Tech: Video kills the insurance fraud star
Our technology editor reviews the Nextbast In-Car Cam 402G Professional, Sony SRS-X11, Canon Powershot G3X, Withings Home and Wemo Insight Switch.
Nextbase In-Car Cam 402G Professional
Price: €180 from Halfords
Rating: 4 stars
You're in a minor car collision. How do you prove that it was the other car's stupidity in pulling out suddenly that was really to blame? Welcome to the world of dashboard cams, miniature camcorders that sit inside your windscreen and record events when driving for exactly such a reckoning. Huge in some European countries, the gadgets haven't yet taken off in the Irish market. Nextbase's 402G Professional is one of the better models out there. It's not just that the quality of its 1080p recording is genuinely decent (thanks to an effective dynamic range and a 140-degree angle of shooting) or that its motion sensor activates recording whenever it detects movement close to the car when it is parked. It also has extra features that could be very useful in a scrape. For instance, an in-built 'G Force' sensor indicates clearly whether (and how fast) you braked or swerved. And onboard GPS records how fast your speed is or was. It also works at night, partially thanks to a very 'fast' F1.6 lens. And its 2.7-inch screen is clear and easy to use. It records to a Micro SD card and, while working off a battery, plugs into your car's standard 12V-24V DC charger. Could the existence of a camera on your dashboard ironically encourage criminal interference? It's a thought. (Thieves rarely look for stereos anymore.) But this is one of the best devices you can get for the task.
Portable pet sounds, cubed
Price: €90 from Harvey Norman
Rating: 4 stars
Got your summer ghetto blaster ready? If not, Sony's cute little SRS-X11 speaker is a feisty alternative. The small wireless cube booms out surprisingly decent sound within a certain space and can be paired up with a second one to deliver even better stereo sound. It's a fairly straightforward set-up, pairing wirelessly with a phone or other Bluetooth audio source. It can be used as a hands-free Bluetooth speaker for phone calls too, including the ability to switch to a call whenever one comes in. It has an extra audio-in jack for anyone whose Bluetooth is on the blink and it comes in a choice of different colours.
Canon compact's va-va-zoom
Canon Powershot G3X
Price: €1,100 (expected)
What's the main difference between your 16-megapixel smartphone and a 'quality' compact camera? For most people, it's two main things: higher standard images and a proper zoom. Smartphones, you see, cheat - they 'zoom' by simply diluting the image. And while budget 'bridge' cameras deliver big zooms (up to 60x), the quality upgrade from a smartphone is modest. Into this context comes Canon's G3X, a high-end 20-megapixel camera with a large (25x) fixed zoom lens. It's basically an update on the company's (still available) 12-megapixel G1Xii model. The main difference is that the older camera limits its zoom to 5x whereas this one goes much further. On the other hand, this comes with a trade-off: the sensor on the G3X is smaller than the older camera and it's a bulkier overall form factor, too. It also can't hold a 'fast' F2.8 as far down its zoom range as some rivals. But other improvements under the hood - a new processor, a fold out screen and more megapixels - may make up for this smaller sensor. The €1,000-plus price tag won't put serious enthusiasts off, but it may be a challenge for a more mainstream market. The camera is expected to hit Irish shops later in the summer.
Peace of mind a two-way thing
Price: €200 from PC World
Rating: 3 stars
New parents know all about two-way activity monitors. So there will be an instant market available to Withings' Home video camera, a device that can relay video and audio live over wifi to your phone via an app. The gadget could also prove useful for those concerned about security in their home, as it sends an alert to your phone whenever it detects motion in its immediate vicinity. This is pretty easy to set up and works fine. Its main challenge is the price, which is above what you'll pay for competitor gadgets that essentially do the same thing. It also doesn't offer quite as much bang for your buck on the feature side, with no video-recording facility (it takes time-lapsed photos instead). This does a job but there's better available out there for your money.
Wemo plugs 'smart' gap
Wemo Insight Switch
Price: €60 from Power City
Rating: 4 stars
Talk of 'connected' or 'smart' homes often causes eyes to roll. It's not just the ludicrous cost that such concepts have historically had, especially 'smart homes', with their expensive rewiring requirements. It's that no-one has really been able to crystallise what a 'connected' or 'smart' home really is. This is where Belkin's inexpensive Wemo line of products comes into its own. An update on the original 'smart' plug from the same company, the Wemo switch basically connects whatever is plugged into it to your phone (via a free Wemo app). So whether it's a lamp or a TV or whatever, it becomes controllable no matter where you are. It is also programmable: you can 'set' it (again, via the app) to switch whatever it is connected to on or off at a certain time. There's even an advanced customisation facility called IFTTT ('If This, Then That') that allows you to perform under certain conditions. For example, you can ask it to keep track of when the sun goes down (by checking online) and to switch itself on when this happens. It's plain to see why this could be useful. You might be away and want a TV and a light switched on for appearance's sake. Or you might even want to activate the kettle two minutes before the half-time break in a football match to save time. The point is that the 'connected' or 'smart' home is now a common, affordable reality: you already own most of the tools needed to make it happen.