Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kotas Reviews Signswise Solar LED Lights

Hello loyal readers, it's Christmas Time at last! We here at Kotas Reviews Everything find that the winter holiday season to be our (okay, favorite time of the year. If there is anything I was looking forward to, it was decorating my yard with Christmas junk year after year until the yard becomes a traditional holiday embarrassment for my kid. 

I also happen to have a little pine tree in the front yard that is damn near PERFECT for hanging outdoor lights on. In an effort to restrain myself, this year I opted NOT to purchase every friggin' inflatable geegaw for the yard (that will come during the After Christmas Sales...oooooh yes), and instead start off with a tasteful string of lights, preferably battery powered since I didn't want to run an extension cord through the rose bushes. In perusing Amazon, I came across this link:

Sure, it only has 2.5 stars worth of reviews, but for $12? How could I lose? Well, let me tell you boys and girls, I could lose $12 pretty darn easily. What a crushingly horrible pile of awful these things are. 

You had ONE JOB lights. ONE. JOB.
I suppose I should have known what I was getting. Things don't get discounted 88% off for no reason, but hell, those little solar powered lights you put out along paths are like, $4 and they work at least for a few hours, if dimly. Since the backdrop for this is "nearly invisible in the darkness green pine needles", even a bit of dim light would be great! Right? WRONG. 

It all started when I realized these things did not have a "plug in to charge" capability. That right there would have solved almost every problem I have with these things, but eh, $12 right? Right. So to test them (because you always, ALWAYS test lights before putting them up), I put them under a lamp for a few hours and gave them a whirl. What do you know, they lit up! It wasn't spectacularly bright, but they did work! Hooray! I put them under the lamp overnight, and the next morning I took them out into the freezing cold to wrap them haphazardly around my tree. 

The good parts: These things are pretty simple to set up. The plastic stake will in fact hold up the box once it's shoved into the ground. The solar cell appears to be able to change solar energy into electricity, at least a little bit. With only one strand, they were pretty easy to untangle from the "shipping knot" they were in. 

The bad parts: The fucking thing stopped working the second it hit the tree. No amount of button pushing, clicking, yelling, cursing, praying or otherwise entreating the powers that be will ever make these things turn on again. I've tried shining a light on them directly. I've tried waiting for a "sunny day". I've clicked and toggled 'til my toggler was sore...and then I thought of something I hadn't before. That these things were a pile of ass that worked JUST LONG ENOUGH for me to be excited about having them, but will refuse to ever light up my tree with light and my heart with satisfaction. 

I do not think I can properly convey my disappointment in these things. If they hadn't worked at all, it would have been no big deal. Just return them, right? But no. They worked once, so clearly I must be doing something wrong...or maybe they are just cheap crap that only works once. It's the fact that they worked and now do not for what appears to be no reason. If the cold screws them up then why are they marketed as OUTDOOR lights? Rain? They list as waterproof. And why would you not include an "throw some batteries" in it option? Or at least a "disconnect the box from the strand" plug. Auuuugggghhhh. So frustrating. 

Overall, I give these things THREE FROWNIES on the FACE Rating System. If they hadn't worked at all it would have been only 1 frownie face. If they were just dim, then probably 0 faces or even 1 smiley, because hey, lame lights are still lights. But this? This tease? Screw you, lights that don't light! 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Kotas Reviews The Day of the Doctor

Have you ever walked away from a very nice meal feeling very satisfied, and yet 2 hours later you are munching on some Triscuits because you feel like you are missing something? I mean, the salad was good, the appetizer was well made, the entree was delicious, and the dessert was superb and yet...there you are, 2 hours later gnawing on some sub-par cracker monstrosity trying to fill a void left in your stomach. Ladies and Gentleman, that's pretty much how I feel about Day of the Doctor. 

Before you continue reading this, I am TOTALLY gonna be spoiling the everloving SHIT out of the entirety of the current series, especially Day of the Doctor, so ye be warned. Skip to the last paragraph for the FACE Rating score and my final thoughts. Or, you know, catch up on the series to this point. Go on, I'll wait.

Okay, all caught up? Great. Let's get a few things out of the way first. I thought John Hurt played an excellent Doctor. Sure, we are probably gonna only see him for this one episode of the show ever, but hey, other Doctors have had as much and been very memorable in their own right anyway (I'm looking at you Paul McGann). I really enjoyed seeing Matt Smith and David Tennant play off of each other and John Hurt. I'm told that Christopher Eccleston declined to participate in this episode, which is a damn shame because I think Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith all on the set as the Doctor would have been freakin' amazing, but John Hurt really, really added his own spin to the legacy of the Doctor and bravo to him for that. The idea that one of the incarnations of the Doctor was "buried in memory" was a bit of a kludge when Eccleston passed, but really? I think it worked out spectacularly and made for a wonderful character arc.

There was a lot to like for a long time Whovian in this episode. The nods to previous episodes came fast and furious in just about every scene, such as the timey wimey comment and Tennant's deadpan "I have no idea where he gets that" was just amazing. The Tardis' many changing "desktop themes" ("Oh, the round things."  "I love the round things." "What are they?" No idea."). The side enemy was the freakin' ZYGONS of all things, which have been in exactly ONE previous episode ever in the Tom Baker era, and they managed to keep the cheesy costume look without making it look TOO lame, and made it even a little scary! The "bust out of the painting" scene with the 11th Doctor's trademark "bad ass" music rolling through as all three of the Doctors bust up a Dalek and stroll into the Black Archive...well, that was a really powerful moment. I also really liked the clever uses of time travel to solve various problems: Scratch the activation code into a wall so someone will get it in 500 years. Screwdriver scan and calculate over 400 years in 4 seconds. The EPIC use of all 13 Doctors to SAVE GALLIFREY by continuing the Stasis Box calculations over the 1000 years between 1st and 11th (12th now?) Doctors!

The "Find Gallifrey" quest for the next season brings a nice over-arc. Some of the best Doctor Who stories are over-arcs (Key of Time) as well as some of the less beloved ones (Trial of a Time Lord), but I've always enjoyed them. That final shot with all 12 Doctors was just lovely for the longtime fan. THEY SAVED GALLIFREY FROM THE TIME WAR BY USING ALL 13 INCARNATIONS OF THE DOCTOR AND THE TARDIS HOLY CRAP! Oh man! Tom Baker Cameo! HOLY CRAP!

And I am, about to tell you why I am left feeling like I am missing something. So...the Doctor DIDN'T murder his entire race along with their greatest enemy using the Superweapon known as the Moment? Soooooo...doesn't that essentially make the entirety of his motivations in the End of Time completely pointless or at worst, actively malicious? Here's the thing. The End of Time is probably my favorite story ever of the New Who. The scene where he takes Wilf's gun when he finds out the Time Lords are coming back is simply amazing, since the Doctor almost NEVER picks up a gun or gun like object. When he DOES, it means shit has gone completely off the rails and he is desperate in a way you generally do not see (see: Dalek and of course Earthshock). So for him to take the gun immediately following his big speech about how "guns aren't my bag, yo" tells you that shit is about to get frighteningly real. You see, the Doctor is afraid of the Time Lords coming back because they had grown horribly corrupt, evil, and nigh mad with power. This is proven Oh So Correct by Timothy Dalton's superb performance as Rassilon and his Ultimate Sanction, which got a nigh-unanimous vote in the High Council. And now...we get this idea that the Doctor(s) actually saved Gallifrey (Crazy High Council and all) and just forgot about doing it. Sure, there were a lot of innocents on Gallifrey, but the majority were supposed to have gone power mad. 

And then we have Day of the Doctor, which has a throwaway line about how "oh, the High Council has their own crazy plans that none of us were involved in and we feel really bad about all the forbidden superweapons we totes used. Darn it." The lead up to the point where I thought John Hurt's Doctor was totally gonna use the Moment was superb. The three of them together, helping the War Doctor through the hardest moment of his life (and a nice parallel to the Fires of Pompeii actually)...and then they pull something COMPLETELY OUT OF THEIR ASS to awkwardly yet awesomely save the freakin' day. Which, really, is the Doctor Who Way, but it makes the Doctor's actions in the End of Time especially pointless or even out and out cruel. Now, for an ass pull, it's actually very clever and I would expect nothing less than clever, so I don't hate it. In fact, I really liked it when I saw it...until I thought about it.

The OTHER major problem is that they actually show a portion of the Time War. Not a still shot or freeze frame only (though this is used and used well), but the freakin' Fall of Arcadia. The Time War was supposed to be a higher level war, fought outside normal time and space, using conceptual weapons like the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Travesties, the Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres. These are very, VERY evocative names and fill the mind with possibilities. So what do we see when we actually see the Final Battle of the Time War? Daleks blasting things and Time Lord Soldiers in their goofly little outfits with blaster rifles. Whoop-de-freakin'-doo. It is a TOTAL let down and a huge disappointment, especially since the "Time Lord Civilians" are all essentially extras from the costume drama being filmed two sets over. Such a disappointment because the Time War in my mind is SO much better. This is the Clone Wars all over again, really. 

Let's make things clear: I do not hate the Day of the Doctor. It is a very good story and will probably be the favorite story for a lot of people. I am not one of those people though. It is a good story in the same way that "Father's Day" was a good story: Excellent self-contained story, horrible for the continuity of the show. On the FACE Rating System, the Day of the Doctor earns one smiley face. I liked it and it has some great acting and lots of fun references, but it does not match the End of Time for me, and really disappoints on a lot of levels. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Kotas Reviews Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale

Welcome to Day 5, the final day of Okotastoberfest! Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and thus we wind down the week with our final entry: Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale. The Blue Moon Brewing Company is based out of Colorado, and is part of the craft and import division of MillerCoors. Can a huge American domestic brewery put out a beer that competes in the craft beer market? I would think it can, given it's signature Blue Moon Belgian-style White is very popular. Let's see what we can determine about its seasonal offering.

Delicious beer or corporate swill? YOU MAKE THE CALL!
The label is another example of how to take your standard logo and branding and jazz it up for the holidays. I'm actually not a huge fan of Blue Moon. It is not an awful beer, but it is vastly improved with the addition of a slice of orange...and I am of the opinion that any beer that is only good when stuff is added to it is not really a good beer. Still, I won't turn my nose up at it if you hand it to me...and it really is pretty darn good with a slice of orange. Let's see how this "Harvest" ale compares.

The orangiest of the five reviewed this week!

Another beer that has a pretty faint scent. I'm beginning to think it might be the glass I'm using, but hey, what do I know. The scent carries a hint of pumpkin, which really shouldn't surprise me. It has a nice orange color and just a touch of head on the pour. The flavor is actually a nice pumpkin-malt combination that is refreshing on the tongue. The aftertaste is clean, but it lingers more than, say, the Sam Adams offering. It is a bit drying on the tongue, and the fading bitterness is pleasant. 

It is not a heavy beer, but it's also not a particularly light beer. Solid flavor with just enough pumpkin to let you know you are drinking a pumpkin beer. I think this would pair well with a lot of different foods, except the most delicate ones. It is surprisingly drinkable! This could easily be a nice session beer, though I wouldn't want to drink it all day. Color me surprised, this is pretty good.
On the FACE Rating System, I'd give this 2 smileys. I am actually pretty impressed that it is as good as it is, and I think I will add it to my yearly rotation. Of the five beers I've had, I think the Sam Adams Octoberfest is still my favorite, but this is pretty darn close. If you like pumpkin beers, I definitely recommend giving this a place in your glass. 

Well, that concludes Okotastoberfest for this year. I had a great time reviewing these beers. Maybe I'll do it again next year! 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Kotas Reviews Newcastle Werewolf

Hello my loyal readers! Welcome to Day 4 of Okotastoberfest! It's Halloween everybody, and that means we have a special treat for you today...a little something from the United Kingdom has escaped the confines of London (well, Tadcaster North Yorkshire...close enough for us ignorant Yanks), and now prowls your local grocery's beer aisle looking for new prey. It is Newcastle Werewolf, and we're here to find out if it is a howling good brew, or if it should be shot with silver bullets.


I really like the label on this one. It's clearly a Newcastle beer, but the blue star is nowhere to be seen, a werewolf is front and center, and it really plays up the theme. All in all, a perfect example of how to spookify (shut up, it's a word) your standard offering. I've always enjoyed their standard Newcastle Brown Ale, which is the favorite beer of some of my poker buddies and one of those nice session imports perfect for a fall evening. How will this interloper stand up? 

Rawwwwr? RAWR!

Billed as a "blood red ale", I would just like to say that this is "sort of blood red...if the blood were drying after being exposed to air for a while". As with all the beers I've tried this week, it doesn't have much of a scent, but it does look pretty good in the glass. This beer is another "quick hit" sort of taste, with a coffee tang to compliment the maltiness, but there's no clean aftertaste here. The not unpleasant sourness lingers a bit, like the pain from a scratch fading shortly after it was inflicted. The flavor also smooths out as you drink. My first taste was not my favorite, but after a few more sips, it grew on me and became a very drinkable beer. 

This would probably go well with any sort of pub food, along with red meats, which is very fitting given the name. I am pleased to note that the hops are back in their rightful place after yesterday's surprise visit, though I do wish the bitterness was a bit...mellower maybe? This is a beer that leaps into your throat and growls at you that it is definitely a beer, and not some sort of drink masquerading as a beer or beer like substance. 

On the FACE Rating System, this gets one howling smiley face. As a seasonal change up, I like it very well, but I certainly wouldn't seek it out as a regular drink, even during its season. A session or two in the appropriate yearly cycle is more than enough. If you like fall beers, or if you are a Newcastle fan, I highly recommend giving it a whirl. It won't bite your head off.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Kotas Reviews Shiner Oktoberfest

It's Day 3 of Okotastoberfest! Today we head for Texas and the Spoetzl Brewery for our specimen: Shiner Oktoberfest. The Spoetzl Brewery bills itself as the oldest independent brewery in Texas, and was founded in 1909. The Oktoberfest brew began life as Shiner 96, one of the beers created to celebrate the (at the time) impending centennial of the brewery's life. It entered seasonal rotation shortly after. Their most well known beer is of course the tasty Shiner Bock, favorite of country music stars and Hank from Breaking Bad. Let's see how their brew stacks up!

Oppa Marzen Style!

 I've always liked the designs for the various Shiner beer labels. Distinctive, yet always easy to recognize. This is no exception really, and hey, they spelled Oktoberfest with the proper German spelling, so you know, thumbs up. Shiner Bock is a pretty good beer, the kind you'd get when you want to stay domestic, but want a fancy domestic that looks like an least on the East Coast. 

Fancy and Dancy!
The scent on this one is a lot like all the other ones we've looked at: faint. The color is a bit brighter than either Yuengling or Sam Adams' offerings, and it generated a bit more head when poured, but not a ridiculous amount. The flavor is very consistent throughout the quaffing process: what you taste on the first sip is the same taste that lingers in your mouth. The finish is also clean and crisp, but the aftertaste is very bitter...mainly because the main flavor is a lot more bitter. In fact, it tastes a lot like someone drank a Sam Adams Octoberfest and said to themselves "Man, this is good, but it needs a LOT more hops to really make it shine". 

I am not a huge fan of the current trend in "extra hoppy" beers. I actively avoid IPAs of any strength and something like Milwaukee Brewing's "Hoptoberfest" is RIGHT OUT. This is not a huge offender but it is certainly a lot hoppier than I would like. If you like this kind of thing, you'd probably like this beer fairly well. It won't provide that hop shock and awe that seems to be the current trendy thing, but it is a lot more than most Oktoberfest brews I've had. 

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 0 faces. It's well done in presentation, looks good, and drinks well. I could drink a few of these in a long session...if it was a flavor I actually enjoyed. It's not bad, but it isn't anything close to my cup of tea. Tune in tomorrow for a special edition of Okotastoberfest, in honor of the holiday. Muhahahaha!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Kotas Reviews Samuel Adams Octoberfest

It's Day 2 of Okotastoberfest! Today's offering comes to us from the first of the national "craft brewer" brands to hit the mainstream: Samuel Adams. Sammy A here, true to his Southie nature, put out their groundbreaking Boston Lager, and suddenly everyone and their brewmeister mother was attempting to cash in the wild popularity of beer that actually tastes good. They started putting out an Oktoberfest brew in 1989, but it has been a staple of my Fall Beer Selection for many years. Let's take a look!

Note that they spelled Oktoberfest in the inferior American way
The bottle is bright, distinctive yet still very much a Sam Adams bottle. I like this color scheme as it pretty much matches the color of the leaves that fall from my oak trees. Well, most of them. I like Samuel Adams, but it is kind of the dark mirror of Yuengling for me. I strongly dislike their standard Boston Lager, but almost all of their seasonal, special, or otherwise offbeat beers I enjoy quite a bit. In fact, their Black Lager was my go to beer for a while. How will this one stack up? Unlike yesterday, this one's a pop off, so I had to resort to my trusty bottle opener to reveal the secrets within.

The secret is apparently a brownish orange

The color of this beer is pleasing to the eye and nice fall-oriented dark orange and brown concoction. I tend to pour my beers using the "side of the glass" method, so there isn't any head to speak of. The scent is pretty weak actually, with only a hit at the malt goodness. The flavor is very...bursty. You take a sip, but the full thing doesn't hit you until you actually swallow it and then you get an explosion of malt, caramel, and a hint of pumpkin. As quickly as it arrives, it fades leaving a clean finish and a ghost-like aftertaste that is a pleasant reminder of beers past. 

It's not as bitter as the Yuengling brew and certainly isn't as strong a flavor, though it is strong. Good with a burger, bad with fois gras, if you catch my drift. Not completely overwhelming like the Yuengling, but distinctive. It is certainly more drinkable, but it is more filling than a pilsner or a lager. Comfortable is the word I would use to describe it. I could drink this fairly steadily at a party and be pretty happy. 

On the FACE Rating System, Sam Adams Octoberfest gets a solid 2 smiley faces. If you like beer and haven't tried it, I recommend picking up a 6 pack. If you are throwing a party or bringing beer TO a party, a 12 pack would certainly be welcome at anything I was hosting. What will tomorrow hold? Tune in and find out!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Kotas Reviews Yuengling Oktoberfest

Greetings my loyal readers! The time has come for another October Theme Week! Now, what could be more October-y than Oktoberfest? Well, just about everything, given that it usually takes place in September, but that's not the important thing! What IS more important is the wide variety of seasonal beers that become available around this time! I enjoyed Cereal Monsters Week so much, I decided to do it again, only this time with something that gets me drunk. Welcome, to Okotastoberfest! 

For today's entry, we hearken back to an old standby, Yuengling. Billing itself as America's Oldest Brewery, Yuengling burst onto the, uh, regional scene from its local brew roots in Pennsylvania a few years back. Of all the domestic beers, this one is probably my favorite, and is my go to beer for everyday drinking. This year, for whatever reason, they seem to have released an Oktoberfest version. How does it hold up? 
At least it is in a brown bottle. Green bottles suck!
I've found that Yuengling beers outside their staples of Lager and Black & Tan to be very hit or miss with me. I think their Porter is okay, but that "Lord Chesterton Ale" is very, very meh. They also price their non-staple beers more like the mass market craft beers, which is to say "$3 more than the usual price". I wasn't super thrilled with that, but hey, Science or something. Let's pop (well, unscrew, since it's a screw top) this bad boy open!

This is my non-schamcy glass

The scent is essentially that of standard Yuengling products, which is to say, not very strong. It's got a nice basic malt odor with overtones of hops and a hint of something...maybe pumpkin, maybe just extra malt. The scent would probably be heavier if I used an actual beer glass, but eh, roll with what you know. Not much head on the beer, but I'm gonna call that a good thing. 

The taste is pretty good, with a nice shock of malt and a bit of hoppy aftertaste. It bubbles on the tongue a bit in a fairly pleasant sort of way. It is rather more on the bitter side of beer than some, but it doesn't have a heavy sourness to make it taste bad like some really bitter beers can do, and the finish is pretty clean. It tastes a lot like a bit more bitter version of their standard Lager.

All that said, it's pretty heavy on the mouth feel. This is a beer that takes all other flavors around it and says "Nein! Ve shall haf none of zat now!" so it wouldn't go good with any food that has any flavor south of "Bold". It sits in the stomach, and is not something I could quaff with any sort of regularity. One or two of these, and I'm full. It's also not particularly distinct from their standard Lager, though you can tell it is different. I just don't know if it's different enough to justify the price difference. 

On the FACE Rating System, I give this beer 0 faces. It's not a bad beer by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not a particularly great beer either. If you get a chance to try it, say at a party or as part of a variety pack I'd give it a whirl, but I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to acquire it. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Kotas Reviews Fruity Yummy Mummy

Welcome to Day 5 of Monster Cereals Week! Today we unwrap the mystery of the final Monster Cereal, the mysterious and yet still incredibly silly Fruity Yummy Mummy! Fruity Yummy Mummy is the latecomer to the Monster Cereal party, debuting in 1988 and being discontinued in 1993. It was General Mills' second attempted at a generic "fruit flavored" cereal and replaced Frute Brute in the line up, if only briefly. Again, this is one I missed out on as a kid, usually because my cereal tastes by that point were growing up, as was I. It was originally a fruit-flavored cereal with vanilla marshmallows, but the current incarnation is the surprising choice of orange creme flavored. Will it curse us for disturbing its rest? Let's find out!

What's wrong with your faaaaaaaace?
Clearly, Ancient Fruity Egypt did not have much of a dental plan. Look at that thing! I've never seen a mono-tooth before. And check out the shoddy workmanship on the wrappings of the forehead! Coming loose like that is unacceptable! Anyway, the mascot isn't terrible. It's a cartoon mummy with multicolored wrappings and pretty much is what I imagined when I heard the phrase "Fruity Yummy Mummy". He's also the only Cereal Monster able to function at full capacity in sunlight, which explains why it is dawn on his box. Artificial Orange Cream Flavor is not what I would have chosen for my cereal, but I don't have a Fungineering degree. 

50 (well, 5) Shades of Reddish Colors!
The cereal pieces are a lot brighter than I was expecting after the Boo Berry debacle. They are red and orange, rather than the red and yellow of Frute Brute. The marbits are a bit boring in shape, with all of them either the generic "monster head" or just formless blobs, but the colors of orange and yellow are a welcome sight. The marbit density appears to be much higher than in any of the other fruit flavored Monster Cereals. Maybe this was just the lucky box! The cereal definitely smells of artificial orange cream, but the scent is not as strong as on Frute Brute. 

It's like a marker factory exploded into food
This was certainly an orange cream flavored cereal. It actually tastes like that, even if it is the fakey flavor you get from, well, every orange cream flavored thing ever. It is not a super strong flavor, but it is distinct and the marbits give a shock of flavor similar to Boo Berry. The difference is that it actually works in the cereal's favor. The Dry Run isn't bad, about on par with Frankenberry, but the Gold Standard? Wow, that orange cream flavor is very noticeable but not overwhelmingly so. The high marbit density means that each bite tastes pretty darn good, rather than a wasteland of awful punctuated by berry-ish "not badness". The cereal does degrade faster in milk than Count Chocula or Frankenberry, but gosh darn it, I still like it. The Aftermath is still a bit disappointing, though the milk was at least orange cream scented this time. I think I actually like this!

On the FACE Rating Scale I'd give this 2 smiley faces. It actually accomplishes what it set out to do in making an orange cream flavored cereal. Now, if you don't like orange cream (and I get that not everyone does) this is totally not the cereal for you, but if you do like it, give it a whirl. 

Thus concludes the glory of Monster Cereals Week! Hopefully I'll be able to do more Theme Weeks in the future, as I had a lot of fun with this, despite the boxes of leftover cereal. I have to say, Count Chocula still stands above the rest as my favorite of the five, but Fruity Yummy Mummy comes in as my next favorite. Frankenberry is probably better for people crazy about strawberry flavoring. The worst of them is probably Boo Berry, simply because it was all around awful, which I think is due to the current formulation. Frute Brute was just a shocking failure in the flavor department, even though it looked and smelled so good, which summoned the Twin Dragons of Disappointment: Excitement and Expectation. See ya'll next time!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kotas Reviews Boo Berry

Welcome to Day 4 of Monster Cereals Week! Today we explore the world of the only incorporeal cereal mascot around, the groundbreaking Boo Berry! Boo Berry was released shortly after Count Chocula and Frankenberry made their debut, and was the third Monster Cereal. It was also the world's first blueberry flavored cereal, and I think it may be the only blueberry flavored cereal that's still around...if it's still flavored like blueberries. I remember this being fairly decent...if you like blueberries of course...when I was a kid. Let's take a peek into this spooky world of revisionism!

His eyebrows will haunt you forever
This mascot is definitely the hipster of the bunch, I mean, look at that HAT! And who wears a tie anymore? Does he have to go to the ghost formal? Is there a ghost office job where he files ghost paperwork and downs three ghost martini lunches? OH MAN. HE'S THE GHOST OF DON DRAPER! THIS EXPLAINS SO MUCH! Still, he's got a certain style about him, definitely the most fashionable of the Cereal Monsters. Like Frute Brute, this is "Artificial Berry Flavor Frosted Cereal"...which means it probably tastes nothing like blueberries, because "berry" is a very generic term. I mean, it's not something completely made up like "Sharkleberry" or "Purplesaurus Rex", but it never actually tastes like anything nature produced.

I've got...only a tiny amount of the bluuuuuuues...
The cereal pieces are a deep, dark purple-ish color that is pretty much Not The Blue I was Expecting, and the marbits are the same colors as in Frankenberry. Same shapes too. Way to be a copycat, Boo Berry. Couldn't even use a proper shade of blue, had to go with "ugly purple" eh? Well, I guess we all have to make compromises in these tough times. The smell is definitely artificial berry-ish, though it is not very strongly scented, which is surprising. How does it taste?

It's not really all that appealing looking as something to eat
Well, it tastes stronger than Frute Brute, I'll give it that, though it is not exactly a high bar to leap over. The Dry Run was okay, I guess. It doesn't really taste like blueberries, but it does have a berry-ish flavor for the cereal pieces and the marbits. Where the surprises came in with this one was during the Gold Standard. I don't know what the deal is, but milk changes the flavor profile a LOT. It dampens the flavor of the cereal bits (though not to nothing), but it makes the marbits' taste much more acute. The effect is to give a mild berry flavor punctuated by little bursts of stronger flavor. I suppose the effect is kind of like eating blueberries in other, better cereals. That may be too much thought into it. The odd thing is...after some time in milk, where the other cereals (even FRUTE BRUTE to the degree that it has flavor) had their pieces stay crunchy and somewhat flavored, this stuff? Not so much. The pieces become soggy and lose a LOT of their flavor. I thought this might make the Aftermath better, and while it does have a hint of berry scent, the milk is pretty much flavorless. Odd.

Overall, on the FACE Rating System, I give Boo Berry 1 frownie. I've never had a particular desire to seek out a blueberry (or just "berry") flavored cereal, but if I did, this would not satisfy. It does have more flavor (at least until it sits in milk for a while) than Frute Brute, but the lack of visual appeal and oh so sad milk sturdiness leave it behind the other, better executed cereals. I'm gonna say it: I think it was better when I was a kid.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Kotas Reviews Frute Brute

Welcome to Day 3 of Monster Cereals Week! Today we examine a beast that hasn't been seen in over three decades, the mysterious Frute Brute! Some fun facts about Frute Brute. First, it was originally called Fruit Brute when it was first released, and purported to be "fruit flavored cereal with key lime marshmallows". The current incarnation changes the spelling, presumably to conform to whatever regulations there are about naming something "Fruit" when that something contains little to no actual fruit. It also changes the flavorings. This is a "cherry flavored cereal with spooky-fun marshmallows". How does it stack up? Well, let's take a look!

Is it just me, or does he sport an Elvis style this go around?
The mascot himself is...uh...kind of uninspired. He's pretty much any old generic cartoon werewolf with some green overalls on. I liked the original incarnation with the jaunty hat much better. Still, he's on theme and the art work IS well done. Huh, I just noticed that the same damn castle is on each of the boxes. I guess that is where they all live? Why would a werewolf live in a castle? Oh, and this is "Artificial Cherry Flavor Frosted Cereal". That does not inspire confidence. I don't know much about how this tasted when I was a kid, because they stopped making it before I had any say in what I ate for breakfast. I'm told that Knoxville favorite son Quentin Tarantino is a HUGE fan of it though.

No monochromatic color schemes in sight!

It's nice to finally see some risks being taken with this cereal. We have double the number of colors for the cereal pieces and marbits in purple, pink, and orange! The red ghost pieces are a "more different red" than the Frankenberry ones, and the yellow ones are a nice contrast. Not pictured is the rare "orange" piece that I found after these pictures were taken, clearly the result of dye cross contamination. The marbits were all in the "monster head" shape (or maybe just blob shaped) so that was a bit of a step back. This stuff has a very, VERY strong smell of artificial cherry flavoring, what in my youth I would call "red flavor". Let's see how it tastes!

Will it live up to the hype? You make the call!


Sadly, the visual and olfactory portions of the experience are the best part of this giant bowl of disappointment. I didn't expect it to blow me away, but it was simply amazing how little flavor there was, especially after the smell was so strong. The Dry Run was like eating vaguely cherry-ish flavored sugar coated packing peanuts, sprinkled with marbits that tasted like any other "generic" marbit. Not even a hint of cherry flavoring to be had in them thar marbits, let me tell you. The Gold Standard was a little better, with the milk releasing a bit more flavor. That flavor was a very generic fruit-like flavor though, and only sort of resembled the artificial cherry flavors that the smell tantalized us with. Not awful, but certainly not up to the standards of Frankenberry's distinct strawberry taste. The Aftermath left us with very good smelling, but very weak tasting cherry-esque milk. You let me down, Frute Brute. You let Tarantino down. You let all the fans out there in Internet Land down. 

On the FACE Rating System, I give this 1 frownie face. It would have been lower, but the cereal looks great and it was nice to see a bit more visual variety in this incarnation. Too bad the taste couldn't keep up with the sight and the smell. I mean, if it's called Frute Brute, I expect the flavor to hit me in the taste like, well, like a Brute. Let's hope your predecessor Boo Berry can do better!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kotas Reviews Frankenberry

Welcome to the second day of Monster Cereals week! Yesterday we took a gander at the snazziest breakfast vampire to ever hawk cereal. Today, we look at his oft-misunderstood counterpart, Frankenberry!

Made with Whole Grains! And LIGHTNING!
As a wee lad, I never appreciated Frankenberry as much as Count Chocula. Most fruit-flavored cereals of my day focused on multiple fruits (Froot Loops, Fruity Pebbles, Fruity Marshmallow Krispies, etc.), so a "single fruit" cereal was somewhat rare. Also, I wasn't that big into "pink" for the color of my breakfast. As time passed I came to appreciate this stuff a bit more, especially the design for good old Frank. I mean, look at him! Built in goggles, a random gauge on his head, a whistle...could Frankenberry be the first Steampunk mascot?

Frankenberry was always portrayed in the commercials as the more fun loving of the Cereal Monsters, up for any old shenanigans so long as he got to deliver his cereal to kids. Huh, it sounds a lot creepier when you put it that way. Anyway, it's claim to fame cereal-wise was that it was a SHOCKING color of pink. The original pink coloration was some pretty nasty stuff, being nigh indigestible for a lot of kids and leading to some worried calls to doctors before they switched recipes. Let's look at the modern incarnation.

Yeah, not very pink is it? I left out a marbit that IS pink, but other than that? Not much pink to be hand in this strawberry cereal. The ghost pieces are more a dark red, and the marbits come in purple, white, blue, and pink. They are shaped like ghosts, bats, and "monster heads" maybe. It carries an unmistakable "totally fake strawberry" scent that you usually only smell when eating really cheap strawberry-ish candy. I will say that it is unlike any other fruit flavored cereal I've eaten.

No pink to be found in this sad lie of a bowl
Unlike Count Chocula, the cereal pieces do not have a strong strawberry flavor. It's there, but it sort of shares the spotlight with that generic corn cereal taste. The marbits on the other hand are incredibly strongly flavored of artificial strawberry. Did you ever get a Strawberry Crunch Good Humor bar? Yeah, it tastes almost exactly like the strawberry ice cream you find in those. 

The Dry Run of this cereal is decent. The flavor is not nearly as strong as with Count Chocula, though the marbits are certainly more noticeable in the mix. It retains the milk-defying properties of the Count, so the Gold Standard tastes pretty good. The milk adds a nice dairy contrast to the fake strawberry taste, and again, the Aftermath is a crushing disappointment. Where Count Chocula at least had a bit of chocolate flavor, this has almost none. Frankenberry is not one to easily give up its secrets, even to the awesome power of 2% milk!

On the FACE Rating System, this one gets 1 smiley face. I like it as a change of pace from Count Chocula, but it will never be my "go to" Monster Cereal. I do like the mascot though, and think he adds some interest to the marketing. Tomorrow we have a Howling Good Time with our recently returned buddy...FRUTE BRUTE!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Kotas Reviews Count Chocula

Hey everyone, it's the middle of October! Do you know what that means? It means the MONSTER CEREALS ARE BACK! What's that? You don't know what the Monster Cereals are? Let me tell you! So, years and years ago (1971 to be exact, thanks Wikipedia!), General Mills decided that a series of monster themed breakfast cereals might be a big hit. They were right, mostly. Very, VERY loosely based on the Classic Universal Monsters, the Cereal Monsters are (in order of appearance): Count Chocula, Frankenberry, Boo Berry, Fruit (or Frute in the modern incarnation) Brute, and Fruity Yummy Mummy. They are some of the most processed, sugary, terrible for you cereals known to human kind. And I love them So. Very. Much!

Today's review will be the first in a series as I eat my way through all five current incarnations of our lovable teeth rotting monstrosities who want nothing more than for you to enjoy their delightfully artificial cereal products. Part of a balanced breakfast...if that breakfast consists of a head of lettuce and maybe a piece of fruit.

The first victim entry is the one with the most longevity: Count Chocula. He was one of the very first Monster Cereals (along with Frankenberry) to emerge from their devilish slumber and was the last one to still be available all the year round (until 2010, when all the Cereals went seasonal). Let us examine our subject!

I vant to be in marketing!

As you can see, the current box art is pretty snazzy, even if it does go with that "way to close to the camera" perspective so popular with Hollywood these days. He's creepy and he's cooky, but not particularly terrifying. Which is probably pretty good considering you want your kids to BUY your vampire themed cereal. He also does not sparkle in sunlight, which is a plus.

When I was a kid, Count Chocula was always my favorite, as I absolutely loved chocolate flavored cereal. I also happen to be a fan of tiny marshmallows (or marbits as the cereal aficionados call them). In the olden days, the cereal pieces were round wheel shaped things, and the marbits were just little TicTac looking things. But now? BEHOLD.


The cereal pieces are spooky ghosts! And the marbits? Well, they are uh...I think that's a bat...and that might be a spooky ghost..thing. And a blob. Or maybe another ghost? Whatever, they are certainly bigger than in the old days. "Spooky-fun Marshmallows" indeed. This stuff smells like Lucky the Leprechaun and Sonny the Cuckoo Bird crammed their respective cereals together and THIS is the result.

Part of this know what? Screw it.

It's pretty attractive in the bowl, with good visual appeal. The old stuff was sort of generic looking breakfast cereal, but with the current shapes it actually feels like a MONSTER cereal, or at least a Halloween themed one. The cereal pieces taste a lot like Cocoa Puffs, but coated in this sugary substance that adds a bit of extra sweetness (and durability in milk). The marbits taste vaguely chocolatey, but otherwise like any other marbit from a cereal.

There are three stages to sugary kids cereal tasting: The Dry Run, where you eat the cereal without milk, The Gold Standard, which is cereal and milk together, and the Aftermath, which is how the leftover milk tastes when you are done. The Dry Run of Count Chocula is pretty tasty, and I would (and do) totally eat this stuff as a snack or dessert sans dairy.

Unlike a lot of kids cereals (The Pebbles line is particularly notorious), it does not completely disintegrate in milk, so the first bite is only a bit drier than the final bite during the Gold Standard experience. The Aftermath however, is a mild disappointment. You see, I'm used to cereals like Cocoa Puffs and Cocoa Rice Krispies, which turn your milk into a yummy after breakfast treat. This? Well, the milk DID pick up some cocoa flavor, but it was really weak and kind of sad. I suspect the sugary stuff that coats the pieces prevents flavor leeching, so I suppose it is an okay trade off.

Overall, I give this 2 Smileys on the FACE Rating System. It is probably one of my top cereal brands of all time, though it isn't good enough to rate number one. The Count himself is one of the most personable mascots ever, in that fun-loving spooky (but not really scary) kind of way. Tomorrow, we examine his direct counterpart, Frankenberry!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kotas Reviews the Russell Stover Caramel Apple

It's October, and you know what that means! Oktoberfest beers, funky candy, and Halloween Costumes! We here at Kotas Reviews Everything find that this is a fruitful time to harvest many, many reviews, and it is only fitting to start the month off with a review of candy.
Om Nom Good?
Our Subject For Today
Today's experiment is the Russell Stover Caramel Apple confection, presented to me by a co-worker who shares my obsession with themed candy. The packaging is nothing special, your typical Russell Stover "large piece" candy wrapper with a picture of the treat on the outside, and a cartoon font "Caramel Apple" under which is written "Naturally Flavored". This is Russell Stover, folks. Naturally Flavored by horrible chemicals is more it's bag, even if those chemicals are strangely addicting.

The picture on the front of the wrapper is, in fact, an accurate picture. You get a vaguely apple shaped..disc? Wafer? Something apple shaped and flat, made of milk chocolate, and drizzled with dark chocolate. My co-worker claims it tastes exactly like a caramel apple. Is she right? Well, sort of. The first bite IS almost exactly like a caramel apple, you know, one of the ones with a huge layer of caramel and chocolate on it? That first bite is essentially nothing but chocolate and caramel and a hint of apple flavor, and this candy accurately reconstructs that flavor for your enjoyment. However, that is all it does. It does not taste very strongly of apple, just a hint of it in the caramel that does not linger on the tongue.

Honestly, it tastes pretty good, all caramel and chocolate-y goodness, but I was disappointed in the lack of strong apple flavor. It's not bad, but I've had better. On the FACE Rating System, I give it 1 Smiley. Good effort, and I might choose it over other candies, but it could use better packaging and more apple flavor.

Post Script

It apparently also comes in a variety with peanuts, though it is probably not worth reviewing that separately.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Kotas Reviews RWBY

So, I watch a LOT of Internet videos. I watch videos that review bad movies, bad comics, pop songs, nostalgic things, video games, and sometimes even action figures. I watch videos that portray insane science fiction, talk about board games, and even just people playing a video game. One of my favorite sites to watch videos on is the Rooster Teeth site, home of Red vs. Blue, the Gauntlet, and today's review topic, RWBY.

RWBY (pronounced Roo Bee, you know, like the gemstone) is perhaps the most anime-ist thing that I've watched in a long time. The story opens with some very stylized artwork and a voice over that tells us what the deal is in this world. Seems the world is full of horrible, soulless critters collectively known as The Grim (as opposed to the Gloom, the Grump, and the Gaga) that used to dominate everything. With the "rise of human kind" however they saw a threat and went to "chew our asses to pieces". Humans, being the resourceful assholes that we are, countered this with our use of tools and a substance known as Dust, which grants magical powers and abilities. This Dust comes in powder form (naturally) and in the form of crystals, and can apparently be mined. Using the magic of Dust, humanity has built itself into a world-spanning power. The creatures of the Grim still haunt the darkened corners, but they are the province of the Hunters and Huntresses, fighters trained to use Dust and Dust-enhanced equipment to, well, Hunt Monsters.

So, what does that leave us with as far as the aesthetics of RWBY? Well, what if Final Fantasy and Harry Potter totally went out, had a few drinks. One thing led to another, and 9 months later you got RWBY. Maybe throw in a dash of Gurren Lagann for the fact that just about every piece of technology in the series runs on the Rule of Cool and you've got a highly stylized, gonzo-tech world. It is a show that takes a few design queues from Steampunk, but then you have airships that look like something out of HALO...which is crazy awesome really. The character designs are heavily anime inspired, but they look like someone played the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and said "You know, I could gussy this up and make a show around it." Cell shading might be a thing, I guess? Still, I LIKE the designs, particularly concerning the gear that all the characters use, but I'll get to that in a bit.

The main character of the show is Ruby Rose (Red Riding Hood inspired). She's a young girl who just graduated top in her fighting academy and has only the desire to help people by becoming a Huntress...and has a fuck all huge scythe/sniper-rifle to back her shit up. In short order all the other characters are introduced: Weiss Schnee, a snooty well trained rich girl with a chip on her shoulder (Snow White inspired), Yang Xiao Long, Ruby's fun-loving upbeat bruiser of a sister (Goldilocks inspired), Blake Belladonna, the quiet, bookish sarcastic girl with the hidden soft spot for Ruby's wacky antics (Belle know, Belle? Beauty and the Beast? Right), Jaune Arc, the clumsy Nevil Longbottom stand in, Nora Valkyrie, best described as the spastic one who will END YOUR SHIT if she decides to, Pyrrha Nikos, the hyper competent yet for reasons unexplained crushing on Jaune one, and Lie Ren...the other boy.

You may conclude that none of these characters is particularly well developed or explored in depth. You would be totally right as well, but the series is only 11 or so episodes long at this point (of a planned 16 for the first half of the first season), and none of them exceed 10 minutes long. But you know what? It is not always the originality of the characters that makes a show, but the quality of the presentation.

Monty Oum, the lead animator, was recruited by the Rooster Teeth guys for their Red vs. Blue show. Why? Because of the kind of amazing _Haloid_ video, which is a mashup of Halo and Metroid. You can watch it here. It's a bit dated at this point, and, well, a bit "fanservice-y" but the really fun fight choreography along with animation ability is what got Monty where he is today. The man can show some really interesting fight scenes, even if they can be a little too herky jerky sometimes.

RWBY lives and dies by it's crazy fights and I find them very entertaining to watch. The concept of the Grim-tainted creatures helps easily identify each "type" of enemy that is fought, and each character has incredibly distinctive gear. I've already mentioned the scythe/sniper-rifle, but there is also the javelin/long rifle, the submachine-gun/kama, the sword/whip/pistol, the elementally enhanced rapier, the blunderbus/battle-axe, the armored gauntlet/shotguns, and my personal favorite, the Maul/Grenade Launcher, which I refer to as the Boomhammer. Are you seeing the theme here? Dust-powered gear gives everyone the ability to do "Crazy Matrix Shit", and of course it is put together in some very elaborate fights. Monty Oum seems somewhat obsessed by the idea of using a shotgun to enhance melee attacks as well as a device to aid in movement, and while it is completely works in the context of the show. It's just good old ridiculous fun.

On the FACE Rating Scale, RWBY gets one smiley face. It is a little TOO stereotypically anime-ish at times, and the heavily stylized artwork might be distracting for some, but I love the look of the gear and the crazy nature of the fight scenes. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kotas Reviews Papers, Please

It's Indie Game Review Time again! Today we are looking at the indie game sensation that is sweeping...uh, something. This is the kind of game that I can honestly say I never expected to see made. Let me put it this way, if I told you I wanted to make a game about the exciting world of being an immigration officer reviewing the documents of those trying to enter your country, would you even give me the time of day? No? Right, well let's take a look at Papers, Please, the game that is about JUST THAT.

In Papers, Please you are a citizen of the fictional country of Arstotzka, and you are the "lucky" winner of the job lottery to become the newest immigration border officer. Each day you enter your station, open the window, and begin processing the paperwork of those trying to enter into Arstotzka. For each person you process, you are awarded 5 Arstotzkian credits, which you then use to pay the daily rent on your Grade 8 living quarters, along with food, heat, medicine, and other essential items for your family (wife, son, uncle, mother-in-law). Make any mistakes, and you get a citation (from the presumably better and automated Second Immigration Post just behind YOURS). After 2 citations in a day, you start to rack up penalties to your pay. Doesn't this just SCREAM excitement and adventure?

The gameplay goes something like this: Every day you wake up, read the state news organ paper to see what is going on in the world. Then you get to see your little person walk into "the booth" at the top of the screen. You receive the days instructions (only Arztotzkians can enter, anyone can enter, anyone can enter but they need a ticket, etc), and then you click the button to open the booth. Then you click the speaker to shout "Next". The would be entrant shows up, passes you their papers, and a little dialog about what they are doing commences via text boxes. You then have to determine if their papers are correct: Do they have all the right papers? Is their passport from the right issuing country and city? Is it expired, incorrect, or from a denied entry country? Once you've made a determination, you stamp it red (DENIED) or green (ACCEPTED), hand them back their papers, shoo them out, and call for the next person. Do this until the day ends, and you see how you did that day, and if your family gets to eat food or not.

The tools you are given are kind of annoying to use, as in keeping with the oppressive theme. To check the documents for accuracy (apart from the obvious stuff like marked "M" for gender when they are female), you have to open up the rulebook. To do this, you have to drag it to the document viewer, then open up the page to the right place. If you see a problem, you have to enter "Examination" mode. As the game progresses, you get more tools such as an interrogate option, a full body scanner, and my personal favorite, the DETAIN button, which sends the person off with little 8-bit silhouette guards to the execution grounds holding station. I'm sure they will be fine.

The graphics are muddy, grimy, and extremely low resolution, but it adds to the atmosphere of grinding totalitarianism. I admit I was absolutely shocked with the "full body scanner" option returned back fully nude (8-bit nudity is still nudity...terrible, terrible nudity) pictures, though there is an option to turn that off. Still, it's kind of...depressing and grungy. The soundtrack is a brooding dirge of a theme song, and no music at all during actual gameplay. The sound effects are what you would expect, with my personal favorite being the pseudo-gibberish that plays when you click the "NEXT" speaker. 

Essentially, this is a puzzle/detective game where you examine evidence and interview people to figure out who they are and if they belong there. Sometimes you find out they are concealing weapons (and then off they go with the DETAIN button). Sometimes they've spelled their name wrong, but otherwise check out. Sometimes they just don't have the right paperwork. Many of them have sob stories (I'm escaping an even MORE oppressive country, my wife and I are going to retire together, etc) and you play a small but important part in a thousand tiny stories. For example, at one point a man presents his papers and babbles on happily about how he and his wife are escaping a terrible place to start a glorious new life. He has the right papers. His wife however, who is right behind him, does NOT. Do you let her through anyway, and receive a citation? Or do you do what I did, and send her away without entry because she didn't have a ticket and you couldn't afford to get any more citations so that Little Billy could get his medicine? Do you merely deny someone entrance for trying to use a fake name, or do you have them hauled away?

Sometimes the booth is closed early due to a terrorist attack, which you can view through a little window at the top of the screen. The newspapers will occasionally inform you of weird stuff going on. For example, a notorious murderer escapes "some other country", and he shows up at the booth, using his real name. His papers checked out, so I let him in. Turns out, he murdered 3 more people in the new country. Oops. The first couple of days I was getting used to the controls, so I didn't manage to process the 9 people/day I needed to keep the heat on and food on the table, so after burning through our meager savings my son, uncle, and mother-in-law are all dead. On the plus side, I'm much better at processing people faster so my sick wife might actually live. The world of this game feels very much alive, but filtered through the perspective of this single cog in the glorious Arztotzkian machine, who is just trying to get through the day. It helps that the puzzle solving is also fun for me, though I don't know if it will be everyone's cup of tea. 

Overall, this is Sim Paper Pushing, but it is very heavy on the atmosphere and world building and has lots of quirky, depressing charm. If you had told me I would enjoy a paperwork simulator this much, I'd have laughed at you, but there you go. On a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces, Papers, Please gets a solid 2 smileys. And hey, it's $10. You should totally try out this game.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Kotas Reviews the Nexus 7 2nd Generation

For my wife’s birthday, I bought her a Nexus 7 (2nd Generation). I got it early, during a “tax free” shopping weekend, because I like to support local businesses when I can. Like my last tablet review, I’ve given it at least a week to get used to it, and see how it works. I got the 32GB model because Asus is notorious for using somewhat questionable parts for storage in their “basic” tier gear. Besides, it can’t hurt to have more storage, now can it?

TL;DR: This tablet is the bee’s knees of 7 inch Android tablets, with an amazing screen and robust software. It has its quirks, but nothing that would prevent someone from using it. Now, for the more detailed review.

First Impressions

The Google branded packaging is pretty nice, and for once it was easy to get open (unlike SOME retail packaging). You don’t get much in the box, just a set of quick start instructions, power cord and wall adapter, and the tablet. The Nexus 7 is surprisingly light and thin, with thicker bezels at the top and bottom than along the edges (when held in portrait orientation). What does this mean? It means I can hold the damn thing one handed, though using the touch screen one handed is much more difficult. It is possible though, which is a plus from my aging Asus Transformer Prime. The back has a really nice surface to touch. Smooth, but with enough uh...grip to mitigate any fears of it slipping easily out of your hand.The tablet feels good in the hand, but it does seem a little fragile, if only because it is very, very thin. It’s a well built piece of technology.

Initial Setup

Initial setup was as straightforward as I remembered it on my other Android tablet, though since I have two factor authentication turned on I needed to use the “web login” to complete the setup. A minor hitch at best. Gmail, G+, Hangouts, etc. all “just worked”. It even came mostly charged, and it connected to my wireless network without issue.


It comes with stock Android 4.3 and my oh my is this a leap from 4.1 (I haven’t used 4.2). Hands down, my favorite feature is multiple user accounts. I have an account, and Charlotte has an account, and switching between the two is as easy as going ot the lock screen and back. We don’t have any sort of restrictions on the accounts, but there is an option to set up a “limited access” account. I’m sure that will be handy when Sylvia wants to play Angry Birds. The other big change for me is a “favorites” bar kind of area. No matter which “desktop” you are on, this bar exists. No more having to swipe around trying to remember where you put your email app launch icon.

The system settings now swipe down from the top, rather than having to tap a corner, and that’s pretty cool. The settings panel is a bit nicer, but not much has changed here. It’s very workable. The screen is an absolute joy to behold. Seriously it is very sharp, and way outshines the screen on my Transformer Prime.


The default software is what you’d expect: all the Google apps you’d expect (Gmail, G+, Hangouts, etc.), and even Google Keep, which I don’t know if I will use or not. I’m not big on note-taking apps, so probably not, but hey, it’s there. For someone who sold himself to Google years ago, the default software is fine. Web browsing is handled with Chrome. I haven’t bothered with any other browser on this device, but it works good. The new Google Keyboard for screen typing is a nice improvement over the old one and even has some Swype-esque features. Google Play is there in all its glory, and all my previously purchased or downloaded apps were available for me to install.


I haven’t done a lot of serious work on this tablet, but the responsiveness is really, really solid. I haven’t seen one instance of stutter, slowdown, or other hiccup. It is also nice and bright, and while others have complained of dead pixels, I haven’t seen any. Unlike a lot of tablets, this one actually has stereo speakers, on the “top and bottom”, and they can get surprisingly loud.

The rear facing certainly a camera. It works about as well as any other tablet camera I’ve used, though the lack of flash is somewhat disappointing. Still, it gets the job done. The 4.3 camera app is weird, but once I got used to it, it works pretty well.

I was excited to test the wireless performance vs. the Transformer Prime, and at first I was pretty disappointed. It was better, but only a tiny bit better rather than the significant performance increase I saw between the Prime and my old Asus netbook. After a little poking around on the Intarwebs, I saw some posts indicating that NFC could be interfering with the wireless reception, so I turned it off. This did improve things to a solid level, but my netbook outshines both tablets for whatever reason. It is much less of an issue now that I’ve bought a powerline Wireless extender, which gives me wireless throughout the entire house, but I can still see a difference between my Prime and the Nexus 7. All in all, it’s perfectly serviceable.

Battery life is pretty good, though I’ve not done any formal testing. If one is good about turning off the wireless, it will go a good while between charges, and even under fairly regular use it only needs charging every 3 to 4 days. Charlotte uses it for reading, browsing, checking email, and watching TED talks and hasn’t complained.

Browsing seems fast, certainly faster than on my Prime for whatever reason, though Flash is no longer a thing without resorting to side loading. Honestly, I haven’t missed it and reading web comics from the comfort of my bed is a fine way to wind down an evening. Apps seem to be quicker to react too, except the Kindle App which has always been slow for whatever reason. Eh, it works.


I am very impressed with this tablet. The screen is the best one I’ve ever seen, at least as nice as the “Retina” screen on the current generation of iPads, even if it is smaller. I like the 7” form factor a lot more than I thought I would, though I think I still prefer the 10” size for a lot of things. Charlotte can chime in here, but I’m pretty sure she really likes it. Stock Android is a fine experience, and 4.3 is a great way to get into it. The price isn’t bad either ($280 for the 32GB model, $230 for the 16GB model), considering what you get. On a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces, I give this a solid 4 smileys.