It's not fancy but Otterbox Symmetry ticks most boxes
Weckler on Technology
Reviewed: Otterbox Symmetry Series for Samsung S4; Dell Venue 8 Pro; Samsung GamePad; Twelve South GhostStand; Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone
Otterbox Symmetry Series for Samsung S4;
Price:€35 Rating: ****
What kind of smartphone screen display do you have? Four inches? Five inches? IPS? 1080p? 400ppi? Or just simply cracked? If you're like the great majority of ordinary people, you live in fear of the latter.
This is one reason why I do believe in smartphone cases. There are simply too many of us walking around with spider-web screens, zig-zagged with cracks and splinters. And yet one of the problems with 'tough' smartphone cases is that they often bulk up the whole unit to an unacceptable level.
This is a particular problem with the most modern large-screen phones: it's tough enough getting your phablet into your pocket without a few extra millimetres of plastic thickening it even more. Otterbox's Symmetry case does a good job of keeping a balance between protection and usability.
The hardened plastic exterior is cushioned by a (slim) honeycombed rubber layer and a small rim at the edge of the bezel that all but guarantees screen survival.
It's not a fancy case design, nor does it come in exotic colours. But for a large-screen device (the S4 has a five-inch display), this does the job well.
Venue tablet an ideal work solution
Dell Venue 8 Pro Price: from €300 (32GB) Rating: ****
Let's all be honest: it's hard to make a case for a Windows tablet compared with an iPad or an Android device. Android customers baulk at the price while iPad customers wince at the relative paucity of apps. But in work it's a different story. I've long been a fan of Microsoft's Surface Pro as a laptop substitute that you can actually use. And I think that Dell's Venue 8 Pro is a reasonably decent work tablet, especially for the price. It uses Windows 8.1, which means you can use pretty much any work software you want on it. (Realistically, that will still be different from your work laptop – an 8-inch screen is a different experience to a 13-inch display.) It feels well made and has 32GB of storage on board, which matches what most tablets in the same price range offer. I found it powerful enough, although I didn't really use a stylus with the device, as Dell guides. Make no mistake: this is a work device. But it's a very usable one.
Getting a proper handle on smartphone games
Samsung GamePad Price: €80 Rating: ****
On a recent Aer Lingus flight, I heard the attendant warn us to "turn off electronics devices such as Gameboys". The archaic admonition reminded me of the days when portable gaming devices were a big deal. Today, they are not: tablets and phones are the gaming devices. But neither tablets nor phones are as good at certain types of games as older hardware formats. Buttons and joysticks still beat touchscreens. In this vein, Samsung has released a clever accessory called the Gamepad. It's designed to work with high-end Samsung Galaxy smartphones to control custom games, of which there are around 50 at present. Because the connection is over Bluetooth, I was expecting a noticeable lag in gameplay. I found none, however. So if you want to keep up with the other hipsters on Aer Lingus flights, this is a nice accessory to get.
Face-level laptop stand will cure that slouch
Twelve South GhostStand Price: €40 Rating: ***
I often think that I slouch a lot more than I used to. And when looking for culprits, I sometimes fix on my laptop use. Placed on a desk or a table, laptops involve a lot of crouching and slouching.
But it needn't be thus. Twelve South's GhostStand is a simple accessory that lifts your laptop a few inches off the desk. The advantages to this are twofold. First, it puts the screen closer to face level, meaning you don't have to crane.
Second, it means that your laptop stays cooler, as air can circulate underneath. The stand has silicone edges, meaning your laptop doesn't slip off.
One minor annoyance is that it doesn't fold down for portability. Still, this is a handy little device for home laptop workers.
Taking the mic? Take this one
Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone Price: €140 Rating: ****
The time when podcasts were regarded as the next big thing has been and gone. But I do find a good microphone useful sometimes: either for narrating a review or recording something for someone else.
While most businesses will rarely find themselves in this position, when they do they often rely on professionals guiding them through a mess of cables, XLR connections, amps and midi boxes.
The Yeti USB microphone is a reasonably good shortcut through much of this confusion, by simply plugging into a PC. It also gives a fairly impressive audio standard that many rival USB microphones struggle to match.
Its trick is to position its three microphones in a way that allows flexibility in how recordings can be made.
The only drawback is its size – it's a lug of a thing that you won't want to carry around.