‘Halo 3’ Kicks Alien A**, Palm Centro vs. iPhone, Gateway One vs. iMac, Product of the Week

OK, we clearly can’t talk about the events of last week without mentioning the huge surprise “Halo 3” was in terms of popularity and execution. I was having doubts prior to the launch, but those doubts are dead now.

Competition for Apple is heating up. The Palm Centro has a number of advantages over the iPhone, led by a vastly lower price and vastly faster data plan. Plus, the new Gateway One is stunning — and I don’t use that word often.

Once again, I’ll discuss my product of the week, which is a lot like iLife, but for Windows.

‘Halo 3,’ or How to Misplace a Weekend

I was getting ready to be disappointed when my copy of“Halo 3” arrived in the mail late last week, so I put off playing the game until Sunday. Microsoft had sent me a collector’s edition, but it appears the post office decided to use it as a hockey puck while it was in transit. The case was badly crushed, and the disks were rattling around inside making a really ugly sound.

However, once I pried the case open and took the disks out, they loaded fine — and I was even able to straighten out the case. I’d been a big “Halo 1” fan, but for some reason, never got into the “Halo 2” story line. It just seemed to be more of the same, and kind of second in a series of three Star Wars movies. It was OK, but nothing to get that excited about.

Well, “Halo 3” is different, and as you’ve likelyread elsewhere, this is a wonderful game. In fact, it’s actually hard to find anyone saying anything negative about it.

Killer games move gaming consoles; multimedia features, accessories, and even Blu-ray or HD-DVD drives don’t. “Halo 1” made the first Xbox, and it looks to me that with aUS$170M launch day, “Halo 3” is going to make the Xbox 360.

Now, we still have to see the rumored motion controllers that will help the system hold off the Wii — and clearly the Wii had lots of momentum coming into the month — but none of the current generation of consoles has been able to demonstrate a game with this kind of pull, and that truly is going to make a difference.

Don’t count the Wii out, though. Based on my anecdotal research, more people are still planning to buy a Wii than are eyeing either the Xbox 360 or PS3, because it is less expensive and appeals to more women.

Don’t count out Sony, either. The new CEO for its entertainment division is trying to take lemons and turn them into lemonade. I’m actually very impressed with this guy, and I haven’t said that about a Sony executive in years. Recognizing that the PS3 may be a lost cause this year — making me wonder if the company will fast track a PS4 — Sony has doubled down on the PS2 and PSP.

Both remain great values in their respective segments, and if you’ve seen the new Sony Walkman products, they are the first from Sony that are truly competitive with Apple’s iPod line. Some might argue they’re even better, given that they aren’t tied to any music service.

Anyway, if you pick up “Halo 3,” kiss your weekend goodbye. The damned thing is really addictive and actually makes you feel guilty if you don’t continue playing the story line. Even now, I’m thinking I need to break andgo save Cortana. Standing ovation toBungie for this one.

Palm Surprises Apple With Centro

The iPhone has been on the market for a while, and I’d swear that Apple and AT&T are doing their level best to truly piss off customers. There is a lot of stuff going on: massive phone bills in the U.S. ($130 or so) and astronomical phone bills in Europe (up to $5K); breaking screens — there is evena fix up; and now a software patch that turns unlocked phones into doorstops. Oh, and let’s not forget the price cut and the $100 store credit that even had one of the Apple founders screaming foul.

Into this mess Palm — which has a bunch of ex-Apple employees that appear to be really pissed at their former company — has launched a $100 smartphone with a better and less expensive data service (EvDO, or Evolution-Data Optimized) and a built-in keyboard.

At a fraction of the iPhone’s price, the Centro is actually a very nice little phone. It doesn’t do all the things the iPhone does, but, once again, it’s $100 — and browsing the Web with a 3G phone is much better than with a 2.5G phone. I’m currently using a 3G phone on a 2.5G service, and that still sucks.

Early reviewers have felt the phonefeels cheaper than the iPhone — it’s what, a quarter of the price? — and that it is more targeted at women than men, which it evidently is. I think part of this is that early reviewers saw preproduction prototypes, and since this too is a first-generation phone, I’ll offer the same advice I gave for the iPhone. if you’re interested, wait a few months before buying one — though $100 is sure a much lower risk than $600 was, so the risk of going early is vastly less.

Based on early feedback, I think I’d wait for version 2 of this phone, but it is a move in the right direction. For Palm, it may be more of a base hit than a home run.

Gateway One Surprises iMac

The newGateway One is a drop-dead-catch-your-breath-gorgeous product. I am getting more and more convinced that next year will be the year of the all-in-one, because there are two more products coming to market in a few weeks in this class. Currently, we have products from Apple, Sony, HP, and now Gateway in very clean next-generation designs.

The advantages the Gateway One has over the iMac is that it does a better job of concealing the wires than any of the other products in its class. It has wireless peripherals, built-in wireless networking and a power brick that sits on the floor and has ports on it, so you can get what wires you do have off of the desk. It has a very wide base that makes it virtually impossible to tip, and a glass-over-black finish that’s reminiscent of the first iPod nano, which was the best looking one Apple ever made. It’s a full media center — the high-end version even has a tuner — so you can use it as a TV/PVR (personal video recorder).

It actually reminds me a little of the very expensiveMac Anniversary 20th Edition that came out in 1997.

Even the $1,300 entry version of the Gateway One has a nice hardware profile. It comes with 2 GB of memory and a 320 GB drive, and the new Intel Graphics, which are night-and-day better than the old Intel integrated graphics. If you’re going to use this for games, though, I think the higher-end versions with the ATI graphics engine would be better.

Just nice work on this one. While I doubt we are going to see a flock of folks run out of Apple stores to buy one — Steve would likely fire any Apple employee who did on the spot — it is arguably the best-looking product that Gateway has ever produced, and very competitive with both the Sony and Apple products.

Actually, if you look at it from all angles with everything plugged in, it is better-looking overall than the others. It’s very thin, uncluttered and sexy — and it actually still looks good with a lot of cables attached and is quieter than most, thanks to the remote power supply.

I’m now thinking my next desktop PC will likely be an all-in-one.

Product of the Week: Roxio Easy Media Creator 10

Now here is something the Gateway One was likely made for.

For those of us on Windows PCs, I’ll admit it — we have iLife envy. Apple did a nice job with that product, putting a bunch of easy-to-use features in a package that is a dream. Well, Roxio appears to have gone one better with itsEasy Media Creator 10 product. I can’t actually think of a video- or image-related project this thing won’t handle.

It will build DVDs, it will edit videos, it will compile videos, it will convert videos, it will rip CDs, it will burn CDs, it will edit music in CDs, it will create auto playlists, it has a full photo suite, and it can even batch-edit photos. It will even create music DVDs — which are handy if you have an in-car DVD player you don’t use that much — and supports Lightscribe drives. Finally, it has a full backup tool kit, it will connect to a large number of the new MP3/video players, and it even supports TivoToGo.

This thing is like the Swiss Army knife of audio, video, backup, copy and photo tools. While the interface isn’t as pretty as iLife, it is straightforward and easy to use. I’ve been messing with this for a while, and I haven’t thought of anything yet that it won’t do when it comes to messing with digital multimedia. At $100, it is kind of a deal — and it just came out.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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