Digital Life: Calling time on five bar blues
Happiness is five bars. No, you haven't accidentally tuned into the ramblings of a raving alcoholic, we're talking signal bars here. For all the bajillions mobile operators spend on improving coverage, the world is full of dead zones where reception is poor to non-existent.
The bitterest pill is that coverage in your own home can be spotty because mobile signals find it hard to penetrate walls. No problem if you have a landline but a real pain if, like many people, you rely exclusively on your mobile to keep in touch.
So Vodafone now enables you to erect a mobile mast in your front room.
A small box the size of modem and using technology known as a femtocell, the Vodafone Sure Signal connects to your broadband and broadcasts a 3G "bubble" all round your house.
Result: Five bars on your mobile -- no conversations where callers sound like Daleks, no more dropped calls, no more crawling downloads.
Lest you have visions of your brain melting from 3G radio waves, Vodafone assures us the Sure Signal pumps out a teeny fraction of the power of an outdoor mast -- less even than WiFi. Up to 10 mobiles (Vodafone-only -- naturally) can be registered with the Sure Signal. All others are locked out, stopping pesky passers-by from piggybacking on your good reception.
Let's leave aside the dubious morality of Vodafone charging you to plug the gaps in its coverage and the fact that the calls should really be cheaper because they're using your bandwidth.
If you've been dogged by dodgy signals in your house, this little box works a treat. The Sure Signal is expected to cost about €100 when it goes on sale next week.
Joggers who like to listen to music can be driven demented by the sound of the headphone cable whipping against their heads.
A Bluetooth stereo headset such as the new Plantronics' Backbeat 903+ offers a route out of this headphone hell.
With no trailing wires to disturb you, the sweat-resistant headset wedges into your ears, enabling you play music from any Bluetooth device and take calls from any Bluetooth phone while on the run.
Ergonomically, though, Plantronics must try harder.
It's far too easy to nudge the headset out of your ears when you reach for the controls and the earpieces block out hardly any ambient noise.
As with all Bluetooth headsets, it's also prone to brief but distracting dropouts in sound.
Still, the Backbeat 903+ is the best in its class -- you might look a bit of wally wearing it but at least you're freed from headphone cable dementia.
DEAD SPACE 2
Take the ruined beauty of BioShock, distill the dark and menacing essence of the Alien movies, add a generous helping of body horror and buff it up with a running dig at Scientology. Congratulations, you've just made Dead Space 2.
Waking confused in a sprawling space station, three years after the events of the original game, your first mission is to leg it from the grotesque monsters you thought you had eradicated once and for all in DS1.
Then it's once more unto the breach, dear friends, to search for an escape route, overcoming double-crosses, ravenous aliens and hallucinations in a rollicking, genuinely scary ride.
Decks groan, unseen monsters growl and lights flicker, conjuring up a spine-chilling vibe that James Cameron wouldn't disown. Thankfully, the developers eliminated most of the dreary backtracking and drab colour-palette that dragged down the original game.
They even found time to add multiplayer. But that mode suffers the most from DS2's tight perspective in that, up close, you can't see what's attacking you or what you're attacking.
What DS2 lacks in originality it makes up in atmosphere. Horror fans won't be disappointed.
Oh, the irony. Glued together from bits and bobs pilfered from myriad platformers, Spare Parts lives up to its name. This download-only title shamelessly steals from the likes of Ratchet and Clank -- except it seems to have photocopied the blueprints from 300 yards away.
It's all competently assembled but staggeringly unoriginal. Ten years ago, they might have got away with it but not now.
The inevitable kid-friendly tie-in to the Disney movie, Tangled the game shows little of the spark that lights up the cinematic retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale.
Its target audience of very young girls will be drawn to its colourful 2D world and simple exploratory gameplay. But some minigames lack clear instructions and the slow-loading levels make for a lot of unwelcome waiting around.
Bits and Bytes
Use your phone to donate
- The Jack and Jill Foundation has launched an iPhone app to make it easier to donate to the charity. The app contains links and contact details to donate old mobile phones and toner cartridges.
The foundation provides care and assistance for children with brain damage or severe disability.
Film festival goes mobile
- Also new this week is the iPhone/Android app for the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival which contains the programme for the event. The festival runs from Thursday until February 27. Highlights include a talk by Kevin Spacey after a screening of The Usual Suspects, plus new movies from Woody Allen, Matt Damon (pictured below) and Ken Loach.
For the record
- "This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes" -- when call centres give you this annoying message, you know it's to protect them and not you.
But now you can get your own back with a new service that can record your calls and send them to you as MP3 files. RecordMyCall charges between 10c and 35c a minute depending on whether you're calling a landline or mobile.
It can also save copies of your voicemails hosted by almost all of the mobile networks.
Nokia and Microsoft link up
- So Nokia has finally stirred from its self-imposed torpor and got into bed with Microsoft. Yet despite adopting Windows Phone 7 in a move that shocked no one last week, the Finnish giant will continue to sell phones based on its outdated Symbian platform.
The prospect of WP7 employing Nokia's hardware know-how is tantalising but it'll be some months before we see the fruit of their labour. In the meantime, you'd be a fool to buy one of Nokia's high-end smartphones, which are headed for a dead end.