Digital Life: The clever hybrid that boasts the best features of tablet and netbook
Remember when netbooks were all the rage? But now those cheap, tiny laptops face a slow march to oblivion as the iPad eats their lunch. Tablet computers can do 80pc of what netbooks are capable of -- except in a smaller package with better battery life. Many people won't miss that last 20pc of functionality either.
But anyone's who's tried typing anything longer than a 14-line sonnet on a tablet knows it ends in tears. Tapping on glass with your fingertips lacks the tactile feedback of a real keyboard.
That's what makes the Asus Eee Pad Transformer such a fascinating hybrid. Never mind the daft name, just check out that detachable keyboard mated to an Android tablet.
Without the full QWERTY hooked up, the Asus behaves like a standard 10-inch Android tab, well made and pleasant to use yet unlikely to trouble the iPad's dominance.
But slot the Transformer into the matching keypad and suddenly you're looking at a netbook, or as near as, dammit.
Obviously, you get the benefit of proper typing. But those wily Asus engineers have also incorporated an extra battery -- doubling longevity to 16 hours -- two USB ports and a memory-card slot. When not in use, the whole shebang folds neatly like a laptop.
You can buy an €80 keyboard to attach to the iPad but it's nowhere near as nifty or portable as the Transformer add-on.
As a design, the Asus keyboard is not without its flaws, though. The touchpad and button have been cramped in typical netbook style beneath the keyboard. But you'll mostly use the touchscreen for mousing around anyway, so it's less of issue. More annoying is the loose clip that fastens the pad to the keyboard. You will curse it many times as it detaches itself with a mild nudge.
The Eee Pad Transformer costs €440 for the 16GB WiFi pad by itself -- but it makes much more sense bundled with the keyboard at €540. You get the best of both Android tablet and netbook worlds in one clever machine.
It's available in Ireland only from Carphone Warehouse.
We've all been fed the line that ebooks are the future -- but how come they're all still so much like, y'know, books? Static and linear may have served paperbacks well for hundreds of years but this is 2011.
So Al Gore's new ebook Our Choice comes as a pleasant surprise, incorporating multimedia seamlessly as he bangs the drum about global warming.
Built as a €4 iPad/iPhone app, it bristles with gorgeous fold-out photos, interactive charts and video clips. Our Choice gets Gore's familiar message across in a way that transcends his usual monotone narration.
The stylish presentation of the ebook so impressed Facebook that last week it bought the company that designed it.
Ms Splosion Man
A sequel was inevitable to the raucously amusing platformer where the main character's signature move -- no, his only move -- was to explode to jump.
But there's more to Ms Splosion Man than simply putting a dress on.
The makers squeeze plenty of gags from the sex change as our heroine explodes herself around the levels. New additions such as zip lines and Donkey Kong-style cannons add high-speed thrills to the exacting jumping. Well worth a download.
Solatorobo: Red The Hunter
If a more quirky game than Solatorobo is released this month, my hat is in danger of being eaten. That it comes out of Japan should be no surprise. The game, not the hat.
An RPG with typical manga overtones, you're a fox in control of a large robot questing for the usual staples of treasure or lost items. Crammed with lovingly detailed graphics and quick-fire combat, there's always something new around the corner to pique your interest.
Occasionally, its wilful kookiness begins to grate and some good gameplay ideas get thrown away as soon as they appear. But Solatorobo has found its own little niche. Try curling up in it.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel
After a couple of efforts setting a shooter in the Wild West, the Call of Juarez series gives up and moves to the modern-day mean streets of LA. Perhaps the developers felt they couldn't compete with the masterful Red Dead Redemption.
But the segue has stripped The Cartel of much of CoJ's unique atmosphere. Fiery preachers and runaway cowboys have been replaced by smack-talking federal agents hunting down trigger-happy drug traffickers.
It amounts to competent gunplay (including the usual slow-mo bullet time) against brainless foes, interspersed with bickering cut-scenes as the three agents pursue their own secret agendas.
In three-player online co-op, it makes for interesting diversions as each agent tries to pull off tasks such as stealing drug money or collecting guns without the others noticing.
But five minutes after you've switched off your console, you'll struggle to remember what you've done and to whom. Bring back the Wild West.
Bits and Bytes
•EA has become the latest mega-publisher to eye up a slice of extra revenue from a subscription service for its popular games. Last week, the giant took the wraps off Season Ticket, which will enable Xbox 360 owners to download full games such as FIFA three days before their official release.
This download expires, though, and you will need to buy the game in a shop after launch day, which seems like a unfortunate sop to retailers.
The annual fee for Season Ticket is €24 and other benefits include discounts on downloadable extras. Sounds as if EA will have to offer a few more bits and bobs to make it worthwhile, though.
•The days when pre-pay customers were the poor relation of their rich contract cousins are drawing to a close. We have fierce competition to thank for the Three network's latest wheeze of all-you-can-eat data on pre-pay -- so long as you top up by €20 a month.
Additionally, you get unlimited texts, weekend minutes and Three-to-Three calls.