Digital Life: Consumer appliances as art? Dyson's portable heater will have many fans
How much of a premium are you prepared to stump up for stylish design? Apple fans know they're paying over the odds for better-built and elegant computers but the difference in price never amounts to several multiples.
The question arises when confronted by the new Dyson Hot fan heater. Having reinvented vacuum cleaners, hand dryers and cooling fans, engineer James Dyson turned his attention to portable home heating with predictably eye-catching results.
In fact, my favourite pastime of the last couple of weeks has been inviting friends to guess what the blue hoopy thing was doing in my home. A WiFi aerial, said one. A speaker, said another. I'd worry about the guy who speculated it might be some sort of medical instrument.
The Dyson Hot adds a heating element to the company's design of a bladeless fan, in which the air is forced through a narrow outlet around the rim.
The result is a smooth flow of warm air that quickly heats up the whole room and not just a few feet around it.
Being a thoughtfully engineered Dyson, the Hot brims with artful touches, from the way the remote control magnetically sticks to the heater when not in use to the automatic cut-out if the machine gets knocked over.
A thermostat gives you heat up to 37 degrees and even cooling air in the summer.
With a space-age look that wouldn't be out of place in an Ikea catalogue, the Dyson does what it says on the tin.
But. And it's a big but. Would you really pay €350 when a conventional design without the frills would cost a fraction?
The Dyson Hot is consumer appliance as art with a price tag to match.
BlackBerry maker RIM has never seemed convinced of the merits of touchscreens. Its first, the Storm, was a poorly conceived and rushed effort. The last one, the Torch 9800, included a full slide-out keyboard just in case.
But the new Torch 9860 brings BlackBerry full circle as it goes all-touchscreen and no keypad. Mercifully, the operating system has also been updated to bring it out of the Dark Ages and, well, not quite up there with Android and iPhone.
Certainly, RIM has a knack for beautifully constructed bodies, the 9860 matching a big bright display to a nicely contoured chrome frame. The menus sport some natty details and BlackBerry is still the best email system bar none.
But a troubling lack of apps and the difficulty of hammering out emails via the touchscreen means the Torch 9860 is caught in the bind of not appealing to Android / iPhone fans nor BlackBerry diehards.
It costs €100 on the cheapest Vodafone tariff of €30 a month.
What a comeback. After years as perennial underdog in its annual clash with the PES series, the megabucks lavished on Fifa have cemented its place as the Man U of videogame football.
Fifa 12 continues the methodical empire-building, adding spit and polish to every corner of the pitch while layering extra control and play modes on top. It plays champagne football while its rival scrambles to keep up. Casual players may find Fifa a little unforgiving, though, thanks to the more realistic defending.
It means you need to be much more aware of positioning rather than the easy option of herding attackers away from goal. Similarly, gaping holes in the opposition's back line are a rarity.
Irish fans will welcome the addition of the domestic EA Sports Cup to complement the Airtricity League. Annual updates to sports franchises feel like optional purchases but Fifa 12 is such a refined version of the beautiful game it would be a crime to miss.
So what of poor old Pro Evo Soccer? Without the budget of Fifa it's destined to always to be the Wigan of this world. And yet you can see it's learnt from some of its difficult past.
It still lacks the full team licences (North London Whites? Come on!) and the commentary makes you want to drive spikes into your ears. But for sheer knockabout fun, it's got a leg up on Fifa. It's the difference between a playful exhibition match and a full-blooded top-of-the-table clash.
You'll either enjoy the wacky animation and the unearthly ball physics or look longingly at Fifa's pitch of perfection.
Rise of Nightingales
Hardcore players complained bitterly about Kinect's slant towards casual gamers, so Rise of Nightmares is manna from heaven (or hell, in this case).
Using Kinect's motion controls, you guide a bewildered tourist searching for his missing wife in a plot ripped from Horror 101.
The controls are fussy but effective (turn your body to, um, turn and lash out with your arms to attack).
The novelty buckles under its own weight when many zombies surround you, but Rise of Nightmares shows Kinect need not be all cuddly pets and dayglo sports events.
Another Kinect title, The Gunstringer makes good play of its whimsical setting -- revolver-toting marionette cowboy out for revenge -- but is let down by the imprecision of the controls together with its tiring arms-akimbo nature.
Bits and Bytes
• Broadband provider Magnet has relaunched its free package of Irish TV channels online as AerTV. It provides an easy way to watch RTE, TV3 and TG4 live on your computer or iPad.
The website hasn't been improved but at least it still incorporates Twitter and Facebook for your social-TV chats. On top of the existing 11 stations, Magnet has added a live-music channel to feature gigs from Irish bands.
• Just a day before the sad death of Apple founder Steve Jobs last week, the company unveiled what some people felt was the disappointing iPhone 4S. Though it launches in several countries this week, Irish fans will have to wait until at least the end of the month before it goes on sale here.
In the meantime, however, existing iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches can avail of iOS5, a free software update which brings a host of improvements. It can be downloaded through iTunes from tomorrow evening.