Digital: Google breaks the mould with affordable laptop
Review: Samsung Chromebook
Published 29/03/2013 | 14:46
The dismissive chuckles and guffaws that greeted the iPad at launch have come back to haunt rival computer makers. It was variously described as underpowered, artificially limited and no threat.
History has proved them all wrong as the iPad won fans in part for its simplicity, amid the realisation that many people want a petite but powerful machine just for email, web browsing, entertainment and light computer duties.
Google has taken note. It is already building a following in Android tablets, but its latest tilt at world domination targets the small laptop market.
Starting with the notion that many users need little more than a web browser, Google built an entire operating system called Chrome OS that essentially runs in a browser. Then it partnered with Samsung and others to create the Chromebook, an 11-inch laptop that bears a striking resemblance to a premium MacBook Air.
But the best part is yet to come: the latest Samsung one costs just €280.
For the money, you're getting a solidly built machine (albeit one made of plastic rather metal) with enough horsepower for everyday tasks, boots in seconds and lasts six hours on battery power.
It comes with two huge caveats, though. The Chrome OS needs a constant internet connection to perform most tasks – without it, its uses are limited.
Secondly, the Chromebook runs only apps for Chrome – not Windows, not Mac, not Android
Obviously, the usual bases – email, documents, etc – are covered by Gmail, Google Docs and the like. But you may chafe at the relatively limited app catalogue.
None of this is to detract from the sheer value offered by the Samsung. As the iPad demonstrated, such purity of purpose and elegant design will appeal to a broad cross-section of the population.
Gears of War: Judgment
New developer, shorter turnaround time, same old story – you could be forgiven for suspecting Microsoft is trying to squeeze the last juice out of an ageing (but popular) lemon.
Barely 18 months since the last Gears, Judgment veers down the tried and tested prequel route for its plunge back into the sci-fi horror of an alien invasion.
The core gameplay still revolves around the staple cycle of dashing from cover to cover and popping out to unleash hell with outlandish weapons. But, thankfully, the emphasis has shifted slightly with an option to play each bite-sized level with modifiers that introduce extra difficulty, such as exploding enemies or a time limit.
Multiplayer remains the spine that will prop up Judgment for much longer, thanks in part to a new mode called OverRun pitting you as the Locust beasts against human defenders.
We've seen much of this Gears universe before, nonetheless, so maybe it's now time for Microsoft to let it see out its retirement gracefully.
Lego City Undercover
For a series of superb games defined by their sly upstaging of their licence – Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc – it took guts for the latest installment to build a story around a clichéd parody of unnamed cop shows.
But LCU has the depth of gameplay to transcend its lack of recognisable characters as the hero pursues an arch-criminal wreaking havoc in a Lego city. Stuffed full of in-jokes, knockabout humour and the compulsive collection of bricks, there's rarely a dull moment or the lack of something to do.
Alas, the lack of the joyful multiplayer that was the other cornerstone of the series will undermine many youngsters' enjoyment – not to mention disappointing dads who secretly loved helping out their kids.
It does what it says on the tin – it's fishing and it's ridiculous. But what glorious fun this gorgeous timewaster ekes from that.
First you cast into the brine, dodging fish to sink your line as deep as possible before hauling back to the surface, snaring your catch on the way. Finally – and this is where it gets ridiculous – you pull out a weapon and blast the fish to kingdom come.
The rhythm doesn't vary, but the constant stream of shiny trinkets to assist your work never ceases. Before you know, you're, ahem, hooked.