independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Weckler on Technology: It's new, it's powerful, but this One doesn't boast the X Factor

Original Xbox One console

Microsoft Xbox One

Price: from €500

Rating: ***

HO HUM. 8GB of Ram, 32MB of graphics memory and a super-powerful AMD chip.

And yet, it's hard to be impressed with the basic functionality of Microsoft's new Xbox One.

Take its main feature, the updated Kinect camera device. It's a lot sharper than the old Kinect.

In fact, it can detect up to six faces in the room. It also facilitates voice-control, allowing you to say things like: "Xbox on".

This is, at best, a novelty. Voice-control is like video-calling: awkward, self-conscious and mostly not done. (How many of us really use Siri on the iPhone or Samsung Voice on the Galaxy?) The Xbox One's main appeal, at launch, is its (modest) list of exclusive games.

But the difference between these and existing Xbox 360 games appears to be minimal.

(Not that you'll be able to compare them directly, as the new console won't play any existing Xbox 360 games.)

No, the Xbox One is struggling to maintain the relevance that its Xbox 360 had when it launched eight years ago.

It is certainly more powerful – but not by the order of magnitude that an eight-year gap would normally bring.

If you're a committed gamer who likes to share your best frags, it should do the trick. For the larger populace, it may just gather dust.

Now you can turn your iPhone into a games console

Logitech Powershell Controller

Price: €120

Rating: ****

WHILE the world obsesses over the battle between Microsoft and Sony for console supremacy, Logitech's latest accessory gives a clue as to why the console market is declining so rapidly (at least 15pc every year).

It's a game-controlling case that allows you to play iPhone (iPod Touch) games using joypad buttons and controllers, instead of the touchscreen. This is possible thanks to a new facility in iOS7 (Apple's latest operating system) that allows games to be controlled in this way.

The list of games is modest (300 at present) as game developers continue to build the technology into new releases. But the accessory comes with its own battery, meaning it won't sap your phone's power. It works for iPhone 5S and iPhone 5 but not for iPhone 5C. It also works for the fifth-generation iPod Touch.

Grab a laptop with a touch of class for under €400

Advent Tacto laptop

Price: €370 Rating: ****

With phones getting bigger, I'm beginning to find my tablet usage squeezed. For example, at present I'm using Samsung's 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 smartphone – there isn't a hell of a difference between that and a tablet. But I do absolutely need a laptop from time to time.

If I was on a tight budget, I could do a lot worse than this model.

For a start, it's very rare to get a touchscreen model for under €400. Not into touchscreens? Fine: but they are becoming standard. Secondly, a 12-inch laptop is much, much handier than a 15-inch laptop. It's not just that it's lighter, the battery isn't under as much strain.

The Tacto's 4GB of Ram and 500GB hard drive are up to par for a standard machine. Where you're making the major compromise is in the chip, which is a lowly Intel Celeron model.

Don't worry – it'll see you through iTunes, GMail and Facebook no problem. But if you try to give 'Counter Strike' a go, you'll be in trouble.

This is a worthy adversary to challenge Kindle's stronghold

Kobo HD Aura eReader

Price: €150

Rating: ****

Like Hoover and iPad, I increasingly hear e-book reader devices referred to generically as 'Kindles'. And yet there are some decent alternatives out there. Kobo's Aura HD is one such device. It has a couple of attractions that make it worth considering. First, it's bigger than a standard, six-inch e-reader. Okay, it's 6.8 inches, but that is a bigger difference than the mere 0.8 extra suggests (compare a 4-inch iPhone with a 5-inch Samsung S4 and you'll see what I mean). Its second attraction is the clarity of the screen, which is crisp and sharp. As for its selection of titles (from its own online bookstore), it's roughly the same as Amazon's. And, once you're logged in, you can read those books on almost any internet-connected device. In truth, e-readers are a declining market; tablets and smartphones are eating into their sales in a big way. But they are still a better option than LCD screens for longer reads. And this is a worthy rival to the Kindle.

It does what it says on the tin – but it's as dull as ditchwater

Toshiba Excite Write

Price: €535

Rating: ***

'Solid but stodgy' describes Toshiba's Excite Write tablet. The machine is aimed squarely at the high-end, stylus-friendly tablet. It was hard to fault. It is powerful and has 2GB of Ram and a 32GB hard drive. Its screen has a 300 pixel-per-inch density. And its onboard Harmon Kardon speakers give above-average audio. The only thing to really let the device down is its styling, which is stodgy and dull. (It is considerably thicker than most of its rivals.) I find that this matters when it comes to tablets: the thinner and sleeker, the better. The model I tested also came with Toshiba's optional keyboard case, which was handy (and costs about €100 extra). This is a decent machine with high-end specifications. But it just didn't excite me.

 

Irish Independent

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