Digital Life: Smartphones - the Nexus generation
Google made a mess of the last phone it tried to sell to the public. Ironically, the Nexus One was a damn fine Android mobile in itself.
But Google had tried to bypass the network operators and flog it directly to the public -- only it wasn't prepared for the hassle of pesky customers when they wanted help.
Six months after its launch in January 2010, Google essentially threw in the towel on the Nexus One and left it to the operators to sell off the remainder.
But you can't keep the Big G down and now it's back with the Nexus S -- this time in partnership with Vodafone.
Readers with a keen eye will clock its resemblance to the Samsung Galaxy S -- Google outsourced the hardware production of the Nexus S to Samsung. Clearly, the Koreans knocked this one out over lunch, right down to copying the plasticky finish. It's not unattractive but, compared to an HTC or iPhone, the Nexus S lacks raw sex appeal.
Yet looks aren't everything and the new Google phone more than compensates in other departments. For a start, it's the first phone in the world to run the latest update to the increasingly slick Android software, codenamed Gingerbread.
Gingerbread will eventually be available free for many other recent phones running Android. But for now, only the Nexus S offers the raft of minor enhancements that cumulatively make Android the better of the iPhone in several areas.
Most noticeably, it's screamingly fast, with a speed and responsiveness that would make Jeremy Clarkson weep tears of joy. That big, beautiful four-inch screen highlights the subtle eye-candy sprinkled around by Gingerbread in menus and notifications.
The on-screen keyboard has been improved too, assisted by the superb auto-correct system for catching typos.
Google has worked hard to tame Android's notorious hunger for power, with battery life now edging into two days if you're careful.
The five-megapixel camera is no slouch for still pictures, but its video capture lags the iPhone for quality.
The Nexus S is also the first phone to incorporate near-field communications -- which works like a smartcard or loyalty card to enable you make small purchases or collect points, etc. Unfortunately, very few businesses use it yet -- but make no mistake it will be huge, with the next iPhone also certain to follow suit.
On top of a mountain of highly polished Android mobiles, the Nexus S stands at the summit -- but only just. The imminent Samsung Galaxy S II could topple it from its throne within weeks.
The Nexus S goes on sale with Vodafone this week for approximately €110 on the cheapest contract. It is expected to available on O2 next month.
Some are born great and others have greatness thrust upon them. Shakespeare wasn't thinking of Killzone when he coined the phrase but it aptly sums up the sci-fi shooter's role as PlayStation's riposte to the Xbox's Halo.
Whereas Halo was simply born great, Killzone arrived with a weight of expectation it failed to fulfil. A much-improved sequel also suffered at the hand of the hype machine but in Killzone 3 Sony at last finds top gear.
Certainly, it's a flawed masterpiece. Saddled with a plodding narrative, not even the scenery-chewing turns by Malcolm McDowell and Ray Winstone make the plot worth following.
But Killzone 3 turns everything else up to 11. More guns, more varieties of red-eyed soldiers, more vehicles, more explosions, more stunning vistas. Basically, more of everything, plus a crowd-pleasing jetpack.
Intense infantry combat regularly swaps places with segments in mechs, tanks and gun emplacements. Even the gorgeous graphics mix it up, one level set in beautiful smoking ruins, the next amid colourful creeping jungle.
Killzone 3 also delivers the first worthwhile 3D effects in a game -- if you've got the expensive telly -- and Move motion-control support has been well implemented, if a bit of a novelty.
Factor in a superb multi-player and Killzone 3 blossoms into a game finally worthy of the hype.
MARVEL VS CAPCOM 3: FATE OF TWO WORLDS
The third instalment in the fighting series is also the craziest. As before it pits the Marvel Comics roster (Captain America, Hulk, etc) against Capcom stalwarts (Viewtiful Joe, Dante, etc) in tag-team bouts.
The fast, furious action requires lightning fingers and an even quicker brain to decipher the sensory overload on screen as players juggle opponents in the air or call in team-mates for a quick assist.
A little too frantic for its own good, MvC3 nonetheless is a fresh take on beat-em-ups.
DR KAWASHIMA'S BODY AND BRAIN EXERCISES
An attempt to repeat the wild success of Brain Training with the Xbox Kinect, Dr K fuses the familiar mental gymnastics (tests of maths, memory, etc) with some gentle limb-waving.
While initially amusing, the simple gameplay never feels as at home on the Xbox as it did on the DS.
Bits and bytes
tock up on indie
- Fans of arthouse cinema should check out Volta, an Irish website dedicated to showing the best of indie movies from around the world.
The catalogue is a little thin but it offers many flicks to download -- buy or rent -- that you won't find on mainstream services such as iTunes.
Literary buffs will recognise that Volta is named after the cinema run by James Joyce in 1909.
Views of the past
- Ever wondered what significant events happened 20 years ago today or even 100 years?
Nikon has put together a clever little history lesson called This Day, which whisks you back in time to tell stories with words and pictures of past lives.
You can't choose just any day, unfortunately, just one from the previous week, but it's fascinating to dip in and out when the mood takes you.
- Microsoft has released its most important update yet for Windows 7 more than a year after the software was launched.
The free Service Pack 1 provides little in the way of whizzy new features. Or to be more accurate, none.
Once you've allowed your PC to automatically update itself, you'll be hard-pressed to see any difference.
But at least you'll be safe in the knowledge that the many bugs have been squashed and security holes closed.