A shining example of low-frills laptop breed
Toshiba Chromebook Price: €300 Rating: 5/5
I'm a fan of Chromebooks. They're the tablets of the laptop world: fast, instantly on and simplified to perform a few main tasks very well.
They're also very easy on the eye, probably intentionally made to look like Apple's MacBook Air (which can only be a good thing). So I came to Toshiba's 13-inch Chromebook fairly positively disposed. Two weeks later, I haven't changed my mind one bit.
For a budget machine, this is something of a gorgeous laptop. Its bright screen easily matches similarly priced rivals, while typing on the device is a pleasure.
I couldn't care less that it only comes with 2GB of Ram, an Intel Celeron chip and 16GB of internal storage memory as I don't use a laptop such as this to download music or edit photos. (Anyway, even if I wanted to do that, I could just use Chrome Remote Desktop to access files directly from another PC.)
Printing is also a challenge, but I can't remember the last time I needed to print something from a laptop. There are a couple of USB ports and an HDMI port in case you want to connect peripherals.
I'm not sure I'd use this exclusively (I do like to edit photos and videos) but, as a second laptop, it's absolutely perfect.
A nice example of an almost obsolete format
Canon Powershot SX700HS
Price: €400 Rating: 4/5
Chatting with the head of Panasonic Europe recently, the topic of compact cameras came up. He said they're basically screwed. Yet that doesn't stop all the manufacturers from continuing to make them. So what can be said in their favour?
There are two propositions for spending €400 (which is what Canon is asking for its new SX700HS) or more on a compact camera. The first is as a high-end, prime, low-light secondary camera to a bigger DLSR. The second is as a beginner-friendly snapper with as much power as possible in a pocketable format. The 16-megapixel SX700 is firmly in the latter category. Its 30x zoom gives a lot of flexibility, though I'd have liked a slightly wider maximum than 25mm. It's simple to use, starts quickly and takes good quality shots.
One feature I love is its slow-motion video capture, even if it's a little tricky to activate. I also like any camera that lets you share photos quickly with your phone wirelessly, which this one does. The bottom line is that SX700 HS takes better shots than any current cameraphone. I think it's aimed squarely at casual family snappers (which usually means mums).
Great sound – not for carrying around
Panasonic Technics DH-1200 headphones
Price: €200 Rating: 4/5
What's the best thing to look for in a set of headphones? For me, it comes down to two things: sound quality and comfort. Give me a pair of acoustically excellent, ergonomically snug cans – even if they're bright yellow – over a heavier, trendier set with so-so sound. In this context, Technics (owned by Panasonic) headphones are an interesting melange. Within its price bracket, the audio quality is superb: up with the best I've tested over the last year. The sound is rich and pure with a nice balance between bass and trebles.
On the other hand, these 'DJ' headphones are a little too heavy – and perhaps even uncomfortable – when worn for periods of over 20 minutes, especially when moving around. Perhaps it's down to my rather large cranium, but despite cushy padding on the headband, there is more bonce-pressure from these headphones than others I use. I also found the styling of the headphones (admittedly of less importance than sound or ergonomics) to be a little plasticky. It probably won't bother those looking for good sound at a price below ultra-premium rivals. But for me, these would stay beside a desk for short musical hits rather than in my satchel for travel trips.
Luxury price for a standard item
Bose Bluetooth Headset
Price: From €150 Rating: 2/5
In the roaring noughties, a friend of mine admitted to me that he spent €30 on Ralph Lauren socks. I was reminded of this when looking at Bose's Bluetooth headset, an earpiece that delivers good sound but is ludicrously priced for what it does. The positive bits are that it handles noise very well, cutting out a lot of irritating, unwanted interference such as gusts of wind. It's also quite comfortable thanks to a decent silicone earpiece. But some features, such as the ability to stream music from a phone, are utterly superfluous: who wants to listen to songs in a single ear? When it comes down to it, this does the same thing as a rival product that is a quarter of the price.
Belkin has not gone back to the future
Belkin CarAudio Connect FM
Price: €60 Rating: 3/5
2003 is calling – it wants its technology back. Belkin's CarAudio Connect FM profits from the ridiculous reality that most cars made in the last five years still do not feature a simple audio jack into which you can plug a phone or MP3 player. The small device uses the time-honoured trick of emitting an FM signal, which your car radio picks up and plays. It's a crude transmission system that ranks poorly with other forms of connection. To be fair to Belkin's device, it adds a recharging facility for your phone. But this has a strong whiff of 'been there, done that' about it.