Tech: Huawei moves up a gear with impressive P8
Our technology editor reviews the Huawei P8, Sony MDR 1ABT, Pentax WG-M1 and HP OMEN.
Rating: 4 stars
Huawei is probably the best value smartphone manufacturer in town. Its G7 handset (see previous review on independent.ie) gives superb results for a third of the price of high-end rivals.
Now, Huawei is trying to crack the prestige handset tier, taking on the Samsung S6, HTC One and Sony Xperia Z3. Its answer to these superphones is the P8, a 5.2-inch metal-bodied slim device with good design chops and some real power under the hood (an octacore processor and 3GB of Ram).
The result is a very nice handset, if one that may not yet dislodge the current batch of top-end Android models. The phone has many strong points, including its classy metal-and-glass design. The screen is bright and vivid, though not quite as high resolution as Samsung's S6.
Huawei has made a lot out of the P8's 13-megapixel camera, claiming it handles low light situations better. While it matches HTC's cameras, I didn't find its results to be quite as good as those from more expensive flagship Sony phones (20MP) or Samsung phones (16MP). Still, it's very decent. The P8's battery life is good, generally lasting a full day.
The model I had came with 16GB of storage memory. Some small knacky features were fun, such as a phone-finding setting that lets you set a phrase to call out when you can't find the phone. (The phone then responds.)
For the price, the P8 more than holds its own against any rival. But that's different from saying it will be a hit. The psychology of phone ownership is that if you're willing to spend more than €300-€400 on a phone, you'll probably go the whole hog and get that iPhone 6 or Samsung S6. So while the P8 definitely deserves a look - and is arguably one of the best phones you can buy on a euro-for-euro basis - it may be stuck on an awkward marketing shelf.
Sony serves up a cushy number
Sony MDR 1ABT
Rating: 5 stars
I'm generally a fan of Sony headphones, or at least the overhead models it produces.
For some reason, the once-dominant electronics company has nailed the balance between audio quality, comfort and technology considerations. Its MDR 1RBT wireless cans are the ones that hang around my neck most.
So I was interested to have a go of its new 1ABT headphones, a slightly cheaper variant. The new 'phones incorporate some really nice new technology which has the potential to move the genre on.
Foremost here is a combination of technologies (a codec and an upscaling engine) that allows higher quality audio definition to travel wirelessly over Bluetooth from your phone (or other audio source) to the headphones.
This is a big deal: Bluetooth headphones' usefulness has always come noticeably at the expense of some audio quality. These headphones bridge that gap considerably.
The other modern feature that Sony has incorporated is a set of new touch-sensitive controls on the side of one of the earcups. Speaking of the earcups, these - together with the padded headband - are a highlight of the headphone set. Their lightness and ultra-comfy soft leather combine to put the 1ABTs near the top of the market when it comes to wearability. This matters for longer listening sessions, such as transatlantic flights or a long walk. The 1ABTs come with what is now a standard feature, a microphone that turns the cans into a hands-free phone accessory. The headphones' internal battery is recharged using a standard micro-USB power cord. There is also a separate 3.5mm jack if you run out of juice or want to listen via a standard audio cable.
If there is a downside, it is that these headphones are a little larger than some rivals, but only by a small margin. While these Sony 'phones aren't cheap, they're top class cans.
GoPro action on a budget
Rating: 3 stars
Want a fully-equipped portable action camera for less than the GoPro sells for? That's the basic pitch behind Pentax's WG-M1 device.
It's a wide-angle camera-cum-camcorder with a 1.5-inch colour screen that shoots in full (1080p) high definition and can take 14-megapixel still shots. It can also record in slow-motion for up to 60 seconds, at 120 frames per second. And it has wifi on board, meaning you can transfer images or videos immediately to your phone or tablet without any hassle.
Basically, this device is giving you almost everything (except shooting in very high resolution, such as 4K) that higher end GoPros give you for between half and two thirds of the price. It's also waterproof, dustproof and shockproof out of the box, without needing different cases.
This doesn't necessarily mean you should run out and buy it, though. The WG-M1 is a bit larger than the GoPro, meaning it's slightly less pocketable.
There are also fewer accessories for this gadget than for GoPro. And because GoPro is (by some distance) the market leader, there are fewer resources to call upon (including helpful YouTube videos) when trying to get to grips with different modes or facets of the Pentax camera.
But there's little wrong with the quality of the shooting on the WG-M1. And it's great fun to use.
HP gets into war games with light laptop
Rating: 4 stars
By and large, I've left most of my gaming days behind. Once a dab hand at Counterstrike, I've now mostly pivoted my computers' graphic muscle toward video and photo-editing purposes.
But I appreciate a beefy gaming laptop when I come across one. HP's latest 15-inch Omen machine packs a lot of power into a relatively slim and light body (2.1kg is not bad for a gaming laptop) that can travel a lot easier than some rivals.
There's no problem with the raw engine on this laptop, with an i7 processor, 8GB of Ram and an NVidia GTX 860M graphics card. And the screen quality is pretty high. But it's customisation and other features that gamers seem to like. To this end, the Omen provides some handy customisable keys that will come in useful.
The other thing the Omen has going for it is design: this is a pretty nicely styled piece of machinery.
Battery life is decent, if not outstanding, for a heavyhitter like this. I got between four and five hours of use with video and relatively busy online stuff going on in the background. Overall, this is a creditable entry for HP into the PC gaming hardware world.