independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Nice gesture – but won't be taking Leap just yet

Clockwise from top left: Philips Friends of Hue Living Colors Bloom Colour-Changing Lamp; Beats By Dr Dre Pill 2.0, the Nikon Df camera and Datashur Secure USB key

OUR technology editor Adrian Weckler takes a look at the best of this week's gadgets.

HP Envy 17 Leap Motion

 

Price: €1,250 Rating: HHH

I'M not a fan of gesture control technology. Whether it's Xbox Kinect (probably the most powerful gesture control technology out there at present) or Samsung's Galaxy smartphone Air system (which is very patchy), the whole thing seems gimmicky. So it was with a sceptical bent that I approached the first laptop to incorporate 'Leap Motion' gesture-recognition technology.

Alas, HP's 17-inch Envy Leap Motion laptop leaves me no fonder of the technology. Getting the gesture control system going is awkward and fidgety: I managed after 15 minutes. I suspect it might take some considerably longer.

Otherwise, the 17-inch Envy has a few good things going for it. Excellent audio is one. In an age of Netflix and Spotify accounts, this is worth something on a laptop: its speaker (augmented by Beats Audio) is certainly better than the average tinny laptop noise.

Another plus is the nicely beefed-up power under the hood, with a heavy-hitting Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of Ram as standard, a whopping 1.5 terabyte hard drive (that's 1,500GB) and a really decent Nvidia GeForce graphics card. In plain English, this allows you the flexibility to run lots of programs, play decent games or store plenty of movies.

This machine is priced at the same level as an entry-grade, smaller Apple MacBook Pro that has considerably less power, memory, graphics or storage space. Its pluses are its raw power; its minuses are a slightly underwhelming user experience.

 

Nikon Df

Price: €3,100 with 50mm F1.8 lens Rating: HHHH

IS Nikon's Df a serious camera or a very expensive toy? Having played around with it for two weeks, I'm still unsure. On one hand, the 16-megapixel machine takes genuinely top-end photos with proper full-frame technology and a superb 50mm F1.8 lens. On the other hand, its phalanx of knobs, nozzles and dials – designed to give it the ultimate retro hobbyist feel – sometimes seem like style over substance. Admittedly, any camera-nerd who lusts after Leicas or retro-styled shooters like Fuji's X100S will salivate at the attractive array of manual-adjustment ISO, shutter speed and aperture dials. I certainly did. It's just that, over time, I couldn't decide whether it was a practical set-up, especially when I needed to shoot outdoors in winter weather. There was definitely one minor disappointment: its size. It's much bigger than I thought, easily matching the bulkiness of a normal semi-pro DSLR such as Nikon's D800 or Canon's 5D Mark III. This is a gorgeous camera that smacks of a plaything.

 

Colour-changing lamp sets mood

Remember Philips? The company that used to dominate our living room TV sets and electronics? These days, it is largely reduced to lighting equipment and electronic accessories.

This colour-changing lamp is an example of the former.

In a nutshell, it changes colours via an app on an iPhone or iPad.

There's a full palette and although the lamp is quite small, the colours radiate nicely (and quietly).

This is a nice mood-setter.

 

Beats By Dr Dre Pill 2.0 Price: €200 Rating: HH

 

No matter how much one 'understands' the appeal of Beats By Dr Dre, speakers like this are baffling. It's a really small device (about the size of a phone), with decent(ish) wireless audio (over Bluetooth) that can play your phone, tablet or laptop music at up to around 25 feet.

And it leaves me wondering: who is it aimed at? If you're looking for audio in a bedroom or kitchen, there are much better options available for half the price. If you're out and about, this doesn't pump out enough quality to be heard over gusts of wind. So who is it aimed at? Teenagers on buses?

 

Datashur Secure USB key

Price: €57 Rating: HHHH

ACCORDING to the most recent figures, 51pc of Irish firms suffered a data breach over the last 12 months. While some of this was down to hacking and some was due to staff emailing the wrong things to people, a portion of the data leaks were due to misplaced, unencrypted devices. In other words, someone left a laptop in a taxi or a USB key in a pub. This is very difficult to guard against – people simply lose things sometimes. But one way of limiting the damage is to encrypt the device properly. Datashur's secure USB key is a good example.

It has a 0-9 keypad on the side of the drive which requires a code to unlock use of the USB key. The authentication process is military-grade, so isn't easily bypassed, even by someone who knows what they're doing.

It's a little tricky to get the hang of, but works reliably when set up.

Irish Independent

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