Digital Life: Microsoft's new smartphone may get everyone doing the Mango ...
Published 18/10/2011 | 05:00
If at first you don't succeed, give up. That was computer giant HP's attitude when its Palm phones went down like a lead balloon with Joe Public.
Microsoft could have done the same after its latest sortie into phones was met largely with indifference. "We haven't sold quite as many as I would have liked in the first year," boss Steve Ballmer confessed last month, with some understatement.
But Ballmer doesn't take no for an answer from the consumer. Now, 11 months after its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) software made its debut, Microsoft has baked a greatly improved version codenamed Mango that brings phones using WP7 much closer to iPhone and Android.
Like Apple's original iPhone, Microsoft's first effort at a modern smartphone was strikingly different and yet flawed. Mango addresses many of its weaknesses while retaining its refreshingly exotic menu system.
If you're one of the few who jumped on board the WP7 bandwagon, the Mango update is free and you have nothing to lose but the shackles that held your phone back.
More likely, though, you'll be choosing a new handset such as the HTC Radar, one of a tiny handful that come preloaded with Mango.
Outwardly, the Radar resembles other handsets from HTC. It's solid and well crafted, not the most powerful phone but eminently capable if a little bland.
But Mango is what makes it interesting. At first glance, little has changed. Instead of the rows of app icons employed by Android and iPhone, WP7 uses "tiles", a vertical stack of apps that can contain live information such as messages received, weather or emails.
Under the hood, however, Ballmer's boys have been busy. Everything from email, SMS, the camera to social networking was buffed up.
But most impressive is the new speech recognition. Hold down one button and you can command your phone to start an app, dictate an email or search the web. Unlike similar functions in Android, it works beautifully 90% of the time.
With Mango on board, Windows Phone 7 has matured into a viable rival for the Android/iPhone duopoly. It's smart, sophisticated and even sexy.
It needs a little more polish and some more apps before Apple needs to worry. But with Nokia beavering away to create its first WP7 handset, the future looks bright.
In the meantime, phones such as the HTC Radar demonstrate the ample charms of Microsoft's platform. The Radar will be available from most networks shortly.
Ico/Shadow of the Colossus
Two stupendous games for the PS2 recreated in HD on the PS3 in one package, what's not to like? Blessed with dreamy art styles, intriguing game mechanics and rare intelligence, the two landmark titles from Fumito Ueda subtly blend platforming and puzzles with melancholic storytelling. If you missed out on them first time round, this is a steal.
Forza Motorsport 4
What do you give the driving sim that already has everything? More of everything, of course.
Forza 3 was the pinnacle for petrolheads, a lively yet realistic sim that put you behind the wheel of hundreds of exotic cars in beautiful locations. When former genre king Gran Turismo 5 stuttered over the finishing line last year, the Forza franchise took its place on the podium.
Forza 4 doesn't mess with the formula, delivering miles more car porn, adding a smattering of Top Gear-related content and improving the multiplayer experience. Kinect owners can drive using their outstretched hands but will soon get bored or tired.
The new community features will always keep you coming back for more, though, enabling the creation of "car clubs" to share flash motors or encourage online rivalry.
Catering for vehicle voyeurs and casual racers alike, Forza 4 gives you the keys to a thrilling ride. Park yourself on the sofa and hit the road.
Now this is a beast of different kind. Constricted by rigorous Bernie Ecclestone rules, there's no playful messing about here but developer Codemasters still extracts maximum fun from the dry world of F1.
Piloting the 800bhp monsters feels hard, as it should be. But with varying levels of driver aids available, even the clumsiest gamer should get the hang of the delicate balance between power, braking and steering that keeps you from face-planting a wall at 200kmh.
The off-track antics -- paddock interviews and contract negotiations -- are mildly amusing but it's the ferocious competition on the tarmac that will suck you in time after time.
Another remake of a classic original, this visually stirring platformer debuts on the iOS platform for its 20th anniversary. Framed by cinematic and witty cut-scenes, the trial-and-error action may jar with modern gamers. But at just €4 it's a delicious slice of nostalgia.
Bits and Bytes
• Has your Sony Bravia TV looked a little hot under the collar lately? The Japanese giant has issued a recall for 1.7 million Bravia tellies sold since 2007 because of a fear of overheating.
The models affected are KDL-40D3400, KDL-40D3500, KDL-40D3550, KDL-40D3660, KDL-40V3000, KDL-40W3000, KDL-40X3000 and KDL-40X3500.
Sony will repair your TV free of charge if it's affected. See the website below for more details.
• One nifty side-effect of last week's free software update for iPhones (you did update your phone, didn't you?) is that texting between iPhones (and iPads/iPod Touches) is now free.
So long as your iPhone has a WiFi or 3G connection, the text will be sent over the internet and you won't be charged.
It's just one of the many useful features introduced by iOS5, the latest update available to Apple users.