Digital Life: The new iPad 2 -- should we keep taking the tablet?
Apple didn't become the force it is today by resting on its laurels. But what are we to make of the introduction of an updated iPad less than a year after the last one?
Was it panic that its rivals were about to flood the market with superior imitations?
Or was it an acknowledgement that the first iPad wasn't quite as perfect as it could have been?
After a week of playing with iPad 2, let Digital Life be your guide.
What's the difference between the new one and the old one?
The simple answer is, physically, not a lot. Yes, you will notice it's 33pc thinner and 15pc lighter but by the time you put a cover on it, the contrast is fairly negligible.
That said, iPad 2 makes upcoming competitors look positively porky.
You might also think the extra speediness and the new video cameras to be superfluous but my guess is that the upgraded hardware will be worth it in the long run.
My laptop does me just fine, thank you; isn't the iPad just an overpriced toy?
That's a tough one to answer because it takes most people a week or two of hands-on tinkering to discover the appeal of a tablet computer like this.
But it can do 90pc of what a laptop can in a lighter, smaller package.
The touchscreen also presents experiences such as browsing, watching and reading in a much more tactile and engaging fashion.
Can the new one play Flash videos and games?
You're having a laugh, aren't you? Hell will freeze over before Apple allows Flash on iPad or iPhone.
That's a shame, really, because as rivals such as the Motorola Xoom show Flash is still a vital layer on the web that can work on tablets.
I already own an iPad -- should I upgrade?
The old one is just fine. Unless you must have video chats or the absolute latest hardware, the original machine can still hold its head high.
I've heard there's an iPad 3 in the works, should I wait?
You're absolutely correct; Apple is undoubtedly working furiously on another redesign already -- but the question is when will it see the light of day? Six months, 12 months, who knows?
There's always a faster, better machine around the corner.
What about the deluge of new challengers on the way?
Everyone from BlackBerry to HP to Samsung has a new tablet in the oven but my own hands-on impressions with these machines is that none lands a killer blow on the iPad, especially when price is factored in.
The new iPad 2 costs from €480 to €800. www.apple.com/ie
Dragon Age II
The original Dragon Age marked an unusual dip in quality from developer Bioware, known for its sprawling role-playing epics.
Barely 18 months later, the sequel shows Bioware has learned some lessons well.
The narrative spans the usual Tolkien-esque arc of medieval fantasy.
A family flees the attack of the monstrous darkspawn and a hero rises to save the world. Blah and, furthermore, blah.
But at least the voice acting is less hammy and the plot does conceal some neat twists.
Better still, the unwieldy menu system has been streamlined to mean less futzing with inventories and more time for cracking skulls.
Although nowhere close to the brilliance of Bioware's other epic, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age II will keep you hooked for many a night to come.
Super Street Fighter IV 3D
If you buy only one game for your spanking new 3DS, let this be it.
A cracking rendition of the superb fighting series, the characters and backgrounds look terrific while the gameplay is as smooth as butter.
Shame the 3D adds little, though.
Nintendogs + Cats
A reheat of the popular DS pet-sim it may be, but Nintendogs+Cats gains from the transition to the 3DS.
Better graphics and some nifty voice recognition make caring for your virtual pet much more engaging. Cat-lovers will find the feline section something of an after-thought.
New-fangled meets old-fangled in this revival of Nintendo classic Pilotwings with a 3D twist. A cartoonish flight simulator featuring a plane, jetpack and glider, Resort eases you gently into its world of hoops to fly through, landing strips to touch down on and targets to hit.
The 3D is effective but the game could easily be played without it and, but for the bonus flying-squirrel suit section, excitement is in short supply.
Super Monkey Ball 3D
The trouble with Nintendo's 3D is that you need to keep your head still to see it. Alas, Super Monkey Ball fails to take account of that fact and the fun of rolling a monkey in a glass ball around obstacle courses quickly fades as you wrestle with the screen.Power play: (clockwise from main) Dragon Age II; Nintendogs + Cats; Pilotwings Resort; Super Monkey Ball 3D and Super Street Fighter 3D.
Bits and Bytes
Amazon chomp at Apple's plans
Amazon has jumped in ahead of rumoured plans by Apple to allow you access your music anywhere via a web browser or smartphone.
The Amazon Cloud Player enables you to upload your music to its servers so that you can listen to the tunes at any computer or Android phone connected to the internet.
Imagine blasting out your Lady Gaga (pictured below) albums at work or singing along to Cee-Lo Green at the bus stop -- not a CD or MP3 in sight.
Sadly, the service is US-only so far and has already attracted the ire of the record labels. But with Amazon and possibly Apple behind the idea, it's only a matter of time before it goes global.
Blue in the face? Chatter for free
An interesting new iPhone app from Irish company Blueface enables you to make low-cost international calls. Such apps are ten-a-penny (Skype, Fring, etc) but the new Banter app also grants you a landline number based in any county in Ireland -- without the line rental.
When your friends call the number, they're charged at mobile rates, however.
Vodafone's new one month bill
Get the benefits of a contract with the freedom of a pre-pay tariff via Vodafone's new Simply Plus plan. The €40-a-month plan works on a 30-day rolling contract basis -- giving you unlimited Vodafone calls and texts plus 500MB of data.
The tariff is aimed at smartphone owners who want to switch from another network but don't want to be tied into a year-long contract.
Eircom's online for easy backup
Eircom has introduced a free back-up service for its broadband customers that will make copies of precious photos, documents, etc, for safe-keeping.
Users get 5GB of online storage space but you can pay €5 a month to upgrade to 50GB if you're so inclined.