Reviewed: Panasonic G6, Skullcandy Crusher headphones, Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 11, Meteor 4G Mifi, Otterbox S4 case.
Price: €650 (with 14-42mm lens)
In my life, photography tends to fall into two categories: (i) considered, planned shots (such as tripod-supported sunsets or portraits) where size isn't that much of a barrier, and (ii) snaps where it's really important that you can bring the camera with you without much gear, in case an opportunity pops up.
In other words, you either go for a full-sized DSLR (which costs from €350) or a quality compact (usually starting at around €500).
Your choice will affect more than just your shoulder muscles – pointing a barrel lens at someone produces a noticeably different reaction to pointing a compact model. This is the context in which 'compact system cameras' (interchangeable lens cameras that are smaller than full-size DSLRs but bulkier than compacts) such as Panasonic's Lumix G6 should be judged.
I've had the G6 for almost a month. It has virtually all of the features of a good entry-level DSLR and some functions (such as a fold-out screen) that only more expensive models boast.
It is also very fast (which is a crucial differentiator to compacts) and has familiar dials for those who want manual modes. I found it both easy to use and a producer of good-quality, well-balanced shots.
What I didn't find, though, was that it was any easier to carry around than a larger DSLR, even though it's about 25pc smaller than one. Make no mistake – you need a carrying case for this.
The genuinely impressive range of lenses Panasonic has (including proper Leica lenses) for cameras like this, make it a good choice for those who want something a little smaller than a DSLR.
For me, this is not that important. But others I showed it to preferred its size and shape over bigger cameras.
Fun Crusher series proves bass can be ace
Skullcandy Crusher headphones
I've never been a fan of bass as a signature feature to sell expensive headphones. While millions of 'Beats By Dr Dre' fans might disagree, there is more to high-fidelity audio than booming acoustics. That said, there is a time and a place for all things.
For the last week, I've been playing with Skullcandy's Crusher series of headphones. Other than a refreshingly modest price, the headphones' calling card is bass. Specifically, it has a slider on one side of the headset that adjusts the bass level from a flat, neutral tone to a reverberating, ground-shaking tremble. I shouldn't like this kind of thing at all, but I found myself enjoying the twiddling enormously.
Despite a lack of polished titanium or premium leather to boost the aesthetics (the headphones are fairly plasticky, although they come in red, black or white), this is actually great fun.
That the phones surround the ears rather than sitting on top of them is a bonus as it lends a natural noise-cancelling element to the experience. A microphone in the headphone cable is nice, too, especially given that many of us now listen to music on our phone. While still undeniably aimed toward younger listeners, you won't go wrong with this set of headphones.
Tablet fans won't swallow this hybrid
Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 11
Can a laptop really be a tablet? If you're a tablet user, the answer is no. For one thing, laptop-tablet hybrid machines are a good deal bigger and heavier than most tablets. Unlike for TVs, this is not a good thing: in an era when the seven- or eight-inch screen is trumping 10-inch devices, a 12-inch touchscreen with a separate keyboard hanging off it is just prohibitively clunky.
What about for laptop users? This is largely the audience that PC manufacturers are targeting with machines such as Lenovo's Yoga 11.
The pitch here is a Windows 'RT' (in other words, budget Windows 8 without the flexibility of full Windows) laptop whose keyboard can be folded out of the way for times when you want to use it as a 12-inch touchscreen tablet.
The big question, though, is: when do you want to use this as a tablet? I wrestled with this question quite a bit. Because apps are (comparatively) not yet what they should be for Windows, my 'tablet' use was limited to using it as a Netflix display. This is doable in tight spaces, as the Yoga 11 cleverly allows you to tilt the keyboard, making it into a de facto stand.
Because it's a Windows 'RT' machine (and not a full Windows 8 device), it's quite limited in relation to software. But for light laptops users who need web access above all, it's a reasonable machine.
Enjoy 4G megaspeed before everyone joins in
Meteor 4G Mifi
Price: €25 per month for 18 months
I am a sucker for fast mobile broadband speeds. In the same way that I have always liked living beside an airport, there is something alluring about a broadband service that is not tied down to any one spot or location.
For people like me then, 4G is an attractive proposition. So it didn't take much persuading to road-test Meteor's mobile wifi device. The Huawei-made gadget (model E5372) works in a very straightforward way.
Just switch it on, turn on the wifi of your tablet, laptop or smartphone and match the two devices with the wifi password provided.
(Up to six people can do this at once.) I never got less than 12 megabits-per-second (Mbs) when using it with a laptop or tablet. Indeed, the top speed I got was 26Mbs, although there's a reason for this: there's hardly anyone on the 4G cells of Meteor or Vodafone at the moment. This means that those who are get megaspeeds, thanks to the rules of congestion and network contention.
The amount of data permitted using the device is either 20GB (€25 per month) or 30GB (€30 per month). This sounds like a lot. But if you watch Netflix, it could be gone in less than a series. There's no doubt that data caps and 4G will eventually clash. But for now, we're in a honeymoon period.
Otterbox S4 case
Those who say that the most ubiquitous smartphones in Ireland are iPhones or Samsung Galaxy phones are wrong.
The most common smartphones here are Cracked Screen Phones. Some estimates put the number of cracked, scratched or otherwise damaged handsets at one-third of all touchscreen phones sold. It is no wonder then, that there is such a roaring trade in protective cases and covers.
For men between 40 and 55, it is largely a closed market dominated by leatherette flap cases, usually for last-generation iPhones. For the rest of us, there are options such as Otterbox's clever new Commuter Series of cases.
Designed primarily for iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4 handsets, these rugged covers protect the phone with a robust polymer material and rubberised interior lining. The bonus is that they leave enough space inside to fit coins, notes, credit cards or a combination of all three. It's a very innovative idea aimed at minimising your wallet requirements.