Digital Life: Sony starts making the tablets -- but where are all the services?
Published 04/10/2011 | 05:00
Better late than never. Stand out from the crowd. Keep an ace up your sleeve. Everyone needs a party trick.
Surely Sony wrote these words on the drawing board when designing its tardy competitor to the iPad, the newly launched Sony Tablet S.
As abiding credos go, they're excellent starting points which other Apple rivals have ignored at their peril. The Tablet S has not been rushed out the door, looks remarkably original, will be backed up by several cool services unavailable to its Android brethren and incorporates one smart feature no one else has managed.
Sony compares the shape of the Tablet S to that of a folded magazine or paperback. The asymmetric design is intended to be easier to hold than a flat panel.
Your mileage may vary but it made little difference to me.
At least the design looks distinctive and also gives Sony room to include a memory-card slot and USB port, albeit hidden behind a clumsy plastic flap.
At nine inches in diameter, the screen is slightly smaller than the de facto standard, but you'd barely notice. Being a premium Android tablet, it inherits all the goodness (speed, attractive menu system, etc) but also the downside (lack of tablet apps, primarily).
But what Sony brings to the party could potentially be a little bit special. As Sony boss Howard Stringer explained testily last month: "Yes, yes, Apple makes an iPad, but does it make a movie?"
He means that the Tablet S will have access to Sony's vast vaults of films, TV and music -- for a price, of course. Alas, Sony has yet to launch the service in Ireland and will say only that it's "coming soon".
In the meantime, the Sony machine can also play a handful of PlayStation games, two of which are included for free. It's another service with potential but sadly lacking in content at this stage.
But it's hard not to be wowed by the inclusion of an infra-red remote control in the Tablet S. This works brilliantly as a universal remote with everything from TVs to DVD players to iPod docks. Hats off to Sony -- it's a wonder no else came up with the idea.
Sony has bravely pitched the Tablet S at roughly the same price as an iPad -- €490 for the 16GB WiFi version. When the movies/music services come online, the Sony will be a more compelling proposition. For now, though, the Tablet S is still one of the better Android tablets on the market.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
As if the title wasn't enough of a clue, a quick glance at the screenshot will tell you that El Shaddai is one of the maddest and refreshingly different games released this year.
Based on one of the books of the Bible (no, really), it channels the spirits of manga, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and a million other visually stunning inspirations.
Frankly, the plot makes no sense, but it's enough to know you're an angel fighting a barmy array of psychedelic enemies -- armoured pigs, jellyfish, bats, shiny humanoids -- in a constantly evolving environment. Think Child of Eden meets Tron meets Ico.
Sadly, the combat never advances beyond a simple one-button combo. But for the jaded gaming palate, El Shaddai is like fine wine to a connoisseur.
If you bought this last year, move along, nothing to see here. NHL 12 adopts the safe sequel approach by tweaking a few bits here, tightening a few nuts there. But realistically it doesn't play a whole lot differently from NHL 11.
That said, it still serves up a fine game of ice hockey, complete with more crunching tackles, improved fighting (!) and extra modes such as Be A Legend featuring the likes of Wayne Gretzky.
If you're an ice-hockey fan, you probably already own NHL 11 and can safely skip this. But if you're a newcomer hankering for a bit of hockey, you won't go wrong.
This must be the week for oddball titles. Only the Japanese would make a game such as this from the sport of kings. Work your way up the ranks of apprentice jockeys by learning to ride a racehorse on the flat and over jumps.
It's over-earnest in that typically Japanese way and graphically rather bland. But getting into the rhythm of driving a horse while running a tactical race makes for an involving experience, especially if you use the optional motion controls.
Renegade has little to do with the latest Driver game on the big consoles. This slimmed-down version in 3D features the usual street racing and car-smashing antics but in a disappointingly sterile city.
Blink and you'll miss the short Story mode but there's some saving grace in the more enjoyable career mode, tempered by the repetitive nature of the challenges.
Bits and Bytes
• Amazon set the cat among the pigeons when it finally unveiled its new tablet last week.
The seven-inch Kindle Fire is based on Google's Android software but costs roughly half what its 10-inch rivals go for.
Priced at $200 and available only in the US initially, the Kindle Fire may not be as technologically sophisticated as its competitors but that low price is going to win it many admirers.
Amazon also introduced new lower-priced and touchscreen versions (pictured) of its Kindle e-readers but these will not be available immediately around the world.
• Apple has finally brought its iBookstore to Ireland more than a year after it debuted in the US and UK.
Owners of iPhones/iPads/iPods can now download bestsellers straight to their device, much like the Kindle. Pricing is broadly similar to that of Amazon for ebooks but the catalogue is not as extensive.