Digital Life: We're the real winners as the camera wars heat up
The Soviet Union and the US were each sitting on more than 30,000 nuclear warheads at the height of the Cold War arms race.
But the two mortal enemies eventually saw sense in the 1980s when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan negotiated a dramatic reduction in their deadly stockpiles.
Let's hope no such détente ever prevails in the technology industry, where fierce competition drives an arms race of a different kind. Long may they continue to outgun each other with faster, smaller, cheaper devices.
You can tell Nikon was giving two fingers to bitter rival Canon when it came up with the Coolpix P300 camera. Canon's marvellous S95 set a benchmark for a compact snapper with outstanding low-light performance, the perfect machine for a keen amateur who doesn't want to lug a bulky camera around.
The P300 muscles in on the S95's territory with higher specs and similarly impressive pictures. The improvements are small in some cases -- such as a slightly more flexible lens and a higher-resolution rear screen -- but significant in others such as the quality and versatility of video recording.
The S95 still has the edge in image quality but the P300 is no slouch, capable of heroic feats in dim conditions and with fast-moving subjects.
The trump card turns out to be Nikon's pricing -- €350 is no small chunk of change for the P300 but that's at least €70 cheaper than the S95 for comparable performance.
The Wii has struggled with its image as the games console for children -- not helped by the deluge of cheaply made shovelware aimed chiefly at parting unwary parents from their cash.
But once in a while from among the dross emerges a bright new star, such as the uDraw Game Tablet. A smaller version of the drawing tablet used by professional artists, the uDraw consists of a chunky plastic slate and pressure-sensitive stylus that connects wirelessly to the Wii.
Bundled with simplified drawing software, the uDraw enables its target market of pre-teens to create fairly sophisticated artworks that can also be exported to a computer for printing.
Adults may find the stylus a little too clumsy and lefties aren't well catered for.
But kids will be too busy mucking about with stencils, colours and airbrushes to worry much. Parents can console themselves that at least there's no mess to clear up after a painting session.
Three other titles -- including Pictionary -- are available to buy for the uDraw but the tablet's creators hope many more will be developed in the coming months.
The uDraw costs about €55.
Shift 2: Unleashed
Blink and you'll miss it: the small lettering at the bottom of the box tells you Shift 2 is part of the Need For Speed series. But the veteran racing franchise has suffered an identity crisis and Shift 2 clearly wants to put its troubled past to bed.
It does so by looking outside its comfort zone to long-standing giants such as Project Gotham, Forza and Gran Turismo.
A serious and deep racer, it may not have the sheer breadth of its rivals. But the cars demand respect, snarling beasts that spin off the road in a second.
Its XP system goads you into retrying races for that perfect line and the Autolog score-comparison system ensures you're always tempted into one more race to beat friends' times.
Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
Put aside preconceptions of the high-tech gloss of previous Ghost Recons, this 3DS version apes the turn-based style of DS classic Advance Wars. Control up to six special-ops soldiers in a cat-and-mouse game of close combat.
The 3D effect isn't up to much but the tense gameplay more than compensates, exploiting different types of rugged terrain and satisfyingly varied weapons to keep the action fresh.
WWE All Stars
Wrestling is a ridiculous pantomime at the best of times, but the makers of WWE All Stars may just be on to something by turning the spectacle into a caricature. Fighters throw opponents 10 feet in the air and visual effects emphasise the pain you inflict.
It's funny in a cruel way and finally pins wrestling as the outlandish cartoon we've always known it is.
Paranoia drives Homefront. If there's one thing Americans can't stomach, it's the terrifying notion of invasion -- whether it be aliens or, as in this case, commies from North Korea.
But unless you're a paid-up follower of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, it's hard to become emotionally invested in this futuristic shooter in which a raggle-taggle bunch of US rebels resist the Koreans' invasion of home soil.
The single-player story mixes up the gameplay -- stealth, turret-gunning, all-out firefights -- to good effect but a short running time, colourless characters and over-strict linearity conspire against it.
Multiplayer provides greater longevity with some nifty battlefield ideas based on XP earned. Homefront may play well to a US audience but to European eyes it's just another shooter.
A version of Asphalt exists for almost every mobile platform known to man and this might just be the best of them. But that doesn't make this racer anything more than pedestrian.
Effective use of 3D and high speed make a good first impression but chronic graphical slowdown and baffling collisions soon chip away at the initial goodwill.
Bits and Bytes
Little tweets for a big contribution
- O2 has €200,000 to give to charity and you can help -- €1 at a time.
There's no exhausting runs or chasing friends to "buy a line". All you need to do is visit the O2 Think Big website and share a happy thought.
You can post the thought to Twitter or Facebook if you like -- but whichever you do, O2 will give €1 to Headstrong, a charity that supports mental health in the young.
So break out some positive thinking, and make sure O2 reaches its goal of giving away €200,000.
Ads to Kindle reader interest
- Would you like some ads with your bestseller? Amazon hit the jackpot last year when it introduced a cheaper, smaller version of the Kindle reader.
That edition sold like wildfire at just €130 but if that sounds like too much, Amazon plans a new Kindle which would be subsidised by on-board ads.
Cutting the cost of the reader by about €20, the ads will be fairly unobtrusive -- limited to the screensaver and on the home page of the device. The Kindle goes on sale on May 3.
A cuppa sounds very app-ealing
- Barry's Tea has jumped on the iPhone bandwagon with an app that points you to the nearest hostelry serving a good cuppa. Find it on the App Store.