DIGITAL LIFE: Smartphones are so over -- the future is superphones
HERE come the superphones. Just when you thought the hype about smartphones couldn't get any more deafening, two new heavyweights jump into the ring shouting about their superiority.
Touting 'dual-core' this, 'Gigahertz' that and 'high-res' the other. In the blue corner we have the Samsung Galaxy S II, and in the red corner meet the HTC Sensation.
Both phones run the latest version of Android, sport massive 4.3 inch screens and incorporate more high-tech features than a NASA shuttle mission. They are unquestionably the leading contenders for the iPhone's throne.
If it were based on pure technological firepower, the vote would be evenly split. The Galaxy S II and Sensation are screamingly fast, lag-free and loaded with goodies such as high-res cameras and FM radios. But the HTC screen may have the edge for colour and sharpness.
Aesthetically, the choice may come down to personal preference.
The slightly bland all-black angularity of the Samsung is compensated for by its incredible slimness and barely there weight -- just 8.5mm thick and 116g.
The Sensation is no porker but at 11.5mm thick and 148g the extra girth is appreciable. HTC seems content to recycle its design from other models but its solidity is actually reassuring.
Inside these 'superphones', the software is where noticeable differences come into play. Google's Android system has developed into a robust and powerful competitor to the iPhone, even surpassing it on some fronts. On top of the latest update to Android, Samsung and HTC have added their own flourishes, with the Sensation coming off the best.
HTC manages to make even mundane services such as the weather widget look beautiful with photo-realistic, 3D effects. The company also has useful plans for a video download shop called HTC Watch, but it won't go live in Ireland for several weeks.
While Samsung's interface may lack the sheer elegance of its rival, it does feature some nifty ideas to rival Apple's iTunes service, with apps to enable the download of music, books, magazines and games straight to the phone.
Most people realise smartphones need charging every day and these are no different. Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Galaxy S II manages to eke more life from its battery, with the HTC showing signs of fatigue before the day is out while the Samsung just about makes it over the line.
In the end, this is a hard one to call. My own preference is for the waif-like Samsung but others may plump for the HTC's better software, especially when the video service gets up and running.
The HTC Sensation costs €120 on the cheapest 18-month Vodafone contract while the Galaxy S II is available on several networks -- for example €170 on the cheapest 18-month contract with Three.
Nobody does rally better than Codemasters, whose racing heritage stretches back to the seminal Colin McRae series that first came roaring out of the garage in 1998. Three games into the DiRT series and Codemasters hits top gear with a foot-to-the-floor rendition of rally.
Hugging the right side of the line that marks arcade fun versus realism, DiRT 3 throws you into fire-spitting monsters hurtling along muddy lanes, snowy tracks and dusty roads.
Like dancing a ballet on gravel, you're barely in control most of the time -- and loving it. Little flicks of the wheel and bursts of accelerator keep the nose from ploughing into trees, down ravines or through houses.
The hugely amusing new gymkhana mode -- as demonstrated by the maestro Ken Block -- turns a rally car into a skateboard, essentially asking you to perform tricks around cones or off-jumps. It never gets tiresome.
With acres of events to explore in all their sumptuous graphical beauty, the only sour note comes from the unholy trinity of English/Aussie/US advisers who help plot your career. Annoying is too small a word for them.
Thank the gaming gods there's still room to experiment with downloadable titles such as Outland. A sideway-scrolling platformer with moody visuals, it's hardly original but has been executed with a real flair.
Swathed in shadowy light that recalls the excellent puzzle game Limbo, and riffing on the athletic antics of Prince of Persia, your character traverses the landscapes in leaps and bounds while fending off enemies with a sword.
But in a neat twist he can change colour chameleon-style to attack or defend against opposite-coloured foes.
Gradually unlocking extra abilities, Outland measures out its goodies with adept timing, dragging the player back again and again for one more go.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior
A lacklustre version for the 360 last year has not deterred the makers of Sniper from porting it to PS3.
But the same problems remain.
A game that wants to stand out from the Call of Duty crowd, it aims for tense sniping missions instead of all-out firefights.
But all too often it descends into close-quarters combat that has none of the fizz of its rivals.
Bits and Bytes
If anything big is happening in the games world, we hear about it first at the annual E3 showcase in LA. Last week's event mapped the direction of the next 12 months -- here's a sample of the big headlines.
> Nintendo revealed its successor to the enormously popular Wii -- and immediately confused everyone by calling it the Wii U.
Not due to go on sale until next year, it will feature more powerful hardware but, intriguingly, will have a new controller that partly resembles an iPad.
It includes a six-inch screen with extra controls but still connects to your living-room TV for the main view. No price has been set.
> Sony revealed more details of its follow-up to the PSP -- and dubbed it the PlayStation Vita.
Priced aggressively at €250 (or €300 for the 3G version), it's unlikely to hit the shops in Europe before Christmas.
The handheld console will be extremely powerful and graphically rich but Sony faces a tough time against the iPhone bandwagon, where games cost a fraction of the price of Nintendo/Sony titles.
> Dozens of hot new games were announced, including much-anticipated sequels such as Uncharted 3, Halo 4 and Ninja Gaiden 3.