Ready-to-go option for back-up
Adrian Weckler runs his eye over the latest technological offerings and gives his verdict.
Western Digital My Passport for Mac 2TB
Price: €130 Rating: ****
For those running a home office, one of your technology new year's resolutions should really be to start backing some of your information up. But this is easier said than done. 'Cloud' services (such as Dropbox) are fine, but limited in size. And many external hard drives are simply boxes where files are dumped in a raw format, without much structure. For Apple computer users, there is a another minor (irritating) complication: many hard drives aren't correctly formated out of the box for use with Macs. Western Digital's (relatively) portable My Passport external hard drive comes ready-to-go with Macs out of the box. It also works relatively smoothly with Apple's Time Machine remote backup process, which is a relief for those who have invested in the wireless system.
Sharp-focus lens that'll do snapping snobs quite nicely
Canon 35mm F2 lens
Price: €650 Rating: ***
Photo snobs have always been attracted to 35mm lenses. It's the focal length of Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau and other classical photographers. As such, it's often used as the lens of choice for aspiring artistic photographers, or portrait-takers who want more context in their photos.
There are a few choices for both Canon and Nikon users, especially with the rise of decent rivals such as Tamron, Samyang and Sigma. However, the main offerings from both Canon and Nikon are generally still regarded as first among equals. For Canon users who can't quite stump up the €1,500 needed for its F1.4L model, Canon's F2 option is a reasonable alternative. I've been messing about with it for several weeks. It has two large attractions and one small one. Its 'fast' (F2) aperture means it lets in lots more light than any zoom lens and also allows you to create nice 'bokeh', where the background blurs to create a sharper focus on whatever you're snapping.
It also has image stabilisation, which means less of a risk of fuzzy shots.
Finally, it's considerably lighter and smaller than Canon's premium F1.4L lens, which makes a difference when you're lugging it around. I found that it rendered colours sharply with very little distortion, even when the camera's 'ISO' level was ramped up to make allowances for dim light.
While there was no specific quibble with the lens, its singular focus obviously won't suit many people. But for someone who wants to give their photos an extra lift, it's a very nice lens.
Budget smartphone a real game-changer
Motorola Moto G
Price: €150 Rating: *****
NOT so long ago, opting for a budget smartphone meant a really poor user experience with small, slow screens and frustrating incompatibilities. How times have changed. I've previously recommended Alcatel's One Touch Ido Ultra (€250) as the top budget smartphone around, but Motorola's Moto G, at €100 chea-per, gives it a serious run for its money. The 4.5-inch device comes with the newest version of Android, a 5-megapixel camera, a quadcore processor and 8GB of storage memory. It works really smoothly.
So what's the catch? Well, Motorola (which is now owned by Google) has cut some corners by not making it as slim as many other smartphones. It also doesn't come with a charger or headphones (but does come with a USB charging cable). The boxing and accessories are fairly cheap, too.
Personally, I couldn't care less about the lack of accoutrements: it is the phone -- and only the phone -- that should count. And it is simply impossible to ignore this price: you can buy four of these for the same price as the cheapest (smaller) iPhone 5. The term 'game-changer' is thrown about too liberally these days. But this may genuinely be such a thing.
Old reliable timer plug, only better
Belkin WeMo Switch
Price: €50 Rating: ****
We're all familiar with timer plugs that allow you to turn a device on or off according to an in-built clock. This takes the concept one step further. The WeMo Switch connects to your home wi-fi so that you can control lights, televisions, heaters or anything else from another room. There's also an accompanying free app (iPhone and Android) that comes with it which does the same thing.
This app is pretty detailed, allowing you to set up different devices and control them whenever you want from wherever you want. The nice thing about it is how easy it is to set up -- it takes about 60 seconds out of the box. The only downside is that it's a little pricey for a plug, even one with this kind of enhanced functionality.
Arming yourself for fitness regime
Lifeproof iPhone 5 Armband
Price: €45 Rating: ****
By now, many of us are a few days into the annual fitness wheeze, with colour-coded charts, renewed gym memberships and spanking new neon exercise gear.
If you're one of these people, you may as well go the whole hog with a premium smartphone armband. Most armbands are cheerfully cheap things that simply feature a pouch in which to place your phone. Not so Lifeproof's offering. It has everything from silicon dots (to stop the armband slipping around your arm) to reflective strips. Designed to work with the same manufacturer's waterproof iPhone 5 case, this is a training armband for heavy-duty activities. (Lifeproof says it works fine for surfing, something this reviewer did not try out).
* - Very poor
** - Sub par
*** - Acceptable
**** - Very Good
***** - Outstanding