Digital Life: Join the big boys for a small price with these budget smartphones
By some estimates, more than 70pc of Irish households will own a smartphone by the end of the year -- up from 49pc in 2011, according to RedC. That explosive growth is being driven by the proliferation of budget Android phones.
The likes of Apple and Samsung are doing very nicely at the premium end, thank you very much, but not everybody can afford the equivalent of €500 or more when contract subsidies are factored in.
The Vodafone Smart showed last year that it was possible to sell a smartphone -- albeit a heavily compromised one best bought for children -- for €60 on prepay.
Now, 12 months on, the competition is even more fierce as the trickle of budget Androids becomes a flood. The pricing has not fallen through the floor but you are getting far more bang for your buck.
Exhibit A: The Vodafone Smart 2. This sequel costs a little more -- €70 -- but raises its game a few notches. You're never going to mistake it for an iPhone but for young owners, it offers a palatable mix of solid construction and acceptable smartphone performance.
The camera is only marginally less rubbish than its predecessor's, and the relative insensitivity of the screen will sometimes have you stabbing viciously at it to force it to respond. Battery life is nothing to write home about either.
But the Smart 2 still packs many smartphone features found on its big brothers, such as WiFi and GPS. That, coupled with its faster speed, overrides any major concerns. Did I mention it's only 70 quid?
Exhibit B is where things get interesting. Chinese electronics giant Huawei has been making phones and USB modems for other firms for several years. It produced the original Vodafone Smart, in fact.
But this year it has put its faith in its own brand and the Huawei Ascend G300 is the pleasing result.
Though almost double the cost of the Smart 2 at €130 on pre-pay, the G300 is a refined and powerful smartphone at an impressive price.
With a crisp four-inch screen mated to understated styling, it's doing to the big boys what the likes of Kia and Skoda did in the car market -- offering higher spec for less money.
The G300 is a phone untroubled by superlatives -- it's not the fastest, the best-looking, its camera doesn't pack the most pixels, and its software is not the cleverest.
It's just remarkably good value in a cutthroat market.
Both phones are available only from Vodafone, though the Huawei is expected to make its way to other networks within weeks.
Like me, you may have missed the 2008 PC freeware original, an unforgiving mistress that demanded tremendous reserves of resolve for its cruelly exacting gameplay.
Playing a miner exploring a rich and diverse cave system, the twist that takes a hammer to your expectations is that every cavern is randomly generated. Faced with an array of traps and enemies, you can't even rely on your memory to assist you in replays of levels when you die.
And die you will, a lot, in hilarious fashion. Embedded on a spike, devoured by piranhas, impaled by an arrow -- even when Spelunky is punishing you, laughter is your companion.
What's surprising in this Xbox 360 reboot -- available only as an XBLA download -- is how the knotty difficulty has been retained. Like the peculiar charms of Super Meat Boy -- a rock-hard platformer from the old school -- it takes time to warm to Spelunky.
Oh sure, its newly minted HD graphics make lush eye-candy of the caverns, but frustration with its demanding missions always hovers in the margins.
But then you accidentally blow yourself up with a bomb and cracking a smile is the only sane response.
Packaged with a chaotic co-op option and a frantic deathmatch mode, Spelunky has many treasures to dig up, but it takes a patient type of gamer to appreciate them.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
As unlikely mash-ups go, Final Fantasy meets Disney was probably a very long shot but Kingdom Hearts has made it to its 10th anniversary with a reimagined version for 3DS.
Dream Drop Distance is a little bewildering as ever, a complex layer of systems like those of Final Fantasy with the added difficulty of tracking the frenzied real-time battles on a small screen. But exploring the gorgeous worlds linked to the likes of Tron: Legacy and Pinocchio has undeniable charm, at least until the most annoying new "feature" -- forcing you to switch between playable characters every 15 minutes -- spoils your momentum.
Gamers as long in the tooth as me may recall the mild fuss surrounding the original Dragon's Lair in the early 1980s, as a brave knight tried to rescue a princess.
At a time when games consisted of crudely drawn splodges of pixels, DL employed beautifully animated graphics loaded from laserdisc (like an early DVD, look it up, kids).
Fully recreated here, it's cruelly exposed as a one-trick pony relying on perfect memory of the exquisite timing required for button prompts in between cut-scenes.
Bits and Bytes
- Apple is tipped to launch the newest version of its operating system tomorrow. All signs point to Mac OS X Mountain Lion being made available as a €20 download this week.
The update imports many features already available on iPhone and iPad, such as Notifications, Reminders, Game Center, Twitter integration and the ability to mirror your Mac's screen wirelessly on your big-screen TV.
Meanwhile, Microsoft confirmed it would release Windows 8 on October 26. The update focuses on adding many tablet-like features to the operating system as Microsoft battles to keep pace with the iPad.
As usual, there will be several versions, priced differently, but upgrades can be had for as little as €40 approximately.
- Energy provider Airtricity has updated its mobile app to make it easier to manage your bills and payments. Available for iPhone and Android, the free app enables you quickly check all past bills and payments as well as settle up if you aren't using direct debit.
Finally, in a brilliant move to save the company money, you can do their work for them and submit your own meter readings. In a sane world, there should be a discount for that.