not something rehashed and reskinned.

Overall, Magic the Gathering 2015 continues its great showing with another wonderful title. The artwork is stunning, not surprising if you’ve seen the cards they actually appear on, and everything about the game is fluid. You can play it on PC, console, Android or iOS too, though lack of cross-platform play is a little disappointing. If you’ve played Magic in years past and you’re looking to get into it, this is a great way to pick it back up.

Overall score: 8 out of 10

You should also read:A Guide to Magic the Gathering

The Maurus X Gaming Mouse is good for first timers

At $69.99, The GX-Gaming Maurus X Gaming Mouse isn’t overpriced compared to the rest of the market, but the adage, “You get what you pay for,” rings true. It’s not that the Maurus X is a bad mouse, not at all, it’s comfortable and comes with a boatload of options. The biggest issues facing it is the learning curve and the lack of additional buttons, two big problems.

To start positive though, let’s focus on how comfortable the Maurus X is. It’s symmetrical, so you left-handers will be comfortable, and it contours to your hand perfectly. There are rubber grips on the left and right side of it that do more than just prevent slipping, they’re actually quite soft. Those grips rest above slight “wings” that stick out, allowing a place for your thumb and pinky or ring finger to rest. It’s weighted well too, but there’s no option to add or remove additional weight, so if you find it not to your needs, sorry but you’re stuck with it.

The design is pretty rugged overall, too. The weight helps make it feel more than just a cheap piece of plastic, and it seems like it could take a drop or a slam, though I didn’t put my heart into it when I was testing the durability. It didn’t break with a few bangs, so that’s something. The cord is braided, as most are on higher end gaming mice, but I still feel the need to mention it because it’s just so damned awesome.

It’s advertised with six buttons, but the truth is that is has four, plus scroll wheel and DPI button. Dots per inch, or DPI, is what determines how fast the mouse moves across the screen when you move it, and on the Maurus X you can change it with the click of a button. Despite being at the top, middle of the device it doesn’t seem to get in your way, so there are no accidental clicks, which forces you to go through each of the five pre-set options (800 up to 4,000 DPI) to get back to your original setting. The two additional buttons rest above the rubberized grip, creating additional options but still falling short of some boasting eight to ten buttons.

The Maurus X also includes, via download, it’s own personal drivers settings that are completely customizable, though if you’re not familiar with this type of software it might look a little daunting. Inside the driver settings users can change the function of buttons or creating entire macros, complete with delays and custom names. There are five profile options, for those who play multiple games or different characters within one game, but for novices, you’ll enjoy knowing that you can adjust just about every setting individually. Mouse speed, sensitivity, double click speed, scroll speed, etc, it can all be adjusted from within the software. There was also listed a “light options,” for adjusting the GX Gaming symbol on the back, but I couldn’t get the damned thing to work at all. Not sure if the defect is the hardware or the user.

Again though, at $69.99 you could do a hell of a lot worse for a gaming mouse. The Maurus X is comfortable, weighted well, and has a boatload of customizations. The lack of additional buttons is certainly concerning, particularly for you hardcore gamers. And if you’re shopping for a gaming mouse, you’re already at a level beyond casual. Still, it’s inexpensive and provides a nice cornerstone for first-timers.

Twitch plays Google in sale flip-flop, ends up with Amazon

After rumors swirled earlier this year about a Youtube buyout, popular game streaming site Twitch has been sold to Amazon.com in a surprsing flip-flop of fate. Initially reported with an acquisition price of $1 billion, Twitch confirmed today that the final closing price totaled $970 million, just shy of the rumored amount.

After being in existence for only three short years, Twitch’s sale is clearly a sign that Amazon sees enormous potential in video gaming. After purchasing developer Double Helix, known for Killer Instinct and the re-released Strider for Xbox One, Amazon’s end-game isn’t quite known yet, though video games clearly fit in their model.

“Amazon and Twitch optimize for our customers first and are both believers in the future of gaming,” said Twitch CEO Emmett Shear. “Being part of Amazon will let us do even more for our community. We will be able to create tools and services faster than we could have independently. This change will mean great things for our community, and will let us bring Twitch to even more people around the world.”

Whether Youtube and Google backed out of the deal, Twitch renegged, or there was no deal to begin with, but the weight and volume of the rumors earlier this year certainly lend credibility to the fact that something was happening.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos commented, “Broadcasting and watching gameplay is a global phenomenon and Twitch has built a platform that brings together tens of millions of people who watch billions of minutes of games each month – from The International, to breaking the world record for Mario, to gaming conferences like E3. And, amazingly, Twitch is only three years old.” He continued, “Like Twitch, we obsess over customers and like to think differently, and we look forward to learning from them and helping them move even faster to build new services for the gaming community.”

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Xbox One Bundle Announced

The multiplayer reveal isn’t the only Call of Duty news coming out of Gamescom this week. Microsoft announced a partnership with Activision and Sledgehammer Games that will package the popular first-person shooter with their newest console. If you’re looking to get into the CoD community and don’t yet own an Xbox One, for only $499.99 you can preorder a console bundle at select retailers.

Releasing November 3rd, the console will feature a 1TB hard drive (double the current storage), sound effects from Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, a custom designed controller described as looking “like an artifact from the technologically advanced, cutting-edge battlegrounds of the future,” and a copy of the game itself.

Players will receive a digital copy of the game with 24 hour early access and double XP, the AK-12 G Assault Rifle, and the Crossbow B2. You’ll also have a chat headset and HDMI cable, which is included with every Xbox One.

As a bonus, those who purchase will receive in-game bonuses. Players will get the Digital Personalization Pack, Limited Edition Exoskeleton, a bullet brass Exoskeleton, and the EM1 Quantum custom energy weapon.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare shows off their multiplayer

Today at Gamescom, a gaming convention in Germany, Activision and developer Sledgehammer Games showed off the side of Call of Duty Advanced Warfare that most players have been waiting for: the multiplayer. With millions still playing some variation of a COD title, it’s no surprised that the event was broadcast worldwide. What was unexpected though, was the level of change that players can expect in the upcoming game, set to release on November 4, 2014.

Meet the Exoskeleton

Simple dubbed “Exo,” this new addition is clearly the focus of the gameplay. Your Exo features a variety of abilities aimed at giving players a near superhuman-like experience. Players will be able to boost their jumping, sliding, dodging, dashing, and will even be able to do a boost slam, mimicking the “Death from Above” maneuver those familiar with mechs (or recently released Titanfall) will recognize.

The Exo makes players faster and stronger, which is expected to add another level of gameplay. In addition to some brutal melee attacks, players will learn to use the attached jetpack to hover and boost jump to high levels of maps, showing off the word of the show: “verticality”. Customization was key, with Sledgehammer presenters boasting of more than a billion combinations that players can use to customize their soldiers. Everything, from head to toe, is changeable to give each character a feeling of uniqueness.

Notedly absent from the presentation was a view of a female soldier, though it was not confirmed if the body type had been removed from the game. I wouldn’t expect it to be, though the lack of a visible avatar was noticed.

Finally, the Exo also featured changeable abilities that should look remarkably familiar. With an ability cloak, put up a shield, or even use a trophy system to disable enemy projectiles, players may confuse what their seeing with Crytek’s shooter Crysis, though I’m sure sales of Call of Duty will eclipse the EA published game in short order.

Map Creation and Game Modes

As noted, verticality was mentioned no less than a dozen times throughout the presentation, driving home the point that Sledgehammer Games wants you to go UP! UP! UP! Four maps were shown, Biolab, Riot, Ascend, and Defender which takes place in San Francisco and is altered by a tsunami during gameplay, changing the layout of the map. The maps ranged from small/medium size to large and also showed differences with combat options, moving from close quarters to more wide-open areas.

No other maps were presented, but in typical Call of Duty style, expect to see a remake of popular maps that graced previous games.

Twelve game modes were confirmed for release, with seven being identified. Your basic Team Deathmatch, Domination, Capture the Flag, and Search and Destroy are making a comeback, as is fan-favorite Hardpoint. Surprising — and welcomed — was the announcement of Momentum, a new take on the classic game mode War from World at War.

New to this year’s release is a mode called Uplink which, if you look hard enough, seems like a variation of the popular game Quidditch from the Harry Potter Franchise. In Uplink, players will take control of a mobile satellite with the intent of moving it to a team-specific goal. You can throw the satellite into the goal for a point or use your Exo to jump the satellite into it for two points.

A level of strategy is implemented when players carry the satellite because it disables your weapons. What that means is that you’re encouraged to throw the satellite to enemy players, rendering their weapons useless, then destroy them and pick it back up to move on the goal.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Player Customization and Creativity

The last piece of information revealed to players was another theme throughout the presentation. With over a billion options just for how your character looks, the expectation for character function is certainly high. Fear not, it seems that the folks at Sledgehammer have evolved the “Pick 10” system to “Pick 13.” The exact reason behind 13 instead of 10 wasn’t apparent, but it may have something to do with the score streaks.

Yes, score streaks return in lieu of kill streaks. Players can choose zero score streaks, saving those points for attachments, perks, or weapons, or can choose the three basic score streaks. In a twist, players can spend two points on a Wildcard and an extra score streak, bringing the total to four. And most interesting is that some score streaks will be co-op streaks, allowing players to double-up and rain hell upon their foes together, but the only one on display was a simple “You spot, I shoot,” co-op streak.

In addition to the expected weapons, attachments, projectiles, and score streaks, players will, for the first time, be introduced to a loot system called Supply Drop. The Supply Drop gives three tiers of items: Enlisted (Common), Professional (Uncommon), and Elite (Rare). Elite gear will feature bonuses to any number of stats or attachments, making them completely unique. Balancing these items must be a nightmare, though a comment was made that seeing a player decked out in Elite Gear would be intimidating.

The Supply Drop system will be used by players who earn it via longevity or by completing challenges in multiplayer games.

The Virtual Lobby and Virtual Firing Range are the final implements. With the Virtual Lobby, players are no longer just a name and rank while waiting for the matches to start. Instead, with so many options for customization, you’ll want people to see it. You’ll be able to cycle through your team and opponents to see what they look like. It’s customization on the level of Emblems from previous games, only with less swastikas and penises.

The Virtual Firing Range is an area players can go to while waiting for a match to start. The intent is to allow players to experiment with new weapons and attachments prior to getting into a game and realizing that a grenade launcher isn’t necessary on a pistol.

Overall, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare looks like a mash-up of a lot of recent sci-fi shooters and is implementing a lot of level design that fans have never seen before in the series. Going vertical, swimming underwater, and experiencing changes to level design mid-battle seems like a good idea. And this time around the team at Sledgehammer has had three years to work on the game, the longest development cycle since the franchise exploded onto the scene.

The question still looms though, is this the game to pull us all back in and rebuild the rabid player base that has seemed to dwindle over the last few years?

Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4" is powerful, but lacks impressive battery life

Samsung has added a new addition to the tablet family and this bundle of joy is sleek, powerful, and able to power your favorite apps with ease. The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 arrived last month to rave reviews and it was only after having a chance to see it in action that I understand what the fuss is about. For many college students, gaming and video editing aren’t part of your daily habits. Browsing the internet, doing research, and using social media certainly are and if you’re not one to shell out top dollar for a laptop that is essentially a “Facebook Machine,” a tablet is the perfect substitution.

For only $399.99 this tablet in particular is worth your time.

My main tablet, aside from the ones I test and write about, is a Samsung Note 8 and I’ve been happy with it. Since receiving the Galaxy Tab S 8.4” though, our relationship has been on the rocks. See, Samsung has released a model that’s newer, sexier, and looks better. The screen is a surprising 1600×2560 with a whopping 360ppi. That means when you’re watching Netflix, there’s no question whether it’s in HD or not.

The screen is so good that one of the test videos that comes on the device was actually confused for 3D on multiple occasions. Granted, Samsung puts videos like that on the tablet intentionally, because they look amazing, but the fact that it can produce those results is pretty impressive.

It’s slim, too. It weighs less than a pound and overall isn’t as wide or as thick as my Note 8. I’m not some superficial jerk who thinks that whatever partner I choose has to be thin and sleek. I know as tablets get older they will seem fat and slow, but the supermodel-like Tab S enjoys when I touch the Super AMOLED screen and responds immediately to me.

It’s not all about the looks, either. The Tab S is smart, boasting 3GB of internal RAM, and a Exynos 5 Octa processor. “What’s that?” you’re asking. That’s a 1.9Ghz quadcore and a 1.3Ghz quadcore. The Tab S also uses Kitkat, Android 4.4 which isn’t the latest version, but Android L was only just announced last month.

For those looking for a little bit more information about processing power of the Tab S 8.4”, multiple benchmarks were run to determine how it stacked up to tablets both old and new. It did well, but, in terms of the ratings, wasn’t overpowering. The Anomaly 2 Benchmark showed a Bronze Medal when on the highest settings, Silver on normal. 3D Mark’s “Ice Storm” tests showed similar results, though they were listed as below average (for the device itself) due to background apps and/or how long I had already been testing the device.

The one area I was disappointed in was the battery life. While the specs boast 4900 mAh and “up to 12 hours of video,” I was getting drastically less. Custom settings had the battery draining incredibly fast, which forced me to setup “battery saver mode.” When that was active it was still woefully poor battery life, discharging incredibly fast overnight whereas Samsung’s other tablets showed remarkable longevity on one charge. Additionally, recharging the device was taking longer than any other tablet I’ve tested, Samsung or not.

Ultimately though, poor battery performance or not, this has become my favorite tablet under 10”. It’s powerful, the screen is one of the best I’ve seen, it’s incredibly mobile, and it doesn’t get in your way if you do decide to lug it around with you. If you’ve got the money and you’re looking for a reliable tablet, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 8.4” is it.

The latest Ubi-Art, Valiant Hearts, is neither valiant or heartfelt

Due to the success of the previous Ubi-art games, Rayman Legends and Child of Light, there were high hopes for Valiant Hearts, the side-scrolling puzzle game from Ubisoft. After their fantastic E3 trailer, players expected a heart-wrenching experience through the hell of World War I. After playing through the game and, at times forcing myself, the game is the embodiment of war. In the beginning it’s exciting and adventurous, but by the end you just want it over so you can go back to your regular life.

The gameplay itself isn’t terrible and, in fact, during the first two-thirds you’ll be very impressed at the level design and the techniques used to create puzzles. The 2D landscape is more 2.5D, mostly due to the ability to hide behind certain obstacles, bushes and scaffolding mostly, but the pathfinding also allows you to move inside buildings or to different areas simply by pushing up or down on your controller.

As mentioned, the puzzles are actually very well done and for the majority of the game are very well placed. There are sequences when you’re in the dark, trying to sneak of POW camps, when you have to time every step nearly perfectly that would seem frustrating, but is actually so well done that it’s one of the most satisfying parts of the game. Other puzzles require you to obtain certain items in a particular order for you to continue. Strangely though, the “fetch missions” never feel boring.

There are action sequences, as well. Boss fights or simple “drive a tank, shoot things,” are used to break up gameplay magnificently, never letting players settle into any one particular mechanic for too long. The characters, of which there are four not counting the pooch who tags along with each character at some point in the game, also have their own unique abilities depending on which point of the game you’re at. Like most puzzlers, you can pick up items to give yourself an added ability, albeit as a one-time use to complete a puzzle and move on.

The story follows a character from the French, German, and American sides of the war and does very well to include a female as the medic, essentially their only role considering women weren’t allowed to see active combat. With Germans as the antagonists of World War I (it’s always the Germans, isn’t it?), a bit of history also gets trickled in. In the form of pictures and a brief synopsis, players are educated on the hell that was WWI trenches, mustard gas, and even historic battles that players will take part in throughout the game.

The problem comes in the last portion of the story, where most puzzles are replaced with simple, “stop and go,” gameplay, resulting in very tedious gameplay. It seems as if the game was rushed in development, considering how meticulous the earlier chapters were. The result is that players are left with a bad taste in their mouth. It’s like eating a cake, but when you get to the last bite it’s sour and makes you dry heave. You won’t say the cake was great, you’ll only remember that last bite.

If you’re looking for a way to spend some time solving some fun puzzles and experiencing some good storytelling, Valiant Hearts will fit that bill for the most part. If you go in expecting a profound, heart-wrenching story that adds an artistic element to the medium, you’ll be disappointed. Valiant Hearts is fun and, during the summer lull, will make for a good distraction, but if you’ve got other titles to finish, it can wait.

Overall score: 6.5 out of 10

Tablet or Laptop? With HP's x360, you don't have to choose

Oftentimes when I look at PC or PC hardware, it’s always the biggest and the best. The expensive, high-performance hardware is what most enthusiasts are interested in, but what about budget hardware? The hardware that students — with no particular enthusiasm for hardcore gaming or editing — would be most apt to be shopping for would be lower cost. That said, nobody wants a “cheap” PC, incapable of doing even the most menial daily tasks.

That’s where the HP x360 steps in.

This PC is a two-in-one device, acting as a PC or a tablet because of the ability to fold the touch-screen over, making it perfect for travel or to bring to class for notes or snarky Facebook updates about your professor who strangely smells of onions. It’s not too big either, with the viewable screen measuring just over 11.5”, less than an inch tall, and weighing just over three pounds. It’s mobile, it’s not too gaudy, and it still gets the job done for most of your basic college activities.

Activities like watching your favorite shows, for instance. There isn’t an optical drive, as is the norm with laptops focusing on mobility, but there are three USB ports (two USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0) and an HDMI out port which will let you attach this to your television to watch in HD on something bigger than the attached screen. Additionally, it’s rocking dual speakers with Beat Audio though, admittedly, having Beats Audio doesn’t necessarily add anything to the device, it’s more of a selling point.

The audio is good, don’t misunderstand that, as it’s pumped out from two places, something tablet rarely do. But if you ask “Does Beats Audio add anything to it?” the most appropriate response would be, “It might. Maybe.” Nevertheless the audio is decent, including the bass, and you won’t be upset at what you’re hearing.

The guts of the PC/tablet hybrid are useful as well, powered by an Intel Pentium N3530 processor (2.17GHz 2M L2 cache or 2.13GHz 1M L2 cache) and 4GB of RAM (expandable to 8GB) power the Windows 8.1 OS. You may have heard some discouraging things about the newest Windows OS, but fear not, with a touch screen this runs pretty damned smooth.

It’s also got wireless or wired WAN/LAN capabilities, though you’ll use that mostly for basic network connections and nothing heavy-duty like hardcore online gaming. The battery is probably the biggest disappointment, though it’s not as if you’ll need a recharge like your smartphone does. It lasts about four to five hours before it needs a refresh, though in standby it’s far, far longer. Days, in some cases.

Overall, if you’re debating between picking up a tablet or investing in a laptop, why not do both? Starting at $399.99, this isn’t going to be a disappointment if you purchase it knowing what you’re getting. It’s not overly powerful, but it will let you stream media, browse the web, or use it as a tablet. It’s using Windows as an OS, but it could benefit from a dual-boot option that loads Android for tablet mode because that would expand the app selection but thousands. For the student on a budget who needs function and doesn’t want to sacrifice quality, HP’s x360 is ideal.