Digital Life: Sony's new Ultrabook laptop is walking on Air
Four years after Apple magicked the uber-sleek MacBook Air laptop out of solid but light aluminium, the PC world still scrambles to catch up. Intel went to the trouble of creating a new buzzword for its clones -- the Ultrabook -- but, much like the iPad, rivals have made little inroads into the Air's command of the market.
Of course, one easy way to hurt Apple is in the pricing, with its underpowered, bottom-of-the-range 11-incher going for a minimum of €1,100.
Surprisingly, the first competitor to come out of the woodwork with a credible 13-inch Ultrabook that seriously undercuts Apple is Sony, itself no stranger to premium-priced products.
The Sony Vaio T13 laptop concedes many things to the Air -- speed, backlit keyboard, battery life, sheer desirability -- but for €860 it offers an acceptable compromise.
Sony may be late to the Ultrabook party but it still knows a thing or two about design. The T13's clean, lean lines echo the Air but it finds room for a full complement of ports. Like all Ultrabooks, it boots in seconds, has plenty of stamina (about five hours' battery) but lacks a DVD drive.
The main CPU may be getting on a bit (the US version of the T13 includes a newer, faster processor -- gee, thanks, Sony) but it packs enough grunt for most tasks, except gaming. Likewise, the 320GB hard drive is fairly capacious for an Ultrabook.
For something so light and attractive, Sony must have thought long and hard about pricing this somewhere north of €1,000. Thankfully, it made the right call.
There was no great leap forward last week when Apple pulled the wraps off the iPhone 5, leading some pundits to speculate rashly whether the new mobile would flop. The reality is that the Californians didn't need to create another revolution to retain the iPhone's status as the world's most popular smartphone.
As we saw with the iPad, a gradual upgrade was all that was needed to ensure tens of millions will queue up in the coming weeks to get their hands on it. The bigger screen was overdue and makes quite a difference.
Internally, the extra horsepower puts it on par with the newest Androids, with the speed of app launching the most visible benefit.
The big bugbear is the smaller power connector. Apple charges an eyewatering €29 for every little adaptor you might require for existing chargers and docks.
The iPhone 5 will go on sale in Ireland on September 28, with pre-pay and contract pricing expected to be identical to current models, which will now be reduced.
Apple also announced a raft of upgrades to its iPod products, with new versions of its Touch, Nano and Shuffle music players out in October.
Guild Wars 2
There are many good reasons why World of Warcraft has clung to its domination in the realm of massively multiplayer role-playing games. Vast lore, regular updates, well crafted scenery and a huge community all play their part.
But rivals have failed to exploit its weaknesses, instead playing follow the leader, shadowing the well-honed template WoW set down. No one has successfully tackled its often mindless, repetitive quests, the tedium of travelling great distances in Azeroth, the shallow instructions of its quest-givers.
In doing do, competitors have consigned themselves to irrelevance even as they ask subscribers to shell out €12 a month.
Guild Wars 2 is different, not least because there's no subscription. That's not the most impressive thing.
GW2 has reworked many of the hoary WoW-style conventions to make adventuring much more compelling. Questing is more varied, world travel less wearisome with instant teleporting, and characters themselves much more flexible in their skills.
Marry that to a gorgeously rendered fantasy landscape chock-full of happenstance and you have the recipe for long-term engagement.
Gamers of a certain vintage turn misty-eyed at the mention of Crimson Skies, a dogfighting sim par excellence that graced the Xbox in 2003. Dogfight 1942 emulates that fast-and-furious arcade style but despite superior graphics and the intervening years, it never climbs to those heights.
Purposely, there's nothing to the flying -- just up/down, left/right. The skill lies in tracking the twists and turns of your nimble opponents across the skies. But even that excitement is diminished by the (admittedly optional) target lock-on that auto-pilots your kite while you aim the guns.
Even for a download, though, Dogfight lacks for longevity, hurt by a short campaign and the absence of online multiplayer.
Bits and Bytes
- Are you a massive fan of the FIFA games? Are you a stats nut who knows how many yards Rooney ran in his last match?
Then you could be right for a job with publisher EA, which is looking for passionate gamers to work on the FIFA database, researching stats on players and teams around the world. Best of all, you get paid.
- In the shadow of the iPhone 5 launch, Nintendo revealed dates and pricing for the new Wii U console, the successor to the massively popular motion-controlled Wii.
The console, which features an iPad-like controller, hits the shelves in Ireland on November 30 for an approximate price of €310 -- though retailers may well discount it to €300. However, that's the cost of only the basic unit, which has only 8GB storage and does not include the sensor bar or nunchuk controller -- Nintendo expects customers to own these if they already possess a Wii.
However, a premium edition pitched at a whopping €370 will included 32GB of storage, the sensor bar and the highly anticipated game Nintendo Land.
With prices like that, you'd better start saving now.