Learn How to Share

Thursday  August 20, 2009

Picture 18

Let’s face it: sharing music between iPods and even iTunes is a pain in the ass. That was, in part, Apple’s plan: Lay down the law to keep the record companies from going all Metallica on them. So instead of transferring music with abandon, iPods are like selfish children, complete with a USB port. But thanks to the miShare, trading music just got easier—at least a little bit.

The miShare is a palm-sized gadget that lets you share music directly between iPods. Just select your music, move it to the “On-The-Go” playlist, hook up the iPods, switch the miShare to the “music” setting, and hit the button. A playlist called “miShare Playlist” shows up in the receiving iPod’s menu, ready for listening.

The only snag comes when you trade protected (DRM) files, like the ones you download at the iTunes Store. Instead of showing up ready to rock in your iTunes library like free (and possibly ill-begotten) files do, they’ll go to the “disk space” part of your iPod—and can’t be listened to until they’ve been registered for you by the original owner. Sure, it’s a bit of a hassle, but not as much as going to court for piracy.

Despite some initial skepticism, we found the miShare to be pretty solid: It has a sturdy, plastic shell and straight-forward controls, and it transfers files at 500kb per second (that’s roughly six seconds per song, or the entire Run DMC discography in 14 minutes). Plus, in addition to music, it can deal with anything from episodes of 30 Rock to Excel spreadsheets. But if you want to transfer files using an iPhone or an iTouch, the folks at miShare can’t help you—yet.—max plenke
($99.95 at Amazon.com)

GQ Test Drive: 2009 Volkswagen Routan

Wednesday  August 19, 2009

2009_Routan_1

In the spirit of journalistic transparency, I have an admission to make: I've got nothing against minivans. I don’t resent their stodgy utility, their stubby little hoods, or their goofy sliding doors. I don’t even hate their drop-down DVD screens, even though I think they’re as reliable an indicator that America is surely doomed as the existence of the Triple Whopper with Cheese. And I don’t feel sorry for the men I see driving them, even when they peer despairingly past their wash-'n'-wear wives and juice-filled cup holders at that guy in the Challenger SRT-8 with an easy-looking third date riding shotgun.

Maybe I’m not discerning enough, but as a category I have no special prejudice against those sensible, tragically unsexy seven-seaters. And that’s too bad, because the Routan, Volkswagen’s newest people-mover, could provide a (mildly) happy surprise for someone that did. The Routan is VW’s first cross-badge venture—it’s basically a re-branded, slightly re-tuned Chrysler Town & Country—and an attempt on VW’s part to meet ambitious sale quotas, not to mention give them a smallish van to fill the void left by the Microbus (which they hoped to resurrect the way they gloriously did with the Beetle.)

The Routan is no Microbus. It’s not iconic, not groovy, not remarkable in any way. It makes no design statement and invokes little excitement. And so what? A minivan isn’t supposed to turn heads. It’s supposed to carry people, often little people, that have to climb in and out of their sliding side doors and stay put in their seats until further notice. The Routan…is, well, it’s sturdy: a big, sturdy, reasonably cushy seven-seater van. And it may be the best-looking van on the road. It looks like a Chrysler van re-imagined by a sixteen-year-old who really wanted a GTI—which in my mind makes it a tad less maternal (sorry, moms) in its styling than the category's sex pot, the Honda Odyssey.

While the Routon doesn’t have the agility or the tight-gripped feel drivers love VWs for, it’s fairly athletic in its handling, braking, and accelerating for a car that transports a family of four and their three Great Danes. And inside, it certainly doesn’t feel like a family truckster. The Routan I tested had great seats—buttery leather pilot chairs in front, and some elaborately self-folding ones in back; generous windows and a sunroof that could cover Cowboys Stadium. All of which makes the Routan a damn pleasant place to be, as a rider or a passenger.—mark healy

GQ Test Drive: Chevy Camaro

Monday  July 27, 2009

Camaro

It’s kind of fitting that I took my first drive of Chevy’s new Camaro the weekend that GM emerged from bankruptcy and announced its new corporate strategy for not sucking as bad as they used to—apparently it’s something about customers, cars, and culture. But whatever that means, what I know is this: When guys speed up to you on the New Jersey Turnpike just to give you the thumbs-up, that’s a good thing. I’ve never been greeted with more red-blooded "Whoas" and "Holy Shits" in a car before. Sure, when you’re driving anything new, people will look and comment, but in this Camaro people actually ran out of their backyard BBQs to talk to me.

While people are naturally drawn to its bold exterior—really, unless you have girly tastes in cars, there’s nothing not to like about it—Chevy did an awesome job on the interior as well, a place where they’ve fallen short in the past. (Tupperware-esque is an adjective that comes to mind.) You have to love how narrow the windshield is—it’s like looking through a mail slot. See the picture below. I’ve placed a can of Coke on the dash as a height reference. Sure, it limits visibility a bit, but it really makes you feel like you’re driving a muscle car as opposed to a family-mobile. If you want to see over the hood, get a Nissan Cube.

Another interior detail I love: the analog gauges in front of the shifter. It’s an awkward placement, but when was the last time you needed to know your oil temperature right away? I normally frown on things that are unabashedly retro, but it works here because it keeps the instrument cluster behind the wheel clean and simple.

So great work, GM! Keep on not sucking and we'll keep on rooting for you.—kevin sintumuang

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Camaro_interior_dials

GQ Test Drive: The Porsche Panamera

Monday  July 06, 2009

Panamera

You'll be able to read my story about the Porsche Panamera in GQ's September issue, but I had to share something with you now about my test drive in Germany over the weekend because it's changed my automotive worldview.

Like anyone who loves cars, I was looking forward to driving on the Autobahn for the first time—the no-speed-limit stretch of German highway that's the envy of any American with a car that's meant to plow ahead with speed in the triple digits. I beat my previous public-road record of 120mph by easing the Panamera to a smooth 150, but only after I felt comfortable traveling fast enough to get me a jail cell instead of a ticket back home. (Even in a purpose-built speed machine like this Panamera, Autobahn speeds can be a little scary to newbies.) Still, I felt pretty damn proud of getting it up there without, you know, dying. But then I saw a Mercedes E-Wagon trailing and subsequently passing another journalist in a Panamera who I later found out was traveling at 160mph. Apparently, my 150 is only considered kind of, sort of fast here in Bavaria. I was a little crushed on the inside.

And then, during a particularly curvy, mountainous, non-Autobahn section of this drive, I found myself barely keeping up with a tiny 2.0 liter VW Polo (it's smaller than our VW Golf.) "Is Mario Andretti driving that thing?" I thought. Nope. When I finally caught up—at a stop sign—I saw the long brown hair. It was just your average female German driver.

The old saying is true: It's not the car, it's the driver. Germans, lucky for them, have the best of both.—kevin sintumuang

A Not-So Shiny Future

Tuesday  June 23, 2009

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Black_matte_porsche_frontview

GQ's authority on all things auto, Kevin Sintumuang, keeps telling me that matte finishes on cars are the next big thing. But until I'd got to Milan, I'd never actually seen one on the road. And then, two nights ago, there in the parking lot at the Bulgari Hotel, was a matte-black Ferrari (very cool), a matte-black Porsche 911 (very Mad Max), and a two-tone, baby-and-navy-blue Ferrari (very questionable). I'm psyched to see some examples of this trend back in the States, but something tells me it might be a while till GM and Chrysler jump on it.—a.r.

Black_matte_ferrari

Road Test: Nissan Cube

Monday  June 01, 2009
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It looks like a milk truck from a Pixar film, but the Nissan Cube is actually what you’d call a city car—which, if you’re a New Yorker like me, is a bit of an oxymoron. Have you heard of taxis? But after driving the geometric compact around for a week, I learned exactly what that means. It means being able to fold down the rear and passenger seats to fit two Ikea Poäng chairs, explore the subwayless reaches of Brooklyn with four adult companions, and return from a New Jersey Costco run with enough laundry detergent to outlast the current recession. These are things that can’t be achieved on the F train.

Yes, in spite of its traffic-busting narrowness and street-parking-friendly length, the Cube can handle tasks usually reserved for full-size wheels. With its massive headroom and windows, it’s like driving a greenhouse. You move a little slower, not because of the four-cylinder engine (which is surprisingly zippy) but because it’s nice to gaze out the giant windows and observe things you’d miss while driving another car, like how that cabbie can eat a salad and steer at the same time—not to mention stare quizzically at your ride. (Like the Mini, this box on wheels is good-looking but perhaps a little too cute.)

While the Cube will transport you to point B in a timely enough fashion, it mostly wants you to be comfortable with point A. The Jacuzzi-like swoop of the dash, the ripple design on the ceiling—it’s a Zen-like second living room for cramped urbanites. And while it’s a look that might feel dated in a few short years, for now it’s proof that a space you love, even in the city, shouldn’t have to come at a premium.—kevin sintumuang

GQ's Top 5 Casual Games at E3 2008

Monday  July 28, 2008

GQ's Top 5 Casual Games at E3 2008

The Electronic Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as E3, is a mid-July orgy of nerdiness in downtown Los Angeles where video-game companies showcase what we’ll be playing in the months and years to come. The games at this year’s E3 were, as usual, filled with first-person shooters and post-apocalyptic action-adventure games. But it was also a big week for ‘casual games’—i.e., video games for people who aren’t hardcore players, but who like to play more socially. So if Pac Man is more your type of game than Gears of War, then here are the five you can—and should—pick up and play in the not-too-distant future.

1. Rock Band 2 (Xbox 360)
Release date: September 2008

A few days after it was announced that the first track from Guns N’ Roses’ perpetually-upcoming album Chinese Democracy would make its debut on Rock Band 2, rival music game Guitar Hero World Tour (scheduled to come out this fall) boasted that two Jimi Hendrix tracks would be featured on their sequel. That’s pretty indicative of the direction these two franchises are going. While Guitar Hero seems to be more classic-rock-centric (they recently released a version of the game that was Aerosmith-themed), Rock Band seems to have more up-to-the-moment tastes, and is intent on turning the game into a new platform for music. In the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if singles and albums were released on CD, iTunes, and Rock Band all on the same day. I go back and forth between which game is superior, but in addition to the Chinese Democracy track, Rock Band recently released all of the Pixies’ Doolitle as a download. And I’d take the Pixies over Aerosmith any day.

2. Little Big Planet (PlayStation 3)
Release date: October 2008

If Tim Burton and Pixar took over Super Mario Brothers, it would look something like Little Big Planet. The graphics, while stunningly photo-realistic, are cheeky and disarming—you play as slightly-sinister-yet-cute-looking puppets made out of burlap sacks. At its core it’s a platform game like Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog (actually, its story arc bears a striking resemblance to Super Mario’s—save the princess). But you can also customize your characters and build your own levels. That might sound about as fun as making a PowerPoint presentation, but the user interface is as slick and satisfying to use as the iPhone’s; you’ll find yourself spending hours creating massive levels filled with Rube Goldberg-like machines. It looks like a kids’ game, but the art direction is really more for design-savvy adults. Plus it’s ridiculously simple to play—only two buttons to worry about (yet another old-school Super Mario trait). So if you haven’t played a video game since the early days of Nintendo, you’ll have no problems with this one.

3. Wii Sports Resort (Nintendo Wii)
Release date: Spring 2009

The Wii is continuing its dominance in sports games you can get shamefully sore to with this brand-new collection of simple-yet-addictive physical games like jousting, Frisbee throwing, and jet-skiing. Wii Sports Resort will ship with Wii Motion Plus, a tiny attachment for your Wii-mote that helps read your movements more accurately. The jousting game, while extremely satisfying when you win, gets your temper going when you’re losing—even more so than Wii Boxing. This dude at the Nintendo booth kept chopping at my head and knocking me backwards, digitally; I wanted to give him a decidedly non-digital beat down, with my fists.

4. Madworld (Nintendo Wii)
Release date: 2009

Although only a trailer of this game was shown at E3, those ninety seconds of what looks like The Running Man (the Schwarzenegger flick, not the dance) animated in the style of Sin City and with the comical blood splattering of Kill Bill were enough to convince me that I want to play this game. Bad. This is what the Wii-mote was made for: cutting off limbs with chainsaws, impaling heads with street signs, and whacking people against a board in a game of “Man Darts.” On any other console, this would be considered a more hardcore game, but because these deadly moves probably involve swinging your controller like a bat or making stabbing motions in the air, it makes the humorously bloody good fun accessible to everyone.

5. This is Vegas (Xbox 360)
Release date: 2009

This looked and sounded like a lame gambling simulator—and there is a gaming aspect to it—but it’s actually more of an open-world game, where the protagonist arrives in Vegas by bus with little to no money and makes it his mission to take down a land developer who’s trying to Disney-fy the town. This game is still in its early-development stages, so there’s always a chance it could turn out to be something much less, but I loved the campy Sims-meets-Grand Theft Auto aspects to it. In one of the nightclubs, your mission, in between trying to bust moves on the dance floor to impress women, is to beat up drunken, football-jersey-wearing meatheads who are harassing those women. How chivalrous! When you finish them off, poker chips fly out of their pockets.

How I Learned to (Sorta) Love the Kindle

Monday  February 25, 2008


How I Learned to (Sorta) Love the Kindle

Amazon’s new reading device offers more than 90,000 books—as well as newspapers and magazines—at your fingertips. But can you actually read a Kindle without getting laser surgery? Our resident tech geek, Kevin Sintumuang, boots up and sounds off

Kindle

I wanted to hate the Kindle. The whole idea of electronic books in general annoyed me—just another gadget that solves a problem that doesn’t really exist. I don’t think anyone has ever sat with a book and said, “If only this thing had batteries…”

So when it arrived at the office, I released my preconceived gadget rage upon the angular slab of white plastic: “This thing looks like a Tandy computer from 1982!” “It’s like reading a book on an Etch A Sketch!” “How many whacks with a hammer will it take to destroy it?”

However, I put my hammer aside and decided to spend a few weeks with the Kindle. On the subway. In bed. In the bathroom. Everywhere humans read. And I’m surprised to say it: The Kindle isn’t half bad.

Although its screen is crisper than that of the Sony Reader, the Kindle’s main competitor, its real saving grace is its wireless store. Through a high-speed data network, you have access to more than 90,000 books that you can download for anywhere from $3 to $10. In the airport and want to read The Secret? Bam! Seconds later, you’ve got it. The first chapters are free—which we hope will keep you from buying The Secret.

But my favorite thing about the Kindle? Newspapers you subscribe to are automatically downloaded overnight. I can now get through two papers on my morning commute. In the past, I’d be lucky to get through two sections before retreating in defeat to my iPod, having given up on origami-folding my paper without elbowing people.

Not that there aren’t times when I want to condemn the Kindle to the technology hall of shame. Like before I got used to the black-and-white flash between page turns, or when I accidentally hit the awkwardly placed buttons, or when I tell people it’s $400 and they laugh at me. (Rightly so. I’d pay $150 for it—tops.)

The Kindle excels when you’re traveling—my carry-on is much lighter these days—but the rest of the time I crave the finer, overlooked nuances of good ol’ printed matter. When I get to the office, I still scan the paper. The boldness of headlines and pictures has always been a good indication of what’s important to read; everything on the Kindle has a sameness to it. And while the ADD in me likes being able to carry several half-read books at once on my Kindle, I miss the sense of accomplishment I get as the pages in my right hand grow thinner and thinner as I near the end. That’s a feeling that’s hard to replicate, and even harder to give up.

Kindle is available now from Amazon.com

Illustration by McKibillo

Tuesday  March 27, 2007


My Life with Apple TV

I got my review unit of Apple TV (no "the"—just Apple TV) last Wednesday. We first covered it in January, as part of our 2007 Tech Preview. Yes, I would've been more excited if that anonymous brown box from Cupertino had contained an iPhone, but Apple TV is a close second on the list of gadgets I'm excited about this year—mostly because I find it a little sad to watch episodes of The Office I've downloaded on my tiny laptop, at home.

In a nutshell, Apple TV is a slender, white-and-silver box that that gets the movies, TV shows, and music off your computer and onto your TV wirelessly (or with a wire, if you really want). It can stream all that content from your PC or Mac, plus it has its own 40GB hard drive. So if your girlfriend is borrowing your laptop for the weekend, you won't have to lend her your music library, too.

All of that syncing of content (which can also include photos) is easily managed within iTunes. So if you know how to manage an iPod, you can manage an Apple TV. And the setup is easy. If you're even mildly tech-savvy, you won't need to read the instructions.

I'll spare you a thorough, more technical write-up, since you can cobble together that kind of information from prominent tech blogs and reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. But here are a few easily digestible Apple TV nuggets:

Do I have to buy one?
The iPod changed the way you listen to music. Apple TV is not going to change the way you watch television or movies. It's a nice supplement to a TiVo or your cable provider's DVR and On-Demand programming, but it's not replacing them anytime soon.

So why are you so excited about it?
Because it's fun and easy to use. And if you're like me and have tons of TV shows that you've purchased from the iTunes store, it's nice to be able to incorporate that content into a living-room setting, and not just have it stuck on your laptop and iPod.

The Bottom Line: If you have a lot of stuff on iTunes and a TV significantly larger than your computer monitor, you should consider buying an Apple TV. (And by "stuff on iTunes" I mostly mean video, since there are cheaper, almost-as-good solutions to getting music off your computer and onto your stereo. More on that in a future post.) If you don't satisfy those two criteria, then put the money toward a bigger television. Or an iPhone. I can't wait for that to arrive in the mail.