Digital Life: Keep taking the tablets
Lighting up Las Vegas
Keep taking the tablets was one of the key messages to emerge last week from the giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the largest showcase of its kind which lights up Las Vegas every year.
Twelve months ago, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer told CES that a raft of tablet computers were on their way. Instead, the year belonged to the iPad.
This year will be different judging by CES 2011, with more than 100 tablets on show from a host of manufacturers from Motorola to Panasonic to LG to BlackBerry signalling their intent.
The best of them appears to be the Motorola Xoom, which is based on the forthcoming update to Google's Android software. Many others were just too experimental or unimpressive clones.
In fact, much of this year's CES evoked a sense of déjà vu, with the big guns eager to reinforce ideas first floated last year.
So the 3D bandwagon droned on, still trying to convince us that we need the third dimension in our lives when what we really need is a version without those cretinous glasses.
Lady Gaga returned to CES after her first year as "creative director" of Polaroid with little new to show but some wacky sunglasses that record your view of the world for upload to the web. She didn't even wear a dress made of meat.
But at least in some corners there were signs of innovation, with Samsung showing off a bendable phone. Or at least the screen for such a phone.
Sadly, it's just a prototype, but it does bode well for the day when you can drop your mobile and not see it smash in a thousand pieces.
Who would choose beauty or brains when you could have both? Sadly, for every beautifully crafted piece of indispensable technology we get 10 functional devices wrapped in lumpen plastic.
So we must treasure rarities like Microsoft's new Arc Touch Mouse, a fetching little number with a distinctive thin and curved profile. Intended as a travelling companion, the wireless Arc folds flat for storage and bends into a hump for mousing.
Like Microsoft's mouse collaboration with Phillipe Starck in 2004, however, the elegant design sometimes challenges the functionality -- for example the small size of the buttons or the tendency of the scroll strip to get stuck.
At €85 for the Arc, you will find much cheaper mice out there but none so striking.
Pac-Man Championship EditionDX
Thirty years after his debut, Pac-Man CE DX reboots the classic maze game to devastating effect.
At its core remains the vintage gameplay of eating pills and dodging ghosts. But a handful of radical tweaks shift the balance in Pac-Man's favour and renew our love affair. Among them, Pac gains a limited number of bombs to kick the ghosts back to their starting point and when a collision is imminent the game slows right down to enable fine control.
With a bountiful selection of new mazes and game modes, the 30-year-old blob has just got a new lease of life. Wocka-wocka indeed.
Pick of the Week: Your Shape: Fitness Evolved
Wii Fit is the third-best selling game in history, many of the weighing-scales controllers bought with good intentions but destined for landfill almost unused.
Your Shape eyes a slice of this lucrative fitness market but has a leg-up on Wii Fit in several quarters. YS tracks your comical flailing, er, exercising via the Kinect camera, thus able to monitor the movement of all your limbs and head, instead of the rough guesswork of Wii Fit.
In a serene white atmosphere cajoled by soothing trainers, your on-screen avatar mirrors your actions through exercises from squats to kick-boxing to (via downloadable extras) dance routines.
Backed up by calorie counting and a web-based scoreboard to encourage competition among friends, Your Shape takes fitness games to the next level.
The motion-tracking doesn't take kindly to baggy clothing, though, so just close the curtains and slip on that leotard and leg warmers you've always been too afraid to wear outside.
This virtual pet sim loses something in the translation from PS3 to PSP.
Taking care of your adopted cat-monkey lacks the tactile feedback of the big-screen version and the fussy requirements of its augmented reality mode mean EyePet PSP is anything but portable.
The worst Kinect game by some margin, FU manages to cram botched controls, shallow presentation and monotonous progression into one fighting sim.
The Sly Trilogy
One of the great unsung platformers from the PS2's golden age has been remade in (slightly) high-definition and (ineffective) 3D. But with three classic games in one pack, Sly is still a force to be reckoned with.
Bits and Bytes
NEW SERVICE TUNES UP
> Music streaming site We7 will launch its Irish arm later this month, making more than 6.5 million tracks available.
In return for listening to a few ads, the service is completely free but a fiver a month gets you all the songs without those pesky interruptions.
MOVIES FOR FREE
> O2 is giving away extra credit and free cinema tickets for six months if you upgrade your prepay phone or join the network in January.
SPAM DROP SHOCK
> It’s either really good news or really bad news - and we don't know which yet. The volume of spam email as fallen precipitously in the last month, catching internet experts by surprise.
Most spam comes from just a handful of companies which use virus-infected Windows home computers worldwide to secretly transmit their offers of cheap Viagra or porn.
Security pundits are mystified, saying the drop-off is either waning financial returns or the spammers gearing up for a fresh assault on our inboxes.
WINDOWS PHONE UPGRADE
> THE handful of you who bought Windows 7 phones this Christmas will be pleased to learn a much-anticipated software update is closer at hand than we thought.
The free update, which will add copy and paste plus some bug fixes, is now tipped to arrive later this month or early February at the latest.