Digital Life: Nokia steps up its game with the N8
Your granddad probably remembers when Nokia was the undisputed king of mobile-land.
Truth is, it just seems like a long time ago in the fast-moving world of phones. And despite Android and iPhone dominating the smartphone market, the Finns still sell a hell of a lot of fine handsets at the cheaper end.
Much of Nokia's spectacular failure to keep pace with the iPhone is down to its lack of a credible touchscreen interface. Even its latest contender, the Nokia N8, is merely a tentative evolution of its familiar Symbian menu system.
What's clear is that Nokia hasn't lost its flair for well crafted hardware. It may lack the elegant finish of some of HTC's newest Androids or the iPhone 4 but the N8 feels reassuringly solid.
Even more impressive is the prowess of its 12-megapixel camera. Nokia's use of high-quality optics and a large image sensor allows the N8 to capture the best photos and video you've ever seen on a phone.
For all its hardware's accomplishments, the N8's software is its Achilles heel. Though distinctly improved over earlier efforts, anyone but the most diehard Nokia fan will find the touchscreen system a little underwhelming, replete with pregnant pauses and ungainly menus.
For every great feature (such as the free satnav software), the N8 manages a downside (for example, the understocked, overpriced app store).
The Nokia N8 costs €90 on the cheapest Vodafone contract.
One day soon, every electronic device in your home will be contactable over the internet. Wouldn't it be nice to turn on your home heating or check the fridge for milk before you leave the office? Maybe you'd like to set your Sky box to record a TV show even though you're thousands of miles away on holidays?
It's not science fiction. Many of these are already possible and it's the kind of thinking that informs the new HP Envy 100 printer/scanner. Its big idea is called ePrint -- get hard copies of your document simply by emailing them to a special address.
Tastefully designed in black with silver accents, the Envy 100 wouldn't disgrace itself in your living room. But because it's wirelessly connected to the net, it can be located anywhere in your home near a power socket.
Alas, though, sloppy software from HP means ePrint is unreliable and the two-cartridge ink system fails to produce the quality of a printer half the price.
The Envy 100 costs €300.
An obsessive-compulsive petrolhead's dream
You never forget your first glimpse of Gran Turismo. Even its first incarnation on the lowly PS1 back in 1997 was easily mistaken for real footage of a car race. Realism is its thing.
But the five-year wait for GT5 has done its cause no good as competing racing games built up a substantial lead. GT5's answer has been to throw everything into the mix.
Always an obsessive-compulsive petrolhead's dream, GT5 piles on the variety, from karting to rallying to stock cars. At the core of this sprawling, unwieldy beast remains a sublime racer.
But it's unbalanced by so many shaky limbs -- half-assed online mode, slow loading times, recycled cars and tracks -- that many players may just get bored and move on.
Even the much-vaunted 3D mode is so subtle as to be pointless.
Imagine Top Gear without the anarchic fun: that's GT5 in a nutshell.
Credible heroines are in short supply in RPG territory, so Venetica marks a heartening departure from the norm. Otherwise, this is familiar stuff -- a novice warrior on a journey to stop an evil band of sorcerers in a medieval land.
Attractive levels set in Venice and some novel weapons (warhammer for the win!) are undermined by slight bugginess. But there's plenty here to amuse you over Christmas.
The inevitable light-gun game for the PlayStation Move controller turns out a decent effort, throwing you into assorted film sets to shoot pop-up targets.
Short-lived and probably too easy, it's still a blast while it lasts.
007: Blood Stone
Daniel Craig and Judi Dench supply voices at no doubt great cost but someone forgot to budget for a decent game in this stopgap effort while the Bond movies are on hiatus.
A shooter generic to the point of blandness, Blood Stone is playable but forgettable. Try the new GoldenEye remake on Wii instead.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One
Oh, Harry, what have they done to you? This lazy tie-in has none of the zing of its book/movie companions, rendering spell-casting as a boring chore. Even the briefly amusing Kinect mode for X360 can't lift this Potter out of its torpor.
Bits and Bytes
- Proving that most internet users are nothing but a bunch of voyeuristic pervs, Google has revealed that searches for ChatRoulette saw the biggest increase of any site in 2010.
The notorious chat site -- where strangers are randomly connected to one another via webcam -- topped the list of "fastest rising" in Google's annual Zeitgeist list, both globally and in Ireland.
Pathetically, the most searched-for sites on Google are Facebook and YouTube.
How hard is it to type "facebook.com" into your browser people?
- The bottomless well of YouTube is the gift that keeps on giving, like your own personal TV station, except for all that clutter around the screen.
So YouTube has created LeanBack, a way to view videos in full-screen mode with a minimum of distractions.
- The thought of my next electricity bill sends a chill down my spine what with the lights, leccy blanket and heaters running constantly lately.
Just in time for Christmas, the ESB has launched an online store full of energy-efficient gadgets. With free delivery on orders over €30, you may locate the perfect festive gift.