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Digital Life: The great leap sideways -- can you distinguish between iPad 2 and 3?

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Seductive: Retina display

Seductive: Retina display

Seductive: Retina display

Pick up the new iPad (we shouldn't call it iPad 3, apparently, but let's do it anyway) and you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. Side by side, it looks identical to version 2. If you were playing a game of "what the hell is actually different", you might notice iPad 3 is a fraction heavier and thicker to accommodate a bigger battery.

Power it up and you'll still be mystified. Apple bangs on about a dramatically improved screen -- called the Retina display -- but nine out of 10 people couldn't tell at a glance in my entirely unscientific survey. One person noticed the screen colours were a little punchier.

So are the Californian masters of style selling us a pup?

The truth is this is a restrained upgrade to an already polished product. Bar Amazon's Kindle Fire (available only in the US), no other tablet sells anything more than a handful, their figures a rounding error compared with Apple's total of almost 60 million.

So Apple had no cause to profoundly alter the iPad. No need for spurious bells and whistles, rocket launchers, coffee makers, nothing. Anything radical would have pushed up the cost and Apple is already at that sweet pricing spot where rivals can hardly match it.

The tech spec says the rear camera has been boosted from "tragic" quality to "quite decent actually". I say the novelty of photographing or videoing by holding a 10-inch slab in front of you soon wears off, even though snaps and clips look good.

Apple also trumpets the iPad 3's improved 3G internet performance. In the US, owners can get 4G speeds (theoretically 100Mbps, actually about 20Mbps). Here in Ireland, 4G isn't available at all.

But Vodafone does offer an accelerated flavour of 3G called DC-HSPA+ and sold on a higher tariff named Performance Pro at €35 a month. It's the only network to do so and it's compatible with iPad 3.

In theory, it tops out at 42Mbps, in reality you'll be lucky to get 8Mbps based on my tests. Still, that's more than twice as nippy as a typical 3G connection.

So all the focus of iPad 3 eventually comes back to the screen quality. It takes time to fall in love. People who appreciate the crispness of high-definition TV will cop on first but most will clock it only when they go back to an older iPad or rival tablet.

Then the pixellated edges of pre-Retina graphics and text begin to look tired. You'll develop a new appreciation for the subtle but seductive charms of the best screen on any computer.

The iPad 3 preserves the same pricing as iPad 2, starting at €480 up to €800, but Apple has cleverly retained two models of iPad 2 (€400/€520 with 3G) to defend itself from cheaper competitors.

www.apple.com/ie/ipad



Game On

Mass Effect 3

X360/PS3

RATING: 9.5/10

What a tangled web Mass Effect weaves. A trilogy five years in the making, it has evolved from a credible sci-fi shooter/RPG hybrid into a sprawling and epic space-opera.

It's gotten better with age, ramping up the drama and intensity of its firefights while deepening the interaction of its incredible cast of characters. But what often takes the player by surprise, assuming you've played the first two games to completion, is how Mass Effect 3 seamlessly interlaces references to confrontations you last experienced years ago.

Characters you crossed or helped remember your attitude and respond accordingly. Mass Effect 3 is full of incidental details like this, enhancing the immersion in a world once more under threat from the monstrous Reapers.

The Xbox version successfully incorporates Kinect-based voice control to order your squad mates around and navigate conversation trees.

Helpfully for newcomers, three levels of difficulty enable you to enjoy the story flow amid a gentle challenge while veterans can still throw themselves into seat-of-the-pants combat.

It's an enthralling adventure, let down only slightly by ME3's inability to decide whether it's an all-out shooter or role-playing character drama.

FIFA Football

PS Vita

RATING: 8/10

Note the lack of customary number at the end of the title. FIFA games are usually tied to a year but this version for Vita is based on 2010's console version rather than the notably superior 2011 edition.

So you're getting a perfectly decent portable footy game but one which will be seriously outclassed in October when the next round of FIFA emerges.

It's an anomaly that may matter only to serious FIFA addicts because otherwise there are many hours of sporting entertainment packed into one small cartridge.

Asura's Wrath

X360/PS3

RATING: 8/10

Two hours into Asura's Wrath and the preposterous storyline makes even less sense but it's something about demi-god cast into limbo and forced to fight his way back, blah blah. So far so God of War.

All you need to know is that it's an accessible brawler with an eye for outrageous drama -- these are warring gods after all. Once you hit a rhythm of mashing monsters by timing your button presses, it's hard to stop.

Mario Party 9

Wii

RATING: 7/10

The boardgame-based franchise reaches its ninth outing, with all the baggage that implies. Fun, colourful and fine for youngsters, it features the usual collection of mini-games but with little inspiration to call its own.

Jewel Master: Cradle of Persia

DS

RATING: 6.5/10

Did the world crave another match-three puzzle game? Probably not. But at least this latest Jewel Master attempts to sweeten the deal with a peculiar mash-up of Civilization-style empire building.

Without the purity of something like Bejeweled, though, Cradle of Persia ends up being a bit of a mongrel half-breed.



Bits and Bytes



- Coffee chain Insomnia has rolled out free WiFi in some of its branches, most of which are in Dublin.



Customers need to register before they can avail of 30 minutes' free surfing.



www.insomnia.ie



- If you had been waiting to get your Harry Potter fix on your Kindle, now's your chance.



After years of holding out, JK Rowling has finally sanctioned that the novels can be published as ebooks.



Almost every ebook store (including Amazon and Sony but excluding Apple's iBooks, oddly) will be stocking the wizard's adventures, at reasonable prices starting from €6.



shop.pottermore.com



- HTC is shutting down its online back-up service HTCSense.com, which copies your contacts, texts and other bits'n'bobs into the cloud for safekeeping.



The mobile phone firm advises customers to grab anything you might have uploaded before the free service closes on April 30.



Unhelpfully, HTC won't say whether it plans a replacement or what other services customers could use for back-up.



www.htcsense.com

Irish Independent