Digital life: Long battery life from Apple is a real turn up for the Books...
Apple MacBook Pro, €1,150 to €2,300
If there's one present gadget lovers could have wished for this Christmas, it's more battery life. From mobiles to iPods to laptops, everything runs out of juice far sooner than we'd like.
It's one of the hidden downers when buying cheap laptops that seem like bargains -- they usually survive barely a couple of hours away from a wall socket.
So, when Apple promises a gargantuan seven hours with its latest portable machines, it deserves a look if only to debunk the marketing spin.
The MacBook Pro is unquestionably a handsome laptop, whether you choose the version with the 13-inch, 15-inch or 17-inch screen. Hewn from a single block of aluminium and garlanded with black accents around the display, it quietly exudes elegance wedded to reassuring solidity.
But what Apple has done to maximise battery life may instantly turn you off. Like the iPod and iPhone before it, the MacBook Pro battery has been sealed inside the body, preventing you carrying a spare on long trips and requiring a trip to the repair shop to replace it.
Make no mistake, like all batteries it will eventually need replacing. Most batteries for iPods, laptops and mobiles lose their full effectiveness within two years and can die within three. The Mac maker claims its software coaxes up to 1,000 charges out of the battery before the rots sets in -- equivalent to five years in typical use.
We can't vouch for that, of course, but can confirm this is one impressively long runner. The seven-hour figure is wishful thinking unless you switch off the wireless connection, turn the screen brightness right down and do nothing but type.
But zipping around the web or similar light work will last more than five hours before the battery expires. Even caning it by watching a video or playing a game will get you up to four hours.
Other full-sized laptops can claim similarly high figures but only with a bulky extra battery chained to the bottom -- less of a laptop, more of a lug-top.
As a premium-priced product, the MacBook Pro is not short on luxurious touches -- from the beautiful, richly coloured screen to the new SD memory card slot (a first on a Mac) to the huge multi-touch trackpad. What a shame then that Apple scrimps on other fronts, omitting previous standard items such as the remote control and the monitor adapter. Many people will be unhappy too that the paltry two USB ports are now positioned right beside each other.
Obviously, you can buy many cheaper PC laptops. But these are often hampered in not-so-subtle ways, such as their sheer bulk or dreadful battery life and plenty still come loaded with the god-awful Windows Vista.
Apple itself sells the baby brother MacBook for a "mere" €930, which is a nice starter machine with similarly good battery life and just a few compromises.
Seecode Vossor Bluetooth Phonebook, €140
Technology has produced some peculiarly random 'marriages'. But for every success (mobile phone mated to a camera), there's a dud (fridge with built-in internet).
On the face of it, rear-view mirror meets Bluetooth hands-free headset might seem to fall into the latter category. But it does make a kind of sense.
Chatting on the phone while driving calls for minimal distraction and the Seecode Vossor mirror clips on your existing rear-view mirror, putting a display of call information right in your eyeline and a speaker/microphone near your mouth.
When you've hooked it up to your phone via Bluetooth, you can make and receive calls using the Vossor's large buttons. Unlike other elaborate hands-free set-ups, thieves are unlikely to notice the Vossor on your mirror.
So far, so good. The audio quality is decent, even if it's not quite loud enough at high driving speeds. But other niggles suggest the Vossor could do with bigger refinement.
The sheer width of the mirror may obstruct the movement of your sun-visors. Its weight also made it tremble annoyingly while driving in my car, shaking the image in the rear-view.
The line of call information is too short, sometimes cutting off useful details about which number you're dialling.
And though the Vossor can copy all your phone numbers to its memory, to delete one, you have to delete the whole lot and reload everything. Duh!
Ignoring its foibles, the Seecode Vossor isn't a bad device but at €140 it has many cheaper Bluetooth speaker competitors. It's available from www.micksgarage.ie and through Vodafone.