I always wanted to build a full sized stand up MAME arcade cabinet at home but like many projects it got left on the back burner. So when I stumbled upon an ION iCADE arcade cabinet for iPad ($99.99) while shopping at Future Shop, I couldn’t resist buying one.
The iCADE comes disassembled but putting it together was dead simple and only took 15 minutes. Batteries and all required tools are included and the walls of the arcade cabinet are strong and sturdy. I’m actually very impressed with the build quality of the iCADE. I had a hell of a time furniture shopping recently and had to return several items multiple times due to damages and misperfections, so it’s nice to see that the iCADE is well built and was in perfect condition when I got it home.
The iCADE connects to your iPad via Bluetooth and essentially acts as a Bluetooth keyboard for the device. Pairing the iCADE to my iPad was even easier than putting the cabinet together and within 20 minutes of unpacking the box I had the iCADE built, paired to my iPad, and was playing my first arcade game.
The iCADE is bundled with Atari’s Greatest Hits app which you must download from the App Store. The Atari app includes 1 free game with up to 99 more that you can either purchase individually or buy as a $14.99 bundle for all of them. I bought the $14.99 bundle but quickly found that a lot of the games aren’t exactly my favourites.
While the Atari app was the first app to support the iCADE, ION just recently released an SDK for the iCADE allowing other app developers to include support for the iCADE in their games. We found a list of iCADE compatible games on TouchArcade and noticed one awesome addition, iMAME4all, a free MAME emulator for jailbroken devices so it looks like your iCADE is going to get a lot more use if you don’t mind voiding Apple’s warranty!
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Harmony remote has been driving me up the wall lately. After years of use the entire left side of the remote will no longer register button presses, rendering the remote I shelled out a small fortune for to be quite useless. With my Harmony remote now officially retired, I thought I would explore other options for controlling my entertainment center.
Enter the Griffin Beacon ($79.99), a bluetooth IR blaster that connects to the free Dijit Universal Remote app for iPhone to control your TV and all gadgets connected to it.
Setting up the Griffin Beacon and Dijit app was extremely frustrating. First you must pair each iOS device you wish to connect to it using Bluetooth. The instructions say to press down on the Beacon until a blue light begins to flash and then your devices should begin the Bluetooth pairing process. No such luck! Neither my iPhone nor iPad could detect the Beacon. It turns out that you must press and hold down on the Beacon until the blue light starts flashing really fast, not just at its normal slow pace. 10 minutes wasted!
With my devices now paired, the Dijit app instructed me to download a Griffin Utility app in order to upgrade the Beacon’s firmware. As it was upgrading the Utility app reported that the upgrade failed around a third of the way through the process. Oh great! I hit retry, still no luck. Finally I rebooted my iPhone, pulled the batteries out of Beacon, and gave it one more go. This time the upgrade took and I was ready to start using the Dijit app!
The Dijit app guided me through the process of setting up my TV, DVR, and receiver, and automatically created a “Watch TV” activity. Simple enough! Next I added my Xbox 360 as a device, but there was no option to guide me through creating a “Play Xbox” activity so I had to manually create one. After adding this custom activity and specifying the devices associated with it, I quickly noticed that it did not change to the correct HDMI input on my TV or receiver. I manually added those options in for my “Watch TV” and “Play Xbox” activities and then took a look at the remote display for my new custom activity. Oh great, the remote is blank except for a Power button! It turns out that for all custom activities you must manually lay out your remote layout, which is simple enough to do but very time consuming. 3 hours later I have a “Watch TV”, “Watch Apple TV”, “Play Xbox”, “Play PS3″, and “Play Wii” activity all set up and working exactly how I want. Yes, you read that right — 3 hours! I recall it only taking me about 15-20 minutes to set up my Harmony remote when I first bought it.
(*Note that the Beacon will not turn on or control your PS3 or Wii as they use Bluetooth remotes and not IR. I just set up these activities so everything else would turn on so I could just hit the power button on those game systems.)
So now that I’ve finally got the damn thing set up how does it work? Quite well actually! Individual device remotes work as expected and my custom activities turn on all the right devices, change to the correct inputs, and control each device just how I want them to. The Dijit app even includes TV listings so you can just click on a show in the guide to quickly change to that channel! Netflix is integrated in the app for managing your queue and you can even share your favourite shows on Facebook and Twitter.
Now that the Dijit app is working great on my iPhone, it’s time to set it up on my iPad. Sadly the Dijit app is not a Universal application supporting the iPad at its native resolution, which is a major bummer, but I’m sure proper support for it is coming soon. Setting up Dijit on my iPad was a breeze. Dijit had saved all of my remote data from my iPhone and restored it on my iPad so I did not have to spend another 3 hours setting things up — yay! While the Beacon supports pairing with up to 8 devices, if you want to switch control over from your iPhone to your iPad, you have to press down on the top of the Beacon to get it to connect to another device. This is a little annoying, but hardly a show stopper.
So is the Griffin Beacon worth $79.99? Yes and no. If there are many people in your household and you don’t have an iOS device dedicated to your living room, stick with a Harmony remote. If you’re an Apple fanboy and love doing as much as possible from your phone, the Beacon is cheaper than most Harmony remotes and is quite impressive once set up.
I bought my Harmony remote so my girlfriend at the time would be able to turn on the TV without cursing at me over the number of remotes I had on our coffee table. While the Harmony remote solved that problem, I’m not so sure she’d find the Beacon as easy to use.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Over the weekend HP shocked the tech world by drastically dropping the price of the HP TouchPad to $99 for the 16GB model and $149 for the 32GB model after announcing the discontinuation of their webOS devices last week. Early risers rushed out to the nearest electronics store to pick one up while online retailers quickly sold out Saturday morning.
Today, the HP TouchPad is the hottest piece of consumer electronics on Amazon’s bestsellers list. It turns out that the iPad does have some competition — if the price is a shockingly low $99!
While it may be extremely tough to find a TouchPad left after the fire sale, SlickDeals has an excellent tracker to help you locate any brick and mortar stores that still have stock or will be getting more this week.