Digital Life: With Sony's new tablet, P stands for portable -- but also for pricey
The trap so many iPad rivals fall into is to try to clone the look and feel of the Apple tablet as closely as patent law will allow. But they're always on to a loser when competing with Apple on design, and that leaves the only other weapon: price.
But the Jobs mob has that one largely sewn up too, because rivals find it nearly impossible to undercut the iPad due to Apple's formidable hold on world supplies of screens, chips etc.
The sensible, if daunting, approach would be to design a radically different tablet, one as far away as possible from an iClone. Sony clearly thought so too and has produced the Tablet P, an intriguing folding tablet with two five-inch touchscreens.
Think of it as an overgrown Nintendo DS, though this is a full Android tablet, as powerful as many of its 10-inch brethren. The clamshell design means it fits handily into a jacket pocket (take that, iPad) but when opened out the two screens act beautifully as one for web browsing, apps, etc.
Initially, it can be a bit disconcerting that the hinge effectively places a big black bar across the middle of your dual screen. In many apps, that makes no difference but other functions (including watching video) can be seriously cramped because everything gets squeezed into the top display.
The highly portable nature of the Tablet P introduces other compromises, including reduced battery life and tiny storage space. Sony includes just 4GB on-board but at least a memory-card slot enables you to add as much as you want at your own expense.
It's tempting to view the Tablet P as falling between two stools. The unusual design makes it an inviting prospect for someone seeking something out of the ordinary in a tablet. But Sony has unwisely priced the only model (WiFi + 3G) at €600. That's perilously close to iPad territory and you'd want to value portability very highly for the other compromises to fade away.
Due to an outbreak of health zealotry at Digital Life, this week's recommended apps focus on getting more out of exercise. My constant companion for my regular running lately has been the Nike+ GPS app (€1.59 for iPhone).
It tracks your routes on Google Maps, gives you audio feedback on your pace and distance, plus celebrity guests egg you on when you reach a new milestone (Ellie Goulding told me I was great last week, you know).
If you're the hyper-competitive type, you can issue challenges to friends to run further or faster, etc.
Runkeeper (for iPhone/Android, free) ploughs a similar furrow but aims at more serious athletes with its complexity and a broader range of sports (cycling, etc). Like Nike+ GPS, it feeds all your data back to its website for deeper analysis.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
The weight of a huge responsibility falls on the shoulders of Nathan Drake, treasure hunter par excellence, who is part Lara Croft, part Indiana Jones but every bit a PlayStation hero.
His Uncharted adventures, which lit up the PS3, are now required to demonstrate the Sony's new PS Vita can offer something that smartphones cannot.
For the most part, Golden Abyss succeeds too, a vibrant rollercoaster ride showcasing Vita's every possible function (touchscreens front and back, tilt, twin-stick control). It may be familiar stuff (pop-and-shoot gunplay, acrobatic wall climbing, wise-cracking leads) and lacks the sheer spectacle of its PS3 cousins but it does more than enough to convince players of the enormous horsepower at Vita's beck and call.
Trouble is, at probably four or five times the cost of an iPhone blockbuster, you wonder how long the market will sustain the likes of Golden Abyss. Nonetheless, it's a great place to start your Vita collection.
Gotham City Impostors
A gleeful idea -- Gotham is awash with teams of maniacs imitating Batman and the Joker -- meets an online multiplayer shooter in the mode of Team Fortress 2 and (remember this?) Shadowrun.
Absurdist humour (such as the costume customisation) rubs shoulders with barmy gadgets (spring-loaded boots, rollerskates, etc) in frantic and amusing death matches.
But a lack of maps (just five at launch), server trouble with matchmaking and an exhausting grind to level up stops Gotham City Impostors from reaching its true potential.
To judge this latest instalment of the weapons-based brawler by its single-player mode would be to do it a disservice. Dull as dishwater and with some unforgivable spikes of difficulty, don't buy SC5 unless you want multiplayer action.
Only then do the fluid combat, gorgeous visuals and engagingly daft roster of characters begin to gel. Combining useful concessions to newcomers with SoulCalibur's trademark of outrageous swordplay keeps the series ticking along.
Grand Slam Tennis 2
Emblazoning John McEnroe on the front is the biggest clue that GST2 is not trying to compete head-on with tennis sim king Top Spin. It aims the racket somewhere between the simulation of Top Spin and the arcade style of Virtua Tennis, without ever capturing the spirit of either.
Still, GST2 offers a decent tennis game -- either via the 'realistic' (but counter-intuitive) twin-stick controls or the simplified button-based action. The opportunity to play in classic matches of yesteryear, as veterans such as McEnroe and in all four Grand Slams is something even Top Spin can't match.
Bits and Bytes
- It's been a long time coming -- in fact, Digital Life rather overconfidently predicted it back in 2009 -- but this year will finally see the launch of the projector phone.
The Samsung Galaxy Beam can project photos, videos and apps on to any surface but crucially it has the size (more or less) and capabilities of a regular smartphone.
There's no word on pricing or availability but it will undoubtedly launch later this year.
- No press release or nothing -- you would think Xtra-vision wants to keep its new DVD-by-mail service a secret.
Launched silently late last year to compete with existing service Screenclick and presumably part of the strategy to fend off Netflix, Xtra-vision Direct enables you to choose movies on the website to be sent to your home.
Then you return them by mail and your next one arrives.
Xtra-vision has sensibly undercut Screenclick's monthly fees by €1 but it could do with publicising it a bit more.
Now, a streaming movie service please, Xtra-vision.