Digital Life: It's no iPhone -- but the Smart money is on this challenger
PSSST! How'd you like an iPhone for €60? It didn't fall off the back of a lorry. Honest, guv.
Actually, there's a catch -- it's not quite an iPhone but for many people it might as well be.
The Vodafone Smart has got apps, WiFi and even GPS. It's powered by the same slick Android software that runs on many worthy rivals to the iPhone.
Somehow the Smart offers all of these features at the rock-bottom price of just 60 notes on pre-pay. Of course, there are compromises -- lots of them.
But my guess is there's a huge market out there gagging for a proper smartphone on a budget.
Apple's one-size-fits-all approach requires a hefty contract. The Vodafone Smart enables you to dip your toe in the world of apps, touchscreens, etc, with minimal outlay.
Small, light yet solidly built, the Smart doesn't look cheap. Corners have been cut (the small screen's a bit low-res, the camera's fairly rubbish and speed of operation is slightly poky) but the experience is not dissimilar to that on a phone costing five times as much.
To prove its credentials with 'the kids', the Smart even has customisable covers -- for €11 you can design your own online and have it delivered.
The Smart won't please everyone but it offers amazing value for first-time smartphone users.
Were you thinking the only thing missing from your life was a 3D camcorder? Me neither. But if you have a hankering to try your hand at making Avatar in your back yard, have a butcher's at the Panasonic HDC-SD900 camcorder.
This high-quality video camera can be attached to an optional 3D lens that adds an extra dimension to your footage.
With careful framing, you can achieve impressive depth to your scenes.
The novelty factor wears off quickly, though, when you discover you cannot change the zoom level once you've attached the lens.
Panasonic might be selling one of the only 3D camcorder kits in the world but few people will take notice until it solves that problem.
It's a shame because the HDC-SD900 is capable of eye-poppingly good quality in regular 2D.
Its chunky body conceals some serious circuitry that captures beautiful high-definition video.
Happily, you can buy the camcorder by itself for €1,000 while the optional 3D lens is €350 extra.
At that price, it's aimed at home-video enthusiasts who'll appreciate the top-notch picture and sound.
The 3D is another matter altogether.
Red Faction Armageddon
Gamers are suckers for blowing stuff up. Fact. If we see an explosive red barrel with a conveniently placed enemy beside it, we know instinctively what to do. Even if there's nothing to be gained by destroying an innocuous crate, we'll do it anyway.
No wonder the Red Faction franchise has lasted 10 years in various guises as a first-person shooter and free-roaming adventure.
Its signature theme of destructible scenery lifted it above many a generic sci-fi shooter by allowing us to bring down whole buildings with just a swing of a sledgehammer.
Armageddon veers away from the open world of predecessor Red Faction Guerrilla and plunges into the mining tunnels beneath a struggling colony on Mars.
But in doing so, it also turns away from the glorious, epic-scale demolition that made Guerrilla such a blast.
New weapons such as the magnet gun introduce welcome variety but the fun is tempered by a tinge of sadness that your destructive powers are confined to small areas.
Graphically, Armageddon lacks the crisp lines of similar rivals and the sheer linearity of the adventure feels constricting.
But the demolition never loses its appeal -- collapsing scenery on top of an enemy always proves more entertaining than merely shooting them.
Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters
The universe is in peril (again) and only one man dressed in tight lycra can stop the catastrophe. So far, so generic comic-book adaptation.
But in fact that's how Green Lantern rolls. The superhero faces endless waves of mindless robots and though his burgeoning range of powers enables some nifty combos, the gameplay rarely rises above its repetitive brawling.
KUNG FU PANDA 2
The original KFP tie-in was a surprising reminder that games based on children's movies need not be insultingly bad.
Coupled with a larger-than-life voiceover performance from Jack Black, it captured the quirky spirit of the flick.
KFP2 on the 360 opts for an ambitious but unfortunately flawed attempt to harness the Kinect controller and turn you into a high-kicking chop-socky hero.
Alas, the motion tracking is imprecise enough to be troublesome, which explains why the combat is essentially a rather plodding turn-based affair.
A couple of mildly diverting mini-games break up the fights but except for the benefit of the physical exercise, KFP2 can't hold a candle to the original.
Bits and Bytes
Beeb’s crock of gold
> If you yearn for the embarrassment of televisual riches available on the BBC iPlayer -- but blocked outside the UK -- take heart that it will soon be available in Ireland and the rest of Europe.
Despite initial rumours that the online TV service might be supported via advertisements, the Beeb has indicated that viewers will need to pay about €7 a month to gain access to the broadcaster's vaults.
At first the BBC iPlayer will be available only on the iPad later this year, but it's expected to be rolled out to other devices, including web browsers, after that.
Tour of your social life
> Facebook fans will be amused by the Museum of Me, which constructs a virtual showcase around your photos, videos and friends. Just plug in your Facebook ID (don't worry, the site is run by Intel, it's safe) and you're treated to a "visual archive of your social life" as if walking through a museum.
Sony's qrious response
> How does six months' worth of free music sound? A very humble Sony is trying hard to make amends after its hacking fiasco and one of its offers is 180 days' free access to the Qriocity music service via the PlayStation 3.
Sign up and you can stream, from a choice of more than seven million tracks, everything from Beyonce to Boyzone. See the PlayStation blog for more.