Digital Life: Stylish Samsung leans on a stylus to make its mark in the tablet wars
Turns out I was wrong. You don't hear me saying that too often. When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note back in March, my prediction was for an apathetic public response to the oversized Android smartphone.
Yet the Note shifted more than 10 million units worldwide -- not quite blockbuster numbers in smartphone terms but enough to make Samsung think it was on to something.
Hence the Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, which absorbs the ideas of the phone -- a stylus for note-taking and drawing, basically -- and applies them to a screen size in which they make more sense, to my mind.
Samsung hasn't had much success in the tablet market -- the Apple-copying trial revealed its embarrassingly low sales -- and this new one is built on the back of the fairly unloved Galaxy Tab 2. It's powerful, yes, but bafflingly for the Koreans' flagship tablet the screen can't compare to the high resolution of the iPad and some other Android rivals.
The Note's raison d'être -- the only reason you'd choose it over competitors -- is its suite of apps related to its stylus, which pops out from a slot behind the screen. The pressure-sensitive 'pen' enables you to quickly hand-write notes, sketch a drawing, edit photos or annotate a graphic. It may not be quite professional grade but for creative types the stylus adds a new dimension of precision to tablets.
The Note 10.1 also imports some multitasking tricks from the Galaxy SIII phone, such as watching video while checking email or taking notes when viewing a web page. But, like most Samsung additions to the standard Android experience, they often feel kludgy and slow.
This tablet's most ominous obstacle may be its price. Google's Nexus 7 proves a high-quality tab can be sold for €250. So Samsung charging €470 for the 16GB Note 10.1 seems like an act of commercial folly. But hey, I've been wrong before.
Battery technology has singly failed to hang on to the coat-tails of the explosion of phone power. Savvy smartphone owners will be familiar with portable chargers designed to deliver a top-up when juice is low.
But if you seek something to provide a few days' power away from a socket, options quickly narrow. Irish company SMARTcharge is one of the few to offer high-capacity portable chargers.
For €60, you get a slim brick that will recharge most smartphones three or four times over with its 5,000mAh capacity. It's not the cleverest of designs -- a wall plug costs extra and it doesn't use the common micro-USB socket to charge itself. But it works with a range of devices from iPhone to Android and is small enough to become a constant travel companion.
The big boys at Sony and Nintendo have struggled to justify still charging €40 for games while mobile titles costing 99c run away with the market.
But our blockbusters are so much more sophisticated, deep and satisfying, they claim. They will keep you entertained for months, they say.
To an extent, Sony and Nintendo's stance is correct, although it fails to understand what consumers increasingly want from mobile games.
But more worryingly for them is that titles such as Horn demonstrate the console-style complexity is possible on the likes of the iPhone.
Made by Zynga, a firm known more for shallow, derivative but popular Facebook games such as Farmville, Horn wears its influences proudly on its sleeve. Which is another way of saying it brazenly apes Nintendo's classic Zelda series.
It lacks the wit and craft of a Zelda world but nonetheless offers a gorgeous high-res vista to explore, full of tumbling waterfalls, crumbling ruins, puzzles and monsters. It smartly dodges familiar iOS control problems while taking cues from Infinity Blade for its hack'n'slash battles.
Ultimately, Horn proves a little too simplistic and repetitive to challenge Zelda for supremacy. But as a download costing a mere €5.50 for a sizeable adventure, it should make Sony and Nintendo very nervous about what the next evolution of mobile games will bring.
You play Death, avenging your brother's treatment for bringing on the apocalypse in the original Darksiders. But your character is far from an omnipotent slayer.
He begins as a weakling resembling an offcut demon from heavy-metal artwork who must be levelled up on his journey of revenge.
Originality is a scarce commodity in this sequel, liberally borrowing from Devil May Cry (the combat), Prince of Persia (the platforming), Warcraft (loot and levelling) and even Zelda (the dungeons). But it still adds up to a better game than the original with a polished take on well-worn ideas.
The puzzles can be nicely tricky and the combat requires more thought than button-mashing. We may have seen it all before but rarely so well bolted together.
Rock Band Blitz
This is Rock Band, the music rhythm game, but not as we know it. A throwback to the series' roots, Blitz requires no plastic instrument and isn't really about following the notes of a song accurately.
Instead it's a peculiar score-chasing version where the tune doesn't matter much and multiplayer is not an option. With only 25 tunes on-board (though you can import songs from the Rock Band discs), you're constantly encouraged to BUY MORE, a money-grab that quickly gets annoying.
Perhaps if you've never played Rock Band or Guitar Hero, this may have appeal but seasoned "musicians" will feel a bit cheated.
Bits and Bytes
• Visitors to airports will be familiar with the feeling of being fleeced for food and drink. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that Dublin Airport has opted to make its WiFi service free for unlimited use.
Previously, usage was free for 10 minutes with a charge thereafter and involved faffing about with a registration process. Now that's all been done away with and you can surf to your heart's content at all departure gates. Don't expect it to be very fast, though.
• The worst-kept secret in the world will be unveiled tomorrow when Apple springs the eagerly awaited iPhone 5 onto the market.
Barring a complete surprise, the new phone will make its debut at an event in San Francisco, with sales in Ireland expected to start by the end of the month.
Its key changes are expected to include a larger screen (and bigger battery to keep it going as long as the current model), a reduced-sized SIM card but, rather annoyingly, a smaller dock connector. Adapters will be available but many docks and chargers will now be redundant.
• Nominations for the Web Awards, which recognises the best of Ireland's internet sites, close on Friday. There is no charge to nominate your favourite site.
Meanwhile, the Eircom Spider Awards have extended the deadline for nominations for another week to next Monday.