GALACTIC GAMES AND PHABLETS

Mass Effect 3.jpg

In his latest choice of a game, a gadget and an app, Tom Standage applauds a trilogy with everything but a happy ending, and the first pocket-sized tablet...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2012

GAME Mass Effect 3
It’s a space-faring trilogy that combines galactic conflict with wrenching personal choices. If that sounds like the original “Star Wars” films, it’s deliberate: “Mass Effect” is an ambitious bid to show and extend the storytelling power of gaming. This third chapter, which also works as a stand-alone, rounds off a series that has been innovative in many ways. Your choices from earlier games carry over into later ones; the gameplay mixes role-playing and run-and-gun action; the romantic subplots (and sex scenes, including same-sex relationships) caused a stir, but why should such a staple of movies not be found in games too? The game is morally ambiguous, requiring you to make hard choices and live with the consequences.

In “ME3” Commander Shepard (male or female, it’s up to you) scours the galaxy for allies to take on the Reapers, a mysterious race of alien machines set on wiping out all organic life. The visuals, writing and voice-acting are all top-notch, and the controls and navigation have been steadily refined. But the rather incoherent ending, featuring the well-known intergalactic hub of, er, London, has been hugely controversial. When choices affect the game in so many ways, it’s a pity this doesn’t apply to the very end. The series may not have quite lived up to its lofty goals. but it’s still a milestone in gaming, and all the fuss highlights the devotion of its fans.
Mass Effect 3 around £40 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)

GADGET Samsung Galaxy Note
As you may have noticed, the third version of the iPad recently went on sale, extending Apple’s dominance of tablet computing still further. What can its rivals do in response? With the Galaxy Note, a thin-but-wide smartphone with a 5.3-inch screen, Samsung is pushing the idea of a device that is bigger than a phone but smaller than a tablet. The size of a Moleskine notebook, the Note offers two things the all-conquering iPad does not: the option of writing and drawing with a built-in stylus, and the ability to fit in your pocket. Web pages look great on its roomy and vibrant OLED screen, and the stylus lets you sketch and jot with surprising precision. (It’s also brilliant for playing “Draw Something”, the addictive social-sketching game.) True, the Note looks a bit odd when held up to your ear, but voice calls are just a minor feature of phones these days. And it seems to be setting a trend: HTC, LG, Huawei and others are launching hybrid phone-tablets (or “phablets”) too. Apple may respond with a larger iPhone or an iPad mini later this year. But, for the moment, the Galaxy Note is the phablet to beat.
Galaxy Note phone  £0-£600, depending on contract

APP Flipboard for iPhone

The best realisation of the “Daily Me” personalised newspaper is Flipboard, an iPad app that takes stories from around the web in a variety of categories, plus items posted by your friends on Facebook and Twitter, and compiles and formats them like a magazine. It’s a lovely way to browse your social networks that feels less frenetic than scrolling through an endless list of updates, and it’s now available on the iPhone too. The simple, flippable layout had to be completely rejigged to work on the smaller screen, but it provides the same appealing mixture of personal and global news in the palm of your hand. Alas, there’s no sign of an Android version.
Flipboard for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch: free

Tom Standage is digital editor of The Economist and author of "An Edible History of Humanity"