independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Adrian Weckler: At last, a tablet to rival the iPad

GPad 8.3

The latest gadgets reviewed: GPad 8.3, Bush TR82 vintage radio, Fellowes Gel Mouse Mat, Sony BTX500 speaker, Fonua Elements Universal Sports Armband.

GPad 8.3

Price: €330

Rating: *****

Android tablets, for the most part, have struggled to lay a glove on the iPad. Despite a lot of effort from the likes of Samsung and Asus, the overall experience just hasn't matched what you get from Apple. One reason for this is that Android manufacturers have largely focused on €129 budget versions that we hand to our kids to play Angry Birds on.

While they can do this just fine, they're slow and clunky when you ask them to do more – such as take a note or connect to email smoothly. What's more, as I pointed out last week with Asus's poor Memo Pad, Android tablet screens are often cheap smudge magnets that require more than one tap to execute anything properly.

Thankfully, things are beginning to change. And LG's GPad is a timely reminder of this. Other than the Nexus 7 – which is still arguably the best overall tablet for the money you can get – this is the best Android tablet I have ever used. It's slim, it has a great (1080p) screen and it looks very slick.

The battery lasts longer than any similarly-sized tablet I've used and, because of its decent camera software I even used its five-megapixel camera. This is something I've never wanted to do with a tablet before. My only small niggle is that it may be a teensy bit underpowered, even though its 1.7Ghz quadcore chip is almost as good as anything else out there. But it's a mark of this tablet's ease of use and quick assimilation into my daily routine that I started looking to it as a primary device very quickly.

While the Nexus 7 is still the benchmark in terms of value, this is probably the only true rival to Apple's new iPad mini Retina.

 

Retro radio that pushes right buttons

Bush TR82 vintage radio

Price: €50

Rating: ***

Not everything that glitters digital is gold. One of the more tepid mainstream media moves in recent years has been digital ('DAB') radio. Aside from a few niche stations (mostly aimed at kids), how often do you really tune in to anything other than local FM channels? Arguably, the trend has actually been the other way, with retro-styled radios selling well. One of these, Bush's TR82, recently came into my home. It's a big plastic box that is supposed to look like a 1950s wireless device. Just like the radios in our parents' (or perhaps grandparents') days, you can switch between frequencies by 'punching' different buttons. The audio quality test for a good radio, for me, is whether it can fill a kitchen without sounding tinny. This one just about can, though if you're the type to listen to Rigoletto as you're preparing the Sunday roast, I'd invest in a couple of decent accessory speakers.

 

Small comfort

Fellowes Gel Mouse Mat

Price: €22

Rating: ***

THANKFULLY, we journalists rarely have to spend too much time filling out lengthy Excel spreadsheets. But there are plenty of people who do. For them, a comfortable mouse mat is essential. What this mat does is to take a bit of pressure off your wrist, thereby relieving a lot of other pressure down through the rest of your hand and right up your arm. Given its relatively compact proportions, you won't be mousing from one end of the screen to the other very often. But for itty-bitty movements, it's worth considering.

 

Speakers worth making a noise about

Sony BTX500 speaker

Price: €350

Rating: ****

When I got my first place, the very first thing I bought for it was an expensive stereo. In those pre-iTunes, pre-Spotify days (2000), this was more important than a good telly. Fast forward 13 years: that posh stereo hasn't emerged from the attic in six years. And yet, while plasticky iPhone speakers are highly convenient, their audio quality often leaves a lot to be desired. Up until recently, it wasn't worth investing in a decent speaker accessory because the quality of the MP3 audio downloads was very limited. Now, though, you can stream Spotify in very high quality or buy iTunes tracks at a much higher bitrate. This makes the choice of speaker relevant again. Sony's BTX500 is probably the best quality wireless speaker I've come across, at this price, outside Bose. There are two passive radiators and a dedicated sub-woofer that produce rich sound, even at volume. Any Bluetooth device can connect to it and those with NFC can connect simply by touching the box.

 

Exercise armband that won't stretch the budget

Fonua Elements Universal Sports Armband

Price: €15 from Vodafone shops

Rating: ****

The figures don't lie: iPods are falling off in popularity. Or rather, they are among adults. This has a few repercussions for listening to music, which has repercussions for other things, such as jogging. Because if we're using smartphones and Spotify instead of iPods and iTunes, what do we do when we're exercising? The answer is to get a device such as Fonua's sports armband, a large, soft, flexible strap with a large plastic window-pouch to hold a smartphone in it and a velcro fastener. The plastic window-pouch is big enough to hold a five-inch phone, such as Samsung's S4 or Sony's Xperia Z1 or any iPhone or iPod Touch. The fact that there isn't any special path for an earphone jack won't bother anyone with Bluetooth headphones.

 

Irish Independent

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