Sony Ericsoon P1i, Penny Adams Brain Trainer, Microsoft Office for Mac 8

Sony Ericsson P1i
Price: $1099

The Sony Ericsson P1i doesn’t seem to fit into any particular mould be it business users, teens or otherwise. With a very straightforward — some would say dull — design it’s not going for aesthetes either, which leaves those of us who like a tool that works with little fuss.

Unfortunately the Sony Ericsson P1i isn’t it. The interface and the means to navigate it is a jumble of pressing buttons, spinning a dial and pressing the touchscreen with the stylus. Finding your way around is difficult and you’ll be in for a steep learning curve when it comes to getting used to the operating system and the things the phone can do. It’s also slow to respond compared with other smartphones, waiting for a second or more before switching on an application or function after you’ve selected it — including taking a photo.

An uninspiring design and a confusing method make it hard enough to recommend the P1i, but when far superior devices from Palm and HTC are going for similar prices, there’s even less going for it. 1/5

Penny Adams Brain Trainer
Price: $24.95

Media personality Dr Penny Adams has put her name to this infantile piece of software. That’s not a criticism — Penny Adams’ Brain Trainer is a collection of mental exercises designed mostly for kids. It’s full of loud noises, huge, bubble-shaped buttons, rich colours and large graphics that will engage IT literate kids between about 5 and 10 (and aren’t they all?).

It’s not very clear how to get going, starting with a registration page that asks for your personal details but doesn’t tell you you have the option of ignoring it. Then you have to create a player but it’s not very clear the games won’t start unless you have the player’s name selected, but once kicked off there’s a daily regime of spatial, verbal, language and numerical exercises that can report your progress and will take you right back to primary school, only digital. Is it worth the money? For the equivalent of two movie tickets, why not? 3/5

Microsoft Office for Mac 8Price: $494

Looking better than the previous version of Office 2004, Office 2008 has a more tactile edge that befits the Mac and sports several additions. The small My Day Applet lets you create To Do lists and reports on calendar items for the day is a nice touch, and the font menu in Word is now contextual, collecting fonts together in families like a design application.

Most of the major changes have been to greatly expand the desktop publishing and layout options in Word and Excel, but if you use Office strictly for productivity, there are several frustrating steps backward. One is the Find function in email client Entourage, now modelled on the more unwieldy Outlook for PC method. The file menus of Word and Excel used to list the last five or six open documents, a handy resource that’s now gone.

And in the most contentious change, all Visual Basic macro support has gone, meaning none of the macros you’ve spent the last four years perfecting work any more. You can use Applescript to do the same things (and indeed, have always been able to) but if you don’t know how to program it, tough.

After four years, it’s an eager attempt but far short of ideal. 3/5

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