Digital Life: Read all about it -- battle of the e-books
Newer is not always better, especially not in the fast-moving world of technology. When Apple took the wraps off the all-singing, all-dancing iPad in January, many wise heads (myself included) wondered whether it spelled the end for older, single-function devices such as the Amazon Kindle e-book reader.
Yet it quickly became apparent the Kindle couldn't be counted out, especially with its monster battery life. Its grey screen may not have the glossy, colourful appeal of an iPad and the small, awkward buttons lack the intuitive operation of the touchscreen.
But the Kindle is a hell of lot easier to read outside in daylight or for long periods, and most of the time the only two buttons you'll need are the big ones to move from page to page.
The only thing Amazon urgently needed to tackle was the price. What started out at launch in 2007 at €400 fell to €230 last year -- still a little expensive for the mass market.
Now comes the revolution: the latest WiFi-only version costs as little as €130. Granted, it doesn't have 3G and the design of the buttons remains a bit challenging. But at this price it stands head and shoulders above any e-reader, iPad included.
Amazon is making encouraging noises about soon allowing Kindle owners to "lend" books to each other. Even better, it has abolished that flagrant "delivery charge" for free, out-of-copyright books.
A version costing €175 comes with 3G, which is useful for its unlimited free internet browsing and instant book downloads.
Some of you will have painful memories of the BlackBerry Storm, the company's botched attempt to compete with the iPhone. Chastened by the flak, BlackBerry has finally responded with the Torch 9800, a phone that combines BB's renowned email know-how with a much-improved touchscreen interface.
Crucially, it includes a slide-out keyboard for hardened BlackBerry fans who can't do without buttons. Thanks to that keyboard, the Torch is a little porky, but beautifully made nonetheless.
Inside, BlackBerry has made great strides since the Storm, gifting the Torch with a slick touchscreen menu system that, while not quite iPhone standard, has its own merits.
In addition to its world-class email handling, it now has decent web browsing, social networking and a camera.
True, the smallish keyboard is best for the dainty of finger, there were times the phone struggled to keep up with the user and the BlackBerry app store is thinly populated.
But the Torch is the best all-rounder ever to come out of BlackBerry HQ. It costs €230 on the cheapest contract with Vodafone.
Join the brotherhood and hire your own hit-men
Although this is the third in the series, there's a very good reason why Brotherhood hasn't been badged Assassin's Creed 3. Throughout the opening hours, anyone who enjoyed the brilliant ACII will experience a recurring deja-vu.
We're back in the shoes of a 15th-century assassin fighting tyranny in Italy while unravelling a Da Vinci Code-style mystery.
While the action has shifted to a gorgeously recreated Rome, it plays very much like its predecessor, from the stealthy executions to the breathless free-running across the rooftops.
What saves it from being a polished but cheeky cash-in is the wealth of new content to be explored, such as the underground lairs, a new multiplayer assassin mode and the ability to hire your own band of hit-men to carry out your dirty work.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
The Need for Speed series had disappeared up its own exhaust pipe in trying too hard to connect with the underground racing scene. So developer duties were handed to Criterion, the makers of the magnificent Burnout franchise. Even better, Hot Pursuit returns to the NFS glory days of cops and robbers chases.
For the most part, the U-turn works, bringing a big, fat grin to your face with its superfast cars, twisty roads and adrenaline-fuelled battles.
But despite allowing you drive as either cop or robber, the campaign is a tad one-note and only online multiplayer proves addictive long-term.
Golden Eye 007
Reviving one of the most revered first-person shooters, GoldenEye 007 is less of a remake than an homage.
Despite many passing nods to the 1995 film and 1997 game, it owes more to the 2010 style of Call of Duty and the Bourne films.
With a pacy single-player campaign and a hectic, even amusing multiplayer, GoldenEye wipes out the memory of the many mediocre Bond games since the original.
A complex fantasy RPG in the mould of Dragon Age: Origins, Divinity II lacks the mega-budget to compete. While everything is competently done, it never quite ignites.
Reality shows are ripe for parody but this messy attempt to incorporate the PS3 Move controller into a party game falls flat with its thinly spread gameplay.
Bits and bytes
- Even if you don't agree with the decision to publish all those bombshell diplomatic cables, the WikiLeaks site should not be forced off the web, as happened last week.
Fortunately, many supporters have mirrored the contents of the site to prevent the information disappearing. Check the list of mirrored sites at the address below wikileaks.info
- This week (or possibly next) will see the launch of Rupert Murdoch's iPad-only newspaper, a weekly ironically called The Daily. The US-focused title is expected to cost $1 in a move that will test the willingness of tech-savvy readers to pay for something they can get for free on the web.
It comes hot on the heels of Richard Branson's Project lifestyle magazine, which launched exclusively for iPad last week and costs €2.39.
You can't blame the two entrepreneurs for experimenting as newspapers struggle to make money from their online operations.
- The winners of the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood competition are Dave Caffrey from Mullingar and Eoin Lawlor from Celbridge.