Digital Life: Microsoft dials the right number at last
Almost everybody uses Windows computers but almost nobody uses Windows phones. Microsoft has long failed to translate its domination of the desktop into a foothold in the phone market.
So to try to compete with the iPhone, MS selected the nuclear option for the launch of Windows Phone 7 -- starting from scratch with new software and imposing strict quality control on the hardware makers who actually build the phones.
Thankfully, WP7 works nothing like Windows on your computer, which was the downfall of Microsoft's previous phone effort, a hostile and ugly beast known as Windows Mobile.
Intriguingly, the touchscreen-based WP7 doesn't much resemble the iPhone or the similar Android software either.
Instead of row upon row of icons, you're presented with a scrolling stack of 'tiles' representing the apps.
Some of these contain useful live information, such as the number of new emails and missed calls or upcoming appointments.
This fresh-looking style with its big, bold lettering gives you more information at a glance than the iPhone can.
Digging a bit deeper, it's easy to like how Microsoft has integrated features such as the Xbox Live gaming hub and photos from Facebook friends.
Music and video is slickly handled with an interface cribbed from Microsoft's Zune MP3 player.
As befits a premium device, all WP7 phones -- three models of which are available in Ireland -- are fast, powerful and loaded with goodies such as a five-megapixel camera.
But as much as Microsoft got right, version one of WP7 is far from perfect.
It took Apple a couple of revisions before the iPhone copperfastened its place as the smartphone king.
Windows Phone 7 still needs a similar amount of polish, leaving it a year or more behind where Apple and Android are at.
Some missing features, such as copy and paste and multitasking, may be added next year.
Others, such as the paltry current catalogue of about 1,000 apps, may never catch up. It's disturbing, too, that some apps are priced well above their iPhone equivalents.
The tiles concept starts to fall apart when you acquire more than a handful of apps, forcing you into endless scrolling to hunt for a specific item -- not helped by the lack of a search function.
Of the three WP7 phones on the Irish market, the HTC HD7 is the first available, costing €290 on the cheapest O2 contract.
Though a smidgin too large for some tastes, it's the best of the bunch that also includes the Samsung Omnia 7 and the LG Optimus 7.
Video Game reviews: The end of the world as we know it - in seedy neon
Fallout: New Vegas
Transported from the decaying ruins of post-apocalypse Washington to the seedy neon of Vegas, the world of Fallout has shifted on its axis.
But at its black heart remains the same captivating character-building RPG of Fallout 3.
Though not quite as epic in its sweep, New Vegas takes you on a rollicking ride from a crumbling village in the Mojave Desert to the jangling casinos of the strip.
On the way, you run into warring factions fighting for survival in a radioactive landscape and a memorable host of damaged characters.
In typical Fallout fashion, you can pursue the main quest or simply explore the countless vignettes and diversions.
Despite some clunkiness and an occasional lack of direction, New Vegas trumps Fallout 3 with its compelling, beautiful and massive world.
Valkyria Chronicles II
Clad in the typical garb of a Japanese RPG à la Final Fantasy, VC II struggles to escape from under its clichéd storyline and hackneyed acting. But in fact it's a surprising turn-based strategy effort more akin to Advance Wars.
You control a small group of soldiers one at a time on a battlefield in a chess-like game of tactics.
Each soldier can only move so far in each turn so success lies in negotiating the terrain to outflank the enemy and take them out.
Packed with subtleties such as soldier specialisation and co-op multiplayer, VC II may be an acquired taste but at least it's different.
Batman: The Brave and The Bold
Linked to the cartoon series of the same name, this light-hearted Batman outing teams the caped crusader with old muckers such as the Green Lantern for some simplistic villain-bashing.
Visually appealing and nicely diverse thanks to the superpowers of Batman's pals, the Brave and the Bold's greatest crime is a short running time.
Not the worst kids'-movie tie-in that's ever crossed my desk, Despicable Me welds a basic platformer to some puzzle elements.
Steve Carell reprises his voice role with gusto and it will keep the ankle-biters busy for a few hours -- but no more than that.
Bits and bytes
- Nintendo took a hammering last week from Greenpeace for the umpteenth year over its environmental credentials -- or lack of them.
The annual survey by Greenpeace assesses the policies of electronics firms regarding recycling, the use of noxious chemicals in their plastics, etc.
Nintendo came last again while the heroes were (again) Nokia and Sony Ericsson. Apple, Sony and Dell were rated only middling.
- The largely unloved PSP Go console was slashed in price yesterday in an attempt to revive flagging sales. The Go will sell for €180 which is still €30 more than the full-sized PSP, which has access to a much wider range of games due to its on-board disc drive.
Meanwhile, rumours continue to grow about a PSP phone, which leaked images suggest look like the PSP Go. Such speculation has been around for years, but a successor to the PSP is definitely in the pipeline for next year.
- NASA has come up with a clever wheeze in these cash-strapped times. Instead of paying scientists to study its latest high-res images of the moon for discoveries, it's asking for the public's help.
The crowd-sourced Moon Zoo project aims to map out previously undiscovered craters, etc, on the surface of the moon. Have a browse yourself for fun and maybe you'll find some little green men.