Digital Life: Exposed! Samsung's great leap forward for everyday snappers
You used to know where you stood simply by the brand. In the motor industry, many people would buy only familiar names such as Ford and Opel, while the unpronounceables from the Far East were the preserve of drivers who didn't know any better. Toyota changed all that, of course.
The camera market developed along much the same lines.
Where once we gravitated automatically towards old reliables such as Kodak, Canon and Nikon, now the world and his wife makes photographic gear.
Samsung is one of those arrivistes. Long a maker of cheap and cheerful kit, now it wants to play with the big boys. The new NX200 camera targets keen snappers who want pro quality but can't abide a full-sized SLR -- a new category known as the compact system camera (CSC).
Essentially, you're getting a professional's toolkit at half the size, complete with interchangeable lenses.
Samsung has made great strides over its earlier CSC efforts and the NX200 is its first that can look rivals in the eye without blinking.
Built around a solid metal frame and loaded with smart features, the Samsung comes bundled with an 18-55mm lens -- eight other lenses are available as options.
It's nimble, captures full-HD video and copes well in low light and with fast-moving subjects.
Each compatible lens sports a one-touch button that enables quick adjustment of settings such as ISO or exposure compensation.
Unfortunately for Samsung, though, it faces fierce competition in the CSC space from pioneers such as Sony and Panasonic.
Sony's NEX5 and Panasonic's GX1 come in at roughly the same price but benefit from the brands' longer pedigree.
The €800 Samsung is no slouch but in a straight fight it loses out on image quality to its elders. With such a leap forward, though, you can't help but dream what the NX300 will be like.
Brains or brawn. Tough but stupid. Smart but vulnerable. In phones, as in life, you can't always have everything but that hasn't deterred Motorola (yes, Motorola, remember them? Now owned by Google) from giving it a go with the Defy+.
A ruggedly built Android smartphone, the Defy+ is described as "life-proof", by which Motorola means water-resistant, scratch-resistant and dust-proof.
True, it is a tough customer, better able to withstand abuse than your average smartphone. But its resistance to water and dust depends on you remembering to keep the protective flaps around the headphone jack and charger port firmly attached.
As a phone, it's a decent little Android, though the old 2.3 software (Android is now up to 4.0) is showing its age.
The Motorola Defy+ costs €50 on the cheapest O2 contract or €250 on O2 pre-pay.
The adorable pink blob goes back to his roots in this simple platformer that will appeal to younger gamers.
Kirby's trademark ability stems from inhaling his foes and either spitting them back out as a projectile or absorbing their special powers. By thrashing the Wiimote around, he can now suck up much larger objects, including rocky obstacles and enemies several times his size.
Co-op multiplayer enables up to three others to drop in and out of the action, perfect for parents to help out for that tough bit or just for friends to join the fun.
What unfolds is a gentle, undemanding platformer, full of whimsy and moments of comedy, not least when a special enemy grants you a superpower such as the screen-filling sword that wipes out everything -- scenery, bad guys, etc -- before it.
So this instalment is typical Kirby -- not as adventurous and inventive as its predecessor, Epic Yarn -- but a cut above the typical platformer.
JOE DANGER: SPECIAL EDITION
Formerly a PS3 exclusive, this bike-riding stuntman owes equal debt to the antics of Evel Knievel and the Xbox classic Trials HD. In the transition from PlayStation to Xbox, Joe has acquired a bunch of new levels that are even crazier than the originals.
Unlike Trials, which favoured a realistic art style and straightforward time trials, Joe Danger lives in a breezy cartoonish world of colourful ramps, jumps and obstacles littered with multiple objectives. There's even the obligatory shark tank to leap across.
The levels escalate quickly in difficulty but the tight, responsive controls always ensure you feel a little more practice will crack them. When you factor in the level editor and local multiplayer, Joe Danger becomes a compelling package, all for €14 from Xbox Live.
Everyone loves the idea of playing Monopoly until you remember how long it takes to finish the bloody game. Somehow the idea of making wads of cash by bankrupting other players doesn't seem so funny these days either.
Boom Street ignores all of these petty concerns to bring us a Monopoly variant stuffed with characters from Nintendo's back catalogue.
In simple mode -- travel around the board buying properties and fine those who land on your land -- it might just catch the interest of younger players wooed by its colourful design. But the alternative "complex" rules -- which adds share dealing -- will test the patience of all but the most committed lover of board games.
Bits and Bytes
You may have whiled away many an hour on your iPhone/Android with Cut the Rope, the most maddeningly addictive game since Angry Birds. Now you can do the same on your computer at home or at work with the free desktop version.
However, this edition of the Cut the Rope puzzles works only in very modern browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer 9. It includes 25 levels, seven of which are exclusive to users of IE9.
Spotify got itself some more competition in the streaming music space with the recent launch in Ireland of Deezer. It's been around in one form or another since 2006 but is only now beginning an aggressive rollout to many countries.
Deezer offers a free two-week trial with access to about 13 millions songs. After that, you're on the hook for €5 a month.