Monday 18 December 2017

Digital Life: In memory of HP's dearly departed TouchPad -- gone to techie heaven

Padded out: The HP TouchPad
boasts a wonderful operating
system – but unfortunately
has been discontinued due to
poor sales
Padded out: The HP TouchPad boasts a wonderful operating system – but unfortunately has been discontinued due to poor sales
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Welcome to the obituary column. This week we pay tribute to a brave soul taken from us cruelly early. Beautiful, talented and with enormous potential, the HP TouchPad had flaws like the rest of us but did not deserve to die so quickly.

Belatedly launched more than a year after the iPad had cornered the tablet market, the TouchPad nonetheless stood out from the crowd of wannabes licking the crumbs from Apple's table.

When one finally arrived in the office last week, it was easy to see why. The exterior design is anything but revolutionary, yet it feels reassuringly expensive.

The HP tablet's software is where the magic begins. Based on HP's WebOS, already used in Palm phones, the touchscreen system resembles that of the iPad but with its own elegant twists.

Each app sits on its own 'card' that fits into a rotating carousel and enables easy-peasy multitasking. Notifications of new emails, appointments, etc, pop down gracefully from the menu bar.

The system is full of thoughtful touches such as the inclusion of number keys in the on-screen keyboard.

In theory, then, the TouchPad is the peer or even the better of the iPad. Certainly, it's a bloody good first effort.

Unfortunately, it's also HP's last effort at a tablet. The computer giant summarily killed off the TouchPad two weeks ago after disappointing early sales in the US.

Critics pointed to, among other things, the sluggish performance, lack of apps and heaviness as reasons why TouchPad couldn't compete.

All are true but not anything that couldn't be remedied in time. Unfortunately, we'll probably never know because HP will make no more tablets or phones like it.

There's a funny postscript to this story, though. After HP announced the TouchPad's demise, it slashed the base model in the US from $500 to $100 in an effort to shift the hundreds of thousands of machines in its warehouses. That sparked a buying frenzy as enthusiasts sniffed a bargain.

Alas, HP has yet to bring that price cut officially to Ireland. Some stores have taken the initiative and sold a few at €100. If you're lucky you might get one at the Carphone Warehouse but most places are out of stock.

You would be utterly insane to pay full price now -- €480 for the 16GB WiFi Touchpad -- knowing that the machine has reached the end of the line.

At €100, however, you would be getting a ridiculously cheap seat at the tablet table. Please sell some more of them, HP.

Game On

Deus Ex: Human Revolution


RATING: 9/10

This prequel to a classic regularly voted 'best game of all time' has some serious boots to fill. Eleven years after Deus Ex electrified gamers with its broad mash-up of shooting, stealth and RPG, Human Revolution revisits the same universe of technologically enhanced humans fighting terrorists.

The influence of Deus Ex is scattered all over gaming history, from Splinter Cell to BioShock. Similarly, it draws heavy inspiration itself from sci-fi stalwarts such as Blade Runner. Human Revolution absorbs all of these touchstones and spits them back out as a compelling narrative in which you're granted considerable freedom to forge your own path.

Want to creep stealthily through vents, hack information and avoid confrontation? Prefer to take out the baddies with a few well placed shots? Maybe you'd like to enhance your mind with social skills and simply talk your way past guards? All are possible.

Stealth works best, though, and this is a game for the patient. But it rewards you handsomely for devising elaborate strategies to complete each level. The neon-lit world boasts some stunning scenery and the enemy AI manages to be competent if occasionally a bit dim.

Human Revolution may not be as much of a breakthrough as the original -- but it's a game in which you can easily lose yourself.

Fruit Ninja Kinect


RATING: 7/10

After a million-selling success on smartphones, Fruit Ninja makes the logical leap to Kinect-enhanced Xbox. The simple premise has been transferred intact: slice up flying fruit for big points.

But instead of swiping with your fingertips, Kinect has you waving your arms like swords. Despite an annoying lag, it mostly works too, delivering quick thrills and rapid exhaustion. Even better, it includes multiplayer for competitive sessions.

Despite the fun factor and the cheap price of the download, FNK lacks much variety to keep you coming back often.

Shadow Cities


RATING: 8/10

Free to play, Shadow Cities is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with a foot in the real world. Using the iPhone's GPS, it overlays a battlefield on a satellite map of your location as two factions fight for control of territory.

Cast spells to damage enemies and teleport around the real world to join the battles raging elsewhere. Intriguing and innovative, Shadow Cities is well worth a look.

Bits and Bytes

• Facebook launched yet another revision of its privacy controls last week by enabling you to control who tags you in photos or posts.

Now when anyone tags you, you get to approve it before anyone else gets to see that embarrassing photo when you were plastered in the pub.

You also request people (friends or otherwise) to remove tags of you that already exist. There's nothing to force them to comply, however, so you might just be stuck with that silly comment or picture forever.

• The bane of every music festival-goer's experience is the dreaded "clash" -- where your favourite bands end up playing at the same time on different stages.

But it can be hard to work out exactly the best strategy for minimal overlap with sprawling events such as this weekend's Electric Picnic.

Try Clashfinder for size, then, to generate colour-coded timetables of the line-up which will immediately highlight potential heartaches at major festivals.

• 'Retweet' and 'sexting' have been immortalised in print with their addition to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary last week.

They are among the 400 words that the OED has deemed worthy in its latest update.

Other techno examples include "cyberbullying", "woot" and "follower".

Irish Independent

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