Gavin Whenman on a touchscreen smartphone for fans of everything beginning with G, and a political strategy game for budding megalomaniacs
T-Mobile G1Available free on T-Mobile on plans £30 and above
Do you Google everything? Have you got Google Mail? Find your way using Google Maps? The T-Mobile G1 phone is for the Google-addict who wants the whole set. Running on Google's innovative new operating software, Google Android, it's a touchscreen device which tries to give you the best of all the smartphone worlds.
The HTC-manufactured G1 isn't content giving its users a qwerty keyboard on the screen, so another (and far superior) keyboard slides out from underneath. To cater for BlackBerry users there is a trackball and for Nokia users an intuitive interface.
Google's guiding principle is freedom and the Android is no exception. The operating system itself is open source (meaning, if you are so inclined, you can dive in and screw up the software however you want) and the vast majority of apps available on its online marketplace are free. Despite this, quality has not been sacrificed. All the in-built applications and features, including YouTube (owner: Google), maps and a media player, work well and seamlessly.
The quality and range of the downloadable applications is also impressive. Book lovers can get an ebook reader full of literary classics, commuters can get live tube updates, and gamers are catered for in abundance. Perhaps best of all, Google offers its own Sky Map, so you can see what's going on up in the constellations behind all that light pollution. And the microSD card slot ensures, provided you can afford large enough cards, you never run out of space for all those free apps.
A nice novelty is the homescreen widgets (tiny applications) which perform the same way as the widgets on Google desktop, Windows Vista and the Apple Mac. Users can choose to display an analogue clock, scaleddown calendar and media player to appear on their home screen for quick reference and access.
For internet browsing the device has a fully-featured html browser and a wi-fi connection for when you're at home or in the offi ce, and 3G for when you're on the move.
The 3.2-inch 320 x 480 (HVGA) resolution TFT-LCD screen offers a crystal-clear, rich colour display, although the 3.2 megapixel camera is merely adequate for quick snaps rather than lifelong memories.
Despite all its remarkable innovations and well-implemented features, the G1 is still clearly a first generation device with all the attendant niggles that this entails. For male thumbs, the onscreen keyboard is unusable to the point of redundancy. The trackball is often more of a nuisance than a help, as a light brush across the screen will catch the ball. Accidental selections are commonplace and the G1 weighs in at a hefty (for a smartphone) 158 grams and measures 118mm x 56mm x 17mm, stretching even the most sturdy of pockets.
The G1 and its successors will hopefully give market leaders, iPhone and BlackBerry, stiff competition over the years to come, especially if Google can keep up the outstanding level of innovation in this device.
Democracy 2£14.99 from positech.co.uk/democracy2/index.html
Democracy 2, a political strategy game from independent British developer Positech Games, allows users to step into the shoes of a fictitious politician to lead a fictitious country to glory for all eternity. Or, you know, whatever a megalomaniac wants from a country.
One thing this game does not lack is depth: in politics and government everything is connected to everything else, and that is displayed to its fullest extent within this multifaceted game. You can hire and fire ministers, assess both internal and external threats to your country's security, and make pretty much any policy decision imaginable across seven broad policy areas (foreign, welfare, economy, tax, public services, law and order and transport).
Provided you can still balance the budget at the end of it all, you can decided on military spending through to gambling laws and religious teaching. You can run a laissez-faire state or a strict authoritarian regime, along with all the shades of grey in-between.
While the opening menu screens are simple enough, the level of complexity once the game proper starts is overwhelming for a new user. Thankfully, an onscreen tutorial guides newbies through those tough first steps. Unfortunately, once the basics are learnt, you still need to apply yourself to achieve even your simplest objectives. It is rewarding, however, to see policy decisions you made many months ago pay off - and galling to see mistakes turn into catastrophes.
To alleviate what could be an extremely boring, albeit moderately accurate, role-playing game, a strong vein of satire runs throughout, from the names of countries - Zambeeiza is agricultural and poor, Koana is a capitalist heaven and Biblona is religious - through to the loading screen quotes which show the more cynical side of politics.
While the game will not win any awards for its graphics, the interface, once you get to grips with it, has a rational layout that does a good job of communicating and highlighting everything you need to know to get ahead.
This is a game for those who are willing to commit a lot of time to learning all its various complexities. Ironically enough, this means that those who should be attracted to it most, the time-starved politicos, probably won't be able to enjoy it as much as they could.